Like many new meeting planners, Melody Aldrich had to grow with the job. Fortunately, the job also grew with her. She was working as an accountant in 1989 when 12 people formed the Philadelphia Church of God. After her day job, Aldrich would work on church business. “Someone had to do the convention planning,” Aldrich says. “I volunteered and was volunteered.”
From a small start, the church grew “exponentially,” she says. Its first convention included 231 people; the second year 500 attended, and there was a convention in Australia; the third year saw 900 attendees and several other locations. Current church membership is 7,000 worldwide.
Aldrich's only previous experience was planning small meetings for the Petroleum Accountants Society, of which she was a member. She learned her job with the church as a “matter of necessity. I had no mentor to go to; I didn't take classes. You just do it because it has to be done,” she says.
Today, she plans 15 to 20 annual worldwide conventions. Attendance varies from a high of 1,100 to a few hundred people at international sites. The nine-day conventions occur simultaneously around the world, in the fall. Besides worship services twice a day, the conventions include entertainment and outings for all age groups. People stay 10 nights in the convention hotels.
“Because of all the activities and the meeting space required, when we go into a city we try to look for a minimum of a three-year commitment,” Aldrich says. “It's a big project. Being a small organization staff-wise, we can't reinvent the wheel. It helps us not to be looking three years down the line when planning this year. Plus, having a longer commitment gives us more bargaining power, and we have very good attendance rates.”
Often they will go back if everything is a good fit. “We'll stay until it becomes old or the prices go up,” Aldrich says. She chooses three different hotels based on price, and often books an extended-stay type hotel for families and others who prefer to eat some meals in their rooms.
Because of the simultaneous conventions, the church uses technology to bring sites together. Locations are linked via satellite two to three times during the convention, and other speakers or programs can be downloaded from the Internet. Sometimes a speaker will fly between sites, but usually speakers are scheduled for one location. The church ships most of its own audiovisual equipment to locations, and Aldrich and her staff of two handle renting of staging, pianos, copiers, computers, printers, and whatever else is required.
Aldrich herself is counting on technology for her meeting planning. She relocated to Minnesota from Oklahoma in July, after her wedding. With e-mail, courier, and telephone, she expects to be able to do her job efficiently enough to limit visits to the home office to twice yearly. She believes it will be successful, thanks to her two assistants in Oklahoma, as well as the fact that she has had the job since day one of the church's organization.