Sexton:

On this issue we have been effective with one thing and one thing only—the Convention Industry Council’s economic impact study. That’s only 50 percent of what we need to do—the other 50 percent, which is just as important, is the messaging on what face-to-face meetings mean, and not just economically: what happens when people get together, how they solve problems, how research is conducted, how education is shared.

The value of meetings above and beyond economics is not as clear as it should be. We must come together as an industry and not have one organization that is talking about the value of face-to-face as it relates to exhibits and another with a different message as it relates to associations or corporations; it’s confusing. We need a united message.

We must create simple, clear bullets on the value of face-to-face meetings. When we do that and tie it back to the economic impact, now we’ve got a story. I think all of the industry organizations, domestically and internationally, should come together and begin to craft this message that every organization could put on their communications.

Hacker:

It was a combination of circumstances that helped propel the shift in mindset among associations as well as the arrival of a rainmaker in Roger Dow, [CEO, U.S. Travel Association]. From the moment he hit the ground, that organization radically changed from a spectator to a catalyst. Roger knew going in that we cannot only react to threats, we have to proactively prevent those threats.

There isn’t a candidate for political office who would knowingly take a position that would cause discomfort to the National Rifle Association or the milk producers. We’re not there. We’re getting closer, but we have years to go before we can climb into that small circle of organizations. It’s a matter of building the system and right now we are looking to build 40 friends in the Senate and the House. That’s what you need for any industry—30 to 40 champions who will serve as firefighters for us.

It’s important to stay buckled together with U.S. Travel because in the aggregate it’s enormously powerful. When you start peeling away the sectors, the numbers start to dwindle. It’s all about clout. You have to have clout in order to earn leverage.

Graham:

ASAE and many other associations quickly recognized the potential consequences of the proposed legislation earlier this year that would have severely restricted government employees’ attendance at private sector meetings. Thanks to a quick industry response, we were able to educate Congress about the probable outcomes of that proposal and keep the most onerous provisions from being enacted. ASAE and other organizations that host educational meetings will need to stay on top of this issue and continue to emphasize the value of face-to-face meetings between government employees and the private sector. Budgetary pressures and the emergence of various virtual meeting technologies will probably continue to tempt policymakers into thinking that government agencies can get by without as many opportunities to meet in person, so this is an ongoing advocacy concern.

D’Aoust:

I think we could all agree that we could do more. Our industry has had many starts and stops in our efforts to have a single, consistent voice. It’s important that we come together for the benefit of our community. MPI has certainly led initiatives and is providing tools to our members to support advocacy efforts, but by partnering with others, we’ll have far more power.

As an example, I don’t believe there is one consistent industry-wide message that has been developed that demonstrates the value meetings deliver to driving economic growth and growth within corporations. We are partnering with industry associations such as U.S. Travel and the CIC that can help us get our message out. We all have to collectively define that story and we all have to tell it in the same way.