Board members of the Dallas-based International Association for Exhibition Management will vote this month on whether to approve a new strategic plan in which IAEM membership structure would change from individual members to organizations only.

By becoming a trade group, IAEM would be able to more effectively advocate when it comes to public policy, says IAEM president and CEO Steven Hacker, CAE. As a trade group made up of companies, IAEM could more accurately reflect the true scope of the exhibition industry and thus have more political clout, he says. “The exhibition industry is much bigger than the 3,500 individuals who are currently members of IAEM.”

The association needs to evolve beyond its traditional focus on education and networking, he adds, given the economic and political trends in recent years that have had significant impact on the exhibition industry. One example he cites is the new U.S. visa laws, which have resulted in significant attendance/exhibitor declines in many U.S.-based shows. (IAEM has already proposed changes to those regulations. For details, visit www.iaem.org.)

Hacker says that as a trade group, the association could more effectively broker relationships among the various segments of the exhibition industry. The economic downturn in recent years has hit hard at some segments of the industry, and discord among show organizations, exhibitors, and contractors seems to have increased significantly as a result. “There is a lot of skepticism between buyers and sellers.”

Part of the proposed changes would involve expanding the current board from 13 members to “not more than 20,” Hacker says, to more comprehensively represent all the components of the exhibition industry. Five industry councils would also be created for this purpose: two councils representing event organizers (one for firms with staffs of up to 10, the other for firms with staffs of more than 10); a council for service providers and contractors; one for exhibit managers (exhibitors); and one for venues, bureaus, and facilities.

Will existing associations representing these industry segments feel threatened by these changes? “It's a sensitive point,” Hacker concedes. “But many IAEM members are already members of other industry associations. We're not out to build an empire but a more unified voice for the industry.”

If the board approves the new plan, IAEM members will then vote by mail on the proposed changes to the bylaws. Hacker hopes the vote can be concluded by September. “This is a terrific personal challenge, a chance to take a dynamic organization in a new direction,” Hacker says. “I'm prepared to deal with lots of anxiety — even if that means having to field phone calls from 3,000 individuals.”