Feeling schizophrenic at NEMICE

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I had an interesting time at NEMICE,held at the new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center yesterday. I went to a really good session on contracts and negotiation, which I’ll try to write up and post shortly. The BCEC also is gorgeous--I hadn't seen it since a hardhat tour a while back. But they need to figure out the parking thing--I drove around for a half hour looking for a lot, and kept getting shoved out of the area by construction detours.

Anyway, what really blew me away was the weird juxtaposition of keynotes they had.

First, MPI chairman Hugh Lee set the stage with a state-of-the-industry report. He outlined how the current global economy, increasing competition, technology advances, shorter life cycles for products, focus on speed to market, costs, and core competencies are the main trends that are reshaping the meetings business.

He mentioned things like the FutureWatch report's finding that planners are expecting a 5 percent increase in budgets and spend this year, and that while the number of corporate planners are increasing, the numbers of independents and consultants are growing even faster. In terms of globalization of businesses today, he said that 23 percent of all meetings planned by North American companies are going offshort, and not just to Europe or Mexico, but to hot emerging markets like China. “And it’s going the other way, too,” he said. “At MPI PEC-Europe, the European planners were asking about how they could bring their meetings to North America.” Procurement also is growing hugely, with 57 percent of respondents saying they have or plan to implement organization-wide purchasing policies, up from just 10 percent a few years ago.

He drew some conclusions from the current trends. There will continue to be:

-a growing focus on accountability for meeting departments

-an emphasis on total cost and supply chain management and the execution of core competencies

-return on investment as the number 1 issue for meeting professionals and their events

-an increasing role of new players (such as procurement people) in meetings

-more companies outsourcing to independents as a result of the need to do more with less

-more buyers going directly through properties instead of through online third parties like Travelocity (a study by his company found that 58 percent of planners are going through individual properties)

He ended with this quote: “The economy and other trends are giving you a unique opportunity to get a seat at the table. The question is, are we up for that?”

Then BizBash president and founder Richard Aaron took the stage. Beginning with the premise that the MPI George P. Johnson study found that 82 percent of companies said they are planning to include event marketing in their overall marketing mix, up from just 6 percent in 2003, and that the number-one thing attendees want is to be inspired, according to an MPI study. He went on to talk about the latest trends in décor, room design, and other “unique, shaped experiences that create memories,” including fruit sushi, bloody marys served in hollowed out tomatoes, and “sparties,” or spa parties.

He also seemed to be extremely proud of an article that made the front page of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about BizBash Media's third annual Event Style Awards, which had the headline, “For Event Planners, The Hottest Invite Is Made of Leather: Corporate Party Throwers Win Honors for Lavish Affairs; Pink Eraser Centerpiece.”

“That we made the front page of the Wall Street Journal is a sign of how far the meetings profession has come,” he said. “It even says in the article not to call us party planners.”

I wish I could link to the article, but it’s by subscription only. Suffice to say, what it describes is not exactly how I hazard a guess that most of us would want the general public to think meeting planning is all about. From strategic positioning to glowing ice cubes as the hottest trend—we need to work much harder to get the word out about the difference between meetings and events, educational outcomes and "creating memories."

Yes, events can be learning opportunities, and yes, they often are tied to meetings, but none of that was mentioned in either Richard's talk (he was an incredible speaker, BTW) or the WSJ article. I have nothing at all against special events and those who plan them. They are, however, are a distinct breed apart from what I think of when I think of meetings. To lump them together like this does both a disservice, IMHO.

If we really want to get strategic, we need to talk about educational outcomes, and if there are certain hues that make the most dramatic wall washes and enhance the learning experience in some way, by all means, let's talk about that. Is "creating memories" enough, if all they remember was the beautiful place settings? If you're talking about a meeting, I don't think so.

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