Jim Louis, CIO and meeting planner at Best Meetings Inc., Bloomington, Minn., is
one of the co-founders of The
Meetings Community, a three year-old, volunteer-driven
meetings-industry listserv and
Web site. MeCo, as the community is known, recently
announced plans to incorporate
as a non-profit association
before the end of the year. We
talked to Louis about MeCo’s
success and the reason’s for
the upcoming transition to a
Corporate Meetings & Incentives: Why has MeCo decided to move to an association structure?
Jim Louis: One reason is liability. We'd like to broaden our educational programming, including some face-to-face events, but without some sort of organization behind us, the moderators would become personally liable for the events. We also want to look at more partnerships with organizations. For example, we'd like to join the Convention Industry Council, and we would need a formalized business structure to do that.
The long-term viability of MeCo is also a concern. We want to be sure that if we come to a place where, for example, Google stops offering free Google Groups, we have some sort of structure in place if we needed to then start raising money to support our activities.
CMI: How is MeCo now organized and how would that change?
Louis: MeCo is now funded by contributions from the moderators and their companies. I'm working with co-founder Dan Parks to explore board structures that are based on a community model and we want to ensure openness and community involvement going forward. We're committed to running the MeCo listserv and other current services free of charge and with complete openness in terms of finances. The association will be run with down-to-the-check transparency.
CMI: What has surprised you about MeCo over the years?
Louis: It's surprised me how much the listserv has grown and how much people have wanted to contribute to its success. When we started, my goal was to get 300 members and around 20 messages a day. That seemed like a critical mass. Today the listserv has close to 2,500 members and averages 50 messages a day. We started with six moderators in 2006 and have grown to 13, including two suppliers.
We also organize informal “meet ups” at industry, offer a free online job board, and allow planners to post canceled room blocks, among other things. One of the newest plans, still in the works is to launch a student-mentoring program later this year. And branches continue to grow from us. There are now MeCo LinkedIn and Facebook groups.
CMI: Since you launched in 2006, what have been the hottest topics discussed on the MeCo listserv?
Louis: In our first year, one of the most controversial topics was Marriott's decision to begin requiring that meeting planning companies have IATA numbers. We also saw a lot of talk about the quality of industry associations and members' frustrations with them. Today, all the industry associations have at least one member on MeCo; some push out content and some don't. Members have also had a lot to say about the downturn in the economy and, recently, the news about meetings canceled by companies receiving government TARP funds and the Keep America Meeting petition.
CMI: And does MeCo take a stance on the issues?
Louis: We try to keep neutral. For example, since the downturn in the economy and the change from a seller's market to a buyer's market, that means something different to all our different constituencies. Corporate planners are canceling, independent planners may pick up work in a downturn, and associations right now really aren't doing much different. The moderators really don't want to take a side.
Pending legislation in Massachusetts that would ban gifts and giveaways at medical conventions and restrict pharmaceutical and medical device company marketing practices has caused at least one medical society to cancel a meeting in Boston.
Global Events Partners, a partnership of destination management companies, has acquired Atlanta Arrangements Inc., athat has been operating in Atlanta for 40 years. Atlanta Arrangements was previously an independently owned GEP partner.
Hotel industry veterans Dave Scypinski, formerly of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and Fred Shea, formerly of Hyatt Hotels North America, have joined meeting planning company ConferenceDirect as senior vice presidents.
The International Association of Conference Centers has set up a disaster relief fund for staff at The Cumberland Marylands and the Marylands Country House, which were destroyed by bushfires outside of Melbourne, Australia.
The Business Travel Coalition has launched tVillage Talent Connections as a service project to assist unemployed, about-to-be-unemployed, or underemployed colleagues in all travel and tourism industry segments. This no-cost program will be run on the LinkedIn platform.
Hotel industry veteran John Jeffrey, formerly with Starwood Hotels & Resorts, has launched Global InSites, a new site-selection and hotel-sourcing company targeted at insurance conference planners.
Measure Your Results
North American companies that have a process for post-event measurement are twice as likely to receive increases in their marketing budgets than those that do not. That's according to EventView 2009: North America, the annual survey of sales and marketing executives that looks at the role of face-to-face events in the marketing mix. The study is a collaboration among the Meeting Professionals International Foundation, theInstitute, and experience marketing agency George P. Johnson.