As the nation’s economic condition deteriorates, the meetings industry, particularly within the insurance and financial services sector, continues to take more than its fair share of hits.

TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) recipients continue to be media and political targets. Smaller companies like Chicago-based Northern Trust Corp., which received $1.6 billion in TARP money, are not immune. Northern Trust was roasted in the press for hosting events associated with a professional golf tournament the bank sponsored in February.

Even companies still operating successfully in the down economy are finding themselves being forced to cancel meetings, or at least to keep a low profile when holding events. For example, Brick Street Mutual Insurance Co. of Charleston, W.V., canceled its annual agents’ meeting this year based on perception issues, not financial duress.

According to the Charleston Daily Mail, Brick Street’s President and CEO Greg Burton wrote to agents that while “2008 will prove to have been another strong year financially for Brick Street, we are nevertheless mindful that many of our policyholders are being more severely impacted by the nationwide economic downturn. In deference to these countless West Virginia businesses, Brick Street is hereby announcing the cancellation of its upcoming agent event. . . [The company] hopes to express its appreciation to its appointed agencies later this year in a manner that is more proportional to the current economic times." Ironically, after being criticized by Gov. Joe Manchin for holding its 2008 meeting out of state, Brick Street had planned to meet in West Virginia this year, at The Greenbrier.

And while surveys and conversations with industry planners indicate that many financial and insurance companies are continuing to hold meetings, the current environment is forcing planners to run for cover. “Because of the continuing perception problems and witch hunt for ‘boondoggles,’ corporate communication policies will not allow us to speak our minds,” said one planner whose company is moving forward with an international recognition program this spring. “Those of us who work for well-run, fiscally responsible companies can’t celebrate our success by talking openly about the value of our meetings. We have to fly under the radar. At some point this madness has to stop.”