"Strategic planning by committee just doesn't work," stressed Nancy Berg, executive director of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, at Thursday's fourth annual Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum. Held at the newly opened Washington (D.C.) Convention Center, the conference drew about 120 top-level executives from the country's largest trade shows--about 60 percent from associations, the rest from for-profit companies.

In her keynote presentation, Berg delivered a riveting account of how she led her association in a radical re-engineering of its governance, staffing, and trade shows to reflect a revenue-driven business model, rather than the traditional service-driven model espoused by many associations..

"Our theme was ‘Moving the Mountain,’ but the reality was more like ‘Walking on Broken Glass,’" she said. At the end of the day, the SME staff was cut by a third, the board of directors re-constituted to include more members with financial management experience, and the group’s trade shows successfully re-positioned to be more profitable.

If you don’t know what a CMO is and how she or he thinks, you’re in trouble, warned speaker Ed Kenney, president of TrainRight Solutions and formerly chief marketing officer for Advance Imaging Concepts. Chief marketing officers control the purse strings that can make or break your trade show, Kenney said, noting that CMO’s typically have a "bucket" for each marketing channel (advertising, meetings, trade shows, e-marketing, and direct mail). The smart show organizer can get money from each bucket. The key is, said Kenny, is for the show manager to ask: How can our trade show help you with your overall marketing strategy?

Other hot topics at the conference included how to get a more diversified attendee base to reflect the growing power of minority markets, the pros and cons of centralized versus decentralized marketing for trade shows, and how to transplant successful U.S. events in other countries.

For more details on the conference, see the June issue of Association Meetings.