The theme was the dawning of a new age of Aquarius—think the buoyant musical "Hair" circa 1969—and the underlying message was partnerships and professionalism at Meeting Planners International 2003 World Education Congress in San Francisco Aug. 3 to 5.

"There’s been kind of a shift in our philosophy," said MPI’s new chairwoman Terri Breining, CMP, CMM, president of San Diego-based Concepts Worldwide, during an interview at the conference. "MPI can’t alone be all things to all people. To address the needs of our members on several levels, we have to form partnerships."

Among the partnerships announced at the conference is an alliance between MPI and the National Business Travel Association that gives privileges to members of each organization, such as access to the other’s meetings and educational offerings at member rates. Meeting managers and travel managers "are in closely related and sometimes overlapping businesses," said Breining. "If both groups are going in the same direction, everyone wins."

Asked for her personal take on the most significant trend in the corporate market, Breining cited the theme that has resonated with MPI in recent years: professionalism. "Difficult times have forced corporate planners to a level of accountability we have not seen before," she said. "I think this is a good thing, because it raises the bar—the level of the profession. Even after the economy recovers, we’re not going back."

Learning Rocks
The spacious, light-filled new Moscone West convention facility was host to a well-attended exposition of approximately 500 industry suppliers and an abundance of sometimes overflowing educational sessions that addressed not only logistical and strategic issues facing meeting professionals today, but also overall business skills. An energized buzz animated the 1,096 planners and 1,633 suppliers in attendance (at 3,162, total attendance was up from 2,900 last year), and the overall mood seemed relatively upbeat. Despite the temptations of sunny skies and San Francisco’s many attractions, planners and suppliers alike flocked to the content-rich seminars.

Among the hot topics were The Convention Industry Council-sponsored Booking Outside the Block-CIC’s Project Attrition and Crisis Management: Are You Ready for the Unexpected? In another standing-room-only session, on industry trends, presenter Christine Duffy, president/COO, Maritz McGettigan, asked the audience of about 180 people to rank their top hot-button issues. Nearly tied for first and second place were attrition/Web booking (56.4 percent) and contract negotiations/buyers market (56 percent). But Duffy warned against too much generalizing about industry trends: specific niches such as pharmaceutical versus financial services will face some different issues, she said.

Other MPI News
-The MPI Foundation will invest $1 million over the next 12 months to support Pathways to Excellence, the association’s multi-year strategic plan that calls for elevating the role of meetings in the business world. Specifically, the monies will be invested in 10 association programs, including Career Pathing (an identification and classification system for meeting and event management competencies and the pathways for growth from one level to the next); CIC’s Project Attrition; the George P. Johnson Co. annual benchmark survey; the Multicultural Initiative; ROI II, a next-generation ROI program of meeting measurement tools; and the Women’s Leadership Initiative.

-MPI’s Women’s Leadership Initiative announced a strategic plan for 2003 to 2005 that includes six strategies to move the initiative forward: new research, education, networking and mentoring, chapter implementation, marketing, and ROI measurement. Among the education initiatives is a new WLI Committee Education Task Force that will, among other things, investigate a possible WLI industry-wide conference in 2005.

-Next on MPI’s agenda for the Multicultural Initiative is a four-part research paper covering key success criteria for international, domestic, and regional meetings; why organizations should embrace multicultural needs; planning and executing successful multicultural meetings; and the importance of cultural sensitivity and multicultural business protocol.

--Global Paragon Award Winners were: for meetings with budgets up to US $1,000, The Boy Scouts of America national office in Texas; for meetings with budgets exceeding US $1,000, Chicago-based ProActive, Inc. and Avaya of Basking Ridge, N.J.; for best themed event, Washington Mutual/CRG Total Event Solutions, Seattle; for best promotion, Cingular Wireless, Atlanta; and for best product launch, Altered Image, N.J.

Recipients of MPI’s 2003 Meeting Professional Awards were: International Planner of the Year—Steve Kemble of Dallas-based Steve Kemble Event Design; International Supplier of the Year—Brian Palmer,, president of the National Speakers Bureau in Libertyville, Ill; Marion N. Kershner Memorial award winner—Kathleen Cochran, CAE, CMP, vice president of meetings, National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va., and Tomorrow’s Leaders award winner—John Ehlenfeldt, CMP, director of sfales at SMG Food Serives, Long Beach, Calif.

-Launched in late July, MPI’s E-Learning Series includes modules called Business Skills Online and Meeting Strategies Online. Among future offerings is a series of Web and tele-conference sessions on breaking news topics called E-merging Issues Online that will debut at 2 p.m. on September 24, followed by sessions on December 3, March 3, 2004, and June 16, 2004.

-A new MPI/Meeting Industry Ladies Organization alliance was announced. MPI will co-host the 2003 Meeting Industry Ladies Invitational golf event at the Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego, Nov. 2 to 5.