Shawna Suckow, CMP, launched SPIN as a LinkedIn group in October 2008 as a place for her senior meeting planning friends to network. It now has 2,000 members and has hosted 40 live events in 14 cities.
You might call Shawna Suckow, CMP, an accidental association executive. She launched a LinkedIn group in October 2008 as a place for her senior meeting planning friends to network, and in a moment of inspiration, gave it a catchy acronym—SPIN (Senior Planners Industry Network)—and laid down a couple of key ground rules: The group would be exclusively for planners with at least 10 years of full-time planning experience, and membership would not be open to suppliers. The formula has been an astonishing success. SPIN is now a 2,000-member group and, in addition to a Web site (www.spinplanners.com) and online forum, this year the group hosted 40 live events in 14 cities and has big dreams for 2011. Here’s how Suckow “spins” her success.
& Incentives: Tell me about your background as both a corporate and independent meeting planner.
Suckow: I was one of those planners whose career fell in her lap. When I was in the training department at Grubb & Ellis, I was asked to coordinate a couple seminars. That was enough to get me hooked. When my husband and I moved to Minnesota in 1999, I decided to take the leap and start COMPASS Events. It was a great little company for more than 10 years, but when SPIN took off, I had a choice to make. COMPASS is now officially retired.
CMI: How has SPIN expanded since its launch in 2008?
Suckow: I didn’t think SPIN would be anything more than a group of my friends until we hit the first 100 members, then 500. At that point, I sat back to consider what it really could become. It was just four or five months after I started the group, and I began getting requests from members for face-to-face meetings in different cities. With membership being free, we had to figure out how to pay for these events. We now have sponsors at our live “Think Tank” meetings, but our strict policy is never to have more than six. We want to keep the focus on the planners because that’s what makes us tick. Now that we’ve hit 2,000 members, I have big plans for SPIN in the coming year.
CMI: Tell me about the SPIN activities in 2010 and going forward?
Suckow: In 2010, we held 40 live Think Tank events in 14 cities, including our first non-U.S. Think Tank in Toronto in October. We also began offering CEUs in 2010 and started a series of virtual Think Tanks as a communication bridge between planners and suppliers. We have panels of SPIN members share their ideas, secrets, and pet peeves with groups of suppliers on all sorts of topics, from site inspections to how planners like—and don’t like—to be approached with a sales pitch. In 2011, we expect to host at least 60 live events in 15 cities, plus add a new series of hosted-buyer programs to 10 U.S. cities in conjunction with Meetings4You. We also plan to begin bringing senior-level educational fam trips all over the world, based on the level of interest from our membership. What’s fantastic—and scary—is that we can do whatever we can dream up.
CMI: How do you balance being both a for-profit organization with revenues coming from industry suppliers and the needs of members who highly value a non-supplier environment?
Suckow: SPIN membership always has been free and always will be strictly for planners. As we grow and strive to create everything we have planned, funding is our biggest challenge. We want to maintain the integrity of our planner-focused environment, yet we know we can’t function without funding. We incorporate suppliers very carefully and selectively, and on a very limited basis in our live Think Tank events—never more than six per event. We’re very cautious not to “sell-out,” but at the same time, I need to pay my employee who has worked tirelessly to make this happen with me. Someday, a paycheck for myself would be nice again, too. I just have to trust in the old saying that if you do what you love, the money will follow, and I definite love what I’m doing.
CMI: What’s been the biggest surprise of launching a meeting planner organization?
Suckow: My background is in meeting planning. I’ve never had experience managing an association. I’m sure I’ve made mistakes along the way, but the biggest surprise has been how planners all over North America appreciate and value what we’re doing. We’ve evolved from a loose network into a real association, with a new and powerful voice for change in our industry.
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