Despite the best efforts of many of the 31 associations that represent the meetings industry and belong to the Convention Industry Council, the “industry is still slow to respond” to government and mass media attacks on meetings and events, said Deborah Sexton, president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association. She was speaking at “The AIBTM Great Association Debate” during AIBTM, The Americas Incentive, Business Travel & Meetings Exposition, held at Chicago’s McCormick Place in mid-June, along with six other meetings industry association CEOs.

Sexton was referring to the bashing the Internal Revenue Service received for “excessive spending” of $50 million on 220 employee conferences between 2010 and 2012 cited in a recent report released by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General.

“Once again we find ourselves in the crosshairs,” said John Graham, CEO of the American Society of Association Executives, when asked by moderator Christine Duffy, president and CEO, Cruise Lines International, if the industry’s advocacy efforts had improved since the AIG Effect of 2008–2009. ASAE had been hard at work with the Obama Administration’s Office of Management and Budget creating guidelines for government employees to continue to attend association meetings. That was in the aftermath of last year’s General Services Administration scandal.

“In my opinion, the messaging is still missing,” said Sexton, who added that additional funding from her association and others has been allocated to a public relations campaign and that the coalitionisin the RFP process to hire a communications company. “We do a great job of talking to ourselves. But we do have groups, many sitting on this panel, who are committed to additional funding and to working together. We will see consistent messaging before the end of the year.” The coalition is also committing additional dollars to updating the 2010 landmark report, The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy, which showed the size and power of meetings in America. “That study was based on 2009 numbers, one of our worst years, so I am optimistic that the update will put the industry in an even better light,” said Sexton.

Duffy expressed hope that the public relations campaign would include a notable spokesperson, a Fortune 1000 CEO or comparable figure, who would be willing to talk about the positive effects of business meetings. “We have to construct stories that resonate with the press, that can back up the business reasons we’re holding meetings,” she said. She suggested recruiting a retired CEO or politician to get behind the campaign.

The New Advocacy Hub

Karen Kotowski, CEO of the CIC, also announced during the AIBTM session that the CIC has launched a new advocacy hub to help support and protect the industry. The Meetings Industry Advocacy Hub, she explained, in an online vehicle designed to engage, educate, and activate meeting industry professionals. In partnership with Voices in Advocacy, founded by Roger Rickard, the Hub will enable meetings industry professionals to show support for the global meetings industry by registering online as a meetings industry advocate.

It will allow the CIC to engage advocates online as an “on-call resource for action” and will provide the industry with regularly scheduled information to educate on issues, alerts, positions, and messaging on the meetings industry.
For additional information, and to sign up, please visit http://cic.advocacyhub.info/.