There are those of us who have been around the meeting industry long enough to remember when a decade would go by with little but cosmetic change ruffling the waters for many industry associations. Staff leadership changed infrequently, and the concerns of the day were pretty much about smoothing the edges of the buyer/supplier relationship and building the professionalism of meeting, convention, and exhibition managers.

These days there is hardly an industry group that has not been roiled by strategic repositionings. Take, for example, Meeting Professionals International (Meeting Planners International not too long ago). In March, the board of directors announced that President and CEO Colin Rorrie Jr. would be stepping down three months before his inaugural contract had expired. MPI Chairwoman Christine Duffy said that MPI needed a CEO who could lead the group in a new strategic direction, one that aims, among other things, to grow membership internationally and to re-engineer the organizational structure of the association. A search committee is due to announce a selection by this summer's MPI meeting.

The 78-year-old International Association for Exhibition Management recently changed its membership and dues structure from individual to corporate, with the goal of turning the organization into a trade group that better reflects the economic impact of the exhibition industry. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research earlier this year was merged into IAEM. Executive leadership wants to further broaden the group's scope to include event management. A vote to change IAEM's name to the International Association for Exhibitions & Events failed at last year's annual meeting but will be presented again this year.

ASAE & The Center, the result of a merger two years ago between the American Society of Association Executives and the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives, in March announced a strategic plan focusing on a new membership strategy and pricing model. The Professional Convention Management Association, a year into the tenure of President and CEO Deborah Sexton (the third PCMA CEO since 2000), recently announced new appointees to key staff positions.

What's driving this industry-wide trend?

One explanation that resonates comes from Gregg H. Talley, CAE, president and CEO of Talley Management Group, Inc., Mount Royal, N.J. Talley is active in industry groups, particularly the Professional Convention Management Association, where he has served as chairman of the board. He observes, “I think our industry organizations are responding to several trends — continuing consolidation, changing roles of third parties, ongoing changes in the events and meetings industries, a sense that supporting funds from traditional suppliers may be declining, changing technology, increasing member expectations, and the need to do more with less or to generate new revenues.…And yes, there are competitive and positioning issues involved, as well as cooperation and complimentary efforts.”

Certainly competition for funding dollars among industry groups has come to the fore in recent months. (See sidebar, right.) Macro dynamics, such as generational changes, are also factors in driving change not just within [this] industry but in associations in general, Talley explains.

“This is an ongoing dynamic process that is shaking every industry and organization out there. If boards aren't having strategic conversations about generational changes, industry changes, positioning and value to members and other stakeholders, then there's sure to be trouble coming. As an association management company, we see it every day in all of the industry segments we operate in.”

What's the solution?

“I urge all members of these organizations to get involved. Professional staffs and volunteer leaders are open to discussion and want to hear input — this is challenging for all of us and we need the ideas and input from all the stakeholders as we go forward.” Talley says. “It's exciting, it's exhausting — it's another day at the office.”