When HelmsBriscoe Founder and CEO Roger Helms welcomed more than 1,800 HB associates, guests, and hotel partners to the company’s Annual Business Conference in January, he told them he knew everyone was glad to say farewell to 2009 and look ahead to better days in 2010.

Then again, 2009 wasn’t too shabby for the site-selection firm, which Helms and partner Bill Briscoe began in 1992 in Scottsdale, Ariz. Last year, HB’s 1,150 worldwide associates booked more than $500 million worth of group business: some 3 million room nights spread among 18,000 programs. Business was down, yes, but not as far down as for the industry as a whole.

Nevertheless, HB continues to focus on growth. While association business has always been a part of its total picture (in 2008, HB associates booked nearly $200 million worth of association meetings) HB has decided to move more aggressively into that market. “Strategic sourcing is now becoming more important to association executives,” Helms says. “They’ve got board members from the corporate world who are bringing procurement strategies to the associations.”

To reach those executives, Helms has hired association industry veteran David Peckinpaugh, CMP, as vice president of business development, based in San Diego, where he was most recently president and CEO of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau. “He has lived and breathed that market. People trust him,” Helms says. “We wanted to support that market with our assets and strengths.”

That means adding HB’s site-selection knowledge and negotiating power to the expertise of other association-meetings suppliers with which HB would partner, such as Passkey.

“In today’s economy, associations are looking at different models, at doing more with less due to cuts in budgets and staffs,” Peckinpaugh notes. “These factors force organizations to determine their core responsibilities and functions. In many instances, their core function is not site selection, which is our specialty.”

In March, Peckinpaugh will convene an association advisory board to get “customer-driven feedback” on HelmsBriscoe’s association plans, which include increased involvement in industry organizations such as the Professional Convention Management Association and the American Society of Association Executives.

In addition to reaching out to associations, Peckinpaugh is marketing to suppliers as well, working to expand HB’s long-established hotel partnership approach to destinations via tourist boards and CVBs worldwide.

For more, see our article on the recent HelmsBriscoe Annual Business Conference, held at the brand-new Aria Resort & Casino at CityCenter in Las Vegas.