Never in a million years did I expect to write a eulogy for Concepts Worldwide, the iconic meeting management firm that Terri Breining launched in San Diego County more than 21 years ago.

The extended, virtual funeral of which this column is a part is for Concepts itself—not for Breining, not for the gifted and proficient team that she drew to the company, because they will all find their way. But it is shocking and sad to see Concepts Worldwide close its doors. And it raises questions about our industry’s basic sustainability if one of our smartest, most established, and most visible firms can simply run out of steam.

Our company had a unique window on Concepts’ special blend of strategic vision, logistical precision, and, as the company’s tagline declared, uncompromising integrity. When Concepts formed an advisory board, we were invited to provide minute-taking services in exchange for the opportunity to hear the discussion and interact with participants. We jumped at the chance and (full disclosure) later formed a strategic partnership with Concepts to deliver content services to its clients.

The advisory board gave us a rapid-fire immersion in the emerging issues facing the meetings industry and the opportunities for a company like Concepts to respond. Which makes it that much harder to accept that Concepts Worldwide has disappeared. The news from San Diego County leaves me with a series of questions that point to the significance of the Concepts closure for the industry as a whole.

  • Several years into the effort to build up the strategic side of the meetings industry, how do we interpret the loss of one of the most deliberately strategic firms in the business? Is the industry falling behind in the quest for a seat at the table for meetings and events? Or are we finding out that it’s easier to take the seat than to monetize the work it generates?
  • In her comments on the closure, Breining explains that Concepts lost several anchor conferences in a tough economy and couldn’t replace them in time to keep the doors open. If the very best practitioners can’t make a living with the logistical services and tactical acumen that have been the industry’s stock in trade, are we to expect a continuing wave of closures in the months ahead?
  • Given the cluster of challenges confronting face-to-face meetings—beginning with a down economy, client-side layoffs, virtual technologies, and the mounting woes of the hospitality and airline industries—how will third-party planning firms sustain themselves? If they can’t, how does the industry make up the knowledge, experience, and wisdom that will be lost as some of our most seasoned practitioners leave the industry?
  • The very good news is that none of the core team at Concepts Worldwide will be going far away. Terri Breining is already building the foundations of The Breining Group, and watch for everyone else on her talented team to set personal land speed records for bouncing back. To the extent that they all remain a part of our industry, we’ll be better for it.

    But still. I keep thinking of the courageous planner who started a firm from her dining room table, slowly built up her team and her skills, and ended up winning business leadership awards in San Diego, rebuilding a school for low-income children through her company’s charitable giving program, and helping to transform an industry during her year as the chairwoman of Meeting Professionals International. Terri is still here, and those stories still belong to her, and to the industry. But there is very little about this moment that is not incredibly sad.

    Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president and CEO of The Conference Publishers Inc., one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at theconferencepublishers.com/blog. Send comments, facts, arguments, or column ideas to mitchell@theconferencepublishers.com.