Twenty-three years ago, a young, ambitious branch manager at a large employment agency worked her butt off to qualify for a recognition conference. She was rewarded with a trip to New York City, where she joined her CEO for tea and conversation in a venue at the top of The World Trade Center. “Can you imagine how I felt,” she says, “getting attention from the CEO of a billion-dollar company?”

Talk about motivation. It took her only six years after that to become the company's youngest-ever regional vice president. The woman's name is Brenda Anderson, and today her passion about the value of recognition events serves her well as CEO of Site (formerly the Society for Incentive and Travel Executives). Site is one of seven founding association members of the Meeting, Event, and Incentive Coalition, an advocacy group that has quickly made strides toward becoming a powerful voice for our industry. Read about it in our interview with Anderson starting on page 7.

I applaud Anderson and all the others who are speaking out about the value of meetings and events. Consider this a heartfelt plea to make your voice heard, too — both within and outside of your company. I realize that many of you are under company restrictions that prevent you from speaking to the press. And we're all gun-shy after blatant mischaracterization of meetings and events in the mainstream media. But like it or not, our industry is in the spotlight. And there's plenty you can do without showcasing your company name, or even your name. Among the options:

  • Sign the e-petition at keepamericameeting.org, a grass-roots campaign to show support for meetings and events that is endorsed by the industry coalition, FIM and its sister magazines, FICP, and many others (page 8). The signatures do not include company names, and you can choose to be completely anonymous. Your voice will still count.

  • Support the coalition's policy guidelines for meetings, events, and incentive travel for companies receiving funding from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (page 9). Even if your company is not a TARP recipient, share the guidelines with your senior leadership and consider adopting them. They leave no room for ethical loopholes and clearly lay out professional policies and procedures. The more our industry can self-regulate, the lesser the odds that government will swoop in with a whole new set of guidelines.

  • Write, write, write — especially to your local congressional representatives and local media. The coalition has released sample letters to editors and letters to legislators that make it easy. Find them at ustravel.org and on other industry Web sites

  • Get involved with your meetings-industry associations. They are working collectively to create a strong and unified voice to help turn the perception tide.

Meetings are not about corporate excess or corporate greed. Meetings are about people and the human need to gather together, in small groups and large, for a wide variety of reasons. They are about the housekeepers, banquet servers, and bus drivers who staff the hospitality and travel industry; they are about the employees in Corporate America who work long hours to qualify for recognition programs; and they are about you and me. In this dire economy, there are many reasons to be smart about meetings, from showing return on investment to carefully managing every dollar of meeting spend — but there are few reasons to cancel meetings, other than the fear of public and media perception.

It is time to stand up and be heard about why meetings matter.