Barry Jones used his degree in construction management to build “a dog house and a barn,” he says. Today he's using his desire to help people to build up families through his work as manager of conference planning for FamilyLife, in Little Rock, Ark.
“I wanted to do something, like many people do, to make a difference in someone's life, change someone's world, maybe even their prospects for eternity,” Jones says. He and his wife, Lillian, had experienced a FamilyLife weekend and were impressed, so, after a seven-year “temporary job” in Dallas, he pursued a job with the organization.
That was 15 years ago. When he started as a meeting planner, he worked on 10 events a year. He started to complain about the, so his boss told him to try it. He's been in his current position for 12 years. “The position is trying to make everyone happy,” he said.
The 30-year-old FamilyLife, a division of Campus Crusade for Christ, draws couples to each other by offering Bible-based blueprints for life. The weekend retreats equip mothers and fathers to be better parents through loving each other more. For those without children, the retreats offer the same benefits of learning about communication and conflict resolution, Jones says.
FamilyLife offers 135 hotel-based weekend events each year, held in various-sized cities around the country. Events attract 400 to 1,000 attendees.
Jones works about a year ahead, finding sites and negotiating with the hotels. A dozen full-time planners take it from there.
Jones scouts locations a few times a year. He chooses places that he would send friends to, places that if he sent his parents they would be able to find the hotel without getting confused, he explains. He also likes to connect with local people to see what they would recommend.
He has been an RCMA member for about 12 years. “It gives me the chance to put a name to the face,” he says of RCMA conventions. “Eighty percent of the people I do business with attend. When you juggle that many events that far in advance, it just gives you touch points.”
Jones' favorite RCMA tutorials are offerings inlaw, which give him the confidence to point out breach of contract when it happens and to help his planners recognize it. “Contracts are agreements with purpose, so everyone wins. Some people pretend nothing wrong is going on. Understanding gives you the framework to steer through it,” he says.
He has been around the industry long enough to see some shifts. “We're entering the era of revenue manager. The logic that worked five years ago is not working today,” he says. Sales managers have less flexibility and less power to do what they are good at, building relationships and working to please the client. Planners are now “in the position of taking what they hand us,” Jones says, noting that in the last months he has seen prices increase not just by a few dollars but by 10 percent.
But he tells other planners: “Know that there are trends in the industry, and someday the planners will be in the driver's seat.”
FamilyLife conventions are unique because of the local emphasis. About 50 percent of the attendees drive from home; the other half stay at the hotel, even if they live 15 minutes away. It's part of the feeling of a getaway weekend, Jones said. He's able to give the hotels a forecast of room bookings within 10 percent to 15 percent. Attendees do their own hotel bookings, with information provided by FamilyLife in the registration brochure. FamilyLife gathers about a third of registrations online, with the rest in mail-ins and some walk-ins.
The conventions are special in other ways too. “Even the hotel staff acknowledges that these are unique,” Jones says. They'll see couples coming in on Friday, leaving Sunday holding hands.
“You hear a lot of happy-ending stories,” Jones says.
“We point them back to what the Bible says about forgiveness and communication. We actually tell our people that your mate is a gift from God. Sometimes the leaders will actually slap Post-Its on spouses' foreheads saying ‘My mate is not my enemy.’”
He sees change emerge, even when he is just sitting in the back of the room. “I hear it over and over again, and I still sometimes come to tears.”
GETTING TO KNOW
Born: Gorman, Texas
College: Texas A&M
Family: Married 22 years to Lillian; eight children, ages 2-18
Hobbies: “There's a lot to do, just to keep the family going.”