Anyone who has been to the annual gathering of the Religious Conference Management Association likely has run into Fred Reichelt. The former director of worldwide accounts for Hyatt Hotels and Resorts has been a regular at RCMA conferences for 27 years, so he knows first-hand what makes planner and supplier members tick. Now that he’s retired from Hyatt, he’s bringing his expertise to RCMA, where he will help the association become an even more vital resource to its members and supplier partners. We caught up with Reichelt recently to learn more.

Q: One would think that after 34 years with Hyatt—27 of which you spent at headquarters—you’d be ready for a little rest and relaxation. But instead you’re taking on a new challenge.
After I left Hyatt, I spent some extended time on the East coast with family I previously was able to visit only once or twice a year. Then last summer I went back to my home in the Chicago area to try to figure out what I want to do next. I spent a lot of time getting involved in service initiatives through my church and the Kiwanis Club.

But things really clicked when I ran into Harry Schmidt, RCMA’s executive director, last fall and we started talking about all the new things RCMA is doing now, the change in philosophy and management it’s undergone recently. During my time at Hyatt, the association world was my most important market, and the idea of being able to work with a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that I had known as a supplier partner for 27 years was intriguing. It pulled me off the couch and got me back into the swing of things.

As RCMA’s new member specialist, your mission is to increase member engagement. What does that mean to you?
Initially I want to listen to the needs of our current RCMA members and supplier members, to find out what they really want from the organization. I want to understand what positive contributions we have made to each type of member while also noting areas we might want to reinvent. RCMA’s ability to reach out successfully will happen one member at a time.  

RCMA has a long and rich tradition, especially when it comes to the annual conference. How would you balance long-held traditions with what people are looking for today?
I think it’s important to evaluate where you’ve come from, what got you where you are today, then figure out if it’s still meaningful and move on. One thing I believe that will continue to be vital to RCMA’s success is the “relationship model” it’s been operating under for 40-plus years. It’s not about how many appointments you have or how quickly you go from booth to booth; it’s about really knowing who you’re working with on the other side of the aisle. One of the strengths of RCMA has always been the ability to help facilitate those relationships, and that’s something we plan to build on in the future. We will continue to facilitate buyer/seller relationships by providing more specific research in advance of the conference, which will allow both parties to create more “win” opportunities.

In addition, the more we know about our members, the more we can help them find what they need (be it a holiday convention or a room rate of less than $100 in a first-tier city). And now we have our new Member Suite technology, which enables us to continually maintain our members’ most recent profile data, which is pretty exciting.    

What a great time to be in this industry!

What qualities do you bring to your new role that you plan to leverage to make RCMA even more useful to members and supplier members?
I was brought up in a family restaurant/tavern business where we were all encouraged to pitch in wherever help was needed. My position might be called “member specialist,” but what I’ll really be doing is encouraging engagement, both with our members and my new team. Our association cannot be successful if we don’t fully execute what we promote to our members.

In addition, I was blessed to have taken part in a 15-month hospitality training program, where I learned what it means to work at a national hotel company in nine different capacities while serving the needs of every type of market segment in the hospitality industry. My previous hospitality positions allowed me to work with some of the most creative meeting professionals in the industry, and the best in exhibit and marketing promotions, while developing an understanding of the role a budget plays in the success of an event. I hope this might have prepared me to do some unique thinking about how we can better meet the needs of our supplier members.   

I’ve also watched RCMA operate for 27 years from the outside, and that gives me a perspective that may be a bit dangerous! I’m the type of person who asks not just what services our members truly need from us, but also why they need them. I also bring to the table the ability to understand what existing trends are important, and what new trends will be key for faith-based organizations.  
What are you most looking forward to for the remainder of 2013?
I look forward to continuing the outreach we began this January at Emerge in Minneapolis. I’ve never worked with a group that was more hospitable—our RCMA staff is always asking, “What do you need?” and “How can we help you?” It’s incredible. I also am looking forward to hearing what people tell us they need, evaluating it to make sure it makes good business sense to do it, and then making it happen. For example, one of RCMA’s past board members, Cindy Winters with the National Council for Family Relations, is a part of her organization’s 75th Annual Convention this November. It’s a special occasion for members of this group. Can our association provide the culture to support special situations like this, either through education or just plain old networking of ideas? More to come!

I cannot tell you how proud I am to work with our new executive director, Harry Schmidt, who I have known professionally for 20-plus years! I am also thankful that I will be working with RCMA’s Dean Jones, Judy Valenta, and Debbie Hochstetler. Just as our family business’s success depended on everyone doing their part, our success at RCMA will be based on each of our team member’s ability to work together to better serve RCMA members.

It’s premature to mention any specific strategies the RCMA board will want us to pick up and run with, but I can say one thing—I sure hope I can catch you on your phone or in person in the city where you live and work. Your success is my business!

So if people don’t know you yet…
I’ll be in touch! [Or you can reach him by e-mail at freichelt@rcmaweb.org]