The Professional Convention Management Association has invested an undisclosed amount of money in the Virtual Edge Institute, an organization that offers research and education on virtual events.

“We believe so strongly in it that we are making an investment,” said Deborah Sexton, president and chief executive officer, PCMA, who did not disclose the amount or commit to more than a one-time investment. PCMA is investing in education and research on virtual meetings, and not just for PCMA’s benefit, but for the meetings industry as a whole, she said. “It’s all about enhancing the meetings industry,” she said, speaking at an October 6 virtual press conference where she was joined by Michael Doyle, executive director, VEI, and Susan Katz, chair of the PCMA Board of Directors and director of corporate events and travel at True Value Co.

“PCMA recognizes the fundamental changes that are taking place, and we see the tremendous opportunity to be a leader in the discussion on behalf of our members as they shape the future of the meetings industry,” said Sexton. “There is a tremendous need for educating the industry on how to best plan, deploy, and manage these digital programs, and VEI is the source for this specialized education. Our investment in VEI enables this education to reach our members, and the industry as a whole, much faster and on a global basis.” VEI was the logical choice to invest in because it is a leader in virtual event research and education, and has continually championed the value of virtual events in the face-to-face world, said Sexton.

Virtual extensions of live meetings, or hybrid events, are critical to the growth of the meetings industry, added Katz. “Face-to-face and digital extensions are now part of the same tool kit. Event producers, venues, and technology providers are all going to need to come together to drive the next wave of innovation in our industry,” she said. PCMA offered a virtual extension of Convening Leaders in 2011. About 630 people attended, and at the same time the face-to-face event set a record with 3,743 attendees.

VEI co-located its Virtual Edge Summit with that same meeting in Las Vegas in 2011, and it will do so again in 2012 in San Diego. The Virtual Edge Summit will take place January 9-11, while Convening Leaders runs from January 8-11. The two remain separate conferences, explained Doyle, but this year, the two conferences will be more “tightly integrated,” meaning that some Virtual Edge sessions will run concurrently with PCMA sessions.

With the PCMA funding, VEI will accelerate the development of standards for the digital events industry, establish best practices, and provide education, said Doyle. At the Virtual Edge Summit in January, VEI will be rolling out a new Digital Event Strategist (DES) certification program. Ultimately, Doyle said, VEI is dedicated to driving education and growing the adoption of virtual and hybrid events as a component of a marketing and events strategy.

VEI plans to reach out to other industry associations, such as Meeting Professionals International, the American Society of Association Executives, and the International Association of Exhibition and Events, about research and education possibilities. Now it has the additional resources to accelerate and build upon other potential partnerships, said Doyle.

Although PCMA has committed to a co-location partnership with VEI for 2012, even if VEI decides to move its meeting or co-locate with another industry association in the future, PCMA would still offer branded VEI content at its meetings, added Sexton.

“It’s a real turning point for our industry today,” said Doyle, stating that the investment by PCMA is symbolic of the coming together of face-to-face and virtual meetings in a way that benefits the meetings industry.