Between associations pounding the drums in Washington, advocacy experts spreading the word in forums near and far, and social media threads offering diverse opinions on what’s right, wrong, what could and should be done when it comes to elevating the stature of the meetings industry, there’s only one thing for corporate meetings professionals to do to take the issue beyond mere words: get a voice in the executive suite.
Some gaudy numbers have been attached to our industry to confirm its relevance. But the people you work for care more about an effective product launch than the 1.7 million jobs our industry creates; more about a sales meeting that delivers information and motivation than the industry’s $458 billion contribution to the GDP; and more about a good turnout at a trade show than the $64 billion in tax revenue provided by meetings.
The work of associations and advocacy experts is a key piece to the puzzle and highly valued. But executives don’t necessarily need to be told the economic impact of what their planners do. They need to understand, for example, that membership in trade organizations ostensibly to make meetings professionals better at their jobs should be supported, not curtailed. When incoming MPI Tampa Bay Chapter President Margaret Williams tells me many of her members’ companies won’t subsidize their memberships, either something is wrong with MPI or something is wrong with an infrastructure in which professionals are not encouraged to refine their craft, grow and learn. The executives are either much smarter than we are, or are totally missing the boat – which could highlight our inability to prove our worth.
In the plethora of social media discussion this past week, one planner took the stance: “My role is to find the best venue, ensure meeting rooms are set in the best configuration to accomplish their goals, and manage all logistics to ensure the meeting runs smoothly. I seldom get involved in the strategic side. When a manager contacts me, they already have a clear idea of why they are having the meeting. I read all the stories about how planners need a seat at the table. I believe that if I were asked to do that, I'd be unprepared and wouldn’t have the time or resources. I don’t know the intricacies of our business and don’t need to know them to be a great meeting planner.”
My response to this was mixed. On the one hand, if a person aspires to be a great planner and nothing more, and loves doing it, more power to her. However, the problem is that she runs the danger within the organization of being viewed in a certain light -- not necessarily a bad one, but at a level at which she loses the chance to elevate her role, to assert more control over her position, and runs the risk of being labeled non-essential or replaceable when cutbacks are mandated. I've seen HR people and financial people lose value in their organizations because they didn't truly understand the markets of their companies, so not knowing “the intricacies of our business” is not acceptable.
What that entire conversation brings home is that we as an industry have more at stake than the professional interest levels of some. In order to ensure the continued ability of this planner to do her meeting planning work harmoniously and rewardingly, we as a community need to stay close to those above us in the executive hierarchy and try to engage in Bigger Picture conversations, whether the top brass and/or the planner herself wants to take advantage or not.
It behooves every meetings professional to figure out how to get a foot in the door of the executive suite. What do you get involved in – and when? What do executives want to hear and what are they not concerned with? In what language do you speak to them? Time is of the essence – no sharing of weekend stories or family photos here. If executives understand value in the form of statistics, results, ROI and new business prospects, then stop claiming a lack of time to evaluate return and figure it out!
Just like seeing so many great technologies available for meetings but understanding the practicality of using only a few, so too is the situation when it comes to promoting the value of the meetings industry. Don’t worry about lofty facts and figures on our economic impact; no marching on the nation’s capital. Within the confines of your day-to-day roles, know that the best, and perhaps only, march you need to make, with orchestrated strategy and intelligence, is the one right down the hall to the corner office.