Thursday, April 19, 2012

Live From TED2023

You decide if this is testament to the power of meetings in general or of the TED conference in particular: As part of their viral-marketing campaign for the upcoming summer blockbuster "Prometheus," filmmakers Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof have released a TEDTalk from the year 2023 by one of the film's characters -- industrialist Peter Weyland, played by Guy Pearce. The three-minute video was created with the full cooperation of TED, and even has an official page on TED's blog, complete with "About This Talk" and "About the Speaker" tabs.

Why TED? "'Prometheus' takes place in the future, but it's a movie about ideas, and I just felt like it would be really cool to have one of the characters from the movie give a TEDTalk," Lindelof tells a TED interviewer. "Obviously, since the movie is set in the distant future, it would have to be a little more contemporary. But wouldn't it be cool if it was a TED talk from a decade in the future? And what is a TEDTalk going to look like in 10 years? And what would this guy have to say?"

Well, among other things, he might say that a conference is just the place to announce that you're going to change the world.

Friday, April 13, 2012

GSA: A Sort of Screed

Following up on Michelle's post about PCMA's recent webcast spinning off the GSA controversy -- I'm watching this case unspool from two different perspectives, each one maybe a little different from that of the general public: as someone who works in or for the meetings industry, and as someone who lives in the Washington, D.C., area. Thanks to the first perspective, I'm cautious about condemning the people who organized the GSA conference that's on its way to becoming the subject of congressional hearings, because at least some -- not all, but some -- of the things that are being most harshly criticized seem like the normal, necessary trappings of any meeting. The whole story is still shaking out, but I do wonder if some of what has people upset is based on a misunderstanding of how meetings are planned, and how much they cost. Shades of Muffingate, perhaps.

The second perspective is related to the first, but, of course, much more personal. Living in Arlington, Va., I have a number of friends and neighbors who work for the government -- indirectly, as contractors and consultants, and also directly, as federal employees. All of them are hard-working professionals who take their jobs seriously, and to see this controversy used as an occasion to mutter -- on talk radio and blogs and comments pages -- about lazy, overpaid government bureaucrats is upsetting. As if government employees shouldn't be meeting at all, anywhere, under any circumstances, because they serve at the pleasure of taxpayers.

Were elements of this meeting out of line? Yes, absolutely. Some of it was crazy tone-deaf; some of it was outlandish. But, as the Society of Government Meeting Professionals notes in its response:
[T]his apparent instance of excessive spending is newsworthy in part because it's unusual. ... The federal government maintains strict rules regarding spending and ethics when it comes to travel and, as in this case, when those rules are broken those responsible should be held accountable. The entire government meetings industry should not be judged on this one grossly "over the top" executed event. It clearly demonstrates the importance of agencies having a professional meeting planner versed in the proper processes of solicitation, contract awards and event execution, as required by government policy, the procurement process and ethical conduct standards.
Serious professionals need serious meetings, and serious meetings cost money -- more than most people realize, I think.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Imagining Hawaii

At the Executive Experience fam trip to the Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Joe Rohde, Disney's Chief Imagineer, described for participants what it was like to see his vision come to life. (You can read more about the fam trip in our April issue.)

Last June, Executive Editor Chris Durso talked to Rohde about the creative development process he led in creating the resort's design. You can read that interview here.

Ethics or Ignorance?

Last week's media storm over reports of the General Services Administration's (GSA) lavish Las Vegas conference for government employees served as the jumping-off point for a PCMA Webcast, Meeting Value & Strategic Measurement. It might have been the reason why the table was set for the discussion — between Webcast participants and PCMA President & CEO Deborah Sexton; Chairman of the PCMA Board of Directors Kent Allaway, CEM, CMP; and PCMA Senior Vice President of Education & Meetings Kelly Peacy, CMP, CAE — but it was not the meal that was served. Whether the GSA's overspending was the result of an ethical breach or ignorance, the focus of the Webcast was more on lessons learned and opportunities moving forward.

The media's portrayal of the GSA conference as an isolated instance of a government agency failing to follow federal travel regulations and making poor choices was encouraging, Deborah said at the beginning of the Webcast, because "this time, versus other sensationalized instances in the past, the public and Washington did not make sweeping judgments regarding the benefit equation of meeting face to face. Something is working." That "something" she attributed to the Economic Significance Study released last year, which was important in positioning the meetings industry as vital to the economy. But, she quickly added, "We're only halfway there. What we need to do is create a solid messaging campaign that talks about the benefits, other than economic, that face-to-face meetings create."

GSA serves as a glaring example of the need to continue to professionalize our industry. It's why, Deborah said, PCMA offers the education and tools that detail professional convention management standards on how to best define event objectives, clear measurements, and justification of spend, from RFPs, contracts, ethics, corporate social responsibility, third-party practices, and more.

"Professionals in our business understand the need for clearly defined goals and objectives that define not only what will take place at the meeting, but what will be accomplished at the end. This allows for budgetary recommendations and decisions to be made effectively at a person’s organization," Kent said. "Are we effectively evaluating the meetings we are holding? Are we attaching measurement to dollars that we are spending? Can you support that increased spending in one area resulted in increased attendance or education?"

Measurement is one thing; ethics is another. As Kent pointed out, there are a lot of opportunities in this industry "to make an incorrect choice." More training and mentoring is needed on ethical decision-making. Kelly noted that PCMA's membership application and renewal form includes the Principles of Professional and Ethical Conduct with 10 points "that serve to remind us" of appropriate behavior.

But ethical questions can be tricky. Plus, new ones evolve over time, Kelly noted. Kent said: "Transparency with your leadership will always pay dividends and result in a clear understanding, especially around expenses, trips, gifts, etc."

In addition to bringing ethical considerations to their attention, it's critical for planners to communicate consistently with their CEO on evaluation, strategic measurement, and spend justification, Kelly said, to be "proactive with reports" and make "spending vs. savings" a constant discussion.

Our biggest challenge, Deborah concluded, "is still in front of us: to create a global message on the value of individuals getting together face to face."

Here's the 30-minute Webinar in its entirety on PCMA365.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Red-Carpet Treatment

Storm damage in Henryville. State Farm photo.
On March 2, an historic outbreak of storms unleashed dozens of  tornadoes in 11 southern and central states, killing more than 40 and injuring hundreds more.

That was on a Friday. By Monday, the Cincinnati-based George Fern Exposition and Event Services had set up a fund to help storm victims through the Red Cross. The company made an initial contribution of $5,000 and pledged to match employee contributions until March 31. (By the end of March, the total had reached $11,000.)

“The tornadoes hit two of our markets pretty significantly,” including the southern Cincinnati area, and areas to the north and northwest of Louisville [Ky.]," said COO Aaron Bludworth.

Even after setting up the relief fund, Bludworth thought there was still more that the company could do. (The company and its employees have a track record of reaching out, we discovered when we wrote about Fern employee Jean Tracy’s volunteer work in Haiti.)

So Bludworth contacted the mayors of some of the hardest-hit towns to ask if the Fern’s tractor-trailers could be used as collection points for supplies. But the affected communities were already overflowing with support, Bludworth learned. “I moved here four years ago and I’ve been very impressed with how the communities were supporting one another.”
Photo courtesy
But in late March, Bludworth got a call about something that he was in a unique position to supply: carpeting, for temporary school facilities for about  500 students in Henryville, Ind., where a tornado had destroyed the junior-senior high school.
When carpeting has reached the end of its useful life for trade shows, it’s still in good condition, Bludworth said. In one day, his team pulled 22,000 square feet of carpet from their distribution center, and delivered it the next day to the temporary school facilities.
The school’s colors are blue and yellow; Fern couldn’t get carpeting in those colors together fast enough to fulfill the entire request, Bludworth said. Instead, students got the red-carpet treatment.

“The kids were out of school for a month,” Bludworth said, “I’m glad to be able to help them get back, and get their lives to where things are a little bit more normal.”

Monday, April 2, 2012

There's a Blog for That?

A recurring feature in Convene's front-of-the-magazine "Plenary" department is "There's a Meeting For That?" which explores the awe-inspiring range of interests that bring people together.

We've uncovered everything from the Face Painting and Body Art Convention to Laurapalooza 2010, which brought together scholars and fans interested in children's author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Our takeaway? No matter how narrow the niche, people love both to share what they know and to learn from each other.

In that spirit, we offer "There's a Blog for That?," a link to a blog with an off-the-beaten-path perspective on a topic relevant to the meetings industry.

First up is Sound Branding Blog, by Karlheinz Illner, a German sound-branding expert.  "Music sparks emotions and emotions control our brain's decisions," says Illner, who consults on projects for leading international firms, including Coca-Cola and Mercedes-Benz.

Illner doesn't post frequently, but what he has to say is often fascinating. (Here's a link to an interview he did with another blogger about sound branding in hotels.)

As Illner notes, sound branding is a new field. But as meeting planners pay more attention to the senses and the art and science of creating immersive experiences, Illner's voice is one worth tuning into every now and then.

And, as it turns out, there is a meeting for that: Illner has blogged about the Audio Branding Academy's annual Audio Branding Congress, which launched in 2009.