Thursday, April 12, 2012

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.

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