Interviews With Leaders
Three past inductees of the Convention Industry Council’s Hall of Leaders speak out on everything from the future of the industry, technology and innovation, the importance of advocacy, the key people who have influenced their own careers, and lots more.
CIC: What are the industry’s biggest challenges as we enter a new year?
| || || |
| Terri Breining |
| Christine Duffy || Christian Mutschlechner |
Christine Duffy: The meetings industry is one that benefits from increased corporate confidence and growth. With slow economies in America and Europe, the future of the industry and its continued growth is uncertain. The biggest challenge for the industry is uncertainty: uncertainty in the economic situation, the outlook of corporate earnings, and the implications of the recent election.
Terri Breining: An evolving understanding and importance of the meeting industry as a key marketing and communication channel. This is good for business and good for the meeting industry, but the people delivering meetings have to develop new skills in order to deliver on the potential of meetings. Another challenge is the rapid evolution of technology, which changes everything about how we communicate internally and externally. There is a balance in meetings that includes utilizing new technology, but not to the point that it becomes a gimmick and obscures the real focus of the meeting itself.
Christian Mutschlechner: In many cases we have to be acrobats – balancing between young and older generations among delegates, creating environments that are adequate to both groups, combining it with the right level of technology, and creating a different scenario for knowledge transfer and education. CIC: What are the most important innovations and advances our industry has seen in recent years?
Breining: Besides the obvious impact of new technology, I see the influx of young people who have worked for degrees in meeting management. They are starting stronger and will likely accomplish more than many veterans have ever done – including me.
Mutschlechner: Our clients drive development and a lot of issues are challenging us; however, one of the most fascinating for me is the expansion of live events to the virtual world and, by that, enlarging participation and contributions.
Duffy: I believe the industry has gained a better understanding of advocacy and has learned the importance of engagement. Through the work of groups such as U.S. Travel Association, and their efforts to educate and raise awareness of the benefits of the meetings industry, policymakers now have a better understanding of the importance of travel and the positive impact travel, cruising, and the meetings industries have on the economy. CIC: How do you view today’s event technology and its effect on the industry?
Duffy: New technologies are developed daily, and some make it while others are not as successful. Remember that technology is an enabler – a tool that is supposed to make our work more efficient and easier. From my experience, it isn’t necessary to jump and switch to the latest technology available to get the value and efficiency you need for your business. Networking with peers to gain better understanding of user experience will allow you to focus on the best technologies needed to do a job more efficiently and effectively.
Mutschlechner: Less is more – analyze carefully which technology really enhances the quality of meetings and the interaction among delegates. Not every type is good for our meetings. Technology has to serve -- not dominate. CIC: Do you see hybrid/virtual meetings as a viable component in concert with live face-to-face events?
Duffy: Absolutely. I’ve also said that virtual meetings will never replace the value of bringing people together and I believe that business executives understand the power of “face to face” more, now than ever before. However, there is definitely a place for virtual/hybrid meetings, especially in preparation for a face-to-face event. Virtual meetings are also effective ways to follow up to an in-person meeting and create opportunities to extend those important conversations. Hybrid meetings also provide opportunities for people to participate in an event that they otherwise would not have been able to attend.
Breining: They absolutely represent the future of meetings. And it’s much more than just video streaming the live event. There is a sophisticated level of production that is essential if we expect a high degree of engagement for live and virtual participation.
Mutchlechner: Yes, as an add-on to live events to extend participation and engagement to a larger audience. CIC: How would you say the financial model for running large conventions has changed in recent years, and what advice could you offer to help industry professionals stay abreast with the current trends and manage accordingly?
Mutschlechner: The basic financial model is still valid, but some elements of it will change (just think about medical meetings). Content quality has to drive, that’s why delegates need to attend, and the industry will focus more on research than marketing.
Duffy: Hosted-buyer programs are proving to be an extremely successful option for conventions and trade shows. This past year, at IMEX for example, the show was in its second year of running a hosted-buyer program attracting more and more people each year. CIC: What is your opinion on advocacy efforts to communicate the value of meetings in Corporate America and beyond?
Duffy: One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about advocacy is that you can’t wait until there’s a problem to get involved. You have to tell your story and engage your constituents in advance of an issue. I learned this the hard way in my former position as President of Maritz Travel when the effects of AIG hit the meetings industry hard and we scrambled to organize ourselves to educate policymakers about our industry. We had meetings with policymakers in Washington and with local politicians. We engaged the grassroots of our industries and held rallies to show the “Faces of Travel,” and over time it made a difference. We were able to tell our story and watch as the tide turned and our business came back.
This experience became an important turning point for the travel industry as a whole and for me personally, as I felt the impact of what occurs when you are not prepared to deal with an issue or a crisis. We had a lot of people willing to support us during this time because they were personally impacted by what happened. However, people tend to forget the importance of advocacy when they aren’t dealing with a crisis. It is important to constantly remain engaged, communicating and building relationships with policymakers so that a foundation is built and an understanding of your industry exists when a crisis occurs.
Breining: It’s got to be done with a united voice. If we have 20 different industry organizations each advocating from the perspective of their constituent group, we won’t have any impact at all. We have to talk about the impact of meetings on business in and outside of America -- and not just for corporations but for associations, government, and non-profits as well.
Mutschlechner: We are still at the beginning; however, the economic measurement results achieved in Canada, U.S., Mexico, Denmark and soon the United Kingdom are promising, as this supports our industry being recognized as a real industry. CIC: What person has had the biggest influence on your career?
Mutschlechner: Perhaps my first boss, accepting mistakes and allowing me to learn from those mistakes and not being fired.
Breining: Too many to mention.
Duffy: Within the industry I’ve had many mentors: Barbara Talbot, the former Executive Vice President and Head of Marketing for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, has been a great mentor to me. I have so much respect for Charlotte St. Martin, one of the first women to become a general manager of a major hotel, and a real pioneer for women in the meetings industry. I also admire and am so proud of Christy Hicks, Senior Vice President of Global Sales for Starwood Hotels who I have known for most of my career. Of course, the McGettigan family, Norbert, Doreen and Mimi McGettigan, who I worked with for 20 years. John Pino, the visionary CEO at McGettigan and founder of StarCite and now i-Meet, was such an important mentor as was Steve Maritz, Chairman and CEO of Maritz Holdings. Lastly, Roger Dow has been a great role model and friend. I could go on and on: Hugh Lee, George Aguel, Bob Moore, Chuck Bowling, Roger Helms -- I could name 20 others if you let me.
CIC: What has induction into the Hall of Leaders meant to you?
Breining: It was a profound honor to be included on the same list as some of the people that have been my heroes. It continues to be a source of surprise and delight that I was determined worthy myself. I feel like I’ve been enormously fortunate to have stumbled into the meeting industry and discover work that provides such satisfaction and connection with others. So the fact that I was chosen for this honor because I was doing a job I love is pretty amazing.
Mutschlechner: On one hand it is the recognition for individual effort, but on a global basis it is being the front person for many other people who contributed, as well as my staff -- without them I would not have been able to engage on a global level.
Duffy: It was a tremendous honor and privilege to be named to the Hall of Leaders in 2007 and be in the company of so many influential people and friends. It also made me realize I still had a lot of my career ahead of me and in some ways got me thinking about what I wanted to do next. Running a trade association is very different from my work at McGettigan and Maritz, and while I am still in the travel industry and keeping my hands in the meeting and incentive industry through a role on the MPI Foundation Board, USTA Board, and MCI Board of Advisors, it is great to be learning about an entirely new business. I think when you look at several of the Hall of Leaders inductees you’ll see that many of us have reinvented our roles and what we do, which is so important today. Careers and lifespan are longer, and the ability to recreate yourself and evolve your career is something we should be encouraging and leading others to think about more seriously.
CIC: In what areas should CIC study new programs, products and/or resources to assist industry professionals and raise the awareness of the organization?
Breining: Measuring the ROI of meetings. If we’re able to get that done and have it become a standard element of meeting management, we have the compelling argument – with data – we need to prove that face-to-face meetings make a difference. Not just to make people feel good, but to create an impact for the organization holding the meeting and for those attending it.
Mutschlechner: Perhaps some new programs in areas like meeting architecture and meeting design to name a couple.
Duffy: There is an opportunity to highlight the activities of previous Hall of Leaders recipients to share their stories of tried and true methods they used to be successful in the meetings industry. Use the past CIC Hall of Leaders inductees to speak, mentor, and promote the benefits of being part of this industry.
There is also a tremendous opportunity to create programs to broaden CIC’s recognition program, which CIC has already started through its new Pacesetter Awards, specifically with young, emerging leaders and by already recognizing people who have made significant contributions in specific areas, such as Amy Spatrisano who was a pioneer in promoting green meetings before it was popular to do so.
CIC: How would you describe the current state of associations? Are they still relevant?
Breining: Associations are relevant, but in a very different way than before. People have many more options today than in the past to get their education, networking, industry updates, etc. But people still want to meet with others that “get” us. Associations can be that place, but they have to have a much clearer picture of their mission, the people they serve and how to serve them most effectively.
Mutschlechner: Many associations are still relevant, but they need to show ROI to membership, and their activities have to be such that those members are committed to being active.
Duffy: All associations today are focused on how to remain relevant to their members, their mission, and the future generations of members they will have to attract. Associations will very much remain relevant as long as they continue to embrace and evolve as their industry evolves.
CIC: What keeps you awake at nights?
Duffy: Perhaps most important is that the meetings industry still is not completely committed to “walk the talk” regarding advocacy. It is extremely important for the industry to stay engaged at all times with policymakers, not just when there is a crisis.
There is also still a large gap with senior executives understanding the long-term benefits of corporate meetings and events and seeing the industry as an investment in the company’s future growth. Meetings and events still run the risk of being one of the first items to be cut from a corporation’s budget when the economy turns.
And, there is the reality that even with all the progress made in Washington with policymakers on Why Meetings Matter to the economy and jobs, we still can’t get senior corporate CEOs or CMOs to speak out and engage with the media in a visible way on the value that face-to-face investments in meetings bring to the bottom line. Until that changes, this industry will always be at risk when the next economic downturn hits or we face the crisis of perception around the optics of taking people to a resort or vacation destination for a meeting or event.
Breining: I’m happy to say I haven’t lost sleep for a long time over an industry issue! I think it’s an exciting time to be in the meeting industry, and I’m very happy to still be playing an active part in it.
Mutschlechner: Fortunately nothing, because an excellent sleep is a must in order to be awake and positively alerted during daytime.
ROUNDTABLE WHO’S WHO
Terri Breining is Principal of Breining Group LLC, a firm focused on consulting, facilitation and training in the meeting industry. Previously, Terri founded Concepts Worldwide, a meeting management firm headquartered in San Diego County for over 21 years. Concepts Worldwide was a recognized international leader in providing ROI measurement and full-service strategic meeting management. She was inducted into the Hall of Leaders in 2010.
Christine Duffy is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Cruise Lines International Association, comprised of 26 cruise lines and nearly 16,000 affiliated travel agencies. Duffy joined CLIA in February 2011 after serving six years as President and CEO of Maritz Travel Company. She was inducted into the Hall of Leaders in 2008.
Christian Mutschlechner is Director of the Vienna Convention Bureau. He was inducted into the Hall of Leaders in 2011.