Meetings Canada


Why Are Event Professionals Our Own Worst Enemy?

By Les Selby, CMP, CMM

In April, I attended the MPI National Meetings Industry Day in Toronto, and thought it was interesting that Doug Bolger, of iLearn2, included in his Meetings Industry Influence Award acceptance speech several remarks about how meeting professionals must be better at communicating the business value of our events.

Why is it that so many professionals often fail to talk about what our events achieve in business terms?

Do we think costs and revenue are not as sexy as the great destinations we want to use for our next meeting or incentive?

Or do we really think that our executives will be more interested in the new leading-edge gifts we want to distribute or the latest food trend we want to try?

Doug Bolger and his team have watched our industry evolve over the past 10-plus years, from the early days when most planners contacted him for fun team-building activities, to today, when his company’s specialty is achieving results by ensuring they understand their clients’ objectives.

Doug and iLearn2 certainly deserve the recognition they received for their contributions to our industry, and their strategic approach should be held as an example to emulate.

What I find strange is that so many event professionals are unable to describe what we do in a way that resonates with the corner office.

The recent GSA scandal in the U.S. has sparked several new government initiatives to reduce American government meetings and events spend and make it easier for Congress to track expenditures.

Government, and event stakeholders, believe that lowering costs is the main problem.

The real issue that meeting professionals should be addressing is the need to prove that our events drive business and organizational success in measurable ways.

I find it strange that this incident, occurring so soon after the recent recession that encouraged so many event pundits to demand more event justification, still finds so many professionals avoiding the call for better measurement and reporting on ROI (return on investment) and ROO (return on objectives).

We all know that each event is held for a reason, but many planners still fail to relate what they do to the objectives of the sponsoring organization.

Even worse, I think that many suppliers, like Doug at iLearn2, are way ahead of many of their clients when it comes to proving the value of their services.

Why are planners less focused on results than many of the suppliers with whom we work?

I think we are our own worst enemy, still hoping that the ‘good old days’ will return, when executives simply saw events as a necessary evil and a cost that the organization had to incur, without relating the expenditure to achieving objectives.


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3 Comments » for Why Are Event Professionals Our Own Worst Enemy?
  1. Les, why classic planners focus on travel and hospitality tactics more and not on event portfolio outputs (results) is a great question. It’s one I’ve struggled with since I joined the community in 1988. Having come from Financial Services it never made sense to me to focus on tactics only and not strategy.

    What I’ve learned over the years is that the issue is complex. It is deeply rooted in the community and in the creation of the classic planner role. Allow me to explain…

    As I wrote in my new M&IT column – The Provocateur, the community is playing in two sandboxes. Sandbox one: helping classic planners deliver travel and hospitality logistics, and sandbox two: using an event portfolio investment to drive organizational performance. These are two very different business offerings requiring diverse skills and knowledge.

    Stuck in the middle, is the planner, who believe they need to be everything to everyone (I address this in my next column). An impossible role to fulfill! It’s not that planners don’t want to do it. It’s because they don’t necessarily have the knowledge and skill set needed. And when planners try to shift their focus on event portfolio outputs, they get push back from their immediate boss. They don’t necessarily want planners to do anything more than plan, coordinate and execute meeting and event logistics.

    Additionally, classic planners’ role was created on the supplier side (travel and hospitality) and not on the buyer side (corporate executives). This is why education, research and studies, are more often than not, centred on economic contributions of travel and hospitality elements of meetings and events.

    Finally, the community hasn’t taken a Whole-Systems Thinking approach. Whole-systems thinking is the process of understanding how things fit and influence one another within a whole. In this context, meetings and events are a system onto their own (within the greater organizational system). Each meeting and event consists of parts: setting objectives (to support overall business goals), design (content), return on investment/objectives, planning logistics (collaborative methods/technologies and travel & hospitality components) and delivery. If we consider each part influencing one another within the whole, we create more effective and efficient results.

    If the community wants to change (I don’t believe it does) it needs to decide what sandbox it wants to play in and then communicate why it exists. Trying to be everything to everyone is confusing and it’s not working as substantiated by the recent Great Recession, the AIG Effect, the GSA incident and your blog post.

  2. Les Selby says:

    Susan, you make some great points . Perhaps M&IT could ask event professionals in their next annual survey if they even see a need to report on the business impact of meetings and incentives. Maybe those of us who are strong believers in proving ROI and ROO are actually totally out of sync with the majority of our colleagues and are the misguided ones…

  3. OMGoodness! Folks need to realize isn’t not about them or the community. It’s about how do meeting and event outputs fit in and influence the CEO’s vision and business goals.

    If they are ‘out of sync’ with this, then why does the community exist?

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