Q&A | MPI’s Leaders Say Industry Needs More Credibility

In building toward this year’s World Education Congress in Minneapolis, MPI’s leadership knew it must appeal to a different audience than years past. Yes, it was still meeting planners and suppliers at one of the industry’s marquee events, but there was a new, younger generation in the audience. Accordingly, topics like wellness and speakers from outside the industry that would not have been on the program five years ago were among WEC’s highlights. With that in mind, few would have a better perspective on the new era of meetings than MPI President and CEO Paul Van Deventer (pictured) and Chairman of the Board Kevin Kirby. Collaborate Senior Editor Matt Swenson discussed the state of the industry with the two leaders during WEC. Has the next generation of planners established themselves? PVD:  We’re definitely seeing a different dynamic with a lot of the younger generation progressing very fast. That dynamic is being supported by number of educational institutions having full meetings and event programs. In the past, people did not think of meetings and events as careers. Now we have people coming out of high school and college with the intent of getting degrees with that focus. They bring a skill set of technology awareness that allows them to progress with a faster pace than they might have 20 years ago. Are the affects of the recession and lavish spending on meetings still being felt? KK: As an industry, we bore the brunt of what was happening, regrettably enough. We’ve done wonderful job trying to turn the ship around. But if I did a poll of everyone at WEC and asked “Do we have the credibility as an industry that we used to have and we desire to have?” They would say, “Absolutely not.” We do know that we have changed the mindset of some of the leaders in the nation. Congress just passed a new bill for U.S. travel. That’s a starting point. It’s really come a long way, but we’ve got long way to go. We have every intention to keep pushing it. How do you build that credibility? PVD: I have a vision that this industry will be viewed with same credibility that other industries have been able to establish, whether it’s legal, financial services or health care. To get there, we have to demonstrate to those not in the industry we have professionalism and credibility in the world force. One of key steps is to provide the educational standards and qualifications that can be viewed outside the industry with credibility. Those initials after people’s names can have real true credibility. Like when someone has a CFP, you are more comfortable going to that person. Twenty years ago, that CFP wasn’t real out there. The financial planning industry has done great job of saying, “We are credible, but we are only credible because we are only endorsing a certain portion of our population who has demonstrated the skill set, integrity and qualifications to do that job.” Where does the industry need to grow? KK: It’s imperative for our members, and industry folks in general, to understand how we fit into the bigger equation so they can articulate the value proposition relative to the global landscape. What’s the experiential aspect? What’s the follow-up? What’s the return on investment months from now and years from now? PVD: We are looking at a change in mindset. Is this a party planning job where people go to have shrimp and cocktails? Or are meetings a core part of organizational strategy to bring new customers in, grow customers, get a brand out there and reposition your organization? So when next the recession comes around, you have business owners who are saying that I can’t cut that out of my budget and the only way to get out of recession is to grow top line, and the investment in these kind of events helps me grow top line. What are some trends that have caught your eye? PVD: Recent research we did on the future of meetings disproved a theory that technology and virtual and hybrid meetings will put face-to-face meetings out of business. Research is showing, and we are seeing in application, that technology has allowed meetings to become more effective and things like social media have increased the need to meet because they have created new groups and new ideas and new concepts. To take those to that next level, you need to meet face to face. From a member-based perspective, we’re hearing the traditional association model is not as relevant to Gen X and Gen Yers. The idea that I join an association for all my networking and all my education because I can’t go anywhere else is no longer true. Information is ubiquitous. Content is ubiquitous. The next generation is looking for who’s going to curate that for me in a way that saves me time, gives me better access and does it in a cost-effective manner. It might not be that you pay $400 per year to get all that. It could be a very different model to be relevant going forward. That’s not just a question for MPI, but for all associations. We need to evolve and evolve fast.