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Building Trust in the Meetings Industry's "New Normal"

Recently a good friend of mine was lamenting that building trust in NEW business relationships in the meetings industry is no longer “what it used to be.” She likened the process to dating again after divorcing her partner of 19 years… It’s a very different environment out there, due to a number of converging trends:

Online: Consumers and business decision-makers are increasingly searching for solutions online.  The Fleishman-Hillard  - Harris Interactive Annual Global Study reported that 89% of consumers research potential purchases online first.   As consumers increasingly adopt this "self-serve" mentality, business have had to respond by dramatically increasing the availability of online information.  In addition, consumers are increasingly averse to accepting intrusive marketing messages.  The result is increasingly fragmented communication channels and decreasing personal access to prospects;

Social: Two out of three Canadians report using social media, while 1/3 say they check their social media feed everyday.  The ComScore 2013 Canada Digital Future in Focus Report says the top three Canadian social media sites are Facebook, Twitter, followed by LinkedIn. In August 2013, Maclean's reported that, "19 million Canadians are now logging onto Facebook at least once every month — that’s more than half the population." And according to Canadian Business Magazine this means Canada has the highest number of users in the world, per capita.  Not only is there a proliferation of information online but this information is spun and “re-purposed” in multiple media, especially through social network sharing;

Mobile: Almost half of Canadians now own smartphones, according to new data from Ipsos Reid, while 1/3 have a tablet computer. These users expect information at their fingertips, literally. If your information isn't found online quickly, and isn't optimized for mobile devices, you're not in the market.

Younger: According to StatsCan, 1,000 Canadians are now reaching retirement age every day -- that number is 10,000 in the USA.  The recession and recent changes to Old Age Security may be delaying some leaving the workforce, but by 2014, the retirement wave is expected to hit. Boomers are being replaced by younger workers who are more tech-savvy and more comfortable with multitasking. They are used to a faster pace of change.

In the meetings industry we have more specific trends:
  • Virtual and hybrids meetings are extending the reach and broadening the impact of face-to-face events.
  • With more content being captured and published online, attendee and non-attendee engagement can or should last much longer than just the duration of the meeting.
  • Through it all, it is more and more challenging for meetings industry suppliers and destinations to distinguish themselves in their marketing. They face increasing commoditization.
All these trends are changing how people buy and sell: how meetings industry suppliers attract planners and how planners get attendees to register. It’s affecting how sponsors pick which event they associate their brands with. I could go on.  This is affecting everything.

So under this “new normal,” what are the most effective tactics you can use to improve your chances and build trust with prospects and new clients?  Here is what we found:

1.     Beef up your website:  There are two aspects to this.  With customers looking for more and better information online, businesses must invest in their online presence through Search Engine Optimization. Having an old or poorly-optimized website is equivalent to NOT have a store sign if you are a retailer.  Customers won’t be able to find you!

Secondly, don’t just have static, sales-driven information.  Offer value upfront.  Create resources that help your target audience do better.  Position your organization as the go-to source in your field with a blog, downloadable tips sheets, etc.  Helpful and continually refreshed content is the best way to truly optimize your online presence.

2.     Work your existing clients:  Building trust is harder when you don’t have an “in” so make sure you make the most of your existing customer base.  Ask for referrals and use client testimonials.

3.     Go out & network: F2F (face-to-face) is the single fastest way to improve trust.  After all, peace accords are NOT negotiated by email or conference call.  Rise to the challenge, go see prospects in person or invite them to an educational experience at your hotel or destination.

4.     Communicate every 30 days: If you don't communicate at least once every month, you risk losing a minimum 10% of your prospect’s awareness of your organization.  You need to nurture your growing relationships.  The key is to vary the ways you touch new contacts each month.  A phone call, a personal note, a visit to their office, an email newsletter, an invitation to an event... Be creative!

5.     Create alliances:  Alliances should be forged not only with people who can refer you business, but even competitors.  One independent hotel sales rep I know recently landed a large booking by reaching out to his larger chain competitor around the corner.  And how else do you create alliances except by networking?

6.     Show gratitude:  We can never do it enough.  Say thank you in a personal way.  Not by email.  Express yourself with a hand-written note, preferably on nice stationery or card.  You don't have to splurge for a gift, but if the matter was considerable, then by all means send flowers, chocolates or other choice item.  Just make sure the person is allowed to accept a gift, and that it is as personal as possible.

We hope you will find these tips useful.  Have more ways you to growg the trust factor in your new relationships for your hotel, CVB or meeting services firm?  Please share by posting a comment!

Innovation in the Meetings Industry: Lessons from #PCMACIC13

While meeting professionals instinctively know that bringing people face-to-face creates conversations and sparks innovation, one could argue the meetings industry itself really hasn't evolved all that much since business events became more popular.

Sure, we've had innovations with technology, enabling better audiovisual presentations, and even hybrid meetings. But have meeting professionals truly been able to change the way meetings are conducted, beyond the traditional lecture models and tradeshow formats we have known for the last 40-50 years?

The organizers of the first PCMA Canadian Innovation Conference (#PCMACIC13), held in Niagara Falls November 10-12, tried to explore that very issue.  It was my first time attending any PCMA event. Like many in attendance, I wasn't really sure what form innovation would take at this particular event. 

What I saw at this conference was a lot of what we have all seen in the past. Elegant staging, beautifully decorated rooms, keynote speakers and breakout sessions. What was different about this conference is that the organizers really wanted to push the envelope about how we can innovate in our business. And for this they must be commended.

I've always felt that the true test of a great conference is what stays with you long after the event has passed.  Was this event truly innovative enough to make people think differently and behave differently? 

At this conference, it was the keynote speakers that did it for me.

The opening keynote speaker, Randy Cass, was probably not the favorite speaker of the conference. Many people I spoke to, who aren't entrepreneurs, felt that he wasn't speaking to them.  One association said to me, “he didn't really have anything to say that applies to me because I work for not-for-profit.”  That was odd to me because Cass gave me one of the best “nuggets” I could walk away with…

And that was to be innovative, you have to take risks.  You cannot be afraid of failure, because failure itself can be a huge learning experience.  He quoted Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin empire, as saying, “Screw it – just DO it!” (with apologies to Nike).  Unfortunately too many meeting professionals are judged only by their latest gig. Few can afford to look at failures as necessary and valuable outcomes to learn from. 

Yours truly with PCMA CIC closing
Keynote Speaker, Amanda Lindhout
Similarly the closing speaker gave me another precious “ah-ha” moment.  There probably wasn’t a dry eye in the room after Amanda Lindhout recounted her story of survival and compassion from her 15-month ordeal as a captive of Somali insurgents. Standing behind a lectern with only a hand-held microphone, she did not use any fancy visuals.  Her words and remarkable poise were enough for the audience to imagine all that they needed to understand her poignant message.

And from this I understood the power of storytelling.  Not to take anything away from the wonderful work that my AV friends do in the business, but human beings sharing stories can be more powerful than any production.   

So how could PCMA organizers kick it up a notch for next year’s conference in Montreal?  Here are a few ideas to start the conversation:

- Allow people to discuss the issues that they care about in a non-structured format. Have an unconference! We have a few experts in this industry that could lead us through a discussion like this such as Adrian Segar, Jeff Hurt or Chris Brogan, to name a few;  

– Enable people to experience peer-to-peer coaching. This involves having individuals share with their problems are and having the group offer potential ideas to remedy the situation. Sometimes the best solutions are not from so called experts but rather our own peers!

- Instead of traditional lecture formats, let’s have learning labs and hands-on workshops where people can design an actual conference program, marketing program, or other components of a conference.

– Bring experts who are not from the meetings industry. I love professional speakers (and clearly the above two keynotes are amongst the best from NSB), but maybe we need to hear from adult learning experts, sociologists or brain scientists so we can learn how face-to-face interaction truly leads to innovation.

This PCMA event helped open my eyes to the need for more innovation and story-telling in the meetings industry. Congratulations to the host venue, the Niagara Falls Scotiabank Convention Centre, co-chairs Chuck Schouwerwou and Heidi Welker, and the entire Organizing Committee!  

P.S.  I look forward to lending a hand next year for the conference which is planned for Montreal in late November. 

7 Things First Time Home Buying and Content Marketing Have In Common

Business Man Holding a House
My fiancée and I recently bought our first house. Having chased this dream for two years, finding the perfect starter home made me realize how similar the experience can be for hoteliers and DMOs contemplating content marketing for the first time.

So if you are looking to get into blogging or an e-newsletters series to help you increase your attraction factor to meeting and event planners, consider these tips:
  1. Never rush into the first idea that comes to mind: We thought the very first house we looked at was a winner. Within 6 months of losing the opportunity to another buyer, we could not see ourselves living there. So while strategizing about creating content for your hotel blog, take a step back and ask "Is this the best content for what we want to achieve?" Perhaps you need the input of a content strategist, or a few meeting planners, to ensure your content is on the mark. 
  2. Keep trying: After every house we lost, got outbid on, or just couldn't secure; we were devastated. But we persevered and found the one. The same applies to content marketing. This is a process that may take time, and you may not get it right immediately. But keep trying, and you will start to attract more readers – and eventually, more leads! 
  3. Use trusted sources: When buying a first time home, you get information from all over the place. Some good, some not so good. When creating content for your destination or hotel’s blog or e-newsletter, solidify your position by citing your own organization’s experts AND the occasional outside source. Your Conference Services may be a great gal, but if you can also show that her team building ideas are based on recent research at Harvard, you’ll elevate the trustworthiness of your content. 
  4. Ask for help: Never assume doing it all yourself is the best process. Upon visiting what we thought was the dream house, an inspector found major deficiencies. So it goes for content generation: make sure you have several people committed to generating ideas and contributing. And get help to proof before you post! 
  5. Checklists, checklists, checklists: Finding the perfect home consisted of forming a checklist of everything we wanted, needed, and could live without. Checklists are a great way to ensure you don’t miss some of the necessary fundamentals along the way – does this content give at least one valuable tip to a meeting planner? Does it link to more resources on our website? Does it have a call-to-action? Etc. If you have a checklist of the elements that your content need to have at the start of the campaign, then you are more likely to stay on track. 
  6. Filling the space: When buying a house, you need to account for the space you have, furnishings you have and what you’ll need to get. It’s the same with content marketing. Ensure your material doesn’t feel cramped. Fill it with useful information – content that a meeting planner would find valuable. Never just fill space with promotional stuff. Adapt your layout to what has worked in the past but don’t be afraid to change things around once in awhile. 
  7. Get Social: When you move into your first house, you need extra hands, so you reach out to your social network. The same can be said with your content marketing. Posting your material to social media will bring in those extra visitors you need to ensure the campaign is successful. Never be afraid to use every tool in your marketing arsenal to publicize your content. Just make sure you balance your stuff with other engaging social media tactics. 
Taking simple tips like these are a great way to tighten up those offers and if I may impart one final tip, make sure your campaigns are organic. Take lessons like these, life lessons, to move forward and grow in content creation.

Meeting Planner Direct Mail Promotions Gone Wrong

In the last month alone I have received three different mailings from meetings industry suppliers.  The problem is: I am not a meeting planner and have no business for their facilities and services!

It saddened me to see how these marketers are wasting precious resources to get business that doesn't even exist. They would have been better off giving the money to charity because it sure didn't do them or their brand any good!  In an effort to educate, and yes, perhaps shame a little, I decided to post these pieces for everyone to see.

The Scottsdale CVB:

This one came as a slick, nice-quality, four-panel self-mailer.  Not sure how much the postage was to mail from the U.S. to Canada, but I would estimate this piece to have cost anywhere from $2.00-$4.00 per piece, depending on quantities printed, plus postage.

I am unclear on how I ended up on their mailing list, but I am guessing it's because I was on the list of attendees at a show in the last couple of years -- IncentiveWorks perhaps, or even the Ignite Business Expo.  But I don't recall stopping by their boot to let them know I had business for them, since I was too busy to staff my own booth or the MPI booth.

So how could this mailing have been made better? Making sure I have business I can bring to them is the obvious answer, but personalization is another matter.  If you're going to go to that extent, it's cheap enough to have the person's name printed in the piece nowadays, why not go to that extent?  At least they targeted the copy to a Canadian audience, making a point that Scottsdale has very little rain in the fall, and daytime highs are near 26 degrees Celsius.

But even if I COULD take a group to Scottsdale, without a relationship from a rep, a follow-up call, an attempt to court my business, why would I reach out to them?

Maui Jim:

This direct mail was a bit better targeted to my needs, because while I don't have a group that could go South, I am in a position to buy gifts for my employees.  Not sure about sunglasses, but I could consider it.

This piece offered compelling reasons for the product ("quality, stylish looks everyone wants"). It had the right tone and spoke to me ("You've got enough on your plate, so let us help you out.").

But I am not likely to act on the piece because they talk about booking my next corporate event

This large company could have saved itself some dough if only they had pre-qualified their list! 

Speaker Bureau:

This last promotion was a heart-breaker!  So close, yet so... pointless.  Now I know this to be a small business, and this came from the company's President, so I could not show you this without blocking out the names (contrary to the above promotions, which came from larger organizations whose marketing experts should have known better). 

This package came by courier (in a local courier company plastic envelope, which was then placed in a UPS envelope... not sure what that was all about but I'm suspecting the sender thought we were located in the Greater Toronto Area, and we are not).  

It contained a personalized, hand-written note!  AND very yummy chocolates.

The note read:

"Dear Doreen,

It would be an honour to work with you and your team to source world-class speakers for your upcoming events!  (Nice intro, makes it all about me.  Again, too bad I don't hire "world-class speakers" -- which sound expensive -- for our Christmas party, or training).

After 27 years, our international reach and sterling reputation "speaks" for itself!" (Cute way to let me know they're experienced, but it's about the seller, not about the prospect... How about adding, "Could we have a conversation?" or something to let me know they want to engage me, not just fatten me up with sweets?)

It was signed, "Respectfully, Carol."  But I don't know Carol, and she has made no attempt to contact me since her unexpected, and likely very expensive gift (courier, time to hand-write the note, package the gourmet chocolates... what $15-$20??).

I'm sure there are many more examples of promotions like this out there.  In a previous post, meeting planner Cara Tracy, CMP, CMM, makes a very eloquent point of the importance of accurate lists.  And even if your list has up-to-date data the lesson here is to make sure contacts have potential for you before you mail to them!

Gratitude Post #4: To The Canadian Meetings Community

Throughout the month of October we have been expressing thanks to the clients, the employees and the partners who have made Greenfield Services what it is today.

In this last "gratitude post" we wish to acknowledge the meetings community for supporting us over the last 15 years.

Having just completed the data gathering phase for the MPI Canadian Economic Impact Study, we know intimately how much this community truly wants to help.

It was a long, tough survey to complete for the 659 meeting planners and the 312 venues who participated in the study.  Greenfield sent close to 200,000 emails and made almost 20,000 phone calls for this project, over a three-month period.  But we couldn't have done it without the great support of meeting professionals who championed this cause, including:

  • Canadian Tourism Commission: Michele Saran & Michel Dubreuil
  • Caesars Windsor: Shelley Williams
  • CanSPEP & ISES: Carol Ford
  • Coast Hotels: Cindy Quach
  • Destination Halifax: Hélène Moberg
  • Destination St. John's: Krista Cameron
  • Edmonton Tourism: Brent Beattie
  • Fairmont Hotels & Resorts: Mark Sergot & Jeff Doane
  • IHG Canada: Angela Xavier & Swati Ettrick
  • M&IT Magazine: Sonja Chilcott
  • Marriott Hotels (Canada): Scott Alison & Lorie Blackwell
  • Meetings & Conventions Calgary: Peter Gregus
  • Ottawa Tourism: Noel Buckley & Glenn Duncan
  • PCMA Canada East Chapter: Heidi Welker & Bev Hill
  • Regina Hotel Association: Tracy Fahlman
  • Starwood Hotels & Resorts: Catherine McAuley
  • Stronco Group of Companies: Ralph Strachan
  • Travel Alberta: Brian Slot
  • Tourism Fredericton: Wendy Bradley
  • Tourism Moncton: Louise D'Amours
  • Tourism Saskatoon: Todd Brandt
  • Tourism Toronto: Tara Gordon & Julie Holmen
  • Tourism Vancouver: Dave Gazley
  • Tourism Winnipeg: Chantal Sturk-Nadeau & Maria Cefalis
  • Tourisme Montréal: Michel Bourdon & Anne-Claude Michellod
  • Vancouver Convention Centre: Claire Smith & Chris Gowe
  • Vancouver Hotel Destination Association: Russ Cowan

To the MPI Foundation Canada leadership team, especially Project Chairwoman, Rita Plaskett, and Director of Development, Ron Guitar -- thank you for entrusting us with this important work for the Canadian meetings industry.

Finally to our research consortium partners: Rachel Cameron & Amanda Chan at Maritz Research, Scott Meis at the CTHRC, and Greg Hermus at The Conference Board of Canada.  It's been a slice, thanks for including us in this landmark research project!


Gratitude Post #3: To Our Partners

Throughout our 15 years of business at Greenfield Services, we have been blessed with wonderful relationships with partners, who have helped us achieve the level of success that we now enjoy.  

For some people these "partners" would in fact be vendors or suppliers. But we don't see them that way. They are caring individuals, working for caring organizations, who truly have given us not only great service, but also great advice and support. As part of our Gratitude Series, we recognize:

- Betty and Jim Healey, of RoadSIGNS:  We  have enjoyed the coaching and strategic input of this husband and wife team since 2006.  Through them we have learned so much about the Law of Attraction, being clear with our intentions, and being positive in our language.  In the last two years especially, Jim and Betty have enhanced our company's productivity by making us aware of how we interact with one another as well as with our clients, through conscious communications and the Lumina assessments.  Earlier this year, RoadSIGNS also became a client of Greenfield's, as we helped them develop a new website and enhance their online presence through SEO and social media.

- Mitchell Beer, CMP, CMM, of Smarter Shift.  Mitchell and I were colleagues through the MPI Ottawa Chapter and collaborated on the MPI Foundation Canada's first economic impact study of the meetings and business events industry in 2007. But our partnership with Mitchell really started to take form about two years ago, when we began our own foray into content marketing.  Mitchell has helped us with writing and editing numerous posts for both this blog, as well as the Membership Engagement blog, working with my colleague Meagan Rockett.  He also helped us analyze and document the last two annual installment of Greenfield's Pulse Report for Associations.  Mitchell's insightful writing on content marketing, membership-based organizations and the meetings industry has made him an invaluable partner to our online success.

- Colleen Francis of Engage Selling Solutions:  Colleen is a third partner we have been working with for several years now.  As a public speaker, trainer and coach on all things related to sales, she has helped us focus on our sales funnel.  Her views on client engagement and the sales vortex also helped us devise our approach to lead nurturing.  We enjoy her weekly e-enewsletters, her webinars and even her monthly coaching calls when she often kicks our butts!

- Martine McPherson, graphic artist:  Martine is a talented graphic artist, and we are so thankful that she chose to move her family back to her native Glengarry so she could design for us!  Well she didn't really leave Toronto just for us, but she makes us feel like she's always there for us, whether it's for a last minute magazine ad that we forgot to have designed, or for a nice new layout for our Pulse Report. 

- Sherryll Sobie-Cooke, Pixels & Prose: a newer partner for us, Sherryll is another great writer who has helped us with client newsletters and our new, soon-to-be unveiled website.  She shares our vision of working with people to make a difference, and not just make a buck.

- Pardot: I know Jeff Chabot, our Web and E-marketing Programmer, would be upset if I did not mention the support team at Pardot, the Marketing Automation software platform we use at Greenfield services.  We work closely with them to manage several instances, both for our own marketing and for clients.  (And they put on an amazing annual user conference where Jeff gets to display his break-dancing skills -- for real!).

To each and everyone of you, from all of us at Greenfield Services, thank you for being there for us. It's been great doing business with you!

Gratitude Post #2: To the Greenfield Team

This is the second post in our series to celebrate Thanksgiving.  We now call this our "Gratitudes Day" or "Grati-Tuesday" post.  (We're still debating which name is best... You can read our first installment here).

In general in our work life, I find that too seldom do we take the time to express our thanks to those who make a difference.  So Heinz and I wish to recognize our employees for the difference they make for our clients and their fellow teammates, each and every day.

This post is for:

- Lorna, our longest-serving Business Development Specialist, who has been with us for 11 years!  Not only is she a skilled relationship-builder on the phone, she helps us find new team members whenever we need to hire.  We affectionately refer to her as "The Godmother of Alexandria." (And the reason behind this might be the topic of another future post...);

- Meagan, our Director of Client Solutions, who started with us 8 years ago, and climbed her way from Client Care Specialist to Team Leader, Project Manager, Director of Project Operations... As she's preparing to take over the world, we're happy she's on OUR team!

- Pamela, our Business Development Specialist, who is also known to her friends and teammates as as Miss Sunshine.  Aside from generating leads, she is also our Law of Attraction expert, always quick to remind us that our words can attract or detract -- so why not attract positivity?

- Tanya and Stacey, our Team Leads Extraordinaires, who have risen to the occasion in taking over the the project management reins.  They still work those phone lines and communicate with clients over email, and take care of our scheduling, staff coaching and client reporting.  They have been maximizing their respective strengths and complementing one another to make projects tick, on time and to our clients' expectations.

- Kiwi, our Quality Assurance Coordinator, who works remotely in Oshawa and is an integral part of our team as if she was right there with us, every day.  She also has taken on more responsibilities this past year, continuing to keep us error-free and helping us get client projects organized and onboarded.

- Jeff, our Web and E-Marketing Programmer, who can not only code, but also decode geek-speak for the rest of the non-technical (normal) world.  He gives great presentations too, always the master of puns and quick with the repartee...

- Gwynydd, our Social Media Coordinator and Business Development Specialist, who is delightfully analytical and thorough with anything she takes on.  A great writer and engaging tweeter, she keeps us straight by asking the right questions.

- Frank, our part-time IT Guru, who swoops in a couple of times per week to keep our network clocking, and our systems computing the way they should.

- Amy, our Client Care Specialist and Quality Assurance back-up, who sweetly but stealthily can convince any hard-core business executive they really ought to help us out and take that survey.

- Jennifer, our Client Care Specialist, who is a dedicated collaborator, always graciously recognizing her teammates and reliably making human-to-human connections.

- And Candace, our newest team addition and Client Care Specialist, who unknowingly was an inspiration for this whole gratitude idea to begin with.

We truly appreciate your dedication and look forward to earning your trust and loyalty.

Meetings Industry Suppliers: Are Site Selection & 3rd Party Planners Friends or Foes?

A few months ago Greenfield Services held its Meeting Industry Supplier Summit during the Canada Meet in Toronto.  A highly contentious issue brought forward by the Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) and hotel representatives who attended was the frustration with what they perceive as the "infiltration" of site selection and 3rd-party planning professionals in the relationship between the destination or host venue and the organizing entity.

All CVBs reported having some site selection professionals come to their city on familiarization trips, which were paid for by the CVB, only to see them go directly to the hotels with their Request for Proposals (RFP) – thereby “cutting out” the CVB who could then not “get credit” for the room-nights generated.

Some supplier professionals complained that some of these 3rd-party planners come on fams to "troll for business,” soliciting business from other meeting organizers.  Others voiced the concerns that 3rd-parties cut into hotels’ margins and driving up prices, without adding value.

Sales reps also complained about 3rd-party planners sending out dozens of RFPs, through online systems, to widely different types of destinations, and hotel types.  They felt site selection companies should do a better job of assessing what calibre of hotels and what rate range their client is willing to pay.

Much talk also took place about the “hurry up and wait” syndrome, where very tight deadlines are met for the RFP, but answers don’t come for weeks or the site selection rep stops communicating altogether. 

Finally a handful of Suppliers also complained about 3rd-party planners expecting way too many perks or concessions in the negotiation process.  One hotelier put it this way, “Why does the site inspection have to be in peak season when the program is in shoulder season – thought part of the site visit is to ‘see what the end user will see/experience’? And why ask for complimentary spa services or free golf when the program includes neither?”

Before you start thinking that this is just a “dump on 3rd-party planners” column, please read on.

I actually think the proliferation of intermediaries in the meetings industry is due to the fact hotels and CVBs too often have done a poor job of maintaining relationships.  And I believe hotel revenue managers have way too much power at many hotels; they just look at yields, and not at the relationship with meeting planners.

One site selection professional I spoke with told me about seeing her role as an "advocate" for her clients.  She related the example of one meeting where the organizer inadvertently had forgotten to account for some VIPs arriving earlier than the block reservation, and how the sales manager said she was unable to convince the hotel's revenue manager from charging almost twice the rate just because they were arriving one night earlier. The organizer could not get the hotel to budge until the site selection company stepped in.

From my experience, there are site selection professionals and 3rd party planners who abuse their status. They go on familiarization trips and never book anything, or they hit up hotels for perks they shouldn't be asking for. But there are just as many who are highly ethical, masterful at servicing and keeping in touch with their clients. Many seem to have more time to do so because often hotel and CVB sales managers are forced into too much administration work, endless meetings, and travel!

Ultimately, I see this as another case of suppliers and planners needing to elevate the conversation.   Hotel sales managers and CVB reps perhaps could use a reality check on the value they provide and the strengths of their relationships with clients. On the other hand 3rd-party planners and the companies they work for should take action against the unethical behaviour of some of their reps because they are giving everyone in that field a bad name.

There seems to be so much pent up emotion about this issue, with sales representatives afraid of speaking out for fear of repercussion.  Even site selection professionals who have witnessed unethical behavior by their peers seem reluctant to bring light to the issue.

Honesty and clarity are needed here, on both sides.  I urge you to have more and better conversations on this subject!

This article by Doreen Ashton Wagner was originally published in the October 2013 issue of Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Ottawa Chapter Communiqué Newsletter

October is Gratitude Month at Greenfield

Every morning just before we all get on with the numerous tasks at hand, the Greenfield Services team gathers for a quick stand-up meeting.  We provide project statistics, information on upcoming projects, and the like.  We end this meeting with each person's Positive Focus when we each report a pleasant outcome or "win" from the day before. This helps us focus our minds on positive situations, so that we begin our day feeling happy and confident.
Canadian Thanksgiving is later this month of course, but this year we wanted to get a head start. On this first day of October we challenged our team to elevate their Positive Focus to a statement of gratitude.  From experience we know that expressions of appreciation are uttered only rarely in business.  Yet a practice of gratitude is a simple way to nourish our spirit at work.

So for you, dear readers, we will be publishing a Gratitude Post each of the five Tuesdays this month.

To start us things off, we are grateful for our Clients!  Greenfield's driving passion and purpose is to "help our clients, our employees and our community GROW and prosper."  And clearly without customers who trust us and allow us to do what we do for them, we wouldn't even be writing this post.

To name all our cherished clients over the years would make this too long, so we'll keep this to our two largest customers for now: our largest association client, the Certified Management Accountants of Ontario and our our largest hospitality/meetings industry client, Fairmont Raffles Hotels International.  We thank you, from the bottom of our collective heart, for partnering with us and allowing us to use our capabilities and our  creativity to help you get to where you need to be.

We truly appreciate your vote of confidence.    

Wanted: Professional Speakers and Exhibitors for #MPICEIS

Did you exhibit at a tradeshow or speak at a business event in Canada in 2012?  If so, your contribution to the economy must be counted and Meeting Professionals International (MPI) is looking for you!

Earlier this summer Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Foundation Canada and its partners announced the launch of the third edition of the Canadian Economic Impact Study of the meetings and events industry (CEIS 3.0).

This research will quantify the number and economic impact of business events that took place in Canada in 2012.

Anyone who spoke at or exhibited at a Canadian event in 2012, is invited to participate in a 10-minute online survey.  Respondents need not be a member of MPI.  Meeting planners, exhibitors, delegates and Canadian meeting and event venues are also being surveyed in this exhaustive study. 

The survey link for speakers and exhibitors to participate in this study is

It is recommended that respondents have information on hand for expenses relating to at least one 2012 event. To view a PDF of the questionnaire, click here.  The survey closes October 11.

The MPI Foundation awarded this landmark research project earlier this year to the consortium headed by Maritz Canada, along with The Conference Board of Canada, the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council and Greenfield Services Inc.

This is an important endeavour that will enable the Canadian meetings industry to articulate its value to governments, investors and other stakeholders, and help advocate for a favourable business environment.

Should you have any questions regarding this study, please contact Greenfield’s Chief Strategist, Doreen Ashton Wagner.

Greenfield Services Co-Founder Named to M&IT Magazine Hall of Fame

Doreen in the Hall of Fame
Greenfield Services is proud to announce that its co-founder Doreen Ashton Wagner has been named to the M&IT Magazine’s Hall of Fame in the Industry Innovator category. This award recognizes an individual planner or supplier who has implemented a service or product that has increased productivity and/or modernized our industry.

Below is the text of her nomination:

Doreen Ashton Wagner has been an innovator since she founded her company in 1998.

At first she saw a niche in offering outsourced, project-based, data cleansing and lead generation services to meetings industry suppliers.  One of the firm's earliest clients was Rogers Media, then-owners of M&IT Magazine, after the company purchased the Executive Travel Show series in 2001.  Greenfield was hired by the show producer to update a list of over 22,000 meeting and event professionals across Canada.  The firm then employed just five people, and it took three months for the list to be cleansed according to a strict research protocol, supported by a proprietary database platform.  This approach has since been formalized as The Greenfield Data Cleansing System™.

From those humble beginnings the firm gained more meetings industry clients, especially Hotels and Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) looking for online and phone research to help identify new meetings and conventions business.  The Greenfield LEAD Process™ was born of these efforts to produce timely, valuable meetings information on a consistent basis.

In 2008, Ashton Wagner started observing a shift in the nature of the business-to-business sales process.  The recession, the increasing role of the internet in the purchasing cycle, and the commoditization of the site selection process was eroding the traditional relationships that existed between meeting venues and planners.

In 2009 she devised the Greenfield Funnel Activator™, a marketing system that helps meetings industry suppliers initiate and nurture new business relationships through a combination of personal outreach, data management, and permission-based email communication, supported by marketing automation software.  This system has been further enhanced with the integration of social media management and content marketing, which help users attract more inbound leads.

Since 2010 Ashton Wagner has written extensively about these market shifts, starting with this blog and monthly e-newsletter (still published today), and her landmark webinar series in 2012.

Clients who have benefitted from Greenfield Services’ dedicated, proprietary approach include Fairmont, Hilton, Marriott, IHG, Cineplex Entertainment, AV Canada, and every major DMO in Canada.

Last but not least, this candidate was a key participant in the team that executed the landmark study of the economic impact of the meetings industry in Canada (CEIS).  Her in-depth knowledge of the venue side of the meetings industry helped the research team navigate the complicated data gathering process which led to the successful completion of the study according to UNWTO guidelines.  This study was the first of its kind in 2007 and it has since been duplicated in Mexico, the USA and the UK. 

According to the then-CEIS Project Manager, Mitchell Beer, “When the project ran into serious difficulties with primary data gathering, Greenfield Services was just about heroic in deploying key expertise and staff hours to solve the problem. To this day, I believe that MPI Canada—and anyone else in the global meetings community who has since conducted a WTObased EIS—owes Greenfield a lifetime debt of gratitude for shepherding this first economic impact study to success at a critical point in its execution.”

The third iteration of the study is now taking place in Canada, with the candidate and her company’s involvement once again.

Doreen joins fellow inductees:

- Ralph Strachan, President & CEO, The Stronco Group of Companies (Industry Veteran); 
- Bettyanne Sherrer, CMP, CMM, Principal, ProPlan Conference & Events (Planner); 
- Trevor Lui, Director of Operations and Sustainability, The International Centre (Industry Builder); 
- Sheila Wong, CEM, Partner and Vice-President, Business Development, BBW International Inc. (Industry Volunteer); 
- Judy Healy, Hospitality and Tourism Management Department, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University (Industry Mentor); 
- Danyelle MacCulloch, Base Consulting Inc. (Industry Rising Star)

Congratulations to all we’re so proud of you!

Reducing our Footprint and Doing Good at the MPI Ottawa Golf Tournament

(Left to right) MPI Ottawa's Riccarda Galioto, Co-Director
of Community Outreach & CSR, and Ryan Young, VP Finance,
accept a $640 cheque from Doreen Ashton Wagner
for  the Chapter's  official charity,
the Ottawa School Breakfast Program. 
This past week Greenfield Services sponsored a hole at the 14th Annual Golf Tournament of the Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Ottawa Chapter.

The organizing committee had challenged sponsors to come up with creative ways to be kinder to the environment with this event, held at the picturesque Fairmont Chateau Montebello resort, which has an Audubon International-certified golf course.

The Greenfield Team took up the challenge by selling $5 mulligans on the course's difficult 14th-hole.  No disposables were used, making this a simple, low-impact promotion for the environment.  Even the hole signage will be re-used, thanks to innovative work by another sponsor, Miller McConnell Signs.

The company matched donations dollar-for-dollar and all proceeds went to the Chapter's official charity, the Ottawa School Breakfast Program.

For more news and pictures of the event, see the Chapter's Facebook page.

A Meeting Planner's View: What an Outdated Mailing List Says to Your Customers

This post is by guest contributor Cara Tracy, CMP, CMM. Cara is a meetings industry professional who has been on the supply side of the industry, as well as the planning side. She offers great advice to hotels, CVBs and anyone else who provides proposals to meeting planners -- check out her blog.

Want a surefire way to waste money, kill trees and show how out of touch you are with your customers? Use an old mailing list!

When was the last time you updated yours? I received a promotional brochure from a meeting industry supplier last week that was addressed to the person who had my job sixteen years ago. Sixteen years, people.

Now one could argue, the brochure made it to me so the supplier accomplished one of it’s goals. Yes—it made it to me because my predecessor’s title was also on the mailing label. The person in my office who sorts our mail doesn’t have a list of former employees that goes back that far.

But here’s the issue … I received it and the first thing I noticed was the addressee and the next thing I thought was “Boy, are they out of touch!” Not “Wow! What a great promotion!” or “This would be great for my next meeting.” In fact, I don’t even remember who sent the piece.

Guess it didn’t meet the rest of their goals, did it?

If you insist on using snail mail to reach out to your customers, keep your records up to date. I assume you make regular solicitation calls. As part of that process, confirm the customer’s information, including designations (they may have earned a new one recently and it’s a nice way to honor them.) Or have an assistant or an intern make calls to verify information. If that is the only purpose of their call, I recommend they call the client’s main switchboard rather than taking up the planner’s time.

How do you feel when you receive mail addressed to a predecessor or with wrong information on the mailing label? What else can you do to ensure this doesn’t happen to your customers?

And of course, Greenfield Services can help you update that mailing list... Give us a shout!

When Rebranding Misses the Opportunity

Recently I received an email from a trade show display company that we have done business with over the years.

The email was to tell me all about their new name, brand and logo.  I really like this company but unfortunately their communication left me thinking, "so what?"

What does their new name and logo have to do with me? Who cares if they've changed their colors and have a fancy name?  Of course one might say that it's important to inform your clients that you have changed names, but I thought this was a missed opportunity.

Why not tell me about new resources that you have also made available to your clients along with this rebranding process? Point me to your new website where I can find ideas for my next trade show.  Provide me with content that will help me have a more successful exhibitor experience.  Maybe even connect me with other like-minded clients who have used your services and are willing to share case studies or tips for live events.

With business-to-business clients being increasingly critical of what enters their email box, don't squander an opportunity to provide value to clients. Make sure that you offer information that will make your clients' life easier; because unless you save them money, time, or effort, you're not providing value.  And if you're not providing value, you're just pushing a commodity.

Planners & Venue Managers: the Canadian Meetings Industry NEEDS YOU!

Meeting planners and Canadian event venue managers are asked to show their support for the meetings industry by participating in the third edition of the Canadian Economic Impact Study of the meetings and events industry (CEIS 3.0).

The online questionnaire is now OPEN and may be accessed here.  We are seeking event professionals' help by answering the survey and spreading the word to colleagues.

Supported by the Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Foundation, the MPI Foundation Canada and its partners, this survey will quantify the number and economic impact of business events that took place in Canada in 2012.  

Anyone who organized a business event anywhere in Canada in 2012, regardless of their home country is invited to participate. Respondents need not be a member of MPI, nor are they required to be "professional" meeting planners.  

Similarly, all Canadian venue managers -- from hotels, resorts, convention facilities, conference centres, universities and even special event venues like museums and theatres -- who hosted business events, are encouraged to participate.

It is recommended that respondents have their organization's 2012 year-end results on hand for easy reference. To view a PDF of the planner questionnaire, click here.  Venue managers may download a copy of their survey here.

The MPI Foundation awarded this landmark research project earlier this year to the consortium headed by Maritz Canada, along with The Conference Board of Canada, the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council and Greenfield Services Inc.

This is an important endeavour that will enable the Canadian meetings industry to articulate its value to governments, investors and other stakeholders, and help advocate for a favourable business environment.

If you are active in the Canadian meetings and events industry, we hope you will respond to the study and help us spread the word to colleagues.

Social media efforts to publicize the project are underway.  Watch for periodic updates in the various LinkedIn Meeting & Event Groups, and tweets with #MPICEIS.

Should you have any questions regarding this study, please contact Doreen Ashton Wagner of Greenfield Services Inc. by email or by calling 1-866-488-4474, ext. 4512.

Is Your Content Marketing Worthy of a Royal Baby?

For the record this is NOT Queen Elizabeth II's
great grandchild.  To read more official royal news see
Content that is valued by your target market is an essential component of a sound inbound marketing strategy. A useful tactic for creating meaningful content is newsjacking, the process which David Merman Scott defines as "inject[ing] your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business."

This is what I have done with this post, making an allusion to the birth of the son of Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. What does this have to do with your hotel, DMO or meetings industry business?  You should be using newsjacking to create content and attract attention of meeting and event planners to generate leads!  
Here's how:
  • Use a newsworthy event to create a special package, service or theme at your hotel.  Hotel marketers sometimes will do this for leisure packages, so why not for meetings? I searched for a royalty-themed meeting package for this post and found none (now here's an opportunity!), though recently there were great examples around The Great Gatsby movie premiere (see 5 Swanky "Great Gatsby" Hotel Packages).
  • If you're not ready to venture into current affairs, create your content by leveraging an industry event. Talk about the "top trends" your catering manager observed when he/she attended the ISES Conference  or what your takeaways were from the latest meetings industry event your sales team attended.  Our own Meagan Rockett does this regularly, reporting "takeaways" from the CSAE events she attends.
  • To really gain the attention and respect of meeting and event planners, give them newsworthy material they can relate to in their work Use an event in your city that has some sort of fame or notoriety, and interview the people who make it happen.  If I were at Tourism Toronto, for example, I would want a meeting planner story about the logistics behind the Toronto International Film Festival.  It's like having a celebrity spokesperson for a weight loss program; everyone is interested because there is a famous person (in this case an event) behind it!

Creating content fit to attract the attention normally reserved for royalty might be a tall order, but a little creativity will go a long way to elevating your marketing to a greater level of differentiation from your competitors. 

Big Data and How Meetings Industry Suppliers Are Falling Behind

A few weeks ago I received an email from my frequent flyer program, Aeroplan. It wasn't the usual points statements, or even one of their many partner offers.

This email was a summary of my entire relationship with Aeroplan since I first became a member. Have a look 

I was very much impressed with the extent of the information they had, and also the way this was positioned to me as a client. Somehow I felt it said to me, "we may have many customers but we value our relationship with you."

Around the same time my husband also received his statement in the same format, but obviously with different numbers.

Why should we care where this is going? Airlines and loyalty management programs have figured out how to use data, big data, and are looking to enhance their relationships with customers. This is something that sadly most hotel companies, CVBs and other meetings industry suppliers are grossly lacking when it comes to their relationships with meeting and event planners.

One audiovisual company recently admitted to me that most of their regional offices operate in silos. The Toronto office, the Ottawa office, and the rest of the country are not even connected! If they want to see who their biggest clients are, offices have to submit their figures to head office, and they will figure out who their "key clients" are. How antiquated!

Similarly hotel companies are handicapped by their clunky property management systems that don't feed adequate information back to their brands.  It's often further complicated by the fact not all properties have the same system because they are owned by different real estate companies!

The disparity in software systems and the dependency on old "legacy" systems (vs. faster, cloud-based software), prevent many meetings industry suppliers from properly managing relationships with meeting and event planners. With "big data" becoming easier and cheaper, unfortunately this means many meetings industry suppliers will find themselves falling further behind.

Meetings Industry Sales: Are You a Worker Bee or a Queen Bee? by @CFrancisVoice

This post is by Sales Expert Colleen Francis, Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions, who has been coaching the Greenfield sales team to be a better resource to its meetings industry and association clients.


Being disciplined and having focus is a requirement for sales success. Most people assume that having focus means that you sit down and "do" or complete a number of tasks. That is only partly true. Having focus also means spending some time thinking about those tasks and applying your own intellect to the job at hand. Often, thinking BEFORE doing yields a more profitable result.

Those who think excel. Those who only do, will always be the worker bees of the hive. Wouldn't you rather be the Queen bee? (Sorry there is no King Bee)

I was reading my friend Kevin Dee's blog and found that he had some interesting thoughts on the subject of thinking. Specifically, how to be a better thinker. Kevin suggests:
  1. Don't EVER just do what you are told without truly understanding why you are doing what you are doing.
  2. Avoid the state of mind where you are on "automatic pilot"! ALWAYS be engaged!
  3. Ask questions!
  4. If you have ideas or suggestions speak up ... a good manager {or client} will recognize that you are trying to bring value.
  5. The more you understand the "big picture" the more value you will be able to bring to a given situation.
  6. You will better understand the big picture by talking to management, asking questions and truly wanting to "learn".
  7. The "doer" is an important part of any company ... if you have ambitions to be a leader {or to build profitable customer relationships} you need to add "brainpower" to the equation and become a "thinker"!
In sales, our customers expect us to be thinkers. They come to us because we can add value more than a being just a doer. In sales, doers are simple order takers - at risk of being replaced by the web, a kiosk or a call centre. Clients continue to seek out relationships with thinkers who can help them grow their business. They are looking for solutions to their problems. The most profitable relationships are when you and your customer think together; and, solve problems together. Your clients look to you for creativity. If you look act and sound like every other sales rep what will differentiate you? Thinking can differentiate you instantly by showing the customer that you care enough about their issues to spend time creating real solutions for them. Kevin goes on in his blog posting to help us become better thinkers:

What are you? Ask yourself these questions:
  1. Do I come to management with solutions or with problems?
  2. Do I try to understand the big picture?
  3. Do I really try to think about the implications of my actions ... or do I just do what I am told?
  4. Is my goal to grow and learn ... or just get through the day?
Do your clients consider you a valuable consultant to your clients or just a vendor? Don't risk losing your job to a website, kiosk or call centre. Take some time out to start thinking - and profiting - now.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions ( Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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