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Building Trust In the Meetings Industry -- Revisited

One of my favourite sources of business inspiration comes from, where you can listen to hundreds of lectures, about a multitude of topics, often leading to a few ah-ha moments. Recently I heard talk by Baroness Onora O'Neill, a British philosopher who has studied the roles of trust and accountability in public life.  And it really made me rethink how I have viewed trust as a marketer.

O’Neill debunks the claim that trust has declined over time by pointing out that research on trust has remained relatively stable in the last 20 years. We still mistrust politicians and the media, while other professions such as judges and nurses are still relatively highly trusted. The average person, she says, is still somewhere in the middle.

She argues that polls are very bad assessments of how we trust because they do not take into account the good judgment that goes into placing trust in others.  In real life people, she points out, we place trust in a differentiated way. We trust individuals based on whether they are:
  • Competent
  • Honest
  • Reliable
So we have it backwards when we think we can “build trust” because we cannot dictate what people give us.  We can only behave in such a way as to deserve trust. For marketers, therefore, the aim first should be on how to be trustworthy and secondly to give adequate, simple evidence that we are trustworthy.

In a previous post on the topic, I urged readers to build trust by:
  • being present online, with their website or social media page
  • being personal and transparent, showing us who they are, who is behind the company
  • offering value, and being helpful by nature, without the expectation of anything in return (this is especially important when you are answering questions on LinkedIn, or contributing information in any social medium).
And doing all of the above consistently.  As Ottawa-based sales expert Colleen Francis says, “Trust is built with consistent behavior over time… reliably delivering your message to your clients will demonstrate you can be trusted to deliver what you said.”

But the above is all about how you communicate your trustworthiness, the second step in this process. Now I think we need start with a deeper level of introspection, starting with whether you are worthy of your clients’ trust.  Do you really believe in your product or service?  Or are you trying to be all things to all people because you need to meet quota?

These are probably more difficult questions to answer than many of us would like to admit.  But in the “new normal,” the competition is too fierce to be marketing products, services or meetings that we don’t believe in.  Being authentic is the best starting point to being a trustworthy – and trusted – marketer.

PCMA Convening Leaders: A First Timer's Impressions & Takeaways

Photo booth sponsored by Niagara Falls Tourism
At the First Timers' reception
Niagara Falls Tourism took green screen
photos of attendees which were turned
into souvenirs shots, printed on the spot! 
For the first time ever I attended the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) Convening Leaders' Conference, which was held in Boston Jan. 12-15. As a career-long MPIer, I had never attended this annual event.  My only PCMA experience had been the Canada East Chapter Conference in Niagara Falls a few months ago.

It had been a long time since I've been a newbie at anything!  Overall my impression was that this conference both pushed the boundaries and invited attendees to engage at a level I had never experienced before. Here are my top 10 takeaways:
  • A Mindset of Innovation & Recognizing the Value of Failures: at the first timers' session, we were informed by Kelly Peacy, CAE, CMP, PCMA's Senior Vice President, Education and Meetings, that her team looks to innovate with session formats, room layouts and even food and beverage. She openly admitted that they know some of these innovations will fail. But they consider failures to be valuable lessons. After all, if PCMA can't take risks to show its members how to organize better conferences, who can? This was echoed by Chairman Johnnie White, CMP at the opening session. And there were a few failures, such as the "out of the box" lunch on the Tuesday which ran out of food, and the congestion problems at the Hynes Convention Centre. But somehow I witnessed a willingness to forgive BECAUSE they were trying something new. I found the attitude of the leadership and the staff to be refreshing.
ASAE President & CEO
John Graham joins
the fun at the Montreal lunch and
poses for a #MtlMoment with
fake lips!
  • Embracing Social Media: aside from assigning the customary hashtag for the convention, organizers and sponsors truly embraced social media. From an Instagram contest organized by local DMC Advantage Boston, to the Tourisme Montreal's #MtlMoments lunch snapshots, there were plenty opportunities to engage through social media. A highlight for me definitely was the tweet up sponsored by Ottawa Tourism, where I finally met people in person people that I follow on Twitter: the Velvet Chainsaw's Jeff Hurt (@JeffHurt), the Tradeshow Institute's Traci Browne (@tracibrowne), the Grass Shack Events & Media's Mike McCallen (@mmcallen), Lindsey Rosenthal (@eventsforgood) and Plan Your Meetings' Kristi Casey Sanders (@PYMLive).
  • Sponsorship That Matters: I loved that key sponsors did more with their dollars than just give us the usual blah-blah-blah about their destination.  There was a concerted effort to tie sponsorship to the values held by the sponsor.  I was proud to be a Canadian and to witness the leadership of so many of our DMO's in sponsoring top-notch education; whether it was Tourism Toronto and the Metro Toronto Convention Center sponsoring the opening keynote with futurist Lisa Bodell, or Meetings & Conventions Calgary sponsoring a number of smaller breakout sessions, it was gratifying to see the Canadian presence and support of thought leadership.
  • Canadian Winners: speaking of a Canadian presence, two of our own were also honored with Katie Dolan of Ottawa Tourism as one of 20 in their 20s leader, Freeman AV Canada's Heidi Welker with a Chairman's award for her leadership in growing the PCMA Canada East chapter by 42% in the last year.
  • Mobile Meeting Movement: on the theme of innovation and Canadian pride, the JPdL bus from Montreal to Boston was a great experience. Aside from offering a cheaper, quicker mode of transportation (with the bad winter weather the bus got us there much faster than many people who are flying!), it was a great way to network, learn and debate issues along the way!
  • A Culture of Dialogue: because PCMA does not have a tradeshow per se, and because so much focus is on education, this convention felt very different from other meetings industry gatherings I've been to in the past. With a reported 50-50 ratio between planners and suppliers, I found most "buyers" to be very approachable and open to discuss their challenges or issues. One planner I met, who was also a first-timer, said that she loved not feeling like a piece of meat in a market! I even had a "very important planner" (someone whose department plans over 200 meetings a year), approach me! Yes, I was wearing a "first timer" ribbon but the whole conference had this feeling of collaboration and no "us versus them" feel.
A participant discussion board
in the Learning Lounge.
  • Engaging Formats: room layouts were varied, offering so much more than just the typical theater style or half rounds. I saw theater style combined with hightop tables and stools, small U-shaped groupings of chairs and half rounds, even chevron-style "hub and spoke" set ups. Most seemed to invite more networking and small-group conversations then what we typically experience with traditional setups.
  • Excellent, Practical Education: aside from four knockout keynotes, I had the privilege of learning in five excellent breakout sessions. Two qualified as traditional lectures, albeit with very energetic speakers. Two involved highly interactive presenters who engaged their audience with lots of group discussion including input from virtual participants. And one was a panel with four speakers, facilitated by a very able moderator. Except for one of the lectures which was more motivational in nature, all sessions involved highly practical advice with examples of actual meetings. It was clear that the audience craved real-life solutions and not just theory. 
Salman Khan dreamt of "free, world-class education for anyone,
anywhere."  His dream became Khan Academy.
  • Emotional Connection: The highlight of the convention for me definitely was Salman Khan's highly inspirational story about Khan Academy (proudly sponsored by Tourism Vancouver!).  A humble and engaging speaker, with a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor, Khan described how he tutored his niece Nadia and progressed to posting math tutorials on YouTube to eventually create what is now the biggest provider of FREE online education, with over 10 million unique users per month.  Khan's story for me was a classic case of the law of attraction and his description of receiving a call from Bill Gates' Foundation reminded everyone that big dreams do come true.
  • Technology Trumped by People: At first glance this event was heavily focused on technology. The main hallway was lined up with various app vendors, the Tech Central meeting area and Learning Lounge seemed to be touching on everything technology. But veteran delegates were telling me those areas were a lot less busy than in years previous.  Was it because they were no longer in areas adjacent to the main session?  (a "failure" to learn from?).  All I know is that in the meeting rooms, the people I was conversing with were more focused on human connection. Could it be we've had it with technology and we are now craving good, old-fashioned, human relationships? Regardless, people were talking!
The PCMA Convening Leaders Conference for me was a great way to kick off 2014. It embodied everything I want to focus on this year: authenticity, engagement, learning and innovation.  I'm not 100% sure whether I will attend the Chicago Conference next year, but based on this wonderful experience it's at the top of my list!

Speed Dating in the Meetings Industry

Speed Dating at Le Windsor Ballroom,
Montreal. Photo Courtesy of The Planner
Last Tuesday I had the opportunity of participating in a half-day event organized by The Planner/ Le Planificateur in Montreal.

This was my first ever event with this publication and I really appreciated the innovative format. First I was one of five speakers who took just 20 minutes to speak on a particular area or trend. This TED-style presentations seemed popular with attendees, many of home appeared to be younger planners, Gen X and Millennials.  And as we reported before on this blog, one of the preferences of younger planners and meeting attendees is for shorter, quicker-paced presentation formats.

The pace continued after lunch with a speed dating/timed appointments format. During this time I was able to meet with 16 meeting and event professionals out of a possible 20 timeslots.

Both formats forced me to be so much more specific in my information style. What is clearly the way the marketplace is evolving!

All in all, planners and exhibitors seemed to appreciate the value for their money and time from this event. Well done, The Planner!

Lofty Conversations on the Road to PCMA in Boston

If coming to the annual convention of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) is all about learning and innovation, then taking the JPdL bus from Montreal to Boston was the perfect initiation for me.

Never mind that the bus got us from Montreal to Boston faster than flying because of the nasty weather (only a 5 1/2 drive), and had a much lower carbon footprint for the 21 passengers it carried.  With a two-hour conversation about changing practices and trends in our industry led by Mitchell Beer, CMM of The Smarter Shift and Rachel Stephan of Sensov Event Marketing, I truly felt this mode of transportation had been worth my time in the quality of the conversations alone.

One exchange focused on the use of Twitter to promote a city, attraction or venue to incoming convention delegates. I was postulating that tweeting may be a way to get around Canada's  Antispam Law; because tweets are in effect "public" messages, they likely would not be misconstrued as spam in the same way that unsolicited email would be.

I cited the example of the Boston hotel tweeting me when they saw I was coming to the convention; I mentioned this could even be used to extend special offers or even rates.

This generated a rather passionate conversation about the ethics around this kind of practice. One hotel representative pointed out this could unfairly lure away attendees to book outside group blocks, making it difficult for associations to fulfill their room commitments and possibly costing them extra fees.

She rightly pointed out that this cost could make it difficult for associations to invest in programs and education for members. We both agreed that consumers' constant quest for cheaper rates  (the Walmart effect) puts undue pressure on many associations.

While I do believe professionals should support their association, I thought it was naïve to think that people aren't going to think of their own interests first, whether it's to rack up loyalty points or get a cheaper rate. This is especially the case if they are a small business owner, or if their organization cannot afford higher hotel rates.

We both agreed PCMA has it right. The way they structured fees for this conference made it attractive to book within the room block because of a $200 differential; I know I would have been hard-pressed to find another hotel outside the block for $50 less per night (as I'm staying in Boston for four nights).

Unfortunately, in the view of one planner who was on the bus with us, hotels only have themselves to blame for this trend towards booking out of the block. He observed that if attrition causes weren't so punitive, associations probably would not be in such a situation. And privately another hotel sales representative admitted to me that she constantly fights with her hotel revenue manager, advocating for lower rates, so that associations don't encounter these room block pressures.

The final word? There really wasn't one except that conversations at events such as this are vitally important to the health of the meetings industry.  And unless we can slow down a bit, and perhaps take a bus or two, we are not likely to be able to gain a better understanding of each other's points of view.

Canada's Anti-Spam Law: a Serious Threat for Meetings Industry Marketers in 2014

When Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) comes into effect this summer, it could drastically alter the way hotels, DMOs and meetings industry suppliers market to meeting and event planners.

The law was passed in 2010, but the federal government gave businesses three years to get ready. Unfortunately, few are aware of what this is all about.  As of July 1, 2014 penalties will apply if marketers ignore what is now mandated.

New requirements include:
  • Obtaining the recipient's consent PRIOR to sending an electronic, commercial message such as an email or text;
  • Recording this consent in a dedicated field in your organization's database so it can be verified if there is a complaint;
  • Ensuring your opt-out mechanism is easy and automatically removes a recipient no longer receives emails from you.
Failure to comply with the law could entail a $200 fine for each message (one unsolicited communication can count as a violation), and can reach up to $1,000,000 per day for individuals and $10,000,000 for organizations.

Here are three common sales & marketing practices in the meetings industry that marketers won't be able to do after July 1:
  • Buy a list and eblast an offer: first of all, if you get an offer to buy lists of meeting planners and someone says you can buy or rent it to eblast, don't do it.  Or if you do it (and we say: buyer beware!), make sure it's before July 1.  After that date you will NOT be able to send an unsolicited email touting your hotel, destination or services, even if you have an "opt-out" link. 
  • Eblast a tradeshow list: This one is a little less straight-forward.  If a planner came by your booth and dropped off a card, you will have six months to obtain express consent from the date of your meeting.  With express consent you will be able to continue with email marketing.  But after 6 months, if they haven't given you consent, you must stop. 
  • Your hotel recently completed its renovations program and you want to eblast the news:  As of July 1 you'll be OK to email those with whom you have done business in the last two years prior to the date of the deployment.  Anyone else who was just a prospect, you have to have their express consent first.
For more information on the CASL, how it will affect the way you market you meeting venue, service or destination, join us for our webinar on Thursday, January 30, at 12 noon EST, "What the Meetings Industry Needs to Know & Do About Canada's Anti-Spam Law".  This online event is free for qualified hotel, destination and other meetings industry suppliers.

Register at: