Building a strong team,
developing new sponsorship
partners and promoting
greener meetings are all part
of the agenda for PCMA’s CEO,
Deborah Sexton, shown here
in her office in Chicago’s
Founded as a society for
health-care association executives in 1957, the
Professional Convention Management Association is quietly
celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In fact, the party took
place last year, at the 2006 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, where
in 1956 a small group of executives first gathered to discuss
creating a formal organization.
Over the years, the society became
known as the place for meeting planners from all kinds of
associations to network and learn, but as PCMA’s reputation for
offering quality, in-depth education grew, planners from for-profit
organizations started joining.
The 6,000-member group’s current makeup
is about 44 percent planner members and 56 percent suppliers. The
planners, who average about 10 years’ tenure in the industry, are
primarily from associations (63 percent); however, 15 percent work
for corporations, while 10 percent are independents. Association
executives and other meeting professionals make up 6 percent each.
The current chair of the board of directors is its first
independent planner, Sharon DelaBarre, CMP, who runs her eponymous
business out of Sequim, Wash.
So far, the 21st century has presented
its share of challenges to PCMA, but the ship seems to be righting.
In 2000, the association moved its headquarters from Birmingham,
Ala., to Chicago, at the same time adjusting to new leadership as
longtime president and CEO Roy Evans Jr., CAE, retired.
The organization went through two other
CEOs by March 2005, when Deborah Sexton was hired away from the
Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau to fill the position. “My
initial goal was to stabilize the staffing,” says Sexton. “There
had been a lot of turnover for a number of reasons. I had to build
a strong team to support what PCMA is all about.”
Another challenge for the organization
was the fallout from 9/11, when sponsorship dollars were next to
impossible to win. Sexton says PCMA is trying to reinvent its
relationship with suppliers with a partnering program, now in its
first full year, headed up by chief partner relations officer
Sherrif Karamat. By July, 85 percent of this year’s partners had
reupped for 2008.
“We needed to examine how we deliver to
these strategic partners, because the old sponsorship relationship
doesn’t exist any longer,” Sexton says. Individual contributions
like coffee breaks or lanyards at the annual meeting no longer are
offered to single sponsors. Instead, suppliers can buy into
opportunities to help PCMA create new programs and tools to help
members do their jobs better.
For example, the Canadian Tourism
Commission helped PCMA establish the invitation-only Executive Edge
program, offering business sessions created in conjunction with
such vaunted institutions as the University of Pennsylvania’s
Wharton School and the University of Chicago Graduate School of
In another partnership, Starwood Hotels
& Resorts Worldwide chose to launch Meeting-Metrics with PCMA
this past February. Developed by New York City-based GuideStar
Research, MeetingMetrics is a meeting performance-measurement
service that helps planners calculate return on investment.
The new partner program “was a smart
way for PCMA to go, because any vendor or supplier is looking for a
measurable return,” says Christie Hicks, senior vice president of
global sales for White Plains, N.Y.-based Starwood and a 22-year
member of the association. “Absent having one-on-one time with
customers, there are better ways to get that return than putting
the banner up or buying the conference bags. The little-party-favor
days are over.”
PCMA has 16 chapters so far, the board
having approved their formation in 1990. The latest to join,
chartered in 2002, is called POWER, for the Pittsburgh, Ohio, West
Virginia and Erie Region.
Christine Melendes was hired in June as
PCMA’s member relations director, charged with several objectives.
“Our goal is not numbers; we’re out for quality education,” says
Sexton. “I want to improve the retention percentage. If we can
improve it by a few points a year and keep it in the 80s, that
would be good. Then we can go out and look for new member
prospects.” PCMA’s current retention rate is 75 percent.
PCMA’s bylaws decree that only planners
can chair the board. The current slate features 14 -- including
Kati Quigley, CMP, group manager of events for Microsoft -- and