President John Touchette, CMP,
hopes a broader
focus will bolster
Membership is down at ICPA, at
one time an acronym for the Insurance Conference Planners
Association. The numbers haven’t dipped dramatically (from 493 in
2002 to 452 in early 2005), but despite sustained efforts, they’re
not improving. Similar dips persist in membership counts
industrywide, a problem some blame on the modern economy.
“Companies are cutting back, and employees have to choose one
association over another,” says John Touchette, CMP, president of
ICPA, newly based in Chicago. “Other people just don’t have the
Silver linings are on the horizon, however. By implementing
massive perestroika, the bravest associations are working to stanch
their losses, reconnect with members and pave the way for future
growth. Here are some of the ways they hope to achieve those
Expanding the membership base
ICPA’s struggle began a few years ago, when insurance
companies began offering financial-services products. As one result
of this synergy, many meeting planners moved from the insurance
industry to the financial services sector, organizing essentially
the same types of conferences they had before; however, because of
ICPA’s bylaws, they could no longer be members of that
In 2002, the board agreed to open its doors to financial
meeting planners, and the name was changed to ICPA, An Association
of Insurance and Financial Services Conference Planners. This
allowed the group to keep the 50-year-old ICPA name while becoming
more inclusive. But the name hasn’t stuck.
“We tried not to change the name but just to add the tagline,”
says Touchette, “but people don’t want to say that because it’s too
ICPA isn’t the only association with an unwieldy tagline. The
Washington, D.C.-based International Association of Convention and
Visitor Bureaus, already a bundle of words, has proposed a change
(amid heated debate) to “Destination Marketing Association
International: Representing CVBs and Tourist Boards Worldwide,”
practically impossible to utter in one breath.
ICPA is evaluating its brand to see whether tweaking the name yet
again will help; depending on the results, another name change
might occur within a year. Planners are hopeful for something
within a one-breath limit.
“No matter how much word-of-mouth does, if they want to open it
to financial services, they need to change their identity,” says
Margaret Moynihan, the Wilton, Conn.-based director of the Global
Conference Group at Deloitte & Touche, who didn’t realize she
could become a member until a year ago.
To add substance to the name change, ICPA is retooling its
education to benefit financial services planners and ensuring that
its supplier partners cater to that market. The annual meeting this
year will be in New York City, a hub of the financial world, and
Touchette hopes local planners will stop by at least for a day.
Meanwhile, the Washington, D.C.-based American Society of
Association Executives might be fine-tuning its name as well. ASAE
needs a new brand after completing a massive merger last year, as
the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives became
part of ASAE, and the ASAE Foundation became part of the Center for
Given that membership now hovers around 23,000, down from a
pre-9/11 high of 25,000, the association is working on positioning
the two newly expanded organizations to be more attractive to
members. Management enlisted the help of The Brand Consultancy,
headquartered in Washington, D.C., to find out how to market the
two entities; the mergers resulted in the need for a clear “brand
promise,” as ASAE president and CEO John Graham, CAE, puts it.
“In examining the two remaining organizations, they don’t seem
compatible,” says Graham. “We’re looking at what should be the
brand promise going forward.” A new brand should be announced this
month, he adds.
Loyal members of GWSAE hope a rebranding doesn’t wash away all
traces of their old standby. “Before the merger, GWSAE was more
innovative from a marketing standpoint than ASAE,” says Melanie
Penoyar, director of marketing and business development for the
Alexandria, Va.-based Society for Marketing Professional Services.
“It had a younger spirit, and I hope that will continue.”
Laura Weaver, manager of meetings and conventions at the
Society of American Florists, also in Alexandria, is cautiously
optimistic. “GWSAE was really strong in education,” she notes. “So
far, I don’t see that they’ve lost that.”
“To which industry association do you belong and why?”
“I have been a member of the Council of Protocol Executives for 10 years. COPE has been extremely valuable because it is designed specifically for people who work in executive-level management planning for a diverse range of corporations, governments and nonprofit institutions.”Kathy McCann
Global Meetings and Events
Avon Products Inc.
New York City
“ICPA has brought tremendous value to me. I find the group well-educated and ethical, and the small size makes communication easy. I’m a member of the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives, but the two that bring me the most value are Meeting Professionals International and ICPA.”Cindy Hoddeson
Director, Convention/Incentive Sales
Monaco Government Tourist Office
New York City
“I belong to the Professional Convention Management Association. Others on my event staff belong variously to MPI, the American Society of Association Executives and the International Association for Exhibition Management. We participate in order to network and keep abreast of education, trends, etc. I chose PCMA because I find it the most relevant, and I feel it has the best educational programs.”Bruce Sanders
Director, National Events
“I used to be involved on many association boards, but not anymore, because it doesn’t afford me anything. None of the associations has a program where veteran planners can get together. Isn’t it a shame that these organizations do not offer anything to those of us in that position? Why would I pay to belong to an organization if it’s not giving me anything but a party?”Leila M. MacFeeley
Leila M. MacFeeley & Associates
Under new management
ICPA also sought outside help to bolster its membership. The group
turned to association management giant SmithBucklin in March 2004,
dismissed its two employees in Vancouver and relocated to Chicago,
where SmithBucklin is based.
“Declining membership was certainly one of the reasons that we
opted to hire an association management company,” says Touchette.
“We felt we needed access to more marketing tools to create
awareness and attract new members.”
Touchette is pleased with the change, because it means all of
the marketing, legal and management expertise such a large company
commands is being applied to ICPA. Also, if something had gone
wrong at the old two-person office if one of the two had quit, for
example the operation would have run aground. “We don’t have to
worry anymore if the copy machine breaks,” Touchette jokes.
The Trade Show Exhibitors Association, based in Chicago,
resorted to private management for its struggling annual meeting
and trade show, TS2, which drew 2,787 attendees in 2000 but just
1,417 in 2004. TSEA sold the show in October to National Trade
Productions, a private trade show management firm based in
Alexandria. TSEA still will manage the conference’s content, but
NTP will focus on marketing and logistics.
“Partnerships between associations and for-profit companies are
good things,” says Michael J. Bandy, outgoing president of TSEA (he
steps down in July). “Now TSEA can focus on providing services to
Mary Power, CAE, president and CEO of the Convention Industry
Council, based in McLean, Va., agrees the sale was a smart move.
“TSEA didn’t get out of the trade show business, they just got out
of the trade show management business and focused on what they do
really well, which is provide education.”
This year, NTP and TSEA will work on revitalizing attendance.
NTP doubled the marketing budget and slimmed the price to make
registration a more enticing buy. In addition, the show producer is
cramming the content into three days instead of four, staging fun
evening parties and adding a new track on corporate event planning,
which has snuck into many exhibitors’ job descriptions.
“We’ve elevated the offerings,” says Steve Greenspan, executive
director of TS2. “It’s a much better package of education for the
folks just concerned with the logistics through those higher up in
the marketing department, who are concerned with return on
investment and branding experiences.”
Though attendance figures for TS2 won’t be in until after the
show takes place (in July in Washington, D.C.), the partnership
seems to be working. TSEA has reached financial nirvana from the
sale and is now considering private management for the entire
organization. Who hopes to win the contract? One Michael Bandy, who
is leaving the association to start a private management
The Professional Convention Management Association has seen more
than its share of upheaval since its headquarters moved from
Birmingham, Ala., to Chicago in 2000. Starting with the retirement
of longtime president and CEO Roy Evans Jr., CAE, that year, the
association has changed its leader three times. Most recently,
David Kushner, CMP, CAE, parted ways with PCMA in March, and
Deborah Sexton, former president of the Chicago Convention and
Tourism Bureau, took the helm, just in time to enact the group’s
new strategic plan.
“It was not a disagreeable parting by any stretch of the
imagination,” says Leigh Wintz, CAE, chair-elect of PCMA and
executive director of Soroptimist International of the Americas,
based in Philadelphia. “Kushner didn’t do anything wrong, not at
Vicki Hawarden, director of meetings and programs for the
Bethesda, Md.-based American Association of Blood Banks, suspects
Kushner was ousted because he wasn’t widely known in the industry
and didn’t have much meetings experience. And she’s very happy
about the choice of Sexton to succeed him. “It’s about time we had
a woman running one of these things,” she says. “I’m thrilled.”
“Different boards have a different focus, and boards change,”
says Jennifer Witherington, CMP, president of PCMA’s Northern
California Chapter and account executive at Mana, Allison &
Associates, a San Francisco destination management company.
However, she adds, “I’d like to see the president stick around for
a while. Usually you have a five-year strategic plan; it’d be nice
for that person to stick around for those five years.”
Leigh Wintz admits the association “did have a bit of a
misstep.” After 9/11, “sponsorship dried up, and we had a big debt
to pay off because of the move,” she says. While she feels Kushner
“really shined” in attracting funding and bringing education to the
forefront, she agrees a new leader is needed to help implement the
This much-touted overhaul promises revamped education and
public advocacy efforts over issues affecting the meetings
industry, such as too-stringent U.S. entry requirements and local
mistrust of convention and visitor bureaus.
“If we’re not at the table, we need to be at the table, and if
the conversation isn’t happening, we need to create it,” declares
Gregg H. Talley, CAE, chair of PCMA’s board and president/COO of
Talley Management Group Inc., an association management firm in Mt.
IAHMP: A FAMILY AFFAIR
“We have our detractors;
people have their own agendas.”
Margaret GonzalesAs the International Association of Hispanic Meeting Professionals
approaches its 10th anniversary, some members are looking ahead to growth while others question how the group is run.
Theresa Garza, CMP, managing director of Amigo Meeting Solutions Inc., in Tucson, Ariz., attended two of IAHMP’s annual meetings and even became a member of the board, but she claims to have been dismissed for raising too many questions.
“There are no elections,” says Garza. “Margaret [Gonzales] has been the only president in the organization’s history, her daughter runs the magazine and her husband is chairman.”
Garza also claims the group’s annual meetings draw about 30 suppliers and only eight or nine planners, none of whom are decision-makers. She says a city’s willingness to pay for meeting planners’ trips has been an important criterion in site selection. Indeed, the Greater Hartford (Conn.) Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted all the meeting planners at the 2003 annual meeting, and some planners were hosted in Phoenix in 2004.
In the minutes from a 1998 meeting, which were obtained by M&C,
the board agreed the Gonzales family’s company, GVR Public Relations in Houston, would receive half of all advertising and sponsorship monies the association collects.
Margaret Gonzales responds to the criticisms bluntly. “We have our detractors; people have their own agendas. But if it weren’t for my family’s involvement and support, this organization would crumble.” She adds, “I’m a volunteer. I don’t get paid.”
Jim Fausel, CMP, CMM, director of the Professional Meeting Managers Partnership at Arizona State University in Phoenix and a member of IAHMP’s board, believes Gonzales gets no money from the organization and puts in a lot of her time. He also says Gonzales is open to elections, but no one has wanted to take her place.
However, Fausel expresses some concerns. He says there aren’t enough members, marketing is inadequate and the board is too small and is opposed to working with other industry associations, notably Meeting Professionals International, which is organizing a multicultural initiative.
“Margaret is not very fond of MPI,” notes Karen Garcia-Gonzales (no relation), CMP, managing director of MPI’s multicultural initiative. “I wish they would come to the table, but I think IAHMP sees us as more of a threat.”
Margaret Gonzales claims her association has 500 members and that about 30 planners and 45 suppliers attended the most recent meeting. Fausel corroborates.
“The conference we had in Phoenix was outstanding,” says Gonzales. “It was done at a very professional level, and people were amazed at the caliber of speakers.”
Alisha Jackson, national sales manager for the Metropolitan Tucson CVB, has attended two IAHMP meetings, but she won’t be going this year due to budget cuts. “Whatever negative perspective people are experiencing has a lot to do with the fact that they are a grassroots organization,” Jackson says. “They are just so small.” -- J.V.
A search for synergies
PCMA also is cooperating more with other industry associations, a
prominent example being the Multicultural Toolkit announced in
January by PCMA and Dallas-based Meeting Professionals
International. The Toolkit helps association chapters become more
diverse and teaches meeting planners to become sensitive to the
needs of minority cultures.
PCMA, MPI and most other meetings industry organizations plan
to collaborate more in the future.
“We’re certainly hearing from our supplier partners that the
pot’s getting smaller, that they’re not going to keep funding
similar initiatives from different organizations,” Gregg Talley
says. “There’s a level of interest on how we could work together
“Our sponsors are asking whether, instead of doing the same
thing in three organizations, two or three of these groups could
collaborate and do it at a reduced cost,” says Colin Rorrie, Ph.D.,
CAE, president and CEO of MPI. “We’re committed to finding ways to
That’s only the beginning. NTP and TSEA plan to work with a
U.K.-based group on bringing TS2 to Europe. And MPI plans to
partner with the Alexandria, Va.-based National Business Travel
Association on research projects.
“If serving our members in a more effective manner means using
resources outside MPI, that’s a good thing,” says Hugh Lee, MPI’s
chairman of the board.
The Chicago-based International Special Events Society also
would like to form a partnership. This one, however, would be far
more encompassing. President Dale Harmon is looking for a similar
organization to pool resources with and merge their annual events
into one. Says Harmon, “The organizations would probably stay in
their same existence, but we would try to eliminate what appears to
be too many trade shows and conventions every year.” Harmon is mum
on the organizations he’s eyeing for the merge.
Bill Boyd, CITE, CMP, CMM, president of the Society of
Incentive & Travel Executives, plumps for something even more
drastic: combining all of the meetings-industry foundations into
one pile of money. “All these foundations do the same thing and
serve basically the same community,” says Boyd. “There’s a need for
separate associations, but I do not see a need for separate
Of all the major industry associations, MPI appears to be the
healthiest. Membership is at an all-time high of nearly 20,000, and
attendance at the 2005 Professional Education Conference hit a
record of 2,733.
The association now is working on becoming a truly
international entity by opening offices in Europe and Canada and
encouraging partnerships in those and other regions. Already, MPI
has partnered with the World Trade Organization, based in Geneva,
and the International Congress and Convention Association, based in
“You can’t be focused on the United States and be an
international organization,” says Rorrie.
Chicago-based SITE also is branching out, using a recently
expanded endowment to help increase the acceptance of incentives in
the corporate world through myriad research projects, including a
major study attempting to quantify global spend on incentives.
“Once we get that number, we can back up our claims,” says
Boyd. “It’s going to be a biggie.”
SITE’s members also called for an exotic bent to the conference
schedule; now the organization sponsors a series of executive
summits, one-day conferences in emerging destinations such as
Beijing and Dubai.
These associations’ growing pains are essential, many sources
agree. Notes Corbin Ball, president of Corbin Ball Associates, a
meetings technology consultancy in Bellingham, Wash., “Those that
are clinging on old ways of doing things will cease to be as