Will Industry Associations Survive?

I've been an MPI member since 1980 (although officially, 1981 – checks were processed slowly in the early days in Middletown!); a PCMA member since the '80s; ditto ASAE.

I've been an active member in all of them, including serving as chapter president with the Potomac Chapter of MPI (PMPI), on the international board of MPI, and on and chairing many committees for all associations mentioned.

I’ve taught at more industry events for those organizations and others (SGMP, IACC, CMP Conclave, GBTA, HSMAI), and for-profit shows like Exhibitor, and at the University of Georgia and the University of North Carolina/Charlotte in their certificate programs, and more chapters of the many organizations than I can count – and I did in fact stop keeping a record of them.

I’ve been honored by MPI, PCMA, NSA, HSMAI, IACC, and I'm an inductee in the Convention Industry Council Hall of Leaders.

I've been an advocate for joining and being active in industry associations, believing strongly they were where we would learn the most from sessions and by example; where networking—that is, peer-to-peer contact and learning—would propel us and our careers forward.

I believed that our ability to volunteer gave us opportunities to do and create different things than our jobs might. In fact, I had said for years that MPI, my "mother ship" because it was the one organization I could join in 1980, helped me become who I am by providing opportunities for leadership and learning through doing.

And today, I’m not so sure.

In a recent blog post—the first in a series of three—I wrote about industry education (the third is on the way, I promise – I get sidetracked with interesting events that turn into blogs!). In the same post I mentioned that I think we’ve been let down by our associations. Worse? I think the for-profit community has hijacked what the industry associations can and used to do.

How? Hosted buyer programs. I saw photos from a recent one at which there was nothing creative being done in room sets. It was purely a money-making opportunity for the owner of the show. In fact, a colleague in attendance told me of a supplier who left because she didn’t want to pay $6,000 to have a few one-on-one appointments.

These events are killing industry associations by providing free education (even if it’s not advancing the industry and it's only advancing the pockets of the show owners). Look at the industry associations and see if the planner membership is up or down.

Ask planners’ managers why they are happy having their staffs hosted (air, hotel and "registration," because there isn’t any) versus shelling out more than $2,500 for someone to attend an industry association meeting.

I look at the “senior planner” that everyone wants to attract and how many of my friends and colleagues have dropped their memberships in the CIC member organizations. Worse, when they have stopped being members and written to say why, they have received no response.

We who couldn’t afford to attend the national and international meetings used to say we continued our memberships because we were active at the chapter level. It’s not so. Look at the numbers of those who attend chapter meetings versus the number of members they have.

Look, I want the industry associations to survive. They have a long history of fostering leaders. But who is doing what to help them survive and thrive? The same vendors who are on boards of those organizations are also supporting (by paying and attending) the hosted buyer events. And the industry associations are trying to compete with the for-profit hosted buyer events with their own, further demeaning the value of being a member.

More, our industry associations are doing little for our supplier/vendor members: in some cases, they pay higher dues and registration fees, which are used to financially support programs, but they are given no education for doing so.

Tell me I’m wrong, and when you do, tell me how this will all play out and who will make it happen? While you’re at it, tell me why in the hell we can’t create better meetings either within the industry associations or by the for-profit companies providing hosted buyer opportunities?

The views expressed are my own and do not represent those of the Meetings Today brand.

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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