I recently interviewed Roger Dow and Roger Rickard on industry advocacy.  

My thanks to both for taking time to respond to my questions. Their answers have been lightly edited.

Roger Dow: President & CEO, U.S. Travel Association. For many years, Roger was with Marriott and has served on many boards for industry associations.

Roger Rickard: Founder, Voices In Advocacy, where he works with organizations who want to create more influence, drive engagement and avoid costly mistakes through advocacy.

Joan Eisenstodt (EQ): Both of you have been at this thing to get our industry recognized—in a good way!—by Congress and others, for a long time. What got you started?

Roger Rickard (RR): My professional life has evolved around two areas of interest. One, being in the meetings / tourism / hospitality industry. The second is my love for advocacy. Focusing on advocacy: I have been an advocate for citizen involvement since the age of 13. I ran for public office at 18, was elected twice as a young man, later served as a legislative staffer in the Pennsylvania Senate, and have worked on many local, regional and state political campaigns as well as numerous presidential campaigns.

My two areas of interest came together in the early 1990s when there was a meetings and events boycott in Arizona over statements made by the governor regarding the Martin Luther King holiday. I quickly learned that the meetings industry was not prepared for such direct backlash over political events that had nothing directly to do with actions within the meetings industry. We in Arizona learned the hard way.

While everyone blamed the boycott on the governor (and rightly so), I began to think that it’s not only shame on the governor, it’s shame on us (the meetings industry) for not being prepared to tell and sell our story of the value of meetings. From this time forward I have fought to educate and engage all stakeholders, whether they are elected officials, media, business, and importantly internal meetings industry stakeholders, as to the values meetings drive in shaping and changing society. The meetings industry has too often found itself used as a political pawn and we must work hard to not let this happen over and over again.

Roger Dow (RD):  When I joined U.S. Travel in 2005 (It was TIA, Travel Industry Association, at the time), I asked our research team to tell me how much inbound international travel to the U.S. had grown over the past decade compared to the rest of the world.

I was stunned to learn that inbound travel to the U.S. had only increased by a scant 1.5 percent (450,000 travelers), while the rest of the world had increased inbound long-haul travel by 40 percent (50 million travelers). We had lost a whopping 37 percent of our global country-to-country market share.

I couldn't believe this, yet as I made the rounds to introduce myself to our elected officials, I was greeted by "Ho-hum—guess that's the way it is." I realized that our industry was not seen as a serious contributor to the nation's economy and employment, leading me to begin calling our industry the "Rodney Dangerfield of industries.”

Then, in late fall 2008, the media began vilifying financial institutions who had received TARP, as a result of the financial crisis, for holding meetings. The media piled on, as did members of Congress, followed by newly elected President Obama, saying in February 2009 at a town hall meeting, "You can't go to Las Vegas or the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime.”

We formed the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, made up of the “alphabet soup” meetings industry associations, to fight back. Again, the tremendous loss of business—$2 billion in cancellations in January/February 2009—was virtually a non-event to our elected officials. They and the media took joy in attacking meetings as frivolous and wastes of money.

I would say these two happenings really got us started and fueled our industry to come together with one voice.

EQ: I remember when I served on Convention Liaison Council's (CLC) Board as an MPI delegate, learning why the CIC (Convention Industry Council) was formed. I fear too many in the industry don’t know the history! What were the earliest efforts by CLC (now CIC) in the early ‘50s, after they were founded in ’49, that helped get the industry known as a, well, as an industry, and our impact for individuals? 

RR: I can’t speak for the CIC. Regarding the early efforts of the CIC, I was not involved back then, thus I can’t speak to that as well. However, in my opinion, everything CIC does has at its core, advocacy. Advocacy is defined as public support or recommendation of a particular cause or policy. CIC supports the causes of meeting professionals in everything it does.

CIC has an AdvocacyHub where members of the meetings industry can register to get updates on issues that affect the industry, as well as calls to action when action is needed. Readers can register with the AdvocacyHub.

CIC is assisting the Meetings Mean Business Coalition again this year by managing the logistics of the Global Meeting Industry Day, which will be held Thursday, April 14, 2016. GMID is the natural growth of the North American Meetings Industry Day, which was a huge success [in 2015]. This event is dedicated to defining and shaping the meetings and events profession for the future, raising the industry’s profile and discussing the economic impact of meetings with people outside the industry, who are impacted by it every day.

EQ: I’ve been involved in grassroots campaigns from the time I was a little girl in the ‘50s and continue to be. What can our industry borrow from various movements?

RR: Coalesce, engage, educate, activate and influence. We need to continue to unite the meetings industry. The Meetings Mean Business Coalition has done a great job of bringing all the major parties to the table to work together to grow the influence of the industry. 

We need to engage all stakeholders, but most importantly we need to engage the very people we are trying to support, the people who earn a living in the meetings and event industry. We need to educate so that the message of the many values of meetings are heard. We need to activate supporters to stand up and speak out. 

All of these activities will help the industry achieve the impact necessary to influence elected officials, media and businesses. The grassroots of this industry need to participate.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.

RD: We have to have our facts, based on data to demonstrate that there is a "problem.” We have to communicate in a way that rallies many and gets them engaged to take action. We have to provide tool kits and talking points to give constituents a way to share the message.

We can learn from other movements that are able to state a problem in a concise/clear way that makes those involved say, "This is a real problem and I've got to help do something about it.”

Successful movements identify spokespeople, tell their story in multiple media and feedback small successes to their constituents to motivate them to act and believe that they are making a difference.

EQ: Why is it that those of us who work in the industry still have a hell of a time getting our families to understand what it is we do?

RR: This is the greatest mystery to me. If we can’t get the people who know, love and understand us the most to understand what we do, how are we ever going to get others to understand? Meeting professionals deliver the strategic messages and core objectives for their organization. They manage how people receive these messages through the vehicles of meetings and events. When asked “What do you do?” why not begin by saying, “I manage the delivery of our organizations strategic messages and core objectives.” Then explain that it’s through meetings and events. If you ask a doctor what she does, she doesn’t begin by explaining all the consultations and tests. She begins by saying, “I help people get better.”

RD: The industry is soooo big that it's hard to define and a relatively small percentage of our non-meeting industry friends actually participate in meetings. So, we end up talking to ourselves and feel good about it, while the discussion doesn't go far beyond our industry.  We haven't found the words that concisely tell our story.  I think we should be saying that we are the industry that moves business forward, brings people together to solve big problems, aligns people and IS adult education.

EQ: Any last words on how to move the industry toward a grassroots organizing model?

RR: For long-term success in advocacy efforts it is incumbent upon us to grow a large and diverse grassroots model to engage and activate meeting professionals. There needs to be a greater interest among meeting professionals to become engaged. Currently, most people are not thinking about any advocacy challenges due to the fact that most are currently and successfully busy. But now is the time to build the army of meetings supporters for the day and time that the industry needs their voice.

That day will come and we must prepare now.

RD: We have to tell our story in many ways in media beyond our "talking to ourselves" industry trade. We need to recruit spokespeople (CEOs) to share the benefits that occur when people come together face-to-face.

A Closing Note From Joan: If you haven't read it yet, check out my blog post on standing up for our industry.