PCMA 2012: A Decision Point for Meetings and Events.

One of the general sessions at PCMA 2012 Convening Leaders Conference.

By: Eric Olson, General Manager
Active Network | Business Solutions

Last week, a promising college basketball player had to make a decision. It wasn’t a career altering decision. It was simply the noble question of whether he should “do the Dougie” at the team’s first home game.

The Dougie, for those who don’t know (I didn’t), is a dance that has reached notoriety with teenagers online. And the player, who, by the way, DID the Dougie, was one of the hottest prospects in college basketball. His decision to dance on the biggest stage of his career prompted one sports radio host to make the statement:

“Leaders,” he said, “don’t do the Dougie.”

Leaders, he argued, choose to lead. They stand out. They don’t do what others do. They exhibit maturity beyond their years. And, on the biggest stage, leaders shine. They perform. They get results.

So, as we convened our leaders in the meetings and events industry last week in San Diego for PCMA and Virtual Edge Summit, this story stuck with me and it occurred to me that our industry is at a similar decision point.

We can decide to lead. Or, we can decide to Dougie.

Convening Leaders. Converging Ideas.

The meetings and events industry has reached a point of convergence. This could not have been clearer than at PCMA’s traditional live events conference, combined with the Virtual Edge Summit, a progressive digital show. There we saw the convergence of ideas from our industry’s leaders, who badly want to elevate the reputation of events.

Talk in the hall centered on driving engagement, delivering ROI and building the value of events, while the discussion on stage relayed the findings of a recent survey, showing that just 38% of planners use the most basic attendee management technology.

So, while there’s a convergence of thinking and a clear opportunity to change, there is a gap in action and risk taking. And we, as an industry, are left with some importance choices.

Five Lessons From PCMA. Five Choices To Lead.

Throughout the weekend there were hundreds of examples of organizations that did choose to lead. Cisco demonstrated leading the way in virtual events by fully integrating digital and live environments to drive measurable value from their meetings. My employer, Active Network, announced its plans to forge the way for full technology integration by announcing the pairing of its engagement and logistics technology with StarCite’s leading strategic meetings management platform. And PCMA itself chose to embrace technology as the backbone of Convening Leaders, catapulting the association’s event to the front of this industry.

SVP, JR Sherman, announces the launch of Active Network | Business Solutions and the acquisiton of Starcite, at the PCMA 2012 Convening Leaders Conference.

Some of the best are choosing to lead. But, most are still years behind the needs of their businesses and associations – not to mention their members and attendees.

How can we glean from the best and choose to lead as a group? Here are five choices PCMA and VES should inspire YOU to make in 2012:

1. Choose to Embrace Digital Convergence

With VES fully co-located with PCMA, the world of digital events has changed. Virtual now includes all digital content, leaving behind hard-to-understand virtual worlds for new extended definition of content. And numerous case studies showed that good digital strategy can extend the reach of events, and provide content that adds value to live experiences.

Digital content is proving to be highly measurable, interactive and directly responsible for driving interest and attendance for live events. In fact, many of the people I met had been exposed to VES through free digital content before deciding to attend.

So, good planners are left with a choice. We can decide to embrace the convergence of live and digital content – and use it to drive more value through events. Or, we can continue to ignore it and lose attendees as they choose to spend their time elsewhere.

2. Choose Technology Integration

As technology floods into live events, most organizations have purchased it a la carte. Marketers tend to choose technologies focused on engagement while meeting planners choose solutions to solve logistical problems and control spend.

With Active Network’s announcement of the StarCite acquisition, the company is showing that the events world is ready to embrace the benefits of integrated technology solutions that meet the needs of both marketing and procurement. And it makes sense because technology is designed to improve experiences, create efficiencies and drive measurable value. So, if that technology doesn’t work together and support the whole attendee journey, organizers sacrifice experience, lose valuable data, spend too much money and lose efficiencies.

Technology is only important if it drives result. So, in the maze of new technology and cool ideas, integration just may be the most important feature we choose to elevate our industry.

3. Choose to Give Up Control

The way we communicate has fundamentally changed. Attendees make buying decisions based on friends’ recommendations. They want to learn from each other. And they want content built to support their objectives.

So, the best things we can do – although tough for event people – is to hand over the reigns to our attendees whenever possible.

The Active Network Educational Pod, in the Learning Lounge of PCMA's 2012 Converging Leaders Conference.

PCMA introduced interactive “idea” areas and learning lounges this year. I heard more comments about the value of these self-guided experiences, than about the sessions. With access to people and information becoming free and easy, event-focused organizations need to drive value in new ways, like facilitating attendee-driven content and leveraging it to drive engagement.

4. Choose to Commit to the Value of Events

We hold events to sell products, services or ideas. Yet, most planners spend most of their time managing logistics trying to save costs. While that approach got us by for years, and as digital technologies open access to people and information, our industry needs to focus on improving value.

One of the saddest stories I heard this weekend was of the British government’s massive cuts in events. In a time when it’s more important than ever to share information and bring people together, the government eliminated its event’s focused department and slashed tens of millions of dollars from its programs.

And despite the fact that it could now demonstrate the value of its events, it was too late.

While it may seem difficult at times to measure engagement, there were plenty of good examples at PCMA and VES of orgs that do it well. It’s important to set value-driven goals, implement measurement tools and leverage data to drive more value to events-driven organizations.

Data is the new currency of events. It’s time to commit to treating this discipline like other marketing and sales areas that have long embraced tactics to drive value before anything else.

5. Choose to be an Architect of Engagement

It’s becoming very clear that in order to accomplish everything – and in order for meetings and events to become a thought-leading industry – the definition of a planner needs to change. And the skill sets we bring in to our organization need to expand. It’s time to become architects of engagement.

It will require more education. But, we’re an industry built on learning. It will require restructuring. But, we’re an industry built on restructuring things.

We’ll need to add skills and technologies in community building, marketing, data analysis and the psychology of learning. It’s a new challenge. But, it’s a new opportunity for our industry, steeped in a tradition of building and monetizing relationships, to once again lead the way for corporations and associations.

These aren’t easy decisions to make. And they aren’t always comfortable. Yet, if events and meetings are going to thrive, we all need to commit to growing up. We need to commit to redefining our role and our value. And we need to commit to leading.

It’s time to make a choice. Are we going to lead? Or are we going to Dougie?

Eric Olson


Eric Olson is responsible for driving global sales and operations. Before joining the company, Eric was Vice President of Marketing and Media for a prominent education provider, specializing in online courses, virtual events and live conferences. In seven years he grew the company’s annual revenues from less than $10 million to more than $140 million, primarily through the expansion of its events portfolio.

2 Comments on “PCMA 2012: A Decision Point for Meetings and Events.”

  1. 1 Bridget Chisholm said at 8:13 am on January 21st, 2012:

    Hi Eric, Thanks for your inspiring piece. I would recommend one more choice however for us to lead in 2012 and that would be ‘Chooose to integrate Sustainability’. It could fall under #5; Choose to be an Architect of Engagement. We are poised as an industry to make huge differences world wide if we choose to push for things like composting, complete and comprehensive recycling, the sourcing of food and beverage from the local farming community, printing with FSC certified paper and soy based inks, the use of green cleaning products, no more miniature bottles in hotel showers, I could of course go on and on. I will give one example and take my self off line: It kills me when a convention center, caterer, or hotel tells me they are using compostable cups, plates, and cutlery but they aren’t composting! Compostable products placed in a 4 millimeter thick plastic bag and taken to a land fill is NOT composting! We can make these changes by adding these elements and more in our RFPs.

  2. 2 mnikolayevsky said at 9:34 am on February 2nd, 2012:

    Thanks for the post, Bridget. This is Eric’s Response:

    “Great points Bridget. Totally agree. I think sustainability is one of the biggest macro trends shaping the industry — not only from an altruistic standpoint, but from a pure economic standpoint. Our industry simply won’t survive if we don’t find new, sustainable ways to operate.”

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