At the JMIC May conference, industry leaders agreed we should better measure the value of meetings. But how and what we measure divided opinions and highlighted inconsistencies in how and what we count as value in and outside our sector.
The good news was that in the many debates about how to define our industry, how to establish consistency in the measures we use to show value, whether it was even possible to measure outcomes like knowledge, innovation, learning … Some excellent examples, perspectives and clear new directions emerged.
“We don’t care about the cups of coffee!” was the defining statement from outside our industry when Isabel Bardinet CEO European Society of Cardiology described her work on the ESC congress. Her frustration with the focus on the halo effect of meetings rather than business within the event was clear. The congress she manages as part of the Association activities attracts over 30,000 participants and one outcome “changing practice on heart failure globally”. A pretty impressive outcome when you consider that cardiovascular disease kills 4 million people in Europe a year. In fact she went further… Thanks to the congress that has measurably changed practice and knowledge we have all gained 7 years extra life! When put like that, the meetings industry focus on room nights, food and beverage, transport seemed indeed to be the tip of the ‘value’ iceberg, with the really interesting stuff far beneath the water.
The visibility of those ‘underwater’ outcomes was the big challenge. Professor Leo Jago claimed that ‘not everything that counts can be counted’. Speakers from ICCA, UIA, DMAI showed the varied measures being used, with different metrics, sample types and outcomes classed as important. So the discussions fluctuated between numbers to stories. The stories of events that change lives or city spaces notably from London & Partners strategic successes like TechWeek a week of thousands of tech centred events. The stories of mapping events to match governmental policies and strategies highlighted by Business Events Australia - all seemed more compelling ways of demonstrating outcomes, more valuable than coffee cups. Compelling messages was a strong aspect for Karen Kotowski from CIC who shared the council’s research that highlighted how what we have used as the compelling parts of our business namely the money generated by hosting a meeting, are not the compelling reasons for why government officials choose to book meetings.
No wonder then, that as leaders in small groups discussed if and how broader outcomes from meetings could be measured and how to communicate those, the focus remained on the messages, the audiences, the stories. More stories. The stories highlight the varied values and also in several cases are being measured by associations, by CVBs and by researchers. All good stories need a strong narrative, a convincing storyline and the right people to tell it. At this point the importance of advocates outside the industry was clear. Not meeting associations shouting about those outcomes but client groups, medical associations and more.
So from the fragmented picture, some unifying actions and broad consensus emerged which will be followed up in the coming weeks and months. Rod Cameron summarised these as establishing a shared sense of mission, developing more case studies so that the full economic, societal and business impacts could emerge and understanding that whilst consistency and global messages would be important ‘local application’ would be key because ‘no single message works for everyone’. So JMIC in Paris – the outcome? A powerful final part to developing a value-centred agenda that the meetings industry could well need to count on in the short and longer term.
Written by Jackie Mulligan, Principal Lecturer & Director of Enterprise at Leeds Beckett University and MPI UK & Ireland Board Member.