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April 2013

Conventional Wisdom

By Michelle Russell, Editor in Chief

On the new 80/20 split, weight-loss products, and ‘mouthwatering’ food and drink.

In a DMAI study, CVB leaders said they spent 80 percent of their time on advocacy-related issues and just 20 percent on marketing and selling their destination in 2012 — a flip-flop from just a decade go, when advocacy was only 20 percent of their job.

That tells us that executives spend far more time promoting their CVB's value proposition to local constituents than their destination's features to meeting planners. And that — given how budgets are stretched tight in cities across the country and everyone is fighting for their piece of the pie — a good deal of “promoting” is probably more like justifying and convincing.

On the one hand, the meetings industry continues to find itself in the hot seat, defending the value and cost of face-to-face events. On the other hand, when we factor out the government's GSA-induced misgivings and look outside of our own inner circle, it's clear that many industries and professionals share the belief that conferences are the best way to learn and engage with their own communities of interest.

Take Robard Corporation, for example. A recent New York Times Magazine article described this meal-replacement-product company's unusual business model. Instead of selling its powders and shakes to dieters in drugstores, Robard restricts its sales to medical clinics. Its products don't come cheap, but Robard offers its medical customers free services, from individualized training to an annual conference on developments in weightloss science. “In order to charge its large markup,” the article reads, “Robard needs to ensure that its research services are tremendously valuable.” And, I would add, that the best way to share that research is at a conference.

Of course, sometimes the meetings industry is guilty of shooting itself in the foot, and I think the California Small Farm Conference is one such example. Given that the conference is funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food & Agriculture, and that government workers number among its attendees, organizers should have kept perception top of mind in their marketing communications.

It may be clear from its website that the conference is firmly rooted in education and networking, but the description of its three-hour Tasting Reception kick-off — an optional ticketed event — set
The Wall Street Journal editorial board's teeth on edge: a “mouthwatering event” featuring “fine wines and exceptional microbrews paired with seasonally driven culinary delicacies.”

Yes, too over the top for today's climate — and yet, how ironic that a conference on growing good food and drink should think it wise to downplay the best way to experience them.

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