Fuzzy Math?

Let me start with a disclaimer:  I am an advocate, supporter and evangelist for the event industry, especially face to face meetings and events.

Because of that, I have to admit that I found the report put out yesterday on the economic impact of the meetings industry somewhat self-serving and ultimately a misrepresentation of the real impact of meetings and events.

I know the industry is still suffering from the AIG effect and public perception of the value of events, but did we really need this report to tell us that meetings and events, especially well designed meetings with clear business objectives and measured outcomes are vital to supporting business activity and providing forums for education, collaboration and building relationships?

While it is good to have these numbers in support of  the industry, it’s kind of too bad that they chose not to compare the numbers as a percentage of the total US Economy.  The total US economy is estimated at $14.7 Trillion dollars in 2010, which makes the $106 billion contribution to GDP a drop in the bucket and somewhat of a statistical anomaly.  If you factor in the other numbers the overall contribution to economic activity is better, for sure.

What would have been great, if the industry had a way to actually measure what impact they have on other economic activity from their client base, is to tie in how much meeting impact leads to direct revenue for corporate America that ends up driving more economic activity for the overall economy.

The other thing this kind of highlights, it seems, is how much the industry is really a function of the services sector. It doesn’t go into looking at overall labor productivity or wealth creation that might boost economic activity overall or create the millions of jobs the US needs to start getting back to something close to full employment.

What might have been more important or more interesting to look at and spend research dollars on would have been some of the impacts of the meeting industry.  On the positive side, a far better measurement would be how meetings generate innovation and breakthrough ideas that lead to new ideas,  new companies, new research or just better productivity in the economy. On the negative side, what the industry is still not taking seriously is the impact it is having on communities and the environment.

I’d love to see the research on the impact meetings have on resources and the environment and how much carbon gets created so that we could have a discussion on not only how much economic activity we think we generate, but how we are going to sustain that economic activity and balance it against the fact that the meetings and event industry is the 2nd largest generator of waste behind only construction in the US.

A broader strategic approach to the triple bottom line would mean closer attention to all the positive and negative impacts of a meeting—not just the jobs it creates, but the community benefits or costs flowing from the decisions and conclusions participants reach. That, in turn, would challenge the industry to think about the value and impact of the content a meeting deals with, alongside the operational aspects that get assigned to the meetings and events team.  This is from my friend, Mitchell Beer.

Not trying to be a buzz kill here, just trying to bring a dose of reality.  Good to have the research, but I’m not sure it will actually change anything at the highest levels.

3 responses to “Fuzzy Math?

  1. Paul, what a great, thoughtful post. I too am an advocate of live meetings and since I entered the industry have continued to seek with many partners ways to lower the environmental impact anywhere we can, one step at a time, right. As long as we remain consumers, we will continue to have impact but many organizations who have huge global reach are paying attention to the p’s that make a positve contribution.

    It would be awesome if there was a way to track the intangibles – the ideas that are best generated face to face, and the many innovations that come. My daughter (10) just this minute asked me what I think the world will be like in 50 years. I have no idea. I do know that if we can continue to take responsibility and make thoughtful decisions, we that will continue to innovate ways to improve our world – but it takes leadership and individual contributions to do this. We can’t expect government to be responsible, but you are right, meetings can change the way we take care of the world – believe in the power we have and use it for good. (sorry, that was long but you made me think) cheers.

  2. Hi Paul –

    Thanks for the comments on the study release. As the convenor of the funders for the study and on behalf of the funding organizations, let me say: “We agree with you!”

    Our first priority with this effort was to lay down the foundation for who and what we are. While you and we “get it”, it was clear from the comments out of DC during 2008 and 2009 that many of our legislators didn’t understand the size and scope of the industry in their own states, let alone nationwide.

    With this accomplished and a common platform from which all of us can talk, we can now turn to the other critical areas you mention. We agree that we need to broaden the terms of measurement related to meeting and event outcomes. This is far more challenging – how do you measure knowledge transfer and quantify that over time?
    Those of us in the industry know that meetings mean innovation, measuring it is difficult.

    We also agree with you on the environmental impact. Within the next month CIC’s APEX Initiative will be unveiling new meeting/event sustainability standards in association with the Green Meetings Industry Council and the American Society for Testing and Materials.

    I think we have the same endpoint in mind! Thanks for the dialogue

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