The new president and CEO of Meeting Professionals International—this week presiding over his first associationwide event—this year plans to oversee the development of a wider breadth of educational offerings and launch a significant research effort that will form the backbone of a great deal of subsequent educational content.
Colin Rorrie, a former executive with the American College of Emergency Physicians who officially became the head of MPI Sept. 1, 2003, this week oversees the North American Professional Education Conference in San Antonio, Texas. The conference comes at a time when the meetings industry is largely optimistic about its prospects for growth, though that optimism is tempered by preceding years of slashed budgets and lost jobs.
"It's challenging," Rorrie said. "The growth is not as fast as some would like, especially those on the planner side who have lost their jobs. Suppliers are seeing their rates going up, but those rates are not where they need to be. But we're seeing business travel starting to break loose, as corporations have held back meetings and now they're being planned. Anecdotal evidence leads us to believe 2004 is going to be a much better year."
The San Antonio PEC sports some new educational content, including a session on the convergence of corporate meeting and travel management that is co-sponsored by the National Business Travel Association, the first such co-branded event since the two associations formed a partnership last summer (BTN, Aug. 11, 2003).
The session is an example of the direction Rorrie sees MPI's educational offerings going, he said. "We want to have 360 degrees of education, so that whether you're a new planner or have 20 years of experience, corporate or association, there will be an educational opportunity for you at MPI," he said. "Ultimately, there will be a leadership institute here for senior-level planners."
The association also is focusing its educational offerings on topics generally less explored by the association in the past, including the convergence of meetings and travel and the growing influence of procurement philosophies on corporate meetings management. Last month, MPI sponsored a Webconference on the latter topic (see column).
"You're going to see more things like procurement as a topic and more online education as well," Rorrie said. "We'll have at least four more Webconferences this year, and that could increase based on the number of people who sign up." About 60 sites were connected to the December Webconference, he said.
Those future educational offerings will be influenced heavily by the results of ongoing and upcoming research studies sponsored by the MPI Foundation, including the 2004 FutureWatch industry outlook, expected to be released during the PEC, and another wide-ranging major study on which work will begin this year, Rorrie said. That study, including its overall theme and topics, could be ready to begin by the summer.
The focus on research and education serves a larger goal, Rorrie said, of equipping planners with the tools necessary to advance in their organizations to strategic decision-making positions. This not only helps the planner's career, he said, but it also can help the association and the industry by increasing the number of people in influential organizational roles who appreciate the value meetings generate.
"Decisions are made by corporations to have meetings," Rorrie said. "Positioning our members in the influence sectors of corporations and having them be integral parts of the decision-making process can help show how meetings can help reach corporate goals."
Other initiatives planned by MPI include offering versions of its Women's Leadership and Multicultural initiatives to other industry associations and increasing its European presence.
Rorrie said he's adjusting well to the meetings industry—he had no direct meetings-related experience prior to his appointment—and complimented the association staff on the leadership transition. He said members can expect a three-pronged leadership philosophy.
"I have three tenets," Rorrie said. "The first is to truly focus on the needs of the customer. I want to promote the concept of flawless execution, as the best ideas and programs don't mean much if they're not executed well, and I want to stress the power of the partnership, meaning both between the membership and staff working together and with other organizations."