Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Frank was pretty much right. Lori is too.

There is a great editorial in the new issue of Meetings and Conventions magazine by Editor Lori Cioffi. Everybody should read it.

I tried to find a link to it on their web site, but could not, so I'll quote some of it here.

The headline is "Fear Itself", and while it's about meetings, it has a broader application, I think. "I'd wager no one in our government set out to intentionally hobble our industry," she writes "but hobble it they have."

She's writing specifically about the rush these days to cancel any sort of offsite meeting. In the hotel industry, this is known as the "AIG effect" for obvious reasons. Organizations who might otherwise benefit from something like a training meeting, retreat or sales meeting are afraid of running afoul of TARP guidelines. In fact, the Treasury Department has set up an abuse hotline, so citizens can phone in (perceived) abuses -- like the example she mentioned, a training meeting in Florida for Merrill Lynch employees. This is getting ridiculous. Large companies and small ones, like caterers, production teams, florists and the like, are all suffering as a result of meeting cancellations. And last I looked, these folks -- like ad agencies -- are part of the economy.

As Ms. Cioffi said in closing, a simple training meeting is something "that quite possibly could have spurred business activity -- something our economy could sorely use." She's right.

But here's the variation on it from from the ad agency point of view, since we've done a lot of hospitality work over the years: This is no time for the hospitality industry (or anybody else, for that matter) to roll up its ears and figure they best not reach out to any potential customers until it's all over. Or just rely on their web site and SEO to bring in business. I'm sorry, but whether it's a real or perceived budget issue, real or perceived AIG Effect or a desire to "wait and see what happens with the economy" (and how many times have you hear THAT one?), I can't see dropping out as a good strategy.

I've said it a zillion (well at least 2 or 3) times before. Stopping or cutting anything that can help you generate new business until your business gets better all by itself makes no sense at all. Change your message or your strategy, sure. But disappear? Never.

In this case, maybe drop the old emphasis resorts used to put on their golf or tennis or the beach and develop marketing materials that emphasize the business ROI of an offsite meeting. Or (gasp) consider dropping "Resort" from the family name. Maybe even focus on developing a for-real, serious meeting capability as a value-add for clients to help them have more productive meetings. Build your brand as a meetings destination.

Recognize, as my friend Mike Fahner told me once long ago when he was with Marriott, that it's not about the hotel, or the F&B, or the meeting room or the beds. It's the meeting you're selling and what the client can accomplish at it.

Back when I was a Healthy Young Man, I played rugby. And one of my best coaches was the late Al Long. Al used to say that we could play reactive rugby and let the other team dictate the flow, pace and style of the game, or we could dictate those things ourselves and play our game. In other words, we could choose to try not lose or choose to win.

I know the sour economy is real. I know the crisis is real. I know business sucks in general. (Trust me, I know that one for sure.) But freaking out will only make is worse.

Reactive rugby will not win the day here.

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