Saturday, December 8, 2012

Leadership during Crises… For Whom the Bell Tolls…


Thinking about all of the serious issues facing the world today, we find ourselves in numerous precarious situations like never before.  These situations we face are calling for serious leadership like never before, and in all areas of our lives; Government… Business… Community… even Church, Neighborhood, and home!  We are facing issues today that are unprecedented.  From weather events producing tornado outbreaks never witnessed in the previous 3 generations; hurricanes and super-storms threatening entire regions of civilizations; massive earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural catastrophic events.  Natural disasters are occurring on an unprecedented scale, effecting communities, governments, businesses, and the entire world economic and security structure. 

Threats are not limited to natural disasters by any stretch of the imagination.  The threat of terrorism and ethnic strife continues to rise as tensions mount in the middle east, east-Asia, and Africa. Ecological disasters from oil spills to climate change are no longer ideological, but real, existing and experienced threats.  And political and economic troubles continue to loom; from Greece and the Euro Union to the fiscal cliff faced on our own home front.   Simply reviewing the headlines of today’s media sources testify to the simple fact that we as a human race face more crises today than yesterday, and leaders of today have no choice but to be exceptional leaders in times of crises if they plan to truly lead.  And today, all of us on this planet are in a position where we need true leadership to lead; to lead us out of the situations we find ourselves in economically, politically, socially, and globally. 

With this in mind, we focus on what it takes to be a true leader in times of crises.  We look at our president; we look at our governor and mayor; we look at our business leaders; pastors; community organizers, and ourselves.  What does it take to truly lead in times of crises?  What will it take to truly lead through the times we are facing?

I recently came across an article in the Harvard Business Review; an interview by Scott Berinato with Adm. Thad Allen (Retired), the Senior VP of Booz Allen Hamilton.  This interview caught my attention at first because he is scheduled to give the Key Note Address at my upcoming conference in New Orleans (International Disaster Conference & Expo, or IDCE).  But as I read this interview with Adm. Allen, I couldn’t help but to apply his thoughts to every other crises faced; from government (the fiscal cliff is a serious issue needing serious people prepared to make serious decisions… which I don’t think we have in our government on any side, at any level… sorry), to business (economic insecurity and uncertainty is definitely a major global crises), to how I lead my family. 

Admiral Allen, former Admiral of the U.S. Coast Guard, managed the response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf. Previously, Admiral Allen also managed the response to Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf, and also managed New York Harbor during the 9/11 attacks.  He also managed the U.S. response and relief activities to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.   The interview conducted by Berinato was on-point and direct regarding leadership, and his thoughts on what it took to be a leader through these times of crises.  He summed it up into a few key points and phrases. 

·       Unity of Effort: what you're trying to do is aggregate everybody's capabilities, competencies, and capacities to achieve a single purpose, still taking into account the fact that they have individual authorities and responsibilities

·       Unify all on the team:  create a set of shared values that everybody that's involved can subscribe to.

·       Visibility:  If you're not visible with your people, then you're not a credible leader.  You don't understand what they're going through.

·       Adapt, suffer or manage.

·       Leaders are responsible for their own morale… keep a level playing field.

·       definition of leadership was the ability to reconcile opportunity, and competency

As I read, I was brought back to my time in show management with a fairly large company where we opened an event on 9/11.  It was the most traumatic experience I have ever had as a show manager, and the most challenging scenario of Crisis Management I have ever experienced.
 
We had opened a conference in Worcester, Ma on Monday September 10, 2001. All was quiet, and all was good.  We had a very successful registration program, presenting an attendance representing an increase in overall attendees of over 30% from the previous year.  Our exhibit sales for the year had been extremely successful, presenting an expo floor reflecting a 20% increase in exhibitors from the previous year.   Speakers selected to present in this conference program were the best of the best.  It was our first time in Worcester, and the city was happy to have us.  The event was set up to be one of the best events to date for this brand; the brand I managed.
 
Tuesday, September 11, 2001; 8:46 AM:  American Airlines Flight 11 crashes into the World Trade Center… the first of many which were to attack our country that day. 
 
With the majority of the planes on 9/11 taking off from Logan Airport in Boston, MA, the civil authorities in Massachusetts order a complete shutdown of all highways, rail, air, and sea transportation.  All public facilities in MA were shut down.  Security in public facilities ensure a complete lockdown of all buildings; no one enters or leaves. 
 
Our conference program kicked off day 2 of our event at 8:30AM EST.  Our trade show floor was schedule to open at 10:00AM.  We receive word through the event facility management that there had been “an incident”, and as a result, all public facilities were moved to complete lockdown.  We had freight on docks waiting to move to show floor.  About 40% of our exhibitors had not yet arrived to the facility.  All doors were closed, and military and state police surrounded the building ensuring no person would leave or enter.  We were not alone; the majority of public facilities throughout Massachusetts were called to lockdown.
 
Within 10 minutes of the lockdown, we began to receive reports of what was happening.  Terrorists had hi-jacked planes and had crashed them into buildings in New York.  Some planes were still unaccounted for.  A number of the planes originated out of Boston.  The entire 90-mile radius of Boston was at large.  That was all we knew. 
 
As the manager of the event, I was now faced with an unprecedented position.  I was being called upon to lead my entire show team through these crises.  I was also responsible for the 500+ conference attendees, 250+ exhibitors, and numerous additional staff, and would have to lead them through this ordeal.  Due to the intense and sudden use of cell phones throughout the country, cell towers began to fail.  We had to establish communications so those in the facility could begin reaching loved ones.  A number of conference attendees were from the Boston area, 2 of which had loved ones on the flights which were hijacked.  We were dealing with grief counseling; communications; security; and the need to ensure information was delivered to all. 
 
What I faced was not an oil spill or hurricane. It wasn’t economic uncertainty (at least not immediately).  It wasn’t government issues or community guidance.  My hurdles were specific to the situation and location at hand; but I happened to be the person tasked with leading us through the ordeal.  It was a true crises, and everyone involved needed leadership. 
 
As I read Adm. Allen’s comments, I realized this is exactly the leadership needed when I faced these crises in 2001.  Some I had performed well; others I hadn’t.  But as I reflected, I realized that Adm. Allen hit the nail on the head.  In leadership, there are certain attributes you must have to truly lead in times of crises, and these times of crises will define your true ability to lead.
 
Unity of Effort: This is something we did instinctively.  We made a conscious effort to ensure we were aware of all of the individual core competencies available to use and delegated responsibilities accordingly.  We placed certain people on counseling detail, while others were put on logistics and transportation details.  Others were tasked with working with facility management to establish communications for all in the facility.  Some were tasked with setting up internal news feeds to keep others informed, or put in charge of ensuring food and beverages were available.  I was tasked to work with facility management and government officials to ensure procedures were adhered to.  We simply put a plan in place to ensure all resources were allocated efficiently and effectively.
 
Unify all on the team:  We were successful in this game plane because we united the team, discussed the challenges faced, and established a set of shared values and vision that everyone subscribed to. The result was motivation to ensure each job was done to the best of each person’s ability. 
 
Visibility:  I stayed as visible as possible, helping in all areas from setting up phone banks to cleaning restrooms, working with military on the loading docks to inspect freight, and sitting with people who were grieving over their loss.  I didn’t leave one task assigned where I was not around to help or assist if needed.  
 
I worked to ensure the morale I portrayed was positive, no matter how saddened I was by my experiences or hopeless I felt over the enormousness of the tasks at hand.  As I look back on this experience, I understand the effect this had on our team.  Leaders are responsible for their own morale, which affects the morale of others.  You have to keep a level playing field, and I did to the best of my ability.  In the end, we were able to reconcile opportunity and competency, and the result was the successful navigation of serious crises.
 
Bill George wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal titled “Seven Lessons for Leading in Crises”.  Bill George, author of "True North," is a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School. He is also the former CEO of Medtronic and serves on the boards of directors of ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs and Novartis. In this article, he stresses the following:

1.       Leaders must face reality. Everyone on the leadership team must be willing to tell the whole truth.

2.       No matter how bad things are, they will get worse

3.       Build a mountain of cash, and get to the highest hill

4.       Get the world off your shoulders

5.       Before asking others to sacrifice, first volunteer yourself

6.       Never waste a good crisis

7.       Be aggressive in the marketplace

Many of these “lessons” are in line with what Adm. Allen refers to in his fundamental outline of success in crises leadership, and are reflective of what I experienced in Worcester, Ma, but are applied in the business setting.  From facing reality and telling the whole truth, no matter how grave, to allocating responsibilities to the right team members, putting yourself in the front line of fire, and leading others only where you are prepared to go yourself… all apply, and these fundamentals apply to all areas of leadership in any crises situation. 
 
As we face the “Fiscal Cliff” with our government, and economic uncertainty in the global work place, we now need leaders who will step up and lead.  We need leaders who will role the sleeves up and make tough decisions.  We need leaders who will tell the truth, no matter how rough.  We need leaders who will understand that they, as leaders, are responsible and stop blaming everyone else for the problems we face as a nation and people.  We need leaders who will recognize the opportunities we have to overcome these issues and show their competency.  We need leaders who understand that no matter how bad things are, they can get worse, and WILL get worse if these crises are not addressed… if THEY do not truly LEAD through these troubled waters.  We need leaders who will be willing to sacrifice themselves for what is right; who will volunteer themselves to get the job done. 
 
In short, we need true leaders.  They are out there and it is time to step up.  I just hope they hear the bell ringing.   

Sources:

Leading Through a Major Crisis. by HBR IdeaCast  |   5:26 PM October 14, 2010. Featured Guest: Adm. Thad Allen, USCG (Ret.).  Accessed via Web: 12/06/12.  http://blogs.hbr.org/ideacast/2010/10/leading-through-a-major-crisis.html

Wall Street Journal  GUEST COLUMN March 5, 2009.  Seven Lessons for Leading in Crisis. By BILL GEORGE.  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123551729786163925.html#printMode

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Corporate Responsibility

There are many companies who are recognized for what they “Give Back”.  Forbes just published an article regarding the top companies who “give back” (Forbes- Oct 19).  What was interesting is they based this list on the amount of money each company gave in “Charitable contributions” and what percentage these donations were to pre-tax profits.  The top 10 on this list were Alcoa ($36.6m / 6.7% ), Merck ($72.6m / 4.4%), General Mills ($88.7m / 4%), Kroger ($69.7m / 4%), Xerox ($27m / 3.3%), Target ($126m / 3.3%), Goldman Sachs ($337m / 2.6%), Safeway ($21.6m / 2.5%), NW Mutual ($17m / 2.4%), and Starbucks ($30.5m / 2.12%).  It is impressive to see companies giving so much back. 

However, there is so much more to Corporate Responsibility than simply making charitable donations based on profits.  Of more importance is what a company does to truly benefit the communities and people as a whole.  This includes employees, the environment, citizens, and more.  Corporate Responsibility is defined in BusinessDictionary.com as “A company’s sense of responsibility towards the community and environment (both ecological and social) in which it operates. Companies express this citizenship (1) through their waste and pollution reduction processes, (2) by contributing educational and social programs, and (3) by earning adequate returns on the employed resources.” (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/corporate-social-responsibility.html).

On Wednesday November 14, Bloomberg Business Week reported Cisco Systems announced its 2012 Annual Corporate Responsibility Report.  The Report outlines what Cisco believes to be the core components of its Responsibility to the company and community: governance and ethics, supply chain, employees, society, and environment.  Cisco publishes this report “to illustrate the company's broad reach and innovative solutions designed to help Cisco, its customers, and its partners address social issues and promote environmental sustainability.”   Though some may see these reports as simply a marketing and public relations tool (which it is to some degree), it is refreshing to see companies make such a statement in regards to their conscious decision to ensure their organization benefits more than just shareholders. 

Topics addressed in this report include human rights (global), efforts to lead in ethics and employee compliance to ethics policies, privacy policies, global transparency, labor practices, women’s issues (Cisco launched the Women in Technology Conference), commitment to diversity, corporate and foundation cash and in-kind contributions worldwide, employee volunteers to various non-profit organizations, education programs, efforts to reduce GHG emissions, and more.  It shows a true commitment by an organization to give back to the community, environment, and employees, and work to use company resources to make a difference through a positive impact on the world in which we all live.

What makes a company truly great is the ability of the company to better the world in which we live.  Successful companies are in a position to have an amazing, positive impact on the world and all of the people who reside on this planet.  From working to ensure fair global labor practices, protecting the rights of minorities and women, and championing human rights to protecting the environment; companies have the resources to truly make a difference. 

Even small companies have the ability to present a positive impact on their communities.  This could be something as small as ensuring recycling programs are in place to adopting training programs to educate employees on sexual harassment, discrimination, and tolerance, creating training and development plans to assist employees in advancing careers, providing balanced and fair employment practices and work expectations, and ensuring community outreach.  It is the job of company leadership to address these issues and ensure companies position resources, including human capital, to address these issues.

In my current company, we have numerous programs designed to assist the employee, and by definition of what we are (convention center), our mandate is to support the community, boost the economy, have an economic impact on the community, and present programs that better the world in which we live.  From recycling programs and blood drives to habitat for humanity volunteer days and food drives, our operation truly focuses on what we can do to better the world we all live in.   

For more information on Corporate Responsibility, visit Corporate Responsibility Magazine online at http://www.thecro.com. 

Jimmy

Sources:

Bloomberg BusinessWeek: Cisco Issues 2012 Corporate Social Responsibility Report.  SAN JOSE, CA -- (Marketwire) -- 11/14/12.  Accessed 11/16/12. Link: http://buswk.co/TJME6E
 
BusinessDictionary.com: Accessed 11/17/2012:  Link: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/corporate-social-responsibility.html

Friday, October 5, 2012

RADIO RADIO


I am noticing a number of friends and acquaintances in music posting comments on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media regarding Pandora’s efforts to push through the Internet Radio Fairness Act, and it is interesting to read.  I get it.  I get the argument and why artists are concerned.  But I am also not bought in to the artist’ reasoning and believe the fear of “lower royalties” from one industry segment is blocking people from seeing the forest through the trees.   

The situation: Pandora Radio (NYSE: P. www.pandora.com) is trying to mobilize its more than 150 million listeners behind the Internet Radio Fairness Act, a bill that would lower the royalty fees paid by online radio stations for playing a song.  On the other side of the issue are record labels and artists, who believe that the existing rates are fair and accuse Pandora and others of wanting to deprive copyright holders of the income they deserve. 

The problem is royalties from satellite/cable and internet mediums vary to such a degree, they are unfair.  The worlds of satellite/cable and internet radio continue to converge, resulting in an unbalanced competitive environment where one entity faces licensing and royalty expenses of less than 10% of revenues while another faces costs close to 50% for the same product.  

Last year, Pandora paid about half its revenue to labels and performers. Sirius’s current rate is 8 percent. (Both kinds of services also pay separate royalties to songwriters and publishers.)  

Total Revenue - 2011
Sirius XM Radio (SIRI) Annual Revenues 2011: $3.01B
Pandora Media Inc Annual Revenues 2011: $137.76M

Percentages of Revenues Paid in Music Royalties: 
Sirius XM Radio (SIRI): Approximately 8% (estimated $248m)
Pandora Media Inc.: Approximately 49% ($69.5m)

Productivity of Businesses:
SiriusXM Net Profit/Loss: $426.9M
Pandora Net Profit/Loss:  $(1.76M)

Total Royalties Earned: $317.5M

(source: MarketWatch / published 2011 corporate financial statements)

Pandora is championing the Internet Radio Fairness Act (introduced in the House by Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, and Jared Polis, Democrat of Colorado) which proposes to put online radio under the 801(b) standard of the Copyright Act, which is the same standard used by the Copyright Royalty Board when setting royalty rates for cable and satellite radio. Pandora argues that this would stop discrimination against Internet radio services.  Much to the dismay of my fellow musicians, I agree… sort of.

Let me explain:

The industry of music has moved from terrestrial radio to satellite radio and Internet streaming.  The majority of music is now published, promoted, sold and traded online and in space.  The organizations that compete in this field bring options to artists.  Business Management 101: the more entities competing in a free market to distribute goods and services, the better the environment for the producer of these goods and services.  Business can’t continue to compete in an environment that does not present a level playing field. 

As a former professional musician (ok… a drummer, but I used to hang out with musicians), I can look at this from the artist’s perspective and agree all artists should be paid their value for their creative work.  I will NEVER disagree with this position, and will fight to support royalty payments to artists across the board.  But as an executive in business, I also understand the perspective of Pandora and believe something has to be done to level the playing field as these markets (as well as future markets to arise through advances in technology) continue to converge.  In addition, a competitive landscape of promotional and publishing vehicles benefits the artists through more choices and resulting leverage throughout the negotiating and contracting process. 

So how do we ensure we manage a level playing field AND protect the artist’s pay for works created?  Put internet radio under the 801(b) standard of the Copyright Act so the playing field is fair, and ensure this standard is based upon a flat standard % of revenues (company makes more with your music, they pay more for your music) as well as the contribution this music has to the overall revenues generated.  This is, to the basic degree, what the IRFA is trying to do.  But I would go a step further.  RAISE THE OVERALL RATE established under the 801(b) standard! 

What is SiriusXM doing paying artists only 8% of revenues while making a profit of almost $427 Million dollars?  I would ensure the “fair rate” established is raised from the current status in addition to lowering the rates paid by companies such as Pandora.  Looking at the financials from both SirusXM and Pandora for 2011, look at the impact such a move would have on the industry overall: 

Total Revenue - 2011
Sirius XM Radio (SIRI) Annual Revenues 2011: $3.01B
Pandora Media Inc Annual Revenues 2011: $137.76M

Percentages of Revenues Paid in Music Royalties: 
Sirius XM Radio (SIRI): 25% = $775m (increase of 348.1M)
Pandora Media Inc.: 25% = $34.44m (decrease of 35.1m)

Productivity of Businesses ADJUSTED:
SiriusXM Net Profit/Loss: $78.8M
Pandora Net Profit/Loss:  $36.8M

Total Royalties Earned: $809.4M… increase of almost $492M in royalties to artists.
 
Do the math! 

Though passing IRFA could include lowering rates paid by Pandora and the internet community, it could raise the rates paid by Satellite and Cable companies.  By keeping the markets fair, they become more competitive.  It also potentially reduces financial hurdles to the development of new markets based on expanding technology (such as internet radio), reduces barriers to entry for new businesses, and allows expansion of the industry as a whole.   

The IRFA legislation expands 801(b), and includes the creation of a panel of judges whose primary function is to consider evidence both on the value of the music and on the effect the royalty rate would have on the industry over all.   To ensure the artists receive fair market value for their work, have artists represented on the panel of federal judges that will establish royalty rates so the artists have a voice.   

As a result, you have a fair and balanced competitive landscape fostering growth and expansion of the industry and an industry paying fair market value for products ensuring artists are justly compensated for their work.  In negotiating terms, this is a win-win. 

Now obviously the satellite and cable industry will argue their costs of infrastructure and operations are considerably higher than Pandora.  But the facts are SiriusXM made over $400M in profits in 2011.  They can afford an increase in royalties (and the artists deserve this).  They can’t pass this directly to the consumer because the consumer has options through companies like Pandora.  (Just yesterday, I streamed Pandora through my iPHone while in my truck, listening to Pandora on my truck radio in place of XM.  I can promise you if XM raised my rate, I would simply cancel and utilize services available to me such as Pandora over my phone!) 

Actually, the profitability concerns of Sirius or Pandora is of no concern to me, other my desire to see a healthy, competitive environment so artists grow options and receive true value for goods and services produced.  My support of this bill is for the betterment of the artists in the long-run; not the corporate health of the individual players in the industry. 

Pandora did not make a profit because they are not effectively managing their business.   It is an issue with their business model… not the royalties.  If I were the CEO of Pandora, I would be working to push through the internet radio fairness act to level the playing field, but at the same time, would be reviewing my entire business model to ensure efficiency and productivity and possibly firing my VP of Sales and Marketing for a lack-luster performance in generating revenues needed to support the business in the field we compete in.   

The Internet Radio Fairness Act will not bring Pandora a long-term, sustainable, competitive advantage in the market served.  A productive, efficient and effective business model, creative products, efficient operations, effective marketing, and high sales performance are the key to success in a free market.   

But unfair business practices and an uneven playing field can ensure these keys are not achieved… not just for Pandora, but all other organizations striving to compete in this industry, which will hurt the artist and industry in the long-run.   

IRFA can actually be a good piece of legislation… not just for Pandora, but for all artists, listeners, and the industry as a whole.  As long as it is fairly administered with the artist having a voice, it is a win-win.   

Some of my friends sit around every evening
And they worry about the times ahead
But everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference
And the promise of an early bed

You either shut up or get cut up, they don't wanna hear about it
It's only inches on the reel-to-reel
And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
Tryin' to anaesthetise the way that you feel 

                        Elvis Costello – Radio Radio

Sources:






 
2011 Corporate Annual Report – SiriusXM: http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/SIRI/2102812002x0x559248/2AED8B19-6E00-43EA-B61E-A42B2C473CC2/Sirius_XM_AR.pdf

2011 Corporate Annual Report – Pandora Radio: http://investor.pandora.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=227956&p=proxy

Friday, August 3, 2012

Times are a changin’...


Times are a changin’...

Well, the news of the move of IDCE to the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans is taking the Trade Show and Convention industry by storm.  This move marks the first time a Tier-1 Convention Center in the United States has undertaken such a bold move.  The reaction from the industry has been interesting (to say the least).   A BOLD move!  Others have referred to this deal as “Risky”… “Crazy”…  “Questionable”.  I, however, like to better characterize it as “Exciting”…  “Adventurous”… and my favorite… “Self Determining”! 

If you have not heard, the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center has purchased the International Disaster Conference and Expo (IDCE) from Atlanta-based Imago Productions, Inc.   The two parties began working on IDCE in a first-of-its-kind joint venture in 2010.  To understand this move, you have to understand the background of IDCE.

After Imago Productions attempted to launch the National Disaster Reconstruction Expo in 2009, New Orleans witnessed the strengths of the idea as well as the weaknesses of execution in this event.  The producers were simply not in a position to bring much needed senior level government participation to this event.  Given the relationships of the facility to State Government in Louisiana and additional resources available through the convention center, the facility offered a partnership with the producers on the event.   It made sense:  The facility would bring in resources the producers didn’t have, such as government relationships and in-house services (a/v , f&b, security, additional staff).  The producers would bring in the show management expertise and personnel needed to launch and manage the event… sales, marketing, conference operations, exposition operations, vendor procurement, housing and logistics. 

The marriage of these two teams resulted in an amazing, successful launch of what is quickly becoming the premier event uniting the disciplines of Homeland Security, Emergency Management, first response, resiliency, business continuity, loss mitigation, and all silos related to disaster preparation, response, recovery, and mitigation.   The initial launch netted over 1700 attendees representing public and private sector leadership from 27 different countries, and over 170 exhibitors.  The follow-up event, scheduled for January 2013, is expecting to draw close to 5,000 international attendees and 250 exhibiting companies.  The growth projections for this event are staggering.

The relationship of the State of Louisiana to IDCE resulted in the ability of the event to secure leadership that is second to none.  IDCE is led by an Event Executive Committee consisting of 16 individuals representing Federal, State, and Municipal Government, industry associations, academia, and private sector service providers.  Leadership includes the Honorable Tom Ridge, the creator of the Department of Homeland Security and former Governor of Pennsylvania and co-chair of IDCE2013.  Also sitting on the Event Executive Committee is Director of Emergency Services for Wal-Mart, Mark Cooper (who is also a member of the FEMA National Advisory Council); Ky Luu, former director of USAid’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance; Joey Booth, Executive Director of the LSU Stephenson Disaster Management Institute; Kevin Davis and Pat Santos of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for the State of Louisiana; Tres Hurst from Cotton Global Disaster Solutions…  the list just continues to impress.  These relationships and leadership contributions have been a direct result of the involvement of the Convention Center in IDCE. Simply put, the involvement of the Convention Center IS the reason IDCE is becoming so successful.    

What was realized through the launch and growth of IDCE is that the Convention Center had resources reaching far beyond the scope of facility space rentals and minimal ancillary services.   What was also recognized through this experiment of a marriage between a convention center and show production team was the ability of a facility to become much more self-reliant in regards to business opportunities.  Producing events “in-house” would give a facility the ability to create business where none existed.  The facility would be able to target slow dates, create events, fill holes, and generate a new revenue stream in the process, while staying true to the goals and objectives of the facility… to bring visitors to the city of New Orleans and State of Louisiana, presenting a positive economic impact on the city and State through increased tourism revenues, not to mention expansion of industries served by IDCE (as an example, check out this article: http://neworleanscitybusiness.com/thenewsroom/2011/07/14/disaster-recovery-firm-makes-new-orleans-its-new-home-base/) .

The two teams decided it would be in the best interests for all involved to move IDCE “in house” with the convention center.  In addition, a new department would be created, through which the facility would work with community resources to identify new opportunities for events, conduct feasibility assessments, and launch events presenting the best opportunities to meet goals and objectives.  This department would also become an incubator for new ideas and opportunities; great ideas that only need resources to become reality.  The production company would move all human capital and event resources to the facility, with all staff becoming employees of the convention center. 

This department is now the MCCNO Trade Shows and Conventions Department, and officially opened on August 1, 2012.  In addition to IDCE, three new events are now under review for possible launch by 2013. 

So why sell?  This has been the biggest question hitting the producers.  This is simple.  Why not?  The purpose of IDCE was to respond to the effects of Katrina on the city of New Orleans and State of Louisiana.  Through the assistance of State resources, this event is now meeting its goals and objectives.  Imago was a small company with minimal resources.  In addition to the monumental increase in event production resources available to IDCE, this move allows the team to work on new events and opportunities as they grow the MCCNO event portfolio.  It brings additional satisfaction to all involved, and brings the most benefit to all who have worked so hard to make IDCE not just a reality, but a success.

The purpose of Imago Productions, Inc. was not one of financial goals, but to make a difference.  The motto of Imago was always “Markets That Matter”.  With the move to the State of Louisiana and the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, this leadership team has a much greater opportunity to do just that… create and implement markets that matter; that make a difference. 

The reaction of the industry has been mixed.  This is expected when you try something new.  Show Organizers seem to feel threatened by the move of a facility owning and operating their own event.  The leadership from a major global event production company publically stated such a move would threaten the availability of facilities to their respective events, falsely prophesying events would forgo independent events to ensure in-house events had preferential treatment for scheduling.  Huh? 

The primary purpose of an event facility is to present a positive economic impact on the communities they represent.  They create tourism opportunities… bringing visitors to spend money on hotel rooms, in restaurants, and gift shops.  The business on facility books represents multiple events, serving multiple industries, each having a unique impact on the city.  These books are managed with the specific purpose of maximizing the use of the facility space to the benefit of the communities served. 

As such, decisions are made regarding which events get what space over specific dates based on the size and scope of what they present as a whole.  Facilities constantly protect specific date patterns and space in an effort to attract events that will benefit their community.  It is a simple concept… the best business gets the best dates and space.  Why would a facility owning an event in place of an independent production group be any different?

The primary purpose of the MCCNO Trade Shows and Conferences department is to fill holes on books, in turn allowing the facility to be less dependent on third parties to assist when schedules are slow.  Events will continue to be evaluated on an impact basis.  Available dates to in-house events will meet the same guidelines and objectives as any third party event.  The only difference… there is less risk of event halls, hotel rooms, restaurants and gift shops being vacant during slow periods due to the lack of possible buyers. 

Today, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center can help meet its own needs.  That, my friend, is the trend of tomorrow. With the announcement of the MCCNO, other facilities are beginning to follow suit.  Clarion North America recently announced a deal to produce events with the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.  Numerous other facilities are actively engaging event producers to consider launching local and regional consumer and B2B events focused in industries unique to their region.  The trend will continue, and the industry will be better off for it. 

It took a city that experienced catastrophic losses and re-birth to bring this concept to fruition.  Now the industry we serve is experiencing change and re-birth.  Innovation, economic growth, and industry stability will be the result.   New ideas… new events… new jobs.  Isn’t this what the industry is all about?  Yes… times are changing…. But for the better, and we all benefit.   THANK YOU New Orleans… Laisse le bon temps rouler!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Are you listening? Really… ARE YOU LISTENING?

With all of the discussion over the past few months (years) regarding the economic struggles of the Tradeshow, Meetings, and Events industry, there has been solution after solution pitched to show management lineups worldwide on how to weather the storm, keep the attendance average up, and possibly hit the home run on the next event. Most of these prescriptions have been standard – streamline business units; reduce costs through budget cuts; re-evaluate products and services offered; re-identify with the markets served; downsize programs; collocate events or share resources; yada, yada, yada.

My response; If you are effectively managing your business, you should basically be doing this already; constantly evaluating your business units and managing costs to ensure efficient operations; monitoring the performance of products and services in the market and shifts in market demands; consistently redefining all strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats; managing sales efforts to ensure peak performance; ensuring strong performers are in the right seat on the bus throughout the organization, etc…

Though “Business Management” includes reacting to unforeseen obstacles taking place within the markets served, "Management Excellence" is being prepared for challenges BEFORE they arrive. Preparation = effective response and quick recovery. The key to effective preparation: INFORMATION and COMMUNICATION!

Information and Communication! Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it!

We could go on and on regarding the tools available to businesses regarding information and communication; from business intelligence services to CRM and marketing platforms, the market is inundated with options. I just recently consulted with a supplier to Hewlett-Packard (Network Training Services) regarding the design and enterprise implementation of a new CRM system. Funny; so many options offer so few differentiators and approach the concepts of communication and information from the same perspective: how information and communication can assist in identifying new customers, communicating the company message to these customers and the markets served, and manage expectations in the process.

This approach needs to be taken a step further. Why not look at communication, not for what we want to say, but to hear what your customers have to say, not just to you, but to their clients and the industry they serve? Why not look for information, not just about your customer, but the information your customers want to learn regarding THEIR customers? This information “service” is easier to provide than you think, and the advantage you can obtain for the business by providing and monitoring such service is invaluable.

WhosOn by Parker Software (http://www.whoson.com/) is an all-in-one solution for Live Web Statistics, Live Visitor Chat, Proactive Visitor Engaging, Prospect Detection, Web Analytics, Click-to-Call Back, Click Fraud Detection & More. Though the program provides management with market intelligence regarding website marketing programs and assists with sales efforts and data mining, the primary advantage of the software program is the real-time communication portal through the web; customer “live chat”, and the real-time site analytics we are able to capture while leads and opportunities are crawling on our site. We are able to listen to our clients tell us what is of interest to them by monitoring their traffic habits on our website and listening to their real-time comments through our chat program. Though we can communicate to them, it is their communication to us through this tool that is of most value.

One of the special features our registration vendor, EShow (http://www.goeshow.com/), brings to our events is the addition of a networking service to the registration system which allows exhibitors and attendees to chat prior to the event; Exhibitor and Attendee, Attendee and Attendee, Exhibitor and Exhibitor. We are working to take this a step further, deploying WebEx conference services to our event, allowing all exhibitors and attendees to hold free, online conference calls and pre-event meetings through our website. These programs will allow us to witness the conversations of the market we serve and ensure we are continuing to offer products relevant to their respective needs and interests while eliminating those that are not beneficial to their business. In addition, and of more value to our clients, this program will serve as a tool for all attendees to discuss the event and plan their attendance; set up meetings; identify specific products on the show floor they wish to review; invite specific buyers to visit their booth on the show floor; identify key speakers / presenters and topics they wish to experience; comment on who they would like to see at the event, and more. This information will allow us to continue tweaking the event according to what our clients and their industry peers are saying through this service. We are able to capture this data, analyze the sales and communication habits of our clients, understand their true interests, and refine our products and services to better match their needs.

In a day and age where business must think outside of the box to gain a strategic, competitive advantage, we must be creative and resourceful with the customer in mind; not just focused on how we can serve, but listening to how our customers want to be served. As the market rebounds and power shifts, the customer will tell you where your business needs to be. The question is… are you listening?