The UK has gained yet another trade association with the scope of rebuilding the MICE industry: The Meetings and Events Support Association (MESA). This newcomer says its principal aim is to “create a community network of companies and a ‘people-first’ ethos, collaborating and working together with fresh ideas.” The founders include Sandie McCoubrey, who was formerly head of membership services at the Meeting Design Institute, Adam Fillary, an entrepreneur and personal networking specialist, and Gordon Glenister (in the photo), a marketing specialist and founder of the “Membership World”, with whom we spoke for this interview.
1) MESA was conceived to embrace innovation in the meetings and events industry, placing its professionals at the top of priorities. What message and new ideas do you want to champion for an industry that has been swept away these past two years?
Mesa was born out of the Meeting Design Institute, and so we already had an existing group of companies and people that wanted to come together to form a community of like-minded people and who wanted to help shape and steer a new industry. In terms of new ideas, we want to foster an environment of “people and community first” this is a core to our CEO principle. “C” is for a Community of members collaborating and sharing, “E” is for Educating leaders and teams, and “O” is for Opportunities to network with colleagues and for new business. As someone personally connected to many trade associations, we really want to be different by allowing our members to collaborate and foster new ways of generating business and enhancing partnerships. We are going to be investing in niche research that allow our members to use data to educate their clients. We have a number of plans to drive innovation through the industry, and are delighted to have already won an award for the Event Concierge Service spearheaded by one of the founders Adam Fillary.
2) The association held its first online roundtable in May to define its Steering Committee and bring together several event leaders. Can you share some insights from that meeting and set goals?
We have a steering group that meets on a regular basis to help us set the agenda for the organisation. These are CEOs from Shocklogic, Fielddrive, Crowdcomms, Idloom and Conference Compass. We held our first founders FORUM in May which are held to Chatham House Rules or what we call the MESA Prayer, allowing the group to express their opinions and thoughts in a safe confidential environment. That said, one of the challenges that many CEOs did face over the pandemic was one of “leadership pressure like no other” for a number of reasons: financial concerns, furloughing staff, increased demand, isolation and sta engagement. Goals were not set at this first roundtable event as it was largely about sharing feedback from some of the challenges over the last 12 months. Our Founders Forum was held in September and focused around mergers and acquisitions within the sector. We will be producing a white paper following this.
3) For several years in a row, event planning has been ranked as one of the most stressful jobs on the planet, and “CareerCast” has even pegged “event coordinator” 5th on its list of stressful jobs. How does MESA see this threat to the mental health of our professionals and plan to advocate for them?
We host monthly member online meetings and addressed this issue only recently, allowing some of our members’ entire teams to join and share experiences both negatively and positively. To know that they are not alone and being able to talk about this in a safe non-judgemental environment is seen as very important by MESA. As our membership grows we will be considering in wellness services to greater enhance this very important issue.
4) Many of the members involved in your newly created Steering Committee are CEOs and founders of various virtual platforms and event software. What is your principle position in the MICE industry’s digital transition?
We are great advocates of digital transformation, in fact I would even say that we are now in the 4th industrial revolution. Our industry has probably advanced ten years in digital transformation through the pandemic and those organisations that don’t have a digital offering are going to be left behind. Our existing members are certainly from the technology background and are core to our membership base and future plan.
5) How will you go about connecting and engaging with new audiences across different channels, with different membership concepts and diffused business priorities?
We are very clear about the type of member we are looking to engage with − for example we are not promoting venues, event organisers or destinations. By having a tighter niche, we are able to serve this audience well, while embrace social media and having an active presence at the event industry. Initially our aim is to focus on small to medium-size businesses helping them to have a voice in a crowded marketplace. Our membership is very affordable with a corporate membership at just €575 per year. We have a number of companies that have, however, become patron members of the organisation because they believe in our purpose, value and offering.
6) With MESA arriving at such a risky time under the COVID-19 dark cloud, what is your conviction about the future of the associations’ business model?
As the author of the research study “COVID-19 impact on the membership sector”, I would argue associations will be fine as long as they remain relevant to their members’ interests, find effective ways to build communities, never lose sight of their vision and purpose, embrace online education, look after their members as “people” not mere membership numbers, and, above all, are financially prudent. Associations that lose sight of this, will struggle. We may see some associations merge or consolidate and others that decide to outsource their secretariat function.
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