In case you missed it last week, a joint press conference featuring Deborah Sexton and Susan Katz of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and Michael Doyle of Virtual Edge Institute (VEI) revealed that PCMA will be making a monetary investment (the amount was undisclosed) in VEI. The announcement is significant and it’s NOT about the cash.
Obviously, a little more coin in the till will help VEI reach its objectives sooner. It looked as if the two groups were heading towards some kind of relationship from their two-time co-location (Last year in Las Vegas and this January in San Diego) and Deborah Sexton’s unflagging support of virtual and hybrid events. But there’s more to it than a budding “vromance” (virtual + romance).
What PCMA has done is such a refreshing departure for an association. In the past, when associations became enamored with a technology or wanted to appease their members’ curiosity, they would invite providers to offer the solution (free of charge, of course) during the annual conference or trade show. Unfortunately, the revolving door of providers year after year scotched any chance for the users or the providers to achieve widespread adoption.
In other cases, associations have used the technology themselves—a sort of eat your own members’ dog food approach—but when the execution failed or the technology became obsolete, the organization ended up with egg on their face and forever after took the low (tech) road.
What PCMA is doing differs from the other approaches in a number of ways. Instead of hooking up with a particular vendor, they have come out in support of a technology. Smart, because it reduces their risk as an association and brilliant, because it is open source innovation at its best.
Under open source models, the “source code” is made available to the community enabling them to produce new products, applications, and uses from the original product. PCMA, with its investment and endorsement of VEI, is helping to unlock the innovation around virtual and hybrid event technology by, in effect, making the research, discussion and experimentation (the source code of a budding technology) available for the entire event industry.
Regardless of where you stand in the “value of trade associations” debate, one thing member-based organizations have been only marginally successful at is helping members get new business—really helping, not just putting buyers and sellers together in the same room or “allowing” suppliers to sponsor activities in exchange for access to planners. The precedent that PCMA is setting is crazy good.
PCMA’s investment in virtual event research and education through VEI can build the trade show and conference industry, help us to transition to digital—not by abandoning face-to-face (obviously), but by figuring out how to blend the old and the new together—create jobs, and accelerate innovation. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
The takeaway: Well done PCMA.