Following the departure of MPI’s president and CEO, Bruce MacMillan, the association’s COO and acting CEO Cindy D’Aoust is ready to dramatically overhaul the association.
In an exclusive interview with Meetings Focus during its July World Education Conference, the new leader of one of the industry’s most significant associations seemed more than ready to meet the challenge of stopping the bleeding from what some would consider a wounded organization.
“We were attempting to try to be everything to everyone in a large community,” she admitted. “We need to step back and do fewer things well.”
First up: visit chapters and industry events in order to connect with members—and prospective members—during a listening tour. A former Maritz executive, D’Aoust didn’t reveal a specific travel schedule but she’s clearly ready to rack up frequent flier miles, as she indicated that her key priority over the next six to nine months is to meet the industry face-to-face.
“We don’t want to just launch things without the community seeing value in the [tools and products], she said. “We want to get community involvement in the development and design of what we launch. So we need to see what our community really looks like and who makes up the constituency. We want to change our approach from ‘build it and they will come’ to ‘tell us what you want and we’ll find a way to deliver it.’”
In listening to MPI members during the “Conversation with MPI” session at the WEC, D’Aoust’s plan for a more personal touch with membership has merit, as many attendees at the session requested more of a connection with—and contact from—headquarters.
“Hearing that was really validating,” D’Aoust said. “We need to be more connected to our chapters and our members.”
To that end, D’Aoust is planning, for starters, to have monthly online chats and calls with the MPI membership.
D’Aoust also plans to promote MPI’s Business Value of Meetings toolkit [BVOM] better.
“We haven’t done a full launch to really tell the story of the toolkit,” she said. “We’ll have a more formal launch to show planners that the BVOM toolkit can help them determine the value of meetings and set up strategies to measure that.”
Finally, D’Aoust will focus on growing overseas membership.
“We do have a global footprint and we’re really proud of that, but we need to define our strategy because every market is different,” she said.
MPI already has started working on that expansion, talking with various chapters located abroad to discover their vision of MPI’s future. Citing a cost of membership that is equivalent to a month’s salary in some countries—particularly daunting in places still struggling from the recession, D’Aoust noted—there’s been a strong pushback from joining, particularly in Europe.
As a result, the association has met with several European chapters that suggested having more of a phased-in process to join the association. D’Aoust declined to say which markets are interested in this program but said several have been identified and a program will be rolled out for them later this year.
The new MPI executive also hopes to shake things up on the speaker front, an area for which the need for improvement became clear not only from members saying they wanted more than a “talking head” but also because the WEC’s keynote speaker resigned one day after his presentation, following accusations of plagiarism against the lecturer, a journalist and book author.
“I’m in total agreement [about ditching the talking head approach], but it’s a challenge; speakers aren’t always able to present in a different way than in the past,” D’Aoust said. “Still, maybe we need to take more risks.”