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Still Rising

MPI Proudly Presents the 2010 RISE Award - Community Category Winners

By Elaine Pofeldt

Two MPI chapters have notably enhanced the collective intelligence of their local and the global meeting and event industry. The MPI Minnesota Chapter and the MPI Arizona Sunbelt Chapter will be honored with MPI’s Recognizing Industry Success and Excellence (RISE) - Community awards at the World Education Congress in Vancouver next month.

The MPI Minnesota Chapter accepts the RISE Award for Community Achievement in Knowledge and Ideas for its Mentoring: Power of 2 program. This award recognizes groups for making rich human connections through knowledge and ideas while displaying innovation in the development, planning and execution of ground-breaking initiatives.

For its Global Community Challenge, the MPI Arizona Sunbelt Chapter accepts the RISE Award for Community Achievement in Marketplace Excellence. This award recognizes groups for providing member business opportunities and displayed creativity in the effective delivery of these opportunities between community members.

Community Achievement in Knowledge and Ideas
With more professionals turning to forums on social networking websites such as LinkedIn for business advice, it’s easy to miss out on the deeper mentoring relationships that come with face-to-face networking. The MPI Minnesota Chapter came up with a solution. In 2008, it launched Mentoring: Power of 2 as a follow up to its popular Mentor Next Door program, an educational panel discussion featuring industry leaders.

"We wanted to focus on people who were getting into the industry or looking to improve their skill sets," said program chairwoman Devie Hagen, an industry veteran and owner of Élan Speakers Agency in Minneapolis.

The premise behind Mentoring: Power of 2 is simple—a mentor and mentee from the chapter meet up to four times per month for an hour to establish the mentee’s goals and a process for achieving them. The chapter makes pairings three times a year, giving members a chance to volunteer as mentors for three months at a time on its website.

"Everyone in our industry is overwhelmed time-wise," Hagen said. "We realized we needed to be sensitive to people’s time. That is why we focused on making the program simple and unobtrusive for the mentor and mentee."

Mentoring: Power of 2 started with 13 successful pairings in its first year; it is on target for 20 matches in 2010. To make sure the program succeeded, organizers set some ground rules. Participants were asked to keep their conversations confidential, for instance, to allow for candid idea exchange.

"It should be a safe environment for the mentor and mentee," Hagen said.

And to jumpstart the pairings, the chapter asked the mentees to contact the mentors to plan meetings and follow ups. Participants report on the productivity achieved for both parties after each three-month mentoring period. The feedback has been positive.

"Once they’ve experienced the process, some mentees become mentors," Hagen said.

One of the program organizers, Tera Fox, tried the program herself as a mentee—and found that it gave her access to a professional perspective that deepened her knowledge of the industry. Fox, a sales manager for The Saint Paul Hotel with 10 years of experience, paired with Julie Anne Schmidt, managing partner of Lithium Logistics Group who was also a mentor to several chapter members.

"We could have a nonthreatening conversation between a supplier and a planner," Fox said. "I could get her side of the story, and she could get my perspective. That in itself was very valuable." 

The program has faced a few challenges, but none overwhelming. Some mentors and mentees have gotten so much out of the program that they’ve wanted to continue their parings for more than three months.

"We had one pairing that went on for a year and a half," Hagen said.

While that’s obviously a ringing endorsement, it took the pair out of the running for matches with other members. To find more participants, the organizers turned to Twitter and LinkedIn. 

With word spreading about the program, the founders of Power of 2 have found themselves in demand. Hagen, for instance, has advised the MPI New Jersey and MPI Toronto chapters on how to set up such a program—and she’s led a seminar about it at an event outside of the meeting and event industry. The chapter is also planning to expand its own program.

"We want to give our members opportunities to improve, so they want to continue with MPI and [become] leaders," Fox said.

For this commitment, the 500-member-plus chapter has received the RISE Award - Community Achievement in Knowledge and Ideas.

Community Achievement in Marketplace Excellence
It’s no secret that it’s been tough to make deals in the meeting industry during the past couple of years. To make it easier—and more fun—for members to network their ways to more sales, the MPI Arizona Sunbelt Chapter launched the 2008 Global Community Challenge (GCC), a 10-month networking and referral contest, and then decided to continue it into 2009. As a valuable member tool, it has earned the RISE Award - Community Achievement in Marketplace Excellence.

The program appealed to many members who wanted to network but weren’t getting around to it, according to Beth Longnaker, a site selection specialist with Hospitality Performance Network and the chapter’s vice president of membership.

"People said, 'I don’t have the time to meet with people,’" she recalled.

So the GCC encouraged members to build a global professional community one "brick" (or MPI member) at a time. Each time participants scheduled a face-to-face meeting with a member to learn more about his or her business, they received a "Certificate of Occupancy." When they had eight such meetings, they got a "Building Permit" and were honored at the next monthly chapter meeting.

The program fostered referrals by giving members who sent business to other members "Good Neighbor Reports." After achieving eight referrals, participants earned a "Community Awareness Award." Members seeking to pass along business leads could contact the organizers online or call the chapter’s "Citizen 911" hotline for help. At the end of the program, all participants received a brick engraved with their names; one got a Good Citizen Award for earning the most Good Neighbor Reports, another received a Pillar of the Community Award for getting the most Building Permits and Community Awareness Awards. 

A good ice-breaker, sure, the program has actually sparked business, Longnaker says. In 19 months, 36 members participated actively, resulting in 87 lead referrals and more than US$1.3 million in sales. 

Longnaker organized the program after more than 50 percent of chapter members requested more networking opportunities in monthly meeting evaluations in 2007. The chapter decided to build on the successful 2008 launch the following year, after 69 percent of chapter members requested more business connections and networking opportunities through MPI. 

Despite the demand, it took some persuading to get chapter members involved, because they feared the time commitment, Longnaker says. As a result, the chapter modified the program so that telephone meetings counted. Gradually, however, participants really started to see the value in old-fashioned face time. 

"People felt they got so much more out of those in-person meetings," she said. "Especially if you go to someone’s office and see what’s going on, you get to know them on a different level than when you are talking on the phone."

That often translated to better business results.

"The people who were the most successful in referring business and getting business were the people who met face-to-face," she said. 

Another obstacle was that some chapter members balked at the idea of meeting with someone whom they did not view as a potential customer or supplier.

"Among the people who did not participate, a lot of them felt, 'Why do I want to meet with XYZ when they’re a competitor?’" she said.

While doubters opted out, participants found that they often got referrals from unexpected sources.

"You never know where your next piece of business is going to come from," she added.

And, as the "builders" in this contest discovered, in a slow-starting economic recovery, having plenty of allies in your corner can go a long way toward more sales. One+

ELAINE POFELDT is a regular contributor to One+ and other business publications.