To begin things on show number one here on the Better Meetings Podcast. We were able to meet up with PCMA President and CEO, Sherrif Karamat during MPI's WEC event in Toronto. He shared with us his thoughts on the state of associations, big data in our industry (including news about PCMA's Beam Project) and some inspirational thoughts for all of us about the role that meetings, events and our industry can play in making the world a better place for everyone.
JON: Alright, welcome back to the podcast. Today we're at WEC in Toronto. And we're speaking with Sherrif Karamat, CAE. He's the president and CEO of PCMA. Welcome.
SHERRIF: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here in Toronto, WEC.
JON: We're having a wonderful time here. And I really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule, because we know how busy you are, to talk with us here. So, thank you for that. And let's just dive right into things; I really thought first we could start out with just an overview of PCMA from your perspective.
SHERRIF: Sure. So PCMA a number of years ago, we were in a very good financial position. And we said to ourselves, now is the time to change. And that change was predicated on the fact that we didn't want our backs to be against the wall before we start to realize that we needed to change. This was changed on multiple levels on how we engage people in our community, what people find the value of just about everything. And we actually hire Wharton School of Business, and went down 11 streams, and ended up with this global vision, and the vision of economic and social progress through business events. So PCMA being a platform for economic and social progress. There were two other legs to that stool, though, beyond economic and social progress. There was an organizational success as the second leg. And then the third leg was about you as a human being and me as a human being about our personal and professional development.
SHERRIF: And so, when we did that, we looked at the world, and we looked at it, and not because we wanted to be exclusionary to anyone, but we said, where could we have the most impact in the short term until we are able to build? So, prioritizing our priorities. And we look the three regions Asia Pacific, obviously very large.
SHERRIF: The Americas, but primarily in North America. And then Europe.
SHERRIF: And so those are it, we would not exclude Africa, of course; and we will not exclude certain parts of Latin America. But looking at how not the act of a business event. And by the way, notice that I use business events and not meetings, because its outcome focused. And we believe that any meeting or any event should have an outcome. So what we were doing is looking at how event organizers were being viewed. Were they being viewed just for logistics? Or were they being viewed for bringing the objectives of that meeting or that event to life? And how does that tie to the organization strategy? We absolutely know that business events make incredible difference economically in communities. But business event should also make a difference socially for people. You know, the old saying is when we meet, when we meet face to face, we meet eye to eye.
SHERRIF: We should. And we must use business events to drive economic outcomes, but social outcomes as well. And social outcomes has nothing to do with socialism.
JON: No, no.
SHERRIF: I couldn't care less. But I do care of you as a human being. And I do care that when we get together, that we can see that both of us are progressive. And so events should be that part of that.
JON: Lifting people up?
SHERRIF: Absolutely. Well, another part is, let me touch a little bit on the personal basis, and professional basis. When you are younger, and you've done an undergraduate degree, for example. And then you do a graduate degree. Where do we get our, our knowledge? It's from organizations like this. We share experiences, we learn from each other, we grow, we network, there's an old course at the University of Chicago, called “your social network is your social net worth”. And it is very, very true. So you and I learn develop true these organizations. So it's very, very important, not just about focusing on economic and social, but our own growth.
SHERRIF: And these events do that as well. So that's where PCMA has been focusing on, and been really focusing on the education that would drive that at the highest level. And we are focusing on accreditation, certification, but also building community, we want to engage you the way you want to be engaged, not the way that we're putting it out there. And so, for me, that is the only way I want you to be engaged. Because if it is meaningful to you, it is not about PCMA; I really actually don't care. I do care that if you are going to be a part of the PCMA community, that you're getting something. I know you will give a lot if you're a part of the PCMA community because I see it. But every volunteer, anyone that gets engaged, but I want to make sure you're getting from it as well.
JON: You guys have a little bit different chapter structure it seems then we have here, and how does that work for PCMA. I mean, it seems like you're not doing local meetings as much?
SHERRIF: We do a lot of local meetings. And here's the thing, you know, engagement, actually today in the world that we live in. And, there's so many competition for people to find, it depends on what people want. So, we actually don't have a hard-set rule, we've got a first of all, a two-track membership, you can be a member or non-member; or you can be a part of our audience that can engage in different ways. But one of the things that we do say is that we want to engage the way you engage. So, in North America, our chapters are very, very strong, some of them very large. But we've heard loud and clear from Europeans that they will absolutely join PCMA as a member and be engaged with PCMA. But they need time with their families, and they need other time. So, they don't want to do the volunteer; but you and I have grown up culturally with. They're not. Now in Latin America is very different. They actually like chapters. So, it's so the idea is that one size doesn't fit all. And so PCMA is really adapted
JON: Being flexible, being able to go where the people want you to go to.
SHERRIF: Absolutely, and serve up what they're looking for versus what is expedient for PCMA.
JON: Right. Very good. Well, I had written down something here to just about how an organization I think we've kind of touched on it already. But associations have some troubles holding onto members and inspiring members and such. And so what we're talking about there, I think circles back to really a question that I wanted to ask.
SHERRIF: I actually think that there's…I think we should evaluate the value that associations are providing if they're having trouble. So let me just say this, I feel today, we are more disconnected than ever. We're more connected. And yet, so we're more disconnected. And this is resulting in loneliness. Okay, and loneliness in many, and associationd can play a critical role in our community. So, there's a need for associations more now than ever, when you've got data and information and trying to make sense of it, whether it's true or false, or it's more, what is it? Associations can help you do that. But we, as associations have to provide value, we cannot be there and expect that we've done the things that we've done for 50 years and expect people to be engaged with us. Why should there be we should earn their membership, or their engagement. Like anything else.
JON: Just like adapting, like you say, to the way a person wants to be a member?
SHERRIF: Absolutely. And so we say these things that all our revenue streams are challenged, this is challenged, that's challenged…Well, to me, revenue is a byproduct of how you engage, right? It's not let's fix the revenue for us. It's are you providing value? Why should you? Why should you donate your time and your effort to anybody? If they're not going to provide value for you? It doesn't mean it's not logical. And it's illogical in the information age that we live in today. The think that people would do that. And so, but I think, today, I actually feel there's a faster need for associations than ever, because we used to live in our small communities. And, you know, back 30, 40 years ago, the only way that we heard something was we picked up the local newspaper. And by the way, if there was something bad that's happening around the world, we heard it 10 days later, today, we hear it instantaneously. And we're trying to make sense of it. We don't even hear it from news media's we hear it from our friends, because they've already sent you a text or an Instagram or, or posted on Facebook, whatever the medium is, you've heard it. So, we must recognize that there is many ways that us as individuals can get access to information. But how do we pass on tacit knowledge? And how do we make sense of things that are happening around us is when we get together? And that, to me is the power of associations, we have to be able to deliver those platforms to earn your membership or your engagement.
JON: And that, really talking about just how much information comes at us every day. And how much is available to us sort of ties into the next thing that I wanted to talk to you about, which is the BEAM PROJECT that you have. And because we're talking about big data, and we're just talking about all this information, and how do you sort through that, and how do you figure out what's really relevant and what's really useful to you. So, I'm, I'm assuming because it's business events, analytics and metrics, that's what that project is all about.
SHERRIF: Yeah, for sure. For starters, beam is about, it will first cleanse the data to make sure that the data that you even have is even useful. Before we start going. I must also say that PCMA partnered with Info Group, which we believe is one of the preeminent people in data, analytics, and also the ones that comply with all the regulatory bodies, GDPR and privacy concerns. And so, we selected a partner that we felt was really the best in class of business. One. Two is that I want you to think of a pie. And think of it is having 12 slices, okay, and you're a convention center. And I'm a convention bureau, and over there, there's an event organizer. And over there, there's a PCO and over there, there's a AV company. And over there, there's a hotelier; we all each own one slice of that pie, but we don't have the whole picture. Okay. And so what we are trying to do is making intelligent decisions on a huge piece of business without only one slice of the pie. So what BEAM is doing is bringing all those slices of the pie together to actually give you insights where you can overlay your data on top of a whole broad industry set to give you a holistic view of what's going on in the business event space. Today that does not exist period, may exist in certain instances on site selection, it may exist, but it's still limited information. This is this is giving you a holistic picture. It also is allowing you to then design and create the type of things that you need to do to engage the audiences that you need to engage or to attract the businesses in your communities that you need to attract. Maybe tied into economic sectors that are important in the community. None of that exists today. And that's why we started that. This has been two to three years in the making. And we rolled it out now because we were ready to roll it out. We want it I mean, of course, we want a few thousand people in this. The bigger it is the more data it's important. But we wanted to have at least 100 people signed up company’s organization signed up by August, the end of August. And the response has been incredible, so far, so that we will exceed that mark, and we will. And that's good. But that's also important in order to get the richness of the data.
JON: Yeah, because you need, you need a broad selection of data to get relevant results.
SHERRIF: Absolutely. And for you to get that holistic view. And also, you need a broad selection is the very right term, because you need all the different parts of the industry there, and good, good subsets of that data.
JON: That's interesting, because it's, it's something that I do agree, we haven't done a great job of doing, I've been in the business quite a while. And places I've worked have always looked very narrowly at relevance to their organization of a piece of business, or a price to charge or a design or, you know, whatever. So, I think having that that bigger picture in information available, would be valuable.
SHERRIF: It will be extremely valuable and in fairness to everyone. You know, it's hard to be able to capture all that data. It's hard to more importantly, it's hard to make site. Create insights from it. And thirdly, it's very hard to keep it up to date. Right? Almost a third of your data goes out of date every year. And so in order to keep that fresh and to refresh it, it's not an easy thing. Maybe one of the most important things that I think Jon is, is asking the right questions at the at the front-end, understanding. And so, when you start seeing what your data is telling you, it's going to sort of then, you're going to have a clear picture of what you're missing. Because in order to make those key decisions, and you don't have the data when your data is telling if the data is telling you this, but you need these things answered, you know that you have to change your question.
JON: So, have you found that that's something you've had to do a lot of as you've been developing this project over a few years, the questions you're asking have those evolved?
SHERRIF: Oh, absolutely. And I think that PCMA is no different. I mean, like we've asked many of not the right questions. I mean, we're not some, you know, I consider us in a lot of cases, an experiment. We have experimented many things. B ut we've also said that we're going to learn and learn and unlearn and relearn based on experiments. And so that, for me, in my mindset, anyway, is just helping us get better. I was commenting on the fact that I use convening leaders in January in Pittsburgh, as a test where Steelcase came in and did a complete, good, bad and the ugly, and we are going to publish it completely. There's no, we don't care. I mean, the thing is that hopefully someone can learn something from it. And look at what, you know, we, we can always feel that we're doing the right thing, but not all the raise the right, what you feel is the right thing is what the audience wants.
JON: Well, and I know certainly some of your mistakes, you learn much more from then your successes.
SHERRIF: I don't think we ever learn from successes because we know yet successful. But you know what? We already know that. That's why it was successful. But it's the things that we fail at this way with those really key learnings coming.
JON: There's another piece of this that I wanted to touch on before we wrapped up on it. And that would be like the data security and privacy element of it. Because you are talking about aggregating a lot of data from a lot of sources. And I know that that was mentioned in what I've read about it.
SHERRIF: Yeah. I think more than ever, people should be concerned about data privacy, and data security. But all the things that we're hearing today, if they're not, I would say that that would be unwise. So this was the thriving reason beyond their ability to and their expertise in data was their unwavering protocols with respect to data privacy, and complying with government and regulations like GDPR. And that's why we partnered with the Info Group, that was exactly the reason, because we wanted the best in class in order to do that with. And clearly we're concerned. Now this data, for example, your organization, you will be able to see your organization's data because you have access to that right now. However, you're not going to be able to see the other peoples are, you can overlay your data to actually glean insights. So you're not it's not like you're seeing individual people's data, that's never going to happen. You can see yours. And it's not coming to PCMA it's going to an independent body. So, that was obviously our driving force, data security is paramount for us. And Info Group is to me the best in class when it comes to data security.
JON: Excellent. And we were going to touch on another topic. So
SHERRIF: Yeah, I do want to talk about you know, I think that research is so important. Data insights that leads to research, I do want to touch on designing experiences that people would engage with and understanding and that, as I say, we live 360. We live every moment of our day. And we don't just attend a conference, to think of attending a conference would be very naive that we're coming here just to be at your event. You still have family issues to deal with. You might have kids. You have to work and attend the conference, you might have special meal needs, you might want to go to a yoga class, whatever it is, an event has to understand that you need to live. And so living 360, for us is very important in and designing an event. That, to me, really increases engagement. And I do want to touch on the digital side of things. Understanding data points is not enough. Far too long, we've measured ROI and how many heads we had in a bed? How many? You know, did we make the bottom line? Did we do this? We do that? But did we really focus on you? And so data as inserted data gives you metrics and so forth. But how do you make meaningful insights that I'm talking to a human being, like I'm catering to a human being, not to a data set. And so that that person feels like an individual? That, to me, is the most powerful thing, when it comes to we're an association success lies, if they are not going to cater to you as an individual? Well, your wallet will do the walking. Right? Because you're not going to want to spend your money. I think the opportunity is brighter than ever, for associations. But they've got to seize the moment. Because today, if there's anything that people have, is empowered, and they have choices, right? And so, they will, they will, they will take those choices. To me the only trend today that we that is is around, we might focus on everything, but the only trend is the empowered consumers. And they are empowered. And they have the tools to make them empowered. And so subsequently, they will make the choices that if you're providing what they're looking for.
JON: So they want a personalized experience?
SHERRIF: Totally. And we all learn differently, I will tell you, there are people that if you show them visuals, they will learn 100 times more there’s other people that would like to read the text, so forth. The other people that only want someone to speak to them is other people that needs discussion points, people, we're all wired up differently. We shouldn't treat everybody the same way.
JON: It's funny, the thing that was going through my mind as we're talking about this is it would be, I've seen organizations that just do the same thing over and over. And, and to me that's like, only having slide projectors in the room because I come from a technology background of AV. And it's like, you know, I haven't touched a slide projector in 20 years. But their organizations that their meetings are effectively still using slide projectors, even if they've moved it to videos.
SHERRIF: Well, you know, there was a, you know, in the old days in Brazil, in San Paolo, if you wanted to sell a car, you put a plastic bottle and top of your car, right. And people would know on the street that that person is selling their car. Well, when technology in the internet came about, they would actually go and take a picture of the bottle, instead of actually on the car and put that instead of actually using the medium. And we've got a lot of opportunities to adapt to the new mediums that are in front of us, that allows us so many ways to engage, we cannot use the same traditional approach in new mediums, it doesn't work, you have to use the medium the way it's intended.
JON: Well, and that's the goal of what we try and talk about here is that idea that we can do better, and we can improve. And we can find new ways of doing things and making people walk away with better outcomes.
SHERRIF: If I could say one thing, in closing, is that this is the single most important industry in the world. No other is not medical, not scientific, nothing is more important than business events. When we meet face to face, we could change anything. Okay, we can do the human spirit, the power of the human being is so amazing. We can change anything when we meet. And if you couple that, I firmly believe that it's going to take science and medicine data and human beings to cure cancer. Not one of them, not just medicine. And if we start thinking about that, we will understand the power that we can when we meet all the things, all the things that we have, that are irritants or troubles in our lives. And our economies in our world are just irritants to just passing. And it's because we can take the bloody time to meet with each other. We can look each other in the eye and say, Why? or Why not?
JON: Or, how do we fix this?
SHERRIF: Yes, that's problems that will give us things to do. Right? It should. And so, I I don't prescribe to the sky is falling in, I do think that we have got the most powerful platform in the world, bar none to solve the challenges that we face.
JON: I think that's a very, very great inspirational place to, to wrap this up, then because I agree, I think that if we can do better at this than the world does better
SHERRIF: We owe it to everyone in society is that if we're going to accept these roles, and these positions, then we must be accountable. There is no other way. And when I am saying when I mean when we meet face to face, great things can happen. And great things are happening. And it's sometimes feels because information comes at us instantaneously that the world is caving in. But I'm very optimistic about our future. And I'm very optimistic the fact that there will be many more things that are challenging us in our world. But, I think that we are going to face them.
JON: Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today. I really appreciate the message and what the work that you're doing there at PCMA. And it's great to just learn some more about it and get some more details. And it's inspiring.
SHERRIF: I am so appreciative of you taking the time to talk to me. I very much appreciate it. I believe so much and what all industry associations do. And thank you for having me.
JON: Well, and everyone who's listening, thank you for listening and we appreciate you as well and hope that this has been useful for you and so until the next time, this is Jon Trask signing off and we'll talk to you soon.