Archive for August, 2013


Detroit: Not the ‘black eye’ of America

Since last week’s blog post, the latest story about Detroit’s bankruptcy seems to be the city’s problem with stray dogs. I’m not sure this is news, but as Larry Alexander, president of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, told me last week, media watch the city with careful eyes since it’s the automobile capital of the world.

Larry Alexander

Larry Alexander, president of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau

Couple this with the recent news that on Oct. 23 there will be a hearing to determine whether Detroit is indeed eligible to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy and it’s hard not to be discouraged. But from what I’ve learned throughout the last two weeks, Detroit’s situation sounds worse than it really is – thanks in large part to the media. As an educated and trained journalist, I’m disappointed in the bias of the media outlets reporting on Detroit’s struggles.

So it’s encouraging to hear the excitement about Detroit’s “comeback city campaign.” The theme is, “Detroit, America’s Great Comeback City,” which features ads with real people, not models. It was unveiled at the American Society of Association Executives’ Annual Meeting in Atlanta and will run throughout the next two years, Alexander said.

But this isn’t the first time Detroit has come back.

“When we were doing prep for ASAE we created a strategic plan and one of the things that we uncovered was the fact that every 100 years Detroit reinvents itself,” said Alexander, who recently earned ASAE’s Academy of Leaders Award.  “This is not a reinvention; it’s a groundswell from the bottom up. We’re at that mark again. There are many other cities that are facing the exact same legacy cost issues that Detroit is facing. If it works in Detroit, there will be other cities that follow suit.”

Almost immediately after Detroit filed for bankruptcy on July 18, Alexander sent a letter to the CVB’s members to end-run some of the questions he knew would arise. How would this affect sales? Would the Cobo Center have to cease its $299 million renovation?

In the letter, Alexander assured members that Detroit is thriving.  Throughout the last two years, the private sector has brought to the city nearly 12,000 new jobs and $11 billion in new economic development. And according to the CVB, direct spending for booked groups in Detroit through 2015 is $189.7 million.

In July, a 367-room, eight-suite Crown Plaza Ponchartrain Hotel opened, adding to Detroit’s inventory of  more than 4,000 luxury hotel rooms that already exist downtown.  And soon, Cobo Center will unveil its 40,000-square-foot ballroom.

Riverfront view of Detroit

A riverfront view of Detroit. Photo by Vito Palmissano, courtesy of Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Bankruptcy is a difficult but clearly an unavoidable step that will pave the way for a viable and sustainable future for the city of Detroit,” Alexander wrote. “We are fully supportive of this decision if it will solve the city’s financial challenges expeditiously and allow the city to move forward. Detroit has been enjoying an amazing comeback, and putting our financial house in order is part of that comeback.”

And there’s other good news:  Interest from meeting planners has tripled, Alexander said.

So what should ASAE members expect in 2015? Beneath Cobo’s new ballroom will be 25,000 square feet of meeting space. There will be an atrium with a glass enclosure so attendees can enjoy the waterways. In addition to a new food court, there will be a tremendous improvement in customer service and food quality and presentation, he said.

The CVB has hired an executive director to handle the details of the ASAE meeting, Alexander said, just as it did when the Super Bowl came to Detroit.

“I would like people to know that Detroit is alive and well. We’re not dead,” he  said. “Detroit has 4.5 million people living in regions who raise families and work, and we have multiple educational opportunities. We are not the black eye of the country.”

In fact, as a lifelong Michigander, I’d argue it’s just the opposite. So as editor of this blog, I’ll continue to search for good news about Detroit to provide a counterbalance to most media outlets. In the meantime, I hope you keep the faith and believe in Detroit’s promise.


Motown magic continues to attract business

Cobo Hall

Detroit’s Cobo Center

I’m sure I can speak for my fellow Michiganders: We’ve watched with heartbreak as Detroit, once the most prosperous city in the country, has struggled to financially support its declining population. Sadly, it all came to a head on July 18 when the Motor City filed for bankruptcy.

Ever since, that’s all the media seem to care about. Story after story paints the home of Motown as a city of abandoned houses, crumbling streets and vacant storefronts.

It’s not pretty. In fact, it’s the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. But there’s hope.

A recent Detroit Free Press column by Tom Walsh piqued my interest for this blog. He wrote about Detroit’s new “comeback city” advertising campaign, geared toward convention and event planners.

In 2015, the American Society of Association Executives will host its annual meeting Aug. 8-11 at Detroit’s Cobo Center. And despite the negative publicity and seemingly precarious state of Detroit, ASAE has full confidence in the city’s rebirth, said John Graham, president/CEO of ASAE.

“ASAE sees the 2015 meeting as an opportunity for us to raise awareness about how the city has improved and educate our members and exhibitors about all the opportunities the city has to offer,” he said. “Detroit is making major strides in providing a vast number of hotels, venues and attractions that would be valuable for any association meeting. We are going to work hard to promote these changes, so our members can experience it firsthand.”

John Graham

John Graham, president/CEO of ASAE

The Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau has raised funds for the annual meeting, so members can be confident in the city’s ability to educate and entertain, Graham said. From Greektown to casinos to Comerica Park (home of major league baseball team Detroit Tigers), the city offers a wealth of activities for attendees’ down times. And Cobo won’t disappoint either. In 2010, the Cobo Center began a $299 million renovation program, which is scheduled to be complete by January 2015.

ASAE chose Detroit because of its convenient and affordable Midwest location, Graham said. The association has a large number of members in Chicago, so it anticipates many from that area will come to Detroit for the meeting. Also, Detroit Metro Airport is an international airport so members traveling from around the globe can easily fly to the meeting.

Yet still, at this year’s annual ASAE meeting, which was held Aug. 3-6 in Atlanta, Detroit was a hot topic of conversation. Among the concerns was whether the city would be ready in 2015 to welcome thousands of professionals. And people wondered if the renovations to Cobo would be complete.

But so far, no bookings for Detroit events have been cancelled. In fact, the bankruptcy seems to be having little effect on convention planners, said Larry Alexander, president of the Detroit CVB, in Walsh’s column.

Those with concerns should instead focus on the city’s response, Graham said. Detroit is committed to redevelopment and bringing people back to the city. In fact, the number of young professionals in the city has increased by 59 percent since 2000, and 97 percent of downtown Detroit’s and 95 percent of Midtown’s rental apartments are occupied.

And that’s why ASAE will continue to work with the Detroit CVB to tell the story of reinvention to its members, Graham said. It will work with the CVB to plan various events and educational tours for the 2015 meeting. In addition, CVB will help ASAE pick an organization to which members will give back when visiting Detroit. In recent years, ASAE has engaged more than 1,000 attendees in community service projects in host cities.

With a population in which more than 80 percent of residents are minorities, according to the U.S. Census, Detroit is the perfect location to celebrate diversity. In 2015, ASAE will mark 15 years of its Diversity Executive Leadership Program, which supports individuals from under-represented identity groups in the association community to advance into the ranks of leadership, Graham said. In 2012, Detroit’s population was 701,475, according to the U.S. Census. But regardless of size, every city has advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important for marketers to think about how not to oversell the city, but instead focus on telling a new and different story, he said.

“You should find unique ways to convey these messages and images in ways that resonate with your audience so they’re encouraged to visit the city and personally see all the improvements,” Graham said. “Always be honest and forthcoming about the areas that need improvement and tell meeting planners how you are working to improve them.”

For next week’s post, I’ll talk with Larry Alexander about the “comeback city” campaign. Why should businesses continue to believe in the promise of America’s automobile capital? Stay tuned.

Cobo Hall ballroom

A ballroom at Cobo Center ready for a convention event


Don’t feed the attendees: 10 insights for your next food function

The bag of trail mix that served as my lunch during the closing general session of #ASAE13.

The bag of trail mix that served as my lunch during the closing general session of #ASAE13.

It’s the closing general session at #ASAE13. I’ve somehow come down with the worst summer cold/sinus infection I’ve had in at least the last 10 years. Many of my friends seem to be sniffling and sneezing, as well. This has resulted in an unexpected morning expedition to the local CVS. Following two morning learning labs, I’m now eager to grab a bite to eat with my colleagues before Dan Heath takes the stage.

Our preset salads and individual pour salad dressings are delicious – and a great start to the meal. Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you: (a) This is neither my first nor my only disappointing meal service during this conference and (b) This is not all that unusual of an experience for me during most conferences. So, I sit and I wait. And I wait. And I wait some more.

Two at a time, salad plates are removed from our table. They are taken to an undisclosed location that I only imagine to be near B218 – the furthest possible room from our present location in the Georgia World Congress Center. Many of you may recall this long walk from the learning labs you attended earlier in the week. Two at a time, prepared (tepid) meals are slowly walked back to our table.

By now, I’ve clearly identified myself as a vegetarian. As a lacto ovo vegetarian, I require a diet that excludes meat, fish and poultry, but may include dairy products and eggs. Unfortunately, it took several requests (from both me and my tablemates), a desperate tweet and a bag full of a friend’s trail mix before I received my meal. By the way, it came once everyone else had finished eating and the session had started.

As a result of this experience, and at the prodding of some of my friends, I’ve decided to compile the following 10 insights I hope will encourage a new awareness for both planners and suppliers alike as they approach their next food function:

  1. A lacto ovo vegetarian is not synonymous with lactose intolerance. As an aside, you wouldn’t believe some of the interesting dessert options I’ve been presented when assumptions like this have been made.
  2. Vegetarians vary. When I first became a vegetarian, I picked up the book Living Vegetarian for Dummies. It outlines the big three: lacto ovo vegetarian, lacto vegetarian and vegan. Know the differences, ask your attendees which they are and communicate accordingly with the chef.
  3. It’s unlikely that a single, all-encompassing meal that meets the special dietary needs of vegetarians, vegans and those observing a gluten-free diet (and potentially others) will be equally appealing and fulfilling. Unfortunately, one size does not fit all.
  4. Tofu should not be the protein default of choice. For starters, it’s incredibly bland and it actually requires much more culinary prowess than can reasonably be expected in a banquet environment. Instead, consider beans, lentils, grains, nuts and seeds as alternatives.
  5. Chances are good there’s at least one vegetarian in every audience. Therefore, vegetarian meals should always be prepared, whether or not they were ordered on the BEO. Additionally, care should be taken to serve all attendees at the same time.
  6. Servers should be effectively trained in the most efficient way to clear dishes and serve meals. This includes good instructions from their supervisors regarding which tables they’ll be managing, as well as the appropriate use of trays, jacks and hotboxes.
  7. Whenever possible, suppliers should invest in regular staff and ongoing customer service training. More than once in the last six months I’ve been informed that unsatisfactory service levels were due, in part, to the nature of transient staff.
  8. For a variety of personal and religious reasons vegetarians have elected not to eat meat, fish and/or poultry. Setting a hunk of meat down in front of a vegetarian, even as a place holder until an alternate meal can be identified and served, will likely not be well received.
  9. Buffet lines are akin to a culinary guessing game. Although it may be impractical to list and post the ingredients for every dish on a placard, do label for the most common types of special dietary needs and food allergies (e.g., vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, nuts).
  10. Food allergies are increasingly more prevalent and equally challenging to navigate in a group setting. Here’s a brief primer about event planning and food allergy awareness that identifies the precautions we can take to eliminate possible cross contamination.

So, my question to you is this: Are you familiar with the dietary needs of your attendees? How are they handled? Are your attendees with special dietary needs and food allergies treated like second-class citizens? What will you do to improve their experience moving forward?


The many hats of marketers

Scott Oser

Scott Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates

Editor’s Note: This week’s guest blog post is by Scott Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates. He’s speaking this morning at the ASAE Annual Meeting in Atlanta. Follow along in real time on Twitter using #asae13  and continue to monitor Twitter for feedback from Oser’s session.

A couple months ago I wrote an article for “Associations Now” about how marketing requires different skills than it once did. As more potential tactics and options for marketing have emerged, more is expected of a marketer.

You can read the full “Associations Now” article here, but following is a quick summary of just some of the roles marketers are now expected to play:

  • Channel expert. It’s the marketer’s job to be informed about all the traditional and new marketing techniques.
  • Implementer. Marketers must have strong implementation and project management skills.
  • Data analyst. Association marketing professionals must understand how to read and interpret the numbers.
  • Brand champion. In most associations it’s the job of the head marketing professional to make sure the essence of the brand is reflected in everything the association does.
  • Community creator. The stronger your community and member engagement, the more effective your marketing will be. So it’s up to the marketing professional to help create that engagement.
  • Cheerleader and politician. Marketing requires trying new things and some staff members are more resistant to change than others. Therefore, it’s necessary for a marketer to get people on board even when they’re skeptical.

While I was at the beach a couple weeks ago on a brief vacation I re-read the article I wrote. I thought about how even though the role of a marketer has changed and the number of ways in which we market has grown, the goal of our marketing has remained the same.

Regardless of which of the roles above we play and regardless of which medium (direct mail, email, telemarketing, word of mouth, social media, etc.) we use, our main goal is to show recipients the value of what we’re asking them to do so they’ll act.  With all the competing products, services and marketing messages, this has become increasingly difficult – but increasingly important – to do.  Unfortunately, many marketers focus on the role they play and the tactics they use but don’t always do a great job of knowing their target market, the different needs of the segments within their target market and the messaging they need to use.

You can be the best marketer in the world but the bottom line is that value drives response.  Do you understand your value proposition and are you communicating it well?  If not, I recommend you take a step back and start working on that as soon as you finish reading this sentence.

Scott Oser Associates
Scott Oser Associates was formed in 2006 to develop customized solutions to solve unique membership, marketing and sales challenges. It has partnered with a large number of associations, for-profit and non-profit organizations to increase their bottom lines from memberships, marketing and sales efforts. Oser has more than 17 years of marketing experience in the association and publishing industries. Before starting the firm he worked for market leaders like National Geographic Society, AARP and Science. You can follow him on

meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 5,359 other followers

Twitter Updates

Featured in Alltop

%d bloggers like this: