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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

Last night I debated with my son whether players who “draw” fouls on themselves in soccer are skillful tacticians or cynical charlatans. You see the defender approach, flick the ball to one side and allow the momentum of the defender knock you to the ground. The referee immediately blows for a foul and you now have a free shot at goal. Is this a sophisticated advanced skill of the modern game or just plain cheating? Strictly speaking it is not “diving” – a foul punishable by a yellow card in soccer  – as actual physical contact has been made but equally the attacking forward has no intention of trying to beat the defender by superior skill or speed. He “beats” him by creating all the criteria that constitute a foul and the referee is left with no option but to award the free kick. File under “moral ambivalence” or “ethics”.

Moral Ambivalence is a fact of Life

Moral ambivalence is a fact of life and punctuates our work as meetings and events professionals too, pretty much on a daily basis. As an industry, however, we tend to avoid any pan-industry discussion of “ethics” while feasting like feeding lions on our own half baked opinions within the strict separation of our silo. Thus DMCs bitch and moan in their cages about corporate and intermediary planners who take their ideas, planners complain bitterly at the water trough about DMCs whose gouge them on price. DMOs meet at DMAI and exchange black lists of so-called free loaders while independent planners call IMEX and IBTMWorld to lacerate the gate keepers who have rejected them as hosted buyers on their exhibition programmes.

PCMA’s Convene

ethicsThe April issue of PCMA‘s excellent Convene magazine includes an important article on  The Good Work Project, a Harvard-based initiative which sets out to identify individuals and institutions that exemplify good work. In an interview with Convene’s Christopher Durso, Daniel Mucinskas of the Project describes the three elements that constitute “good work”:

Those are excellence – doing your work well, with technical skill. Then after that engagement – finding a sense of enjoyment, finding a sense of purpose, that your work is meaningful to you, you feel engaged as you’re involved in it. And finally ethics – behaving in a way that demonstrates that you have a moral understanding and that you take the time to really think about the ethical consequences of your actions”.

The Good Work article is the precursor to PCMA’s own survey on ethics in the meetings industry. Conducted in late 2015 380 meetings professionals responded to 13 questions on ethics and the results are published in Convene with the results from a similar 2010 survey offered by comparison.

Ethics Survey

ethicsThe results of the survey are interesting in themselves – as far as they go – but not at all surprising. The questions focus mainly on things like accepting invitations to familiarisation trips, gifts, double jobbing etc with answers in 2016 showing 50 more shades of grey than the monochromatic outcomes of 2010. And ethics, too, seems to be more on the enterprise agenda now than in the past with only 46% of organisations NOT having a written ethics policy (v 72% in 2010). Many of the  comments that accompanied the responses are reproduced in the article and display a down-to-earth, sound, common sense approach.

One in particular stands out

The keys to this particular discussion are honesty, integrity and transparency.

Regrettably, however, the survey didn’t touch on any of the bigger global ethical issues in the meetings industry such as fair wages (our industry is notoriously mean when it comes to remuneration, particularly on the hospitality side), tipping (I think it’s a lose | lose situation), work hours (is it ethical to have a meeting professional on her feet for 16 hours?), IP issues (DMC provides RFP response to planner who then goes direct for all services), vendor selection (should a planner contract with a vendor who employs cheap labour?), destination selection (should a meeting planner propose a destination known for human rights abuses?), the (un)principles of corporate procurement in the meetings industry (it’s a stupid race to the bottom)  and so on.

Biggest Issue

But my biggest issue with the survey was the paltry response it evoked.  It’s bitterly disappointing that only 0.06% of the membership of PCMA actually took the survey – a figure that would equate to only 0.02% of the total number of members of, say, Meetings Professionals International (MPI), the world’s single biggest association for meeting professionals. So we have an industry that’s the size of a small Irish city but only a very tiny number of its inhabitants – the mad and the sad? – are prepared to invest time and effort in reflecting on the ethical meaning and consequences of what they do. This is not cool.

Mock Trial

PCMA’s welcome highlighting of ethics in the meetings industry coincided nicely with an initiative that I developed with a few close industry friends. We debuted  at FICP’s annual conference last year in Nassau and reprised again last week during Exclusively Corporate ethicsat IMEX in Frankfurt. With Mike Lyons (formerly GEP Philadelphia, AIBTM and others) and Jon Howe (Howe & Hutton Ltd) we created a business theatre project centred on the notion of taking meetings industry  issues and giving them an airing in a mock court room setting. Having the meetings industry’s most experienced attorney on board (that’s definitely you, Jon!) allowed us to tease out thorny issues and separate what’s legal from what’s not. It also gave our audiences greater degrees of clarity around  the differences between unethical behaviour, discourteous behaviour  and behaviour that’s simply not nice.

Give me a call!

On both occasions our core cast was augmented by volunteer association members who played key roles on the prosecution or defence side, adding weight and humour to the scenario. There is no script other than an outline scenario but since we’re all long standing practitioners in the meetings industry we know our lines automatically so improvisation is easy!

If you’re interested in discussing how this innovation format might work at your next live event please make contact with us below.

Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique agency offering strategy, marketing and training to hotels, venues and destinations within the MICE sector. He and his business partner Patrick Delaney are also part-time thespians playing the roles of Dewey Chetem (Attorney at Law) and Peter Planner (Humble Meeting Planner who always follows corporate policy) respectively 


“We are NOT amused”








3 thoughts on “Do meetingprofs have no ethics?

  1. joaneisenstodt says:

    Oh so much to say! First, a disclaimer: I was involved (and not paid for my involvement) in the questions that PCMA asked this time around and the last and I’m quoted in the comments. And yes, as you said, they don’t go deep enough. More, few of the industry associations have ethics sessions (tho’ I’ve proposed them in lots of different formats) on their agendas yearly. And as you noted, the response was relatively paltry. So let’s, staying away from the ethics of hosted buyer programs [I’ve been told by industry associations to not use that as an example of ethical misgivings in ethics session] delve deeper:

    1. Where were the majority of CIC organizations and others [I don’t recall IMEX signing] the letter put forth by HRC (Human Rights Campaign) objecting to HB2 passed in the US State of North Carolina that prohibits LGBT discrimination? ASAE signed; MPI after what appears to be some pressure, signed. Some hospitality companies signed. Many corporations signed and others took away business from or, like PayPal, did not locate new business that would’ve created 400 jobs not including the construction jobs – in North Carolina. Mississippi has passed a discriminatory law. Some countries make being a Gay, Lesbian, or Transgender person a crime. Where are the voices against these issues?

    2. Around the world, not only is pay equity an issue, slave labor is still an issue. When MPI’s Board of Directors planned to go to Dubai for a meeting – and again when they proposed to go to Beijing – I wrote letters challenging the acts saying that by going they (staff and Board) violated the “Principles of Professionalism.” From no less than your ‘judge’ in the session, Jonathan Howe, MPI’s attorney (then; is he now?) I received a letter in response mocking my challenge to these meetings and those attending. Oh too when I challenged MPI from meeting over major Jewish religious holidays, a similar note saying that if MPI didn’t meet over ‘someone’s holiday’ they couldn’t meet at all. [The response to that challenge from MPI elected leadership? “Well, if there were anyone Jewish involved, we’d like to think we wouldn’t have met.”] The Board met in both places – Dubai after news reports of the slave labor; Beijing where human rights violations, air pollution, and other issues abound. Where were other voices challenging the ethics of doing so?

    3. Sex trafficking has somehow made it to the higher levels of interest yet it’s not an everyday issue discussed and should be.

    4. In the US, the industry has events that make it difficult for those with disabilities to attend and participate. They make it impossible for Muslims and some of other religions to attend because of alcohol served. Meetings over Ramadan? Sure.

    5. New organizations are popping up in the industry and none have ethics policies. I’ve offered to help write them. Alas, I’ve been told, they are ‘thinking about it.’ So like those who responded to the survey, even industry orgs. don’t have policies. MPI used to have a great one and then put in place the Principles of Professionalism that has no meat. CMP has one and too few people are willing to report those whose practices are unethical; they might lose business if they did they believe. In the earlier days, CIC member organizations had to have a code of ethics/conduct to be a member. Now? It doesn’t appear they do.

    Oh there’s more. I’ve lived a life and industry life of trying to bring issues forth. #BlackLivesMatter? Not in our industry – not when it came to Hyatt firing their housekeepers – the majority of whom were African American – in their Boston properties and outsourcing the services at lesser wages. The industry has taken stands against unions and organized labor and been very vocal. One DMO (aka CVB) hosted events for customers and online to criticize the unions in their convention center.

    So you tell me, dear Padraic, where are the other voices and where have they been? At least PCMA asked and made people aware.

    Oh and the mock trial? Lisa Sommer-Devlin and I and others did mock trials (about legal issues) years ago at numerous industry meetings. It’s a great format and I’m sorry I missed yours. An ethics trial sounds a bit like Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” and would be interesting to stage.

    Join me in being a constant voice to challenge this industry’s practices.

  2. padraicino says:

    Joan – I knew I could rely on you to chime in and fill out the agenda. As it says in the Convene article, you are the conscience of the meetings industry and I knew you’d be the one to provide the back stories etc. It doesn’t surprise me at all to hear that you’ve “been there, done that” in relation to the Mock Trial. I’d have expected nothing less.
    I’m kind of proud that SITE (the association that provided most of my formation) has been taking the lead on the human trafficing issue and thanks to Rhonda’s day job have the might of Maritz on board now too.

  3. joaneisenstodt says:

    Thanks, Padraic. Invite me to speak at other industry events – I do dynamite work in ethics with lots of scenario discussions. But the question is how do we get all on board? How do we stop the winks and nods to all things that are unethical? Oh and being called “the conscience of the industry”? That was given to me by a former MPI Chair many years ago. It stuck. Why aren’t there many? And why aren’t ethics a consideration when the industry associations give awards? Why why why?

    And for those reading this who want to do something ethical, do here: Another industry attorney, Steve Rudner, is the Pres. of the organization and you’ll see the companies and organizations that have signed on.

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