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by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolElla

Give a dog a bad name

cute-dog-widescreen-wallpape_w520My late mother was a great one for the pithy sayings. She had wise words at will to sum up any situation and would frequently quote the proverb “Give a dog a bad name and it’ll stick to him” whenever I’d report negative hearsay about people in my childhood world. This proverb has an ironic application with the use of the acronym MICE as a category label or descriptor for “The Meetings Industry”. Most of us agree that MICE is a bad name but, based on recent evidence, not only is it sticking, it’s actually going forth and multiplying, maybe as prolifically as the furry little rodents themselves.

Following extensive debate in the 90s about MICE as a worthy term to describe our industry, the Pied Piper worked his magic in Europe and North America and merrily piped the term into oblivion. We quickly adapted to the newly agreed term “Meeting Industry” with the media and industry associations all re-enforcing the decision. We always knew that MICE wasn’t quite exterminated in Asia and Latin America but we believed we’d eventually prevail, Europe and North America being the stronger markets for the very segments from which the acronym was formed – meetings, incentives, conferences, events / exhibitions.

MICE talkBut MICE never really went away. The Asia, Latin American and Middle Eastern markets where its usage thrived grew strong and robust and became source markets as well as destinations for meetings and events. So MICE crept back under cover of darkness and suddenly at Site’s annual conference in Orlando last December a new slogan was born with Site as the association that represents the “i” in MICE. MICE was back at the very heart of the Meetings Industry in the US. So why did this happen and what should now be done?

MICE is eminently memorable

MICE thrived as a term simply because it’s easy to remember. It’s an acronym but also a mnemonic that immediately facilitates recall of the 4 industry segments that it represents. The fact that the acronym also represents a real word adds to its memorability as our minds conjure up all sorts of weird and wonderful images of tiny rodents queuing to register for conferences or engaging in team building activities. Yes, it may be a bad name but it’s so good for recall!

MICE has been used consistently in academia

Thanks to the work of our associations, our industry has matured immeasurably over the past 20 years with more and more universities and academic institutions offering under and post-graduate qualifications across the widest possible spectrum of its segments. This has resulted in a growing body of academic research at Masters and Doctoral level with MICE popping up everywhere for its sheer, easy convenience. They may spell out Meetings – Incentives – Conventions – Events at the start of their papers but quickly thereafter they revert to the acronym and this is what the next generations of graduates in travel and tourism, event management and meeting planning are learning.

MICE represents the full industry spectrum

MICE 3Truth be known many of us felt “The Meetings Industry” didn’t adequately describe our metier. As a term it works well for Meeting Planners and Professional Conference Organisers (PCOs) but less well for Destination Management Companies and Incentive Houses. If we add events and say “The Meetings & Events Industry” it’s already better but still doesn’t properly recognise the importance of incentive travel or motivational experiences in the mix. MICE, on the other hand, is all inclusive, even allowing for the ambivalent “E” which can signify “events” or “exhibitions” or both. When you examine the membership of the Convention Industry Council (CIC), the pan industry association of associations based in the USA, you’ll find 33 different associations there many of whom don’t bear the name “convention” in their title but all of whom bear one of the 4 or 5 names included in MICE.

So what should be done?

Events of the past 5 years have demonstrated unequivocally our need for unity and cohesion as an industry and, in that regard, for an acceptable name to call ourselves and rally support around. I’m not sure any more that “The Meetings Industry” can fulfil that brief. It doesn’t resonate across the full spectrum of our activities and neither do all geographical markets embrace it. Is it conceivable that we’d get alignment around “The MICE Industry”? Somehow I’m not sure of that either. But then I think of Shakespeare’s Juliet:

O! be some other name:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

and I wonder.

What do you think?

Padraic Gilligan and Patrick Delaney recently launched SoolElla, a boutique agency offering another viewpoint for meetings and events –


5 thoughts on “Give a dog a bad name – the MICE conundrum

  1. Thelma Pichel says:

    I think that MICE is not really a bad name for our industry. As a PCO and Event Manager in Europe for more than 20 years now I’ve noticed that people don’t even know the difference between a conference or event for example. Conferences and events are also melting together; in the past that were 2 very different sorts of meetings. I think ‘MICE’ represent the industry more as a whole and that is a good thing. My humble opinion of course…

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks Thelma for taking time to comment

  2. Michel Couturier says:

    Thanks for raising this issue!

    I hate, despise, resent the acronym MICE! We want a seat at the table but we use a rodent name which only allows us to crawl under the table!

    How could we tell students come and join our MICE sector! Pathetic!

    Australia (and now Canada) uses “Business Events” clean, clear and marketable! As an industry we need to appreciate the importance of a name and a brand, we should as many of us keep talking about branding!

    Make it “Business Events”, in short it becomes “BE” I like that, I want to be part of the “BE” industry.

    1. padraicino says:

      Michel – thanks for taking the time to comment. You clearly have strong feelings about MICE!

      I don’t care for the term myself – although I’m not as adverse to its use as you are – but when the Executive Director of Site starts referring to Site as owning the “i” in MICE then you have to open discussion around the term.

      Business Events (and related terms such as Business Tourism – used by Tourism Ireland for about 10 years now) could be a good term but does it properly capture the convention / congress / conference community who might resent the link to commercialism? Some medical congresses are trying to untangle themselves from commercial realities as it compromises their objectivity etc

      1. Thelma Pichel says:

        The use of a rodent like mice allows us to think of the saying: ‘When the cat is away the mice will play’… In Dutch the literally translated saying is: ‘When the cat is not home, the mice will dance on the table’. So they not crawl under, but go on top of it 🙂

        Anyway, I think Padraicino has a good point there. By using the words Business Events the (non-)governmental, association, medical and scientific conferences, symposia and seminars will not feel ‘at home’ in the industry. Plus the abbreviation BE stands for Business Economics in many countries and is also abbreviation for the title Bachelor of Engineering I believe. Besides that Business Events tends to have a strong commercial tone of voice. More corporate minded than non-corporate, which is still a great part of the industry. In the 90s the congress industry was rather similar to the event industry, but certainly not the same. As a PCO you were not an event manager and certainly not the other way around. Even though the jobs are more and more melting together, if you are an Event Manager, you are not automatically a good PCO and vice versa. Of course you can be both, I am too. But what is good about the name MICE is that it has both in the name plus the exhibition industry. With the trend of having more and more meetings at tradeshow floors, it certainly is an important part too. So, I cannot think of another good acronym, besides perhaps adding an extra letter E (so you can seperate the Exhibition and Events part too) and with some swapping you will have iMECE for example…

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