To the Point

‘AIG Is No Longer Cursed’

But the AIG Effect lingers on.

Did you know that “AIG Is No Longer Cursed”? You can imagine why that recent CNNMoney headline caught my eye just before I sat down to write this column. It seems the financial giant has staged a major comeback now that the last of the U.S. Treasury’s shares in the company — the government’s $182- billion bailout from 2008 — were sold this past December. At the time of CNN’s report in late February, the insurer’s shares were soaring on healthy results, and it’s now a top stock for hedge funds.

I’m pleased AIG has recovered from the dark days of the financial collapse, as have many of our financial institutions. But I couldn’t help feeling a little unsettled by the oh-so-rosy news. Many of these companies were able to bounce back because of considerable government bailouts, not to mention tax breaks and other incentives.

Don’t you wish all of us in the meetings industry had benefited from such goodwill during the recession?

Instead, our entire industry suffered negative consequences when reports of lavish spending at an AIG corporate retreat surfaced in the wake of the financial collapse — a PR nightmare that caused many groups to cancel or cut back dramatically on their meetings for fear of being accused of wasteful behavior. The industry continued to suffer more bad publicity after meetings organized by the General Services Administration and the Department of Justice were accused of exorbitant spending — charges that resulted in government cutbacks on meetings and meetings-related travel.

Overall, the meetings industry has essentially recovered from recessionary lows. But we’re forever changed by the AIG Effect. There are certain sectors of our industry that will always be concerned about the perception of improper spending. And many of you are feeling the effects of government-meeting cutbacks.

Going forward, our industry continues to be challenged by the perception that face-to-face meetings are “nice to have” but not “must- haves.” There are those who perceive all meetings as simply social events — the recent media scrutiny of the United States Postal Service’s decision to send a large number of employees to last month’s National Postal Forum is the latest example.

That’s why industry-wide advocacy efforts to promote all of the benefits of face-to-face meetings remain so important. Look for more information on these efforts soon.

In the meantime, have you seen the new study from the Meetology Group with support from the IMEX Group, Barbican, the Dubai Convention Bureau, and the PCMA Education Foundation? Pairing more than 100 participants at the IMEX 2012 exhibition, researchers separated them into three groups and asked them to solve problems together — via video, phone, and in-person. Spoiler alert: The results offer proof of the power of face-to-face.

It seems that these are messages we’ll need to be promoting for a good while to come.

Deborah Sexton

Deborah Sexton is president and CEO of PCMA.