‘This Is a Very Different Company Now, Moving Forward’

In early April, Maritz Travel announced that it had acquired Experient, creating an industry powerhouse whose “combined impact represented more than $2 billion in industry volume spend and nearly three million travelers served” in 2011.

Shortly after the announcement, Convene spoke with Maritz President David Peckinpaugh, CMP, who previously served as sales and marketing executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Experient when it was Conferon Global Services, and was also president and CEO of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau before joining HelmsBriscoe.  Peckinpaugh called it “a new day” for both Maritz and Experient, adding: “It’s all about our clients and how we can do a better job of taking care of them.”

Why an acquisition and why Experient?

I came [to Maritz] in June [2011], got to know the company over the summer, and then in early October we embarked on an extensive strategic-planning process.  One of the drivers was the desire to move the company into adjacent markets.  We’ve been virtually 100-percent corporate-focused.  We have one association that is a great account, but other than that, we’ve really built our reputation in the incentive space, and over time have become a leader in corporate meetings and events.  That’s been our business along with our other division, Maxvantage, which is our strategic alliance with American Express.

It’s been a wonderful business, but my job was to come in and say, how do we make the company have long-term sustainable growth and stability? We ended up with some key strategies – and that was to target the association market, the trade-show market, the government market, and to continue to build our other pieces of our business.  So, you lay that up against the Experient acquisition, and it’s a bull’s-eye.  Truly out of the blue, and incredibly opportune, the selling party issued a book on the company [Experient] and we jumped on it, expressed our interest — it started from there.

I really want to focus on the team that was involved both from the Maritz Travel side and from the Experient side.  They were the seller, we were the buyer, but immediately, the camaraderie and the teamwork have just been exceptional.  You might have an idea and a vision, but it takes a great group of people to get it done.

What’s it been like to reunite with former teammates from Experient?

[After the announcement, I visited Experient’s office in Twinsburg, Ohio,] and for me, it was an out-of-body experience.  If you look at the path I’ve been on since 2006 with the [San Diego] bureau and then HelmsBriscoe and Maritz — to end up standing there being part of the company that acquired Experient was truly amazing.  So, it’s been not only nostalgic but I think powerful for all of us who had a bond, mutual respect, and a desire to see that company continue to grow and thrive.

How different will Maritz look in the coming years?

This is a very different company now, moving forward.  We have an incredibly diverse customer base and incredibly wide breadth of services that we bring to market.  We’re currently, for the most part, focused in North America, and we see a lot of opportunity for expansion.

Will the Experient brand exist in the future?

Absolutely.  It’s [called] Experient, a Maritz Travel Company.  It helps bring clarity to how we are going to the market.  We are looking at the Maritz Travel brand as our corporate business events and incentive solution, and the Experient brand as our association, trade-show, and government solution.  We want to help invest and grow that.  We think there are many attributes of the overall Maritz enterprise that we can bring to bear that [will create] a unique and powerful solution set for associations.  And we feel the exact same way about the trade-show market and the government market.

The great news is that [the acquisition] has really no impact whatsoever on our customers.  They are still going to be working with the same operational support teams that they have been.

There are no resource-duplication or allocation issues?

There really is not.  This is a growth[-based] strategic play.  It’s not about efficiencies or cost cuttings.  It really is about how do we combine and accelerate our growth.  So, our only plans are to grow and add staff and add capability.

What are some of the new products, services, and capabilities that you will offer?

We’ve got some exciting things that we want to bring to market in good order.  Maritz has three primary platform companies — Maritz Research, Maritz Motivation Solutions, and Maritz Travel — plus a company that is a combination of all these in Canada, called Maritz Canada.  The foundation of this company has been built on really understanding human behavior.  The motivation company and the travel company are all about employee recognition, reward, and incentive.  So, you can imagine the possibilities we have in that — [understanding] the psychology [behind] what truly motivates individuals.  We have proprietary tools and patented research mechanisms and travel insights that really help us help our customers better understand their business events.  And how, through really innovative experiential design, we can positively impact the delivery of those events now and in the future.

What do you see as your biggest challenges?

The amazing thing about this acquisition is that … the culture of these two companies is almost perfectly aligned.  Then, because we’re operating [Experient] as a wholly owned subsidiary … we can leverage our combined resources.

I would really turn that [question around to] the overall challenges that the industry is facing, which is the continued scrutiny of — I will say D.C., for lack of a better term.  The GSA [controversy] reminded us how fragile we are, how we need to still pull together all of our resources as an industry and make sure that everyone understands the power of face-to-face meetings.  One of the reasons why we made this move is to make us more stable and make us more diverse — so we are better prepared in the future than we were.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.