When Successful Meetings magazine started unveiling its 2012 list of The 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry, I sent a note applauding them for revealing the honorees alphabetically one week at a time. I thought it was a brilliant piece of marketing that promised to keep the list living and breathing at least through half the year. As one of the people responsible for creating the concept years ago (when I was Editor of sister publication Business Travel News and later Publisher of Meeting News), I admired anything to keep the feature in the news, especially when it used to be “one and done” – appeared in our January issue, got two or three Letters to the Editor, and basically was forgotten soon after by anyone not on the list.
While the dream of any publication or article is to spur evaluation, discussion and controversy among readers, SM’s strategy, perhaps unwittingly, belongs in the Marketing Hall of Fame. You see, for the first dozen or so announced influencers, none was a female. When the comments of outrage began flying, from both men and women, on how any initiative from an industry with about 75 percent (I’m guessing) of its constituents females could not name a single woman to its honor roll, I asked one of my conscientious objector friends whether the entire list had been revealed yet and offered that perhaps she and her band were jumping the gun. SM, for its part, had remained silent.
Sure enough, a week later when Successful Meetings Editor in Chief Vincent Alonzo returned from vacation (either at a destination short on internet service or possibly to allow this spicy soup to simmer further), he calmly explained there were 10 women on the list and as luck would have it their last names all began with letters in the second half of the alphabet.
Argument diffused? Not for everyone. Some actually suggested SM was now scrambling to alter its list to appease the protesters. I wish I had that much skepticism when I was a journalist -- maybe believable if he said there were two women, but not 10. And what kind of injustice would that be for the 10 you’d be removing? Do you believe Vincent? I do. Successful Meetings has held a respected place in the community for years – I don’t think they are capable of (1) making such an obvious oversight in the first place and (2) correcting it by scouring lists of talented women whose last names begin with M through Z. You have to compile the list all at once, in advance, comprehensively, and, as editors, challenge your list time and time again before publication – who have we forgotten, what groups are not represented, can we make a solid case for each person on the list, where will complaints or controversy come from, are they justified or simply healthy differing opinions. Producing this article is not as simple as rewriting a press release on a new beachfront resort with great meeting space.
I can only dream when I was overseeing this project that it created so much controversy. Most of the feedback we usually received was a thank-you note from someone on the list – or their company, or their mother. Thanks to social media and a caring and astute network of followers, the best thing imaginable has happened to this list. I would think the industry is on alert and primed to see whom SM will add to the list this week, knowing females will be dominant the rest of the way. Surprised I haven’t seen any promotions to prospective advertisers looking for almost guaranteed exposure in the remaining weeks, especially if their copywriters are clever enough to take advantage and tailor a specific and relevant message. Regardless, the suspense is over for me – not only am I a male, but they already are way past the letter A, so once again I can only imagine “what if” and wait until next year.