The Little Chamber That Could

Maria Monreal-Cameron is a determined woman. In January 2001, the president and CEO of the Milwaukee-based Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin traveled to Washington, D.C., to give a presentation outlining why her chamber should be awarded the bid to host the 2005 U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Convention and Expo. But once wasn't enough. She returned again, and again — and again.

The competition for the bid was steep, and it included Chicago, Minneapolis, and Cincinnati. But Monreal-Cameron was prepared, and she brought backup, including representatives from VISIT Milwaukee; CEO and chairman of Milwaukee-based National Financial Corp. George Franco; and videotaped pledges of support from then-governor of Wisconsin Tommy Thompson, and then-chairman and CEO of Wisconsin Energy Corp. Richard Abdoo.

“We gave a dynamite, drop-dead, wonderful presentation,” Monreal-Cameron says. “We were determined to show them how a convention should be held. It went down to a vote, and Milwaukee won.”

But Chicago wasn't ready to admit defeat. In the following months, the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce asked the USHCC board to reconsider the bid award not once, but three times. And each time, Monreal-Cameron returned to the USHCC's Washington, D.C., headquarters to defend Milwaukee's right to host the 2005 event. “Chicago was a formidable opponent,” Monreal-Cameron says. “They kept saying ‘Wait, they don't have enough hotels, they won't get the sponsors.’ But we'd won the bid fair and square, and nobody was going to take it away from us. I said, ‘Look, here are letters of support from Milwaukee's most elite corporations. They want the convention in Milwaukee, and they will be sponsors.’” In the end, the USHCC stood by their decision, which meant the work was just beginning for the HCCW.

Game Plan

When Milwaukee won the bid to host the 2005 convention, the HCCW had just three staff members. Monreal-Cameron knew her chamber would need extra help to make the event a success. So she went to see Richard Abdoo at Wisconsin Energy Corp. and asked him to loan the HCCW an executive to coordinate the event. Enter Deborah Kreitlow, community-relations specialist for WE Energies, a subsidiary of Wisconsin Energy Corp.

“Debbie had gone to previous national conventions,” Monreal-Cameron says. “She sat on our board of directors. She was WE Energies' liaison with the Hispanic community. It was a natural fit for her to come in. The Wisconsin Energy Corp. Foundation subsidized Debbie's salary while she helped with this convention.”

While still employed with WE Energies, Kreitlow devoted 100 percent of her time to the 2005 USHCC convention, from April 2001 through January 2003, when she officially joined the HCCW staff. For the first time in USHCC convention history, one person was solely responsible for orchestrating the event.

In addition to extra staff, the HCCW needed cash to show the world how a convention should be held. While funds were being raised by the 2005 USHCC convention on a national level, Kreitlow and Monreal-Cameron got to work drumming up support in Milwaukee, holding a breakfast early on to launch their fundraising effort. “We worked very hard to make believers out of the different area corporations,” Monreal-Cameron says.

The HCCW developed a fundraising strategy focused on a hot commodity: time. Typically, local chambers begin fundraising efforts about a year before the event. This is a mistake. According to Kreitlow, most corporations set their budgets for the next year by October of the previous year. If you wait to approach potential corporate sponsors until October or into the year of the convention, you will discover that many corporations have already earmarked their contribution dollars for someone else.

“This was the first time they have actually had somebody try to get sponsorship dollars four years in advance,” Kreitlow says. “By doing that, we were able to offer something that no one else was able to offer, and that's time.”

The USHCC offered six levels of sponsorship for the 2005 convention: Diamond level, at $125,000, and Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Brass, at $50,000, $25,000, $20,000, $15,000, and $10,000, respectively. And for the first time, sponsors were given the option of paying their fees in installments over the four years leading up to the event. “Probably 75 percent of the corporations that became sponsors paid the fee in one lump sum,” Kreitlow says. “But 25 percent chose to pay in installments, which helped their budgets.”

As a result, “sponsors that had never even thought of joining the efforts of the Hispanic chamber jumped on the bandwagon,” Monreal-Cameron says. In the 26-year history of the USHCC Convention and Expo, the most a local chamber had ever raised toward the event was $150,000. The HCCW raised $1.4 million.

“We had so many corporations that wanted to have the strongest possible presence in Milwaukee,” says Guillermo Meneses, USHCC communications director. “They understood that this was not only good for the chamber, it was good for the local economy, and it was good for their presence in Wisconsin and Milwaukee.”

The HCCW's time-based fundraising strategy proved particularly important to Milwaukee when the city learned it would be hosting another major minority meeting in 2005: the 96th Annual NAACP Convention. The NAACP pursued sponsorship dollars from local corporations that had already pledged to sponsor the USHCC event. But because those corporations had committed the cash four years in advance, they still had room in their 2005 budgets to support the NAACP.

Promotion That Pays Off

The HCCW began marketing the 2005 event soon after they won the bid. It not only promoted locally through its fundraising efforts, it took the show on the road by exhibiting at the USHCC conventions in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004. Then, several months before the event, the HCCW stepped up the pressure locally. “We had our county exec and our mayor, along with Maria, the president of our chamber, giving public service announcements encouraging people to attend the convention expo,” Kreitlow says.

About six weeks before the event, a Milwaukee County Transit Bus hit the streets sporting a fancy new wrap. The HCCW hired local Hispanic artist Robert Cisneros to design a bus wrap to salute Hispanic progress and promote the convention. “It was absolutely gorgeous,” Kreitlow says. “One side of the bus illustrated the humble beginnings of the Aztec Indians, and also showed farmers coming to the United States as migrant workers, and then hands reaching around to the back of the bus that said ‘Join us at the United States Chamber of Commerce Convention.’ And then on the opposite side of the bus it showed the progress of Hispanics — going to college, becoming professionals, opening their own businesses.”

During the conference, the HCCW organized a parade in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. “We did something different than any other convention has ever done,” Kreitlow says. “On Saturday morning, we held a Salute to Hispanic Heritage parade down Wisconsin Avenue, which is the main street in Milwaukee, right in front of the convention center.” With 85 units featuring 22 Hispanic countries, the parade drew attendees inside the convention center for the Business Expo, which was open to the public free of charge.

A Record-Breaking Conference

The USHCC 26th Annual Convention and Business Expo was held September 14 through 17 at the Midwest Airlines Convention Center in Milwaukee. The roughly 3,500 attendees included members of Hispanic chambers around the country — large and small business owners; government officials; and CEOs, human-resource people, and procurement people from corporations. Business owners from as far away as Mexico, Panama, and China were also in attendance. The Business Expo, open to the public September 16 and 17, boasted 190 exhibitors.

A number of events were held in conjunction with the conference and expo, including the USHCC Foundation 5th Annual Golf Classic, which kicked off the conference; and the Small Business Association Matchmaking Session, another first for the convention. Presented with the support of Hewlett-Packard, the SBA matched small business owners with procurement officers from corporate America. More than 2,000 15-minute appointments were held on a rotating schedule.

The conference also featured the National Youth Entrepreneurship BizFest, organized by the USHCC Foundation. Some 50 high school and college students participated in two days of business-skills training, culminating in a business-plan competition.

The highlight for HCCW was LatinPalooza, held Friday night at Milwaukee's Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Each year, the local chamber host has the opportunity to stage its own fundraising event. The HCCW created an outdoor event on the banks of the Milwaukee River, featuring four different Hispanic musical groups, including the New York — based Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Local restaurants prepared foods from Hispanic cultures, and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board provided an array of Wisconsin-produced cheeses. The evening ended with a fireworks display over the river.

According to VISIT Milwaukee, the 2005 USHCC event generated an estimated $15 million in revenue for the city of Milwaukee. And the USHCC confirms that the conference was a record-breaker on a number of levels. In addition to raising more local sponsorship dollars than any other event in USHCC history, the 2005 conference generated six Diamond-level sponsorships — more than for any previous event.

“It was an informative, educational experience,” Meneses says. “It helps us to strengthen our message and really educate our communities and the nation about the importance and growth and vitality of cities like Milwaukee, which has experienced 107 percent Hispanic growth over the last 10 years.”

USHCC Foundation president Frank Lopez was also impressed with the efforts of the HCCW and the city of Milwaukee. “It was something unlike what I've seen in previous conventions. They set the bar high for other convention cities to follow.”

CVBs Stump for Minority Business

As the U.S. minority population continues to grow in economic clout, so does the minority meeting market. Convention and visitor bureaus across the country, particularly those with large minority populations, are stepping up efforts to court this meeting niche. Here is a look at the efforts of six CVBs.


The DALLAS CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU has organized a Diversity Marketing Committee, composed of local minority travel-industry professionals who help with advertising and public-relations efforts aimed at minority markets. The bureau also devotes a section of its Web site to local diversity, called Diverse Dallas, with specific pages for Asian, African-American, Hispanic, and the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender markets.

Devorah Evans, a bureau rep, assists with African-American convention sales efforts, recruiting volunteers and community support for incoming conventions and serving on the multicultural committee of the National Meeting Professionals International Board.

The DCVB devotes two sales managers to minority markets. Kevin Owens, director of national accounts, handles African-American conventions, and Veronica Torres, sales manager, handles the Hispanic and Asian markets.


The GREATER HARTFORD (CONN.) CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU is developing a marketing brochure aimed at the minority market, and the bureau has devoted its national sales manager, Karen M. Staples, to working with minorities.

More than 50 percent of Hartford's population is Hispanic, so the GHCVB maintains strong ties in the community. In 2003, the bureau hosted the National Association of Hispanic Meeting Planners. Through a partnership with Southwest Airlines, the bureau sponsored all attendee flights. It also covered the cost of hotel rooms, and sponsored a speaker's luncheon and an evening event at a Hartford museum. The bureau continues to support the organization through membership.

The bureau is also an active member of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners and has participated in the Industry Advisory Council for the International Association of Hispanic Meeting Planners.


In 2000, VISIT MILWAUKEE hired Laurie Nelson-Choice as director of multicultural development. Based in the bureau's Washington, D.C., office, Nelson-Choice has the job of identifying and contracting minority groups that can meet in Milwaukee.

VISIT Milwaukee also has a Multicultural Advisory Council made up of influential local minority leaders. The panel helps to guide the bureau through familiarization tours, bids for major minority conventions, and identifies local support for conventions that meet in Milwaukee. VISIT Milwaukee also offers a Multicultural Visitors Guide that highlights the city's diversity.


At the PHILADELPHIA CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU, the Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress was established in 1987 to ensure the involvement of the minority community in the city's hospitality industry. The congress, composed of members from Philadelphia's minority community, focuses on increasing the number of minority meetings held in the city; supporting the preservation and expansion of the city's multicultural institutions, events, and attractions; and increasing educational, employment, and business opportunities for minorities in the hospitality industry. MAC also offers a Web site that highlights Philadelphia's multicultural offerings.


The GREATER PHOENIX CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU's Multi Cultural Affairs Department is dedicated to the multicultural meetings market and leads the Greater Phoenix Multi-Cultural and Arts Foundation, which maintains a board of directors to support minority convention sales and marketing efforts.

The GPCVB also offers the Bureau Excellence in Student Training Program and Breakfast Series, which educates local visitor-industry professionals on the importance of multicultural markets.

St. Louis

The ST. LOUIS CONVENTION & VISITORS COMMISSION has a dedicated sales staff member who works with the minority-convention market: Eric Lee is a member of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners. St. Louis plays up its relationship to African-American history when dealing with minority conventions. The city, site of the Dred Scott slavery trials, offers tours of the Old Courthouse where the trials began. The city is also home to the Black World History Museum and the Scott Joplin house.