MeetingsNet’s annual Changemaker list recognizes 20 outstanding meetings professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find all the profiles here.
Aaron Kaufman, CSEP
Fifth Element Group
For his passionate evangelism for bringing greater professionalism to the meetings and events world, and for leading the SEARCH Foundation toward bottom-line growth
I’m really working hard on a professional level to shift the way people think about our industry. If we don’t figure out how to mature and become a business instead of an industry then we’re in big trouble. I am often asked to speak at industry events, and while I can talk about event design and other topics, people often call on me when they want someone to come in and shake things up. I’m really trying to change the way people think.
Unless we start operating the way that other creative types of businesses do—using agency-of-record contracts and invoicing billable hours, for example—my opinion is that we’re going to get swallowed up. There’s too much money out there for real businesses—marketing and advertising agencies especially—not to come in and decide to add live experience design to their service offerings. We need to be setting standards and creating barriers to entry—for example, it should be an industry standard that any meeting or event company needs a minimum of $5 million in liability insurance to walk in the door.
My goal for any speaking engagement is to leave participants, whether they agree with me or not, feeling a little shook up and wanting further conversation. I want to see a change. I don’t want us to be event planners; I want us to be event professionals.
Best Business Advice
“You will never get the business unless you ask for it.” You never hear that in the events industry, but I want it to be OK to compete. I’m the president of a company that happens to be in the live events business. I tell people all the time that I love events. I love that every day I have an opportunity to emotionally impact people. But for me, I’m a business person first—I’m responsible for promoting people’s brands and their messages, and that’s serious business. There’s a lot on the line, and so I treat this as a business and I respect it as a business.
I’ve been lucky to have good people to learn from, but when I really need to talk to someone about the business side of our work, it’s generally Cindy Lo, owner of Red Velvet Events in Austin. She runs a fabulous organization and she runs it as a true business.
I’m in my second year of my first term as chairman of the SEARCH Foundation, an organization that provides financial help for event, meeting, and hospitality professionals in crisis. Over the years many people have given their time to get the foundation to where it is. Now, with my initiative, the SEARCH 100 program, we’re changing from our earlier model of raising money on a one-off basis, mostly from individuals, to asking companies for gifts in perpetuity, say, $100 a month on an ongoing basis. This provides stability and allows us to plan for the future.
We want to bring awareness of the SEARCH Foundation mission beyond events into other parts of our industry. When we approach organizations like Meeting Professionals International and the Professional Convention Management Association we get some resistance because they have their own educational foundations, but our mission is different and we just want people to know we exist. Going forward we want to work with the industry on a larger scale. This year we were part of Global Meetings Industry Day in San Francisco and a recipient of some amazing funds from that. We have contracts in place with major organizations, such as IMEX and Catersource, and developing more of these relationships allows us to get our message out in predictable ways and be a fixed part of important shows.
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