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How to Avoid “Better Sameness”

Matt Gruhn earned a spot on the 2019 Changemaker list for his multi-year effort to rebrand and reimagine the Marine Retailers Association annual conference.

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.


Matt Gruhn

President
Marine Retailers Association

For managing a multi-year process of rebranding and reimagining the Marine Retailers Association’s Dealer Conference & Expo as “Dealer Week” 



Making Change
Our conference is about 40 years old, and it’s been growing and doing well. But we made the decision to rebrand it and relocate it in order to re-energize the event and help increase the impact that we can have on our industry and the success of our members.

This has not been a quick change; we’ve been putting our heads together for two to three years now on how to evolve the conference and not get trapped into the whole idea of “better sameness.” We wanted people to really notice the difference.

One key thing we’ve done is to rebrand the conference and move it from its longtime location in Orlando to a new location in Tampa. It might not be far from Orlando, but a new environment was key to signaling that this is a different event.

We’re also working closely to make sure that people feel welcome. We had sort of a soft launch of this notion at our conference last year, but we’re going bigger with it this year. For instance, we’re including our partners, staff, board, and our young leaders advisory group as hosts of our events. Also, we’ve renamed our educational tracks as “educational pathways,” and we’ve assigned a host to each track who will be helping attendees connect the dots from one session to the next. They’ll be responsible for helping people implement the ideas that they’ll be picking up. We still have a lot to do before the new Dealer Week event launches in December, but we’re very excited with the direction this is going.

What’s Next?
I’ve learned really well how not to make decisions in isolation. Up until December, we’ll constantly be tweaking our program with the input of our stakeholders. I can’t tell you how important it is to get constant feedback from sponsors and attendees. It’s important to include all of your team in the conversation.

Last October, we held a strategy session in Tampa, where the new event will be held, and brought in all of our partners, plus some members who live there. We said, “Here’s our plan—what do you like, and what do you think we should change?” They really helped us build a program that we’re super eager to unveil. 

Managing Change
Change to a lot of people is a big, scary word, but it shouldn’t be so. We are working hard to let people know that they’re going to see something different from us. In our new logo for Dealer Week, we purposely incorporated the Charlie maritime signal flag because it symbolizes a change in course. We were very intentional about including that image because we believe that this event, and the work that we do as a trade association, should always encourage a change for the better. We want that imagery to stay in the minds of attendees. We don’t want people to be afraid of change; we want to inspire it!

BACK TO THE FULL LIST OF 2019 CHANGEMAKERS

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