In 2003 I had been in the electronic payments industry for fourteen years. I had been a payments sales executive, national sales manager, and bank executive. All of that was in the upper Midwest. I had very little exposure and recognition at the national level in payments.
At a regional trade show in Atlanta in 2003, I started a conversation with Jim McCormick of General Credit Forms about creating a Midwest payments conference. That conversation migrated across the exhibit hall floor to include Caroline Marino, another experienced payments colleague. We added Lori Carney to the conversation, along with Misty Spry and Lisa Lenczyk. General Credit Forms put up the money to get us started as a Missouri-based not-for-profit and we were on our way.
We were able to do a lot of things right:
- We followed a template. Jacques Breton had developed the regional show prototype with the Northeast Acquirers Association five or six years prior to our start. General Credit Forms donated the seed money for the Southeast Acquirers Association in 2002. We got valuable advice and help from these sister organizations.
- We bootstrapped our show. We did most of the work ourselves. We could have farmed out the work of registration, marketing, sponsorship, etc. to professionals for a fee. The money we saved went toward building a reserve. We wanted a reserve in case something went very wrong (like a pandemic!) and we would need to cover losses.
- We put people on the MWAA Board and Advisory Board who could get sponsors. We put people on who shared our entrepreneurial approach.
- We implemented technology without breaking the budget.
- Because of the years when we started, we were able to use the attraction of a live event to build a base of industry participants. Vendors realized we were drawing decision-makers they could solicit.
- We concentrated on education, networking, and opportunities for attendees to make deals with vendors and clients.
- Our misfires were not major (remember our Job Fair at the Palmer House Hilton?).
The really big improvements were these:
- Online registration with booth spaces that exhibitors could click on a map and reserve immediately. The exhibitor hall map and online registration cut our workload in half. Seriously, in half.
- We used two of the best meeting planners in the business, Bob Giese and Tina Smith. In our second year alone, Bob Giese saved us over $25,000 in hotel overcharges. Tina Smith has worked miracles with finding and finessing hotel arrangements for up to a thousand attendees per year.
- We innovated ahead of other conferences. We found new ways to spice up the shows. We created the Industry Achievement Award, the Field Guide training seminars, the first-ever payments Shark Attack competition, the Executive Forum and other features. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We were flattered.
- We moved beyond the one size fits all table space for regional shows and opened up the exhibit hall to bigger sponsors. We got Rod Katzfey working sponsorships. That guy is a sponsorship wizard.
- The one-two-punch operations team of Dinah and Danny Suppes got us technical advancements we could have never done without them. This put us way ahead of other shows.
- We didn’t get into major hassles between factions on the Board. We kept it professional, not personal and we worked through our disagreements.
Through nineteen years at MWAA and sixteen years doing the Field Guide training seminars I received a lot of great exposure. It allowed me to move beyond one or two states and develop a consultancy that has had clients in 32 states, Puerto Rico and Columbia.
I owe so much to all of the folks that served with me on the MWAA Board and Advisory Board. There are too many to name here. My sincerest thanks to you all.