Financial Association Implements Annual Regionalized Meetings Abroad

After a handful of successful forays outside of North America, the Million Dollar Round Table, an association of more than 31,000 financial and life insurance professionals, will begin annually holding overseas meetings with regionally tailored programming, beginning in March 2010 in Seoul.

Planning internationally has been a change for MDRT director of meeting services Ray Kopcinski, as the association needs to book venues and begin logistical processes earlier than it does for North American events, which are booked five years out, and planning begins in earnest about a year ahead of the show date.

MDRT holds three 3 large events and about 50 smaller meetings in North America annually. The annual meeting in North America usually draws about 6,000 attendees, although June's meeting in Indianapolis was closer to 5,000, said Kopcinski.

The association, whose members are the top 1 percent of financial and life insurance sales professionals from 476 companies in 80 countries and territories, held its first international MDRT Experience meeting in Singapore in 1998.

The first international Experience hosted 3,500 attendees, and the association's next international meeting took place six years later in Hong Kong, drawing 6,000. The 2006 event in Bangkok had 10,000 attendees. The last meeting in Japan in 2008 had 7,000 attendees.

In developing the original MDRT Experience, Kopcinski wanted to design an event that had locally tailored content and programming for its attendees, while using a similar format to its annual meeting in North America.

Because attending the North American meeting "is difficult for some of these people, we thought we would bring our meeting or a taste of it to them," said Kopcinski. "We realized that if we tried to emulate what they have in their own country, that could be a mistake. We decided to try to give the people from that country a taste of what it is like to attend a meeting here. We gear it toward that with deference to the host country."

The meetings services staff undergoes some local cultural training leading up to the event. For the Japan event, staff members took weekly language and culture classes to better acclimate to the on-the-ground environment.

While MDRT's meetings services team of 12 handles contract negotiations, the association partners with destination management companies for large events. In Asia and Europe, it uses association and event management company MCI for logistical and planning assistance.

As MDRT's meetings footprint broadens, Kopcinski has implemented new technology to reach a wider audience. Following investments in audiovisual equipment and other technology, MDRT is producing YouTube videos, Facebook content and developed a Web page with about four hours of video event promotion and sales tools for member education. Event sessions now are recorded and produced as downloadable MP3 files.

The association also sells DVDs and other multimedia from its events. MDRT Experience meetings are translated into five languages, and the annual meeting is translated into 12 languages. The association is considering streaming live broadcasts of its meetings so members not in attendance can have real-time access to show content. However, Kopcinski said there is a balancing act planners need to evaluate when incorporating virtual components into a physical event: "You always have to weigh that. If you start doing that, do you cut into your attendance?"

Kopcinski, who has been planning meetings at the association for more than 25 years, also is evaluating the current buyer's market. While many MDRT meeting locations are set for several years—including those for the annual meeting, which are set through 2012—Kopcinski said, "Ideally, both sides don't ever want to take advantage of the other because the pendulum does swing back. We like to form partnerships with facilities and the hotel community. They are our partners and if we work this correctly, it should be a win-win for both of us."

Originally published July 27, 2009