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NEPA's choice of June conference speakers from far outside the field spurs lively debate.

"How do you think about your business?"

After learning that two of the three keynote speakers at this year's Newsletter & Electronic Association's annual conference were the vice president of Subaru of America Inc. and the famous horse trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a member asked us, "What's an automobile manufacturer and a horse trainer got to teach me? Plus, how much are they paying them? That same money could have gone to underwriting members for the Don Nichols $99 'add-on' seminar?"

That line of questioning is one that many information providers and conference sponsors regularly ask themselves. "How do we bring a high level of both practical instruction and 'free-range,' conceptual, strategic thinking to our meetings?"

We threw the disgruntled member's question to conference chairman Thomas Hagy, of LexisNexis/Mealey's. He replied: "Given the highly competitive and highly niched aspect of the newsletter field, we looked for keynote speakers who could bring us lessons from outside our field, but lessons surrounding challenges presented by strong competition and a need to focus their energies and own their niche." (See sidebar below for Hagy's detailed defense of his choices.)

Newsletter professionals weigh in

Patti Wysocki, executive director of NEPA said, "I just got an e-mail from a member who hadn't attended our conference in years. Its subject line read, 'Kudos.'" She said he was impressed enough with the line-up of speakers that he would be "returning."

Patti told us that D. Wayne Lucas is being paid $10,000, but that Subaru's Fred D. Adcock and LexisNexis North American Legal Markets' Lou Andreozzi will be speaking for free.

Jim Sinkinson, president of Infocom Group and a member of the NEPA board of directors, said, "Our research among participants at our own conferences for PR professionals is that they strongly prefer keynoters whose experience bears direct relevance to the specific problems they face. For this reason, we avoid booking so-called 'inspirational speakers' or others who can't speak to specific PR challenges. When you go outside your industry for presenters, you're taking a risk."

Marlene Jensen, CEO of The Newsletter Group, echoed Jim Sinkinson's "risk" factor: "I suspect NEPA has had complaints about the same old speakers and are trying to answer those. I commend NEPA's attempt to try something different, and if it works, it could be very good.

"However, I do see this as a high-risk gamble. After all, if I want to know more about people in other industries, I can go to their conventions or read their publications."

Jeff Greenberg, president of JG Communications, also said that NEPA may be reacting to complaints about "same old-same old" by bringing in new blood, "but I think perhaps the pendulum has swung too far."

Ira Mayer, president of EPM Communications Inc., told us, "I suppose I should say I do a lot of public speaking, and I'm almost always the outsider being brought in to provide perspective. (Most of my speeches are about consumer trends.) In the past few months I've spoken to a buyers' co-op of paint and wallpaper stores, the Non-prescription Drug Manufacturers Association of Canada, and Cox Target Media.

"So, that bias out of the way, we have always had outside speakers at our conferences. They are often the best received for several reasons:

* "We're very careful who we invite, and that there is a connection to some aspect of our attendees' professional lives--even if not specifically to their line of business.

* "We prep the speakers as to what our audience's concerns are.

* "And we do our best to help conference attendees make the leap as to why the speaker's background or perspective is of value to them through the bio, the live introduction, and the moderated Q&A.

"It works better with some speakers than with others--but that can be said of all speakers, whether in or out of the industry, because some people are just better speakers than others."

Outside speakers bring insights

Mayer continued, "Generally, an outside speaker isn't there to tell you about your business (other than being a great fan of ibuprofen, I wouldn't have presumed to tell the drug manufacturers about their business)--but he or she can hopefully bring insight that helps you.

"It's the same reason I try to attend 2-3 conferences or trade shows a year that have nothing to do with my business. I hear different ideas, meet other people, maybe get a new way of looking at or evaluating the things I'm directly involved with. That's getting easier to do as I speak to different groups.

"I find it stimulating, get some good ideas for running our events, and some trends stories we could develop."

Ira Mayer concluded, "I have no problem with outside speakers. In fact, it's one of the things that I most look forward to.

"I'd venture to guess that at any annual event as many people complain about having too many of the same speakers one year to the next (even the ones who get unanimously favorable evaluations) as complain that there are some who aren't relevant. With all due respect, sometimes we just have to work a little harder to make the connections.

"I know Tom's goal was to have a few people who might bring fresh perspectives and to broaden the appeal of the overall event to reach deeper into NEPA's member organizations. That's all of our goals in creating any event."
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Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Mar 31, 2005
Previous Article:Conference to feature 'State of the Industry' survey results.
Next Article:Tom Hagy explains why NEPA chose a Subaru executive and a noted horse trainer to speak at its newsletter conference.

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