New PCMA chief executive officer Sherrif Karamat tells CMW about his vision for the future, having moved up to lead the association following Deborah Sexton stepping down after 12 years in charge.
How did your career in the meetings and events industry begin?
In the hotel industry, with ITT Sheraton. In the early years of my career, I wanted to be in sports marketing and I felt the ultimate role for me would be a CMO for a major league sporting franchise which led me to start with the Toronto Blizzard Soccer Club in the North American Soccer League (NASL). The league unfortunately folded but I was fortunate that the owner of the Blizzard also owned/managed nine hotels across Canada and they asked me to join the hotel division. That was the beginning of a journey that has brought me to this point in time.
You must have travelled a lot for business, what travel tips can you offer?
My first tip is always to have at least an overnight bag with me that will allow me to get through the first day in the event that luggage is misplaced. I like to carry things that are important to get me through the day and my first set of meetings.
Something else that we do at PCMA which I find really valuable is a culture gram. It is a great way to get a snapshot of a destination, especially a location that you are not familiar with and it covers everything as basic as currencies to cultural and business norms.
What’s your favourite place to travel to and what can you do there?
As I am passionate about wines, tennis, and animals (especially dogs and horses), I would highly recommend the great wine regions around the world in Italy, France, Argentina, Spain, South Africa, Portugal and Australia. If you like tennis – I would suggest that you can catch the Australian Open and at the same time visit the Yarra Valley which is not only beautiful but has some of the most amazing wines.
One other highlight for me was South Africa – not only is the country naturally beautiful, but Cape Town is a truly special place, the wine regions are comparable with the best that Europe offers and Cape Point where the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans meet is breathtakingly beautiful. Added bonus: you get to come up close to one of the biggest population of penguins.
What would be your advice to someone joining the industry?
The business events industry is so diverse that opportunities abound. My first bit of advice would be to try to get as complete an understanding of all the areas and opportunities that exist in the industry, which would then allow that person to focus on the areas that most excites them. My second point would be to understand who the key players are in the areas of interest and get to know them.
My last bit of advice is to stay curious, there is always something new and there is always something to learn which can then position you for success.
Explain your vision for PCMA.
I believe that when we meet great things can happen if we are outcome focused, which makes the business events industry tremendously important, but it also comes with a huge responsibility. My vision is that PCMA will become synonymous world over with the business events industry and we (PCMA/Business Events) will be a catalyst for economic and social progress in communities across the world; a catalyst for organisational success and personal and professional development.
PCMA’s recent acquisition of the Incentive, Conference and Event Society Asia Pacific (ICESAP) in Singapore surprised some in the industry – what was your thinking behind that?
For PCMA this was a natural evolution as a global organisation. The Asia/Pacific region is not just one of the most populated regions of the world, it is economically positioned to do great things in the coming years and we see business events playing a critical part in that journey. The ICESAP acquisition resulted because we saw some natural alignments such as the desire to raise the level of professionalisation in the region through accreditation and distance learning. It also gave us a quicker and broader base access to a market that is very important to our future growth plans.
How do you see your growth strategy for Europe and Asia developing?
PCMA has never been an organisation that serves up content and hopes that something will stick. First and foremost, we are a listening organisation that does not react but responds based on what our members and audiences are seeking.
What we do and the channel we use will largely be based on the audience’s needs. In certain instances the strategies may overlap but our goal is to tailor content, experience and commerce activities based on how members consume such content and interaction.
Our intent is that we will win the hearts and minds of those in the business events industry.
In a world where content, advice and education are widely available online for free, what steps has PCMA taken to remain relevant?
It is true that content is ubiquitous but it is also true that there is so much out there but very little time to digest it. The same can be said about data: it’s abundant but what we have is little information.
I think more than ever associations like PCMA can play a vital role in helping their members and audiences make sense of this information through impactful experiences.
PCMA will continue to bring together key decisions-makers and thought-leaders that allows us all to discuss and understand complex issues that impact us and our organisations on a daily basis.
What future trends do you see becoming mainstream in 2018?
I want to ensure we differentiate between a trend that will profoundly impact the business events industry versus what maybe is a fad that has short-term impact but does not necessarily change the industry on a permanent basis.
So, with respect to trends, the most important development is the ‘empowered consumer’. Today, our members want what they want, how they want it (channel and experience) and when they want it. This is profoundly impacting what we deliver, how we deliver it and the experience we need to create to have an engaged audience.
The empowered consumer is also becoming more socially and politically active and issues such as environmental concerns can no longer be ignored and needs to be thoughtfully considered as we plan any type of engagement.
Outside of the empowered consumer, a few other things are impacting us – one that has the potential to be powerful is the rise of nationalism and its potential impact on the free movement of people. However, I am somewhat optimistic that civil society will prevail and in the longer term this will be less of a concern.
What can PCMA do to help the industry meet the challenges it faces?
No challenge is insurmountable and at the same time we should not underestimate the complexities of the world we live in. That being said, PCMA is an organisation that collaborates, it’s a part of our DNA. We strongly believe if we bring the right people to the table and have meaningful dialogue that are outcome focused we can tackle the problems we face – one challenge at a time – this we are committed to doing.