Uncovering The Untold Story

Skift Take

Effective leadership requires building connections with your team and there's no better way to do this than by talking and listening to their stories.

Kitty Ratcliffe is the president of Explore St. Louis. She leads sales and marketing of St. Louis as a destination and heads the operations of the city’s two convention centers, a unique dual role that has kept her in the front seat for more than 15 years. She is a firm believer in the power of networking and how talking and listening to team members’ stories is key to good leadership.

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Associations Come Full Circle

The need for and future of associations is an important topic, with Ratcliffe’s journey showing that there is a place for them regardless of your career stage. She first joined MPI 40 years ago during its annual conference, that year held in St Louis.  She was less than a year into her career within the industry, heading up a small CVB in Carbondale, Illinois. Joining gave her the chance to learn about the industry and form connections and relationships with others. Forty years later, MPI recognized her with its Industry Leader Award during the organization’s World Education Congress in June.

A History of Travel Boycotts

Boycotting a destination is not a new issue for DMOs or event planners. In the 80s certain organizations boycotted states that had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment by the 1982 deadline. Destinations often have no, or very limited, input into the policy decisions taken by lawmakers in their state. Boycotts, therefore, often negatively impact those that are not responsible for the decisions. However, destinations can use their marketing efforts to be a voice of positive impact and ensure people know what they stand for. Planners should look deeper than the state. They should consider the individual cities that align with their organization’s values instead.

Boycotts have previously had some impact on legislation via sporting events. Legislators understand the cost of losing out on sports fans coming to their state. Even though business events also have an undeniable economic impact on destinations, the events industry finds it difficult to tell this story in a way that resonates with government officials. This means they often fail to understand the impact of losing a conference. In reality, business event boycotts are unlikely to force legislators to reconsider and amend laws. 

Leading by Talking and Listening to Stories

Leadership means hiring good people and trusting them to do their jobs. It also means connecting with your team. Having conversations with people at every level, not just your direct reports, allows leaders to discover untold stories. Conversations help you develop relationships and understand where you are succeeding and where you need to improve. 

Nothing Can Replace Face-to-Face

During the Covid pandemic, many argued that the future of meetings was online. Some even suggested that large, in-person meetings would cease to exist. That theory hasn’t prevailed, and it is clear that there is no equal replacement for in-person events. While certain elements can be achieved online, making connections, networking, and starting or closing deals are best suited to taking place face-to-face. 

The Importance of Networking

Whilst Ratcliffe’s journey with MPI shows the importance that associations still have, it also demonstrates the importance of networking, as this conference is where she started numerous industry relationships. As the only woman in the U.S. running the operations of the three entity types she oversees, and with few women in executive roles at big-name DMOs or convention centers, the role of networking is also important for the next generation of female leaders. Working hard and doing your job to an excellent standard is incredibly important but can often go unnoticed by many. Therefore actively networking and developing connections within the industry with keep you in their minds when they are asked for referrals or considering positions themselves.

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