Insights from an Industry Expert: A Q&A with Sherrif Karamat [Part 2 of 2]

February 23, 2017
By Meetings Mean Business

Below is part two of our Q&A with Sherrif Karamat. Sherrif is chief operating officer of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). He is a key member of PCMA’s executive team, overseeing all of its major revenue streams, including strategic partnerships, Convene, memberships and PCMA’s print and digital media products. Sherrif manages PCMA’s global business development and is an integral part of its strategic planning, financial reporting and education development and delivery. He was kind enough to share his perspective on where the industry is going and how we can best tell our value story. 

Q: In the U.S., many people stay with an organization for four to five years before pursuing new employment. You’ve been with PCMA for fourteen years, and in the meeting sand hospitality industry for more than twenty. What has inspired you to stay?

A: I don’t believe that any profession – anything in the world – is more important than transforming lives, transforming companies and creating understanding than when we meet. That is what inspires me and that is what PCMA and this industry do. 

I believe our industry is a catalyst for making other industries flourish. I cannot say it more passionately. I cannot say it more plainly. It’s in my DNA and it continues to inspire me. In fact, when I see people like those involved in MMB, I’m inspired even more because I believe in the cause. 

Q: How did you come to work at PCMA?

A: Prior to PCMA, I worked in Toronto as the vice president of sales and services for nine years. We did tremendous things there, including work with DMOs to showcase how they play a very constructive role in helping Toronto businesses and communities.

Early in 2003, many will remember, SARS became a major problem. In Toronto specifically, there were 42 deaths and it was a very devastating time. 

The city lost more than 339,000 group room night business from cancellations as well as 32,000 jobs, primarily in the hospitality service sector. I spent much of the early part of the year working with the CEO of the convention center, Barry Smith, to save groups and offset the business impact SARS was having in the community. 

During that time, then-CEO of PCMA, David Kushner contacted me and said, “What can I do to help?” I was so proud that he did and I said, “What I really need is for you to get someone from the CDC, a meeting professional, a CEO from an association – perhaps a medical association – and a Canadian health official to do a worldwide webinar, live from Toronto and broadcast around the world, talking about SARS and the fact that it is not something that is widespread in the community but something that was localized. David took the challenge and ultimately helped Toronto advance and overcome this terrible set back.

That summer, he gave me a call and said, “Sherrif, I really enjoyed the experience of working with you. Would you consider taking a job at PCMA? I have an opening.” That’s what led me here.

Q: Looking ahead to Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) on April 6, we’re interested in your thoughts on how the industry can best promote its value to communities and the economy. Over the years, what have you found to be most effective?

A: I think it’s about communicating ways our industry is affecting people’s lives, with a focus on economics and impact. Sometimes, we talk only about how we’re impacting the hospitality community, but in fact, we are transcending so many industries and communities and those stories need to be told. 

I would love to hear people from the American Cancer Society talking about how business events are transforming their profession. I would similarly love to hear how business events are transforming Pfizer and Cisco and so forth, but from their perspectives, not from ours. 

It’s a tough thing, but the reality is, we need other people talking about us, especially business leaders. We need to go outside of our industry and connect with validators at the grassroots level, using non-traditional media. We need to ask ourselves, “How are people engaging? Where are people getting their information?” It’s through social media channels and tools like Facebook and Facebook Live. That’s where people are getting the message, but not necessarily where they are getting it from us. 

Q: Great point. It’s certainly a tough challenge to overcome, and one MMB has an eye on in 2017, through the Business Leader Video Series and other direct outreach activities. Before we close, are there other thoughts you have that you’d like to share on the industry and where it’s headed? 

A: Yes, thank you. I believe that in order to be successful, we, as industry professionals have to understand where we’re trying to take our businesses, and what we’re trying to achieve. We have to focus on that end game. 

There will always be things that distract us, ebbing and flowing all the time. But as an industry, we need to be focused on business events and the transformational impact on communities and organizations. Because if we are, all of these things that I call environmental, short-term impacts, will always be there, and we will figure out a way to handle them if we focus on the bigger picture.

Looking for part one of our Q&A with Sherrif? Find it here