ESPA/ACOM's Past Presidents
||Robert J. Johnson, CMP
||David A. Fowler
|| Keith A. Sexton - Patrick, CMP
|| Allan M. Woodrow, CMP
||Donni A. Call
||Barbara E. Mason, CMP
||Albert E. Minton, CMP
||Philomena Petro, CMP
||James E. Owczarzak, CMP
||Devon S. Walter, CMP
||Steve Freeman, CMP
||Timothy J. Cox
||Doris A. Sims
||Kathryn A. Gleesing, CMP
||Mary German, CMP
|| Janice Telstar, CMP
|| Larry Wilson, Jr.
||Marilyn Healey, CMP
||Eric Blanc, CMP
||David Dvorak, CMP
||Bob Desautels, CMP
||Julie Pingston, CMP
||Denise I. Suttle, CMP
||Madonna L. Carr, CMP
ESPA - How it came to be
The Event Service Professionals Association was founded as the Association for Convention Operations Management (ACOM) incorporated as a 501(c)(6) not-for-profit organization in February - March 1988 by William H. Just, CAE, CMP. He decided to do this due to the lack of a professional society for convention services managers (CSMs) – the professionals at hotels, convention centers and convention/visitor bureaus who work with association and corporate meeting planners to produce conventions, meetings, trade shows and public events. He had just completed eight years on the Board of Directors of Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), and used many of his professional convention industry contacts (hotel corporations, convention bureau and center CEOs) to get the funding and support for the start up of the new association.
Over thirty award winning convention service professionals from throughout the U.S. and Canada were contacted to form a Core Leadership Group. This group was regularly consulted as the “model” for the new association was constructed.
The first board meeting of ACOM meeting was held April 30, 1988 in Atlanta, hosted by the Georgia World Congress Center and the Atlanta Hilton & Towers. ACOM then began to function as a typical not-for-profit professional association. Bill Just was hired at this meeting as the Executive Vice President. The Board approved the first Bylaws for ACOM as well as a membership marketing plan. Two hundred ten members attended the first annual convention held in conjunction with the annual event of PCMA in 1989 in Anaheim, California.
A mid-term (summer) educational offering for ACOM to support the intrinsic needs of members and nonmember CSMs who, for whatever reasons, could not attend the January offering was developed. The focus would be intensive education with fewer but longer, more in-depth sessions. It was decided to hold the first University for Convention Services Management in Boston in August 1989, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). There were 92 paid registrants at that meeting and the evaluation response was very positive. About 40% of the registrants were Board members and ACOM members who had participated in the previous January event, so it was evident the summer meeting was not just for those who could only get to one meeting each year. It was clear that ACOM members and CSMs were craving for the continuing education tailored to their specific needs as well as the peer networking opportunities.
The first ACOM strategic planning initiative was initiated in 1990. A member needs assessment was conducted in late 1990’s. This first strategic plan was ACOM’s guiding light for several years – producing new educational programs and members services.
When Bill Just founded ACOM he was quite well aware that most CSMs received their training and education mostly through in-house programs, and if they were really lucky, they might be “allowed” to attend a PCMA or Meeting Professionals International (MPI) annual meeting – but this was rare and most unfortunate. When one thinks about it, back before ACOM, most CSMs were working 10-14 hour days, many for 14-21 days straight, with breaks only as the client schedules allowed. There was virtually no time for continuing education of any kind – and the irony is they were expected to deliver the best and most advanced professional services to and for their meeting management clients.
But ACOM changed all that – and especially and most importantly, the awareness of the CSMs’ employers that specialized education, the kind that ACOM was successfully delivering, was most important for all CSMs to take part in if their clients were to receive the best kind of meeting management services – the kind that would bring their clients back for repeat business without hesitation. So in the earlier days, ACOM’s role was just a much one of educating the employers as well as the CSMs and that educational and awareness process continues through today.
After its inaugural 1989 Annual Conference in Anaheim, ACOM leaders decided to continue the positioning right before PCMA’s annual meeting for many healthy reasons, and did the January educational offering for 1990 in New Orleans, and 1991 in Boston. In January 1992, PCMA went to Honolulu and ACOM leaders decided that was a bit risky for the fledgling organization, and chose the San Francisco Hilton & Towers as its site, thus enabling ACOM attendees who wished to go on to PCMA and convenient launch pad. Ironically, the meeting in San Francisco was the highest attendance for any ACOM offering for several years to come, showing that ACOM meetings could and would stand on their own two feet quite well! In 1993, ACOM re-joined PCMA in Dallas and the next year with them in Chicago. In 1995, ACOM decided to try Orlando on its own and again had a record-breaking attendance. ACOM went back to PCMA in 1996 in San Diego at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort. The annual conference continued with PCMA through San Antonio in 1997, with excellent programming reciprocity. In January 1998, the ACOM Board decided to do its own thing and have the Annual Conference at Opryland Hotel in Nashville to celebrate the Tenth Anniversary of the association. In 1999, ACOM had its Annual Conference with PCMA once again in Orlando, and also in 2000 in San Francisco and in 2001 in Miami Beach and again with PCMA in Nashville for January 2002.
The University for Convention Services Management was paralleled with the ASAE Annual Meeting starting with Boston in August 1989 enjoying 75 registrants. This continued with Chicago in July 1990, Washington, DC in August 1991, and Atlanta in August 1992. The Board then decided to partner this event with the MPI summer meeting starting in June 1993, again in Atlanta. In June 1994, ACOM partnered with MPI in Minneapolis and again in 1995 in Chicago.
In 1996, ACOM decided to partner with a meeting management educational program. The 1996 event was at the Mirage Resort with a rousing program on the UNLV campus in Las Vegas with many of their teaching faculty on the program. The theme continued for June 1997 through 1999, with the Alexis Park Hotel in 1997,and the Sheraton Desert Inn for the remainder.
In July 2000, the Board decided to work with another meeting management curriculum and partnered with the George Washington University program. The identity of the summer program was changed to the “ACOM Summer Leadership Conference.” In June 2001,the program was in New Orleans and in Milwaukee in 2002. Followed by Arlington in 2003, Miami Beach in 2004, Las Vegas in 2005, New Orleans in 2006, Las Vegas in 2007 and Chicago is anticipated for the next Summer Leadership Conference in 2008.
In the past few years, the Annual Conference was again partnered with PCMA. It was located in Anaheim in 2003, Indianapolis in 2004, Hawaii in 2005, Philadelphia in 2006, Toronto in 2007, and Seattle was host to the 2008 Conference which was the 20th Anniversary! 2009 was hosted in New Orleans, 2010 in Dallas and 2011 in New Orleans. ACOM continues their strong partnership with PCMA, holding their annual meeting each year in conjunction with PCMA's annual meeting.
In March 2004, ACOM partnered with Creative Marketing Alliance, an association management company located in Princeton, NJ. ACOM's Executive Director is Lynn McCullough. Today ACOM boasts a membership of event and convention management personnel throughout the United States and Canada.
ACOM is now ESPA - Read more about the transition from ACOM to ESPA.
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