Summits – PR for meetings?

Have you been invited to a summit yet?  Forget about strategic meetings or twestivals, the only place to be seen at the moment is attending a summit.

Such events are meant to be “ambitious” and high level, where matters of gravity are addressed.  Smart Communities reflects that summits are “usually reserved for the heads of something”, those who are “decision makers of the highest order”. So “things can get done at the summit” and the term is said to “signal the importance of the issue being discussed. If you have a summit on something, it must be important.”

These points are all evident in the National Summit in Detroit, which is pitching for Obama to attend – to achieve “a goal of identifying policy solutions to deal with the nation’s huge economic challenges.”

“By Day 3 of the summit,” says Tom Dekar, vice chairman of Deloitte, “we hope to have panels of CEOs and cabinet-level people, maybe President Obama himself, engaged in a policy dialogue with several thousand attendees, plus maybe 100,000 more on the Internet.”

Adds Chappell (president of the Detroit Economic Club), “We want to emerge from this with kind of a national declaration of competitiveness, with ideas and a dialogue we can build on year after year.”

If that isn’t grand enough for you, what about a series of summits?  Last weekend’s ASEAN summit aims to convene further summits to “mobilize the resources of the Asian community, the International Financial Institutions and the United Nations system to tackle the global economic and financial crisis”.

Of course, you can’t just pop around the corner to a summit – so, Hilary Clinton has been attending summits in the Middle East whilst US Vice-Pres Biden is on his way to a NATO summit in Europe. 

A summit has significant PR potential as the meeting of Obama and Brown has been somewhat pretentiously described as a summit.

What is the value of these summits?  Last Sunday’s EU Summit was termed “the summit you have when you’re not having a summit.”  It was “hastily arranged by the current president of the European Union, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. It came just three weeks prior to the regular EU summit scheduled for March 19-20, which itself takes place just two weeks prior to the G-20 meeting, April 2, where President Barack Obama is due to make his international debut. ”

But it’s not just politicians – there is a global travel and tourism summit taking place in Brazil and the largest student summit on climate change has just been held.

Microsoft is holding its annual summit of MVPs (most valued professionals) or you could opt for the summit of the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges.

Is this simply the equivalent of job title inflation for meetings?  The New York Times reports that the recession is causing a decline in business meetings and professional events as people don’t want to be caught out of the office or spending money unnecessarily.

So if you can’t attend a conference or be seen holding meetings, is a summit the answer?  Has the humble meeting simply been given a PR makeover or are summits something more?

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

5 thoughts on “Summits – PR for meetings?”

  1. I always enjoyed going to conferences when I was running my software business. It was like going back to school – I could sit in the back row and doodle for a few hours, perhaps picking up something useful but mainly being alone with my own thoughts. Between sessions, I would run into my peers and catch up. This was especially true of the Computer Games Developers Conference in San Jose in the late 90s. Then suddenly it got very big, very corporate and much less collegiate. I expect today it would be called a summit and only the top suits would be invited. The sense of being among ‘doers’ would be gone and all we’d have left is stuffed shirts. I think you’re probably right about the name inflation but I think the ambition towards exclusivity and status is also real too. I think widely-reported ‘summits’ like Davos, SXSW and TED do a lot of harm. They are like the Pop Idol of get togethers. An invitation is required. Status is conferred. In the old days professions regulated themselves (Bar Associations etc.) and set entry requirements that were clear, if challenging (e.g. medical exams). Now that anybody can be anything, these events bestow the blessings of authority, reputation and trustworthiness. Of course, if I was invited to speak at one of these things, I would go like a shot so perhaps I am just being chippy.

  2. Thanks – interesting, I agree about enabling you to collect your thoughts at a conference etc. Currently at a MIPAA workshop – Neville Hobson presenting. Twitter tag #mipaasm09 if anyone interested.

  3. Heather- incredibly I have been talking with someone about organising a ‘summit’ recently: and frankly speaking the effect you are describing (association with something far grander than a meeting) is the effect I am hoping to achieve. Matthew Stibbe’s comment: ‘these events bestow the blessings of authority, reputation and trustworthiness’ are behind the use of the term, and I think appropriate to the people / organisations involved- there was a hint of motivation in the proposed title.
    I am intrigued by the possibility of a backlash against the concept, and hope it doesn’t kick in before I’ve held mine!


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