MPC15: There are high rollers everywhere, but Mackinac Island is where everyone knows your name


Here’s (yet another) best part of covering the Mackinac Policy Conference: You get to meet the Vice President of a major Detroit corporation and talk about his cat, Bogart.

CrowdOr you overhear conversations where people discuss how short so-and-so is in real life. Maybe you notice a radio personality chilling on the couch, texting or Tweeting. There are endless moments of sublime normalness all over the joint.

Welcome to MPC15, business-casual style. And it’s a good thing, according to the guest speakers at the “Mackinac 101 Attendee Orientation,” a panel discussion to help us newbies get the most out of this networking Super Bowl, noted facilitator Matt Friedman, co-founder of Tanner Friedman, a strategic communications firm.

Wait. Let’s rephrase that. In today’s modern Conference era, let’s just say that Friedman is a PR pro who knows his way around a conference. He’s being doing it for 15 years, after all. He reminded all of us that this is a place where no tie symbolizes open communication. But just because you show up on the Island, you shouldn’t expect to walk away from the three-day Schmooze Fest with lots of new deals and contracts. It’s more about the mood than getting the goods, Friedman said. So noted.

Bob Tagatz started the session. He’s the Grand Hotel historian and heavy. He noted that you really, truly do need to wear your name tag everywhere you go on this Island. It separates the fudgies (tourists) from the movers and shakers. It gives you credit to wander the Grand Hotel (and not pay the $10 entry fee for non-guests). It lets you check out the job titles of everyone you meet. Most importantly, it creates a conversation starter and gets you moving forward in networking your brains out.

Name tagSpeaker Andy Hetzel, the vice president of Communications for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, also is in his 15th year at the Conference. He reminded all of us about the importance of having an agenda here. Yes, it is tempting to pig out on the well-appointed buffet tables. Sure, you want to wander the downtown area for souvenirs. But you can’t and you shouldn’t, Hetzel seemed to advise. Rather, the best way to take advantage of this conference or any conference is to treat it like a normal business day. Set priorities. Create momentum. Work your goals.

Tom Walsh of the Detroit Free Press gave an on-point presentation of how to approach the media at such an event. He noted that  much of the news that his paper and others will report here was created in the days before everyone arrived. The editors at the Freep and elsewhere have their own agenda, and they get lots of information via embargo. They also get lots of interviews beforehand – like, two weeks beforehand. So if you want his attention, you can introduce yourself and get your point across in a couple sentences. But a well-planned pitch in the weeks before the Conference are likely to get you more ink.

Terence Thomas, a lawyer and consultant, may have put it best when he described the Conference as a three-day wedding. Lots of stuff goes on that probably should remain in your family, let’s just say. But at some point, the Conference transforms into a family reunion, Thomas said, a place where you sit a spell, laugh about old times and plan get-togethers for the future. That is why Conference participants should reach out, to talk to every power broker like he or she is just another person, to get introductions. It is your time to shine, no matter who or what you are, Thomas said.

The final big takeaway from the Orientation was this: Don’t be a downer. Don’t get all hung up in where we are, what we’re supposed to achieve or who is sitting next to you at lunch. Get out there and get busy meeting people – all the people. Let your extrovert flag fly free; it’s Mackinac, after all.

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