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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you this week by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.


So, let me ask you a question.

Do you think that the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) made a mistake when it postponed its Future Connect and MarkeTechnics conferences in Dallas this month because of concerns about swine flu?

Actually, cancel that. Because it doesn’t really matter what you think.

From the vantage point of May 14, it doesn’t look like a necessary decision. But during the last week of April, the scenario looked a lot different. It wasn't just the FMI conferences being affected. Schools were being closed. Planes were being diverted. Health officials were on alert, using words like “global pandemic” in a way that wasn't reassuring.

FMI, in my view, didn’t have much of a choice. The timing could not have been worse…if the conferences had been just a week earlier or later, cancellation probably would not have been an issue. But at that moment in time, faced with both the reality of the public health situation as defined by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and expanding consumer concerns as fueled by reports and speculation in the media and on the Internet, bringing thousands of people to Dallas where there was the potential, at least, that the food industry could be blamed for making a pandemic worse…well, I think FMI did the responsible thing.

Let’s be clear about this. I am not being an FMI “butt boy” on this one. Far from it. My only rooting interest in this is that my business partner and friend, Michael Sansolo, was a prime architect of Future Connect’s educational approach, and I hated to see the results of all his good work get postponed. But he’s a big boy, and life isn’t always fair. He’ll get over it…and whenever Future Connect happens, people will see the fruits of his labors.

And I’m more than willing to be critical of FMI. For example, I think they’ve made a mistake by not, at least as I write and record this commentary, having almost immediately set a date for Future Connect and MarkeTechnics to take place this fall. I don't think they needed to work out all the speaker and session details…but I think they should have moved faster to let people know when the events would occur so that they could mark their calendars. One of the things that we’ve all learned in recent years is the importance of immediate response…and FMI’s delay in this area only allows retailers and manufacturers – many of whom I have spoken to – to speculate about motivations and plans.

But you have to look forward, not backward. Focus on the event to come, not the cancellation of the past.

It has come to my attention that one of the trade books is running an online survey, asking if FMI made the right decision or not.

This is both ridiculous, and typical of conventional thinking.

Ridiculous, because as we all know, hindsight is 20/20. The decision was being made in late April, not mid-May. I can tell you now that getting Brett Favre wasn't a good idea for the NY Jets, but that wasn't my position before they signed him…when it seemed like a pretty good idea. My opinion now is worthless.

Typical, because this industry spends way too much time replaying old strategies, reinitiating old tactics, and thinking about customers as they used to be.

In fact, it isn’t just this industry. It is a lot of industries. Look at how the automobile business, the banks and the health care industry have missed the signals about where customers and the world are going…they looked backward, not forward, for inspiration.

A few years ago, when I learned to drive a race car, one of the central lessons was that you always look to where you are going, because the car follows your sight line. Look anywhere else, and the car tends to go in that direction…and that can take you off the track.

So let’s stop asking silly and ridiculous questions. Let’s move forward.

Fast. And faster.

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.

KC's View: