Meeting Mentor Magazine

August 2018

Executive Q&A: CEO Richard Yep,
American Counseling Association

The American Counseling Association (ACA), based in Alexandria, Va., is the world’s largest association for professional counselors, serving more than 55,000 members. Its annual conference will be held in April in Atlanta, with an expected attendance of more than 3,500. MeetingMentor caught up with ACA CEO Richard Yep to get an executive view of the role conferences play in the association’s mission and how the ACA’s conferences are evolving.

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The ACA has a huge membership. What percentage is based in the U.S.? Is international growth a goal?
The great majority of our members reside in the United States. However, about five or six years ago, our board had the foresight to ask staff to explore what we could do on a global platform. They were very specific in wanting to ensure that we would approach professional counselors in other countries in a respectful and collegial manner. In other words, we were not going to tell them how to practice so much as help them to apply what counseling in the United States has learned through the years in research and best practice. 
 
Given the current political climate in the U.S., we have enough issues to keep our staff very busy. However, we realize the obligation we have to our counterparts in other countries, which is why we have reached out, formed partnerships, held jointly sponsored conferences and translated some of our resource material into non-English languages. 

How does ACA’s annual meeting deliver on the association’s core mission?
Given what our members experience with their students and clients, they need the opportunity to network with their colleagues, learn about the latest research and simply be “with their own” in order to recharge and be rejuvenated. Our 400-plus education sessions and more than 100 exhibitors make this an amazingly value-driven event.

How has education delivery at the conference evolved?
To maintain a successful conference, you must keep what works, tinker where necessary and make sure you are meeting the needs of attendees. However, every now and then, in conjunction with staff and our volunteer leadership, you just might need to blow up certain parts of “what we have always done.” You’d be surprised that what you think is a sacred cow turns out to be something that a majority of people wonder why we kept going for so long! 

What about live streaming?
We have moved into live streaming our conference. While some said it would take away from those who attend in person, we haven’t seen that happen. In fact, I’d be willing to say there are a few things that have happened as a result of our live streaming. Let me explain.
 
Our members in private practice know that if they don’t work, they don’t eat. By providing them a way to access sessions and keynotes without leaving their work sites, they get the benefit of best practice discussions while still being able to see clients. Attending our conference in person would be prohibitive, so live steaming meets their needs, and we realize revenue through their registration dollars, which we otherwise would not have received. 
 
Some who experience our event via live streaming realize that they really did want to be there in person and plan to do so in future years. Live streaming in this manner can be seen as one of the best types of one-to-one marketing. And the person being marketed to is paying for the opportunity! 

What are the pressing concerns and issues for the association?
I truly believe that if we do not embrace technology and a better understanding of data-driven decision-making, our association will plod along and enter into that “mature” phase leading into obsolescence. 

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While we need to meet member needs, the current divisiveness we are seeing in various sectors of society means that professional counselors will have their hands full with clients, students and communities experiencing strife. The work of professional counselors in schools, private practice, community agencies and other venues is critical to whether we get through this period and how our society will communicate with each other moving forward. One only needs to open a newspaper—or, dare I say, click on Twitter—to see that professional counselors are needed now more than ever.

For a longer version of this interview, see the Spring Issue of MeetingMentor, which will be mailed in early March.

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