By all accounts it was a great wedding — but not everyone was invited.
The Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce this week made substantial changes in how it communicates with members in the aftermath of hurt feelings following a visit to the Island by wedding magazine writers. The October tour featured a mock wedding at the Gay Head Cliffs.
Some chamber members reacted with anger at not having the opportunity to be included in the event. They vented privately at the annual meeting soon after and more publicly recently.
As a result, 2008 will be a year dedicated to better communication at the chamber, executive director Nancy Gardella vowed.
She said a series of changes in chamber policies and practices will be mailed to members after the unveiling of initiatives Wednesday night at the chamber’s business after hours event at the Lambert’s Cove Inn.
“There was full board and staff support,” she said, adding: “We didn’t get much feedback [at the event] but this was a holiday party and not conducive to that kind of conversation. I’m sure when the information is in members’ hands, we’ll get feedback.
“I certainly feel this has been a tremendous learning year for me and the membership has had to deal with their third director in a calendar year and to adjust yet again to another personality and way of doing things. I certainly understand how some of our members feel the way they do. I want to be very proactive in addressing their concerns.”
The wedding tour was evidently a tipping point. Members voiced their concerns vociferously at the annual meeting but most were loath to speak on the record.
Susan Goldsmith, owner of MindShare Media, a public relations firm in Vineyard Haven, said publicly what other members and board members said off the record.
While lauding press efforts by the chamber and noting the chamber has had “six or seven executive directors in the past eight years,” Ms. Goldsmith said. “Members aren’t told how we can participate in events. Nancy knows how to communicate but we are not asked to participate. I’d like to know how she chooses to communicate.”
Ms. Goldsmith said she heard about the press tour second hand, and when she called to recommend some of her clients for the event, Ms. Goldsmith said she was told the participants had already been decided.
Following the event, Ms. Goldsmith said she requested a list of the 15 or so wedding publication editors and writers for follow-up on behalf of her clients, but was denied the list by Plush Communications, hired six months ago by the chamber for press relations work.
“If my clients can’t be involved, I’d at least like to send press kits,” Ms. Goldsmith said.
Ms. Goldsmith said that she and others had raised their concerns during the chamber’s annual meeting and had received assurance that the concerns would be addressed.
“It seems like the processes are all gone,” Ms. Goldsmith said. “Send a bulk e-mail to communicate needs. If we don’t respond, fine, then nobody can complain.”
Ms. Gardella said the board got the message and has taken steps to improve communication with the chamber’s 1,100 members.
“Boy, did I have an opportunity to learn from that press tour that we need to communicate better and to include members in as many opportunities as come by my desk,” she said, adding:
“Would I do things differently? Yes. I do regret that there are members who have sour feelings and that the process was not as inclusive as it could have been. A very finite number of members were invited to participate. It came together very quickly with the best intention to market the entire Island and in no way, shape or form [was intended] to show preference for one member over another.”
She said a number of changes will take effect Jan. 1, 2008, including the way e-mail is handled, and the institution of a quarterly newsletter for members.
Asked if the chamber intends to develop more information and data for members, such as tourist spending and ferry landings, hotel occupancy and rental market data, information commonly compiled by other chambers, including on Cape Cod and Nantucket, Ms. Gardella did not respond directly. “We are going to focus on communication in 2008. We have limited staff but we’d like to develop committees,” she said.
Asked if member straw votes or polls on issues significant to the business community might be added, Ms. Gardella replied, “That’s on the table. In fact, rumor has it we may be asked [by the state] as one of 13 state districts to weigh in on casino gambling.”