Addressing 2009’s biggest meeting planning challenges

Topics: Associations

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2008 was a year of change for educational meeting materials. Meeting planners and education organizers heeded the calls for greener meetings, faced challenges with attendance fluctuation during this economic downturn and explored new technology for the delivery of education materials.

After more than 20 years of experience producing educational meeting materials for associations, attending at least 10 industry events annually and studying our clients’ history, I humbly offer my no-nonsense tips on how to succeed in 2009.

  • They wrote the book – you need to read it! Before you do anything else, get this book if you haven’t already. Designing Your Future – Key Trends, Challenges, and Choices Facing Association and Nonprofit Leaders published by ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership is a must-read if you have a membership organization. The book highlights 50 key trends and is really a book that you will USE, not just read, to make the proper changes for the future.  Even if you are not an association, this is worth the money!
  • Tight budgets deliver unique solutions. Plato said, “Necessity is the mother of invention” right? When forced into a corner, the smartest meeting planners come up with creative solutions to continue to deliver value to attendees. Consider HSMAI’s Affordable Meetings series where savvy planners provide attendees a Conference Journal (paid for with sponsorship, by the way!) with program information and ample space for notes. Attendees can find the complete speakers materials online. This solution answers the objectives of all players at the table – speakers, attendees and HSMAI.
  • Deals are out there – just ask! When dealing with suppliers, don’t think “adversary:” think “partner!” Hotels, venues, airlines, transportation companies, printers, A/V companies, etc., are looking for business. You can strike a deal that benefits both sides. These could be relaxed attrition clauses, free upgrades, discounts for multiple meetings or projects booked at one time, etc. Both sides are in the mood to make deals that secure business.
  • Do it different ?!? In turbulent market conditions perhaps the definition of insanity is “Keep doing things the same way and expect the same results.” Be careful here –  nothing can be taken for granted and truly nothing is easy. At the same time, know that significant change is not very hard either.Consider making educational materials available as an additional cost to the attendee. The organization may need to cover the cost of collecting content and getting it into a usable form, but from there the cost to produce is fairly modest. Attendees still see value in getting something to use on site and many will be willing to pay $5, $10, $20 or more to get it in print, online or on a CD or a flash drive. Make it an optional purchase during pre-registration, and have a few extra copies of the material on site for those who decide late. This will also move your organization into the realm of giving personal service to your attendees. Our Choosing the Right Media white paper may help you in 2009.
  • Make “Green” a sensible way of life, not a marketing slogan. Greening initiatives are all over the place, and some are sick of hearing about it.  The fact is that event decisions need to take into account a number of factors of which environmental responsibility is one.  Continue to make progress on your initiatives, and you will be surprised that green options may actually save you money. Check out our tips for eco-friendly printing and connect with experts at Green Events Source or Green Meetings Industry Council.
  • Deliver more value! You must constantly be looking for ways to add value for your event attendees that outpaces what any competitive entities are offering. If the networking side of your events is truly the most important, focus your attention here to take this to the next level. Breaking the cycle the same old networks of folks may take some effort from you, but attendees will be stimulated and meet considerably more folks with new, more structured networking events. The AMC Institute, for example, uses a Speed Dating session where suppliers get one minute in front of AMC owners to highlight their services – but more importantly, the two groups that depend on each other are able to make a quick first connection.
  • Give more to your sponsors. Money is getting tighter for your sponsors and they will expect more, just like everyone else. If you can provide more to your sponsors in ways of advertising and connecting with your attendees, they will support your events. Broker meetings with key attendees the sponsor wants to connect with. Don’t be afraid, you can do it. Simply explain to the attendee that you need their help. Most will honor your request. Sponsors want more than just their logo on your web site or program. Be sure to read our tips on creative sponsorship ideas that have real value. Also,  check out this article, Nondues Revenue Roundup on ASAE’s web site if your looking for more ways to generate more income for your association.

Whatever new initiatives you try to successfully grow your meetings in 2009, rest assured. The live meeting format WILL survive, and Omnipress will be here to help!


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