5 Questions to Ask Before Hosting a Joint Event
Last week we discussed what you could do in the face of declining numbers at conferences, seminars and events. For some organizations the key to reversing a downward trend has been partnering with other similar groups, to create a bigger impact. But that’s the simple answer. Before you hitch your wagon to another organization – with all its different focuses and foibles – there are five serious questions to ask. Honest answers can set you on the path to long-term success.
* What groups work best together?
* Is it a good deal for my association?
* How will it benefit my members?
* How do we divide responsibilities, profits?
* What problems can we anticipate?
What groups work best together?
South Carolina Petroleum Marketers Association (SCPMA) Executive Director, Michael Fields, said common interest and proximity are among the reasons his association has staged joint annual conferences with the North Carolina Petroleum & Convenience Marketers (NCPCM) for 11 years.
“Our members all get along, know each other, and do business together,” he said. “We have common issues — particularly federal issues.”
NCPCM Director of Convenience Stores and Marketing, Teresa Calton, agreed. “We share a lot of similar issues because we are from adjacent states,” she said.
Colorado Livestock Association (CLA) Director of Communications, Jessica Lemmel, said her association had discussed co-producing an annual convention with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) for five years before the organizations actually did so four years ago. They have continued to do so since.
“Combining the two organizations for a joint convention allows our memberships to mingle and reconnect with one another, and to create a more unified voice,” she said. “Understanding one another is an integral part to keeping this industry strong and progressive.”
Is it a good deal for your association?
If approached by another association with a proposal to co-produce an event, be careful, warns Lisa Messina, Chief Marketing Officer with Las Vegas-based ConferenceDirect, which orchestrates 10,000 events worldwide a year.
“You have to determine right away if this is a merger or a buyout,” she said. In other words, make sure a struggling association isn’t trying to regain relevancy on your coattails — and dime.
“Ask yourself: Are there real efficiencies, and where are the opportunities for shared revenues?” Messina said.
Avoid partnering with much smaller associations that don’t have the administrative, marketing and financial capacities to handle a fair share of the spadework, advises Gregg Balko, CEO of the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE) in Los Angeles.
“It would be far more difficult if one group is bigger than the other in dividing up responsibilities. It is good to have comparable-sized groups because the ideal arrangement is a 50/50 partnership with a 50/50 expenses and revenue split.”
Of course, not all associations have the same structure and emphases, so restricting yourself only to comparable-sized partners may not always be the best policy.
For instance, Lemmel said, the CLA’s membership is mostly “large operators” while the CCA has far more individual constituents. Therefore, in planning joint events, there is an understanding that, “We have more sponsors, and they have more people — more registration dollars — so in the end it all evens out, and we split it half and half.”
How will it benefit my members?
SCPMA’s Fields said shared training sessions and educational seminars with the NCPMA provides an array of options that may not be available if his association staged annual events on its own.
“They get the speakers we are using, and we get the speakers they are using. It is a very good mix, especially for legislative and industry speakers,” NCPMA’s Calton agreed. “Of course, the more people you get, the more ideas you’ll have.”
And there is power in numbers. The more people who will attend an event, the more likely important elected officials and key regulators will respond to invitations to speak.
“That makes it a good deal for all your members and affiliates, because they have more access to more decision makers in one place,” Fields said.
“When you can fill up a convention center with 500 people — critical mass is a benefit,” Lemmel adds. Not only as a lure for legislators, but for vendors and sponsors as well.
“Our sponsors appreciate it more. They can hit both organizations’ events at once and spend less money,” she said. “When we drew more sponsors, that was a good surprise.”
The SCPMA/NCPMA joint conference is a big hit with suppliers and vendors, too, who feel they get a bigger bang for their buck.
How do we divide responsibilities and profits?
At the beginning of any collaborative effort, make sure you know what you can do, and what your partners can do, and set out a clear delineation of assigned tasks, Balko said.
“Which group does registration? Financing? Exhibits? You’ve got to have a lot of candor. You’ve got to have some honesty in recognizing that some groups may be better at some things than we are.”
Lemmel said coordinating with “a lot of people to come up with a final product can be a challenge,” especially in drawing “complimentary” vendors, speakers and educational offerings to represent both associations’ needs.
A problem that Balko encountered while organizing the October 2014 inaugural Composites and Advanced Materials Expo (CAMX) event with the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA), was divvying up exhibit sales leads between different staffs that formerly handled these matters themselves.
“Who gets what accounts? Figuring this out can be a big challenge,” he said. “You have companies that exhibit at both shows. Now there is only one show. It can be hard to assign that account to one sales person and not another.”
What problems can we anticipate?
Balko said that as the first-ever CAMX drew closer, SAMPE and ACMA staff members working to organize the joint event were beset with a “lot of backend work” that wasn’t anticipated.
Among the problems? “Surprisingly, terminology,” he said. “We had to create common terms to make sure all sessions had the same value to members of both associations. That’s something you’ve got to get onto the table right away.”
Messina said a common affliction with joint-planned events can be no one assuming a leadership role. When that happens, finding a decision-maker to resolve last-minute hitches can be a hassle for organizers.
“Who do you call if you need help? How do you show a united front? This type of discord can create costs,” she said.
Balko agreed. “You have to have your senior leadership, staff and volunteers fully on board. It is a lot of work. You’ll need senior leaderships’ support when you come across a hiccup,” he said.
Messina said a joint event lacks cohesion unless one person from either association is put in charge. Any correspondence and administrative communication regarding the joint event should have its own letterhead, with the appointed contact distinctly named and both associations’ logos clearly visible.
“You’ve got to have a good marketing plan on the front end,” she said. “It is very important to talk about how you are going to brand it. Make sure it is branded effectively.”
Despite potential pitfalls and reservations, Fields feels co-producing joint conferences is the way of the future.
Balko, despite a recent second SAMPE-AMCA annual conference, CAMX 2015, successfully completed in in Dallas this October, is less definite.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” he said, “until the doors are opened.”