8 Ways an Association Event Organizer Can Serve an Industry in Decline

Not every association event organizer gets to run International CES for the consumer technology industry.

Some of us – and you know who you are – manage events for trade associations whose industries have seen better days, industries that have hit an economic rough patch.

Budgets for association member companies are tight, sponsors ignore your voice mails, event attendance drops off and everybody you talk to is grouchy. What’s more, traditionally the annual convention and trade show has been the association’s cash cow and suddenly your president and board are looking to you to do even more to cover the deficit created by declining membership and dues revenue.

And your association has bylaws that say there will be an event every year – no matter what. What’s a flailing association event organizer to do?

  1. Knock off the self-pity. This isn’t about you, it’s about your association and its industry. There may never be a time when your association’s members need a quality event more. Turn your meetings into clearinghouses where attendees can get the information they need to improve their businesses and provide them a venue to interact with each other.
  2. Make your association leaders understand. This is a new paradigm for them too. Association presidents and boards can easily turn a crisis into an opportunity to tell members that “everything will be all right,” when it’s just not true. You must make them understand that this is the time to redouble your efforts to help your membership.
  3. Abandon the annual meeting. Diversification and shifting consumer trends are hitting many industry associations. Maybe a series of smaller events that cater to unique interests will better serve your industry than a one-size-fits-all annual blow-out.
  4. Give your members research they can use. Commission a high-profile industry research company to compile a report on where the industry is headed and what they can do to get there in one piece. Then make the presentation of that report the highlight of your event.
  5. Let people talk to each other. One of the worst parts of an industry downtrend is the feeling that you’re going it alone. Your attendees need those networking events and roundtable discussions now more than ever.
  6. Ditch the motivational keynote speaker. Especially if they’re a hired gun who knows nothing about your business. Instead, recruit one of your highest-profile industry leaders, the CEO of one of your top companies, to talk honestly about the situation and provide some perspective.
  7. Don’t be afraid to cut expenses. Now is not the time for a golf tournament at a PGA course in Arizona or Florida. Even if your attendees can get their bosses to sign off on the expense, it won’t look good to their shareholders. Stick to the low-cost meeting alternatives and, if you can, give your members the steepest discounts you can.
  8. Turn the crisis into a positive. Your industry will survive, in one form or the other, and, if it perceives that you stuck with it through thick and thin, you’ll have their loyalty for life.

Michael Hart is a consultant and business writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com or 323-394-0902.

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Did You Extend Your Early-Bird Deadline Again?

Putting aside for a moment the symbolism associated with growth in the CEIR Index finally coming to an end after 25 quarters (all good things must pass), the fourth-quarter numbers for tradeshow performance indicate some of the phenomena I have seen with event organizers truly do represent a trend.
Here’s hoping it’s only a blip.
Certainly, over recent years we have all seen exhibitors signing up and attendees registering for events later and later.
It is a serious, sometimes frightening, problem that, I find, is not getting better. Either traditional early-bird programs no longer work, or potential exhibitors and attendees have learned that we will extend them or find some other way to give them discounts when they finally do sign on.
The evidence that this is more than just a here-and-there phenomenon is illustrated by the over-all decline in number of exhibitors (down 0.8 percent) and attendees (0.6 percent) in the fourth quarter of last year.
The reason this matters is also demonstrated in another number in the CEIR fourth-quarter index: a 1.8-percent decline in revenue. Cash flow is becoming an issue as event organizers work their way through event cycles as they always have (with bills coming due at the same time they always did) while the money to pay them comes in later and later.
The fact that net square footage was up in the fourth quarter (1.3 percent) could be because, in the face of exhibitors signing up later, organizers are giving them breaks in the form of additional space on the floor.
It is true that the economy seems to have solidified since the beginning of the year. While some of us remain suspicious about any “Trump bump” explanation to the rise of the stock market, other more substantial measures – GDP, low unemployment, steady inflation rates – indicate the economy is on firmer ground than it has been in 10 years.
If the 2017 first-quarter CEIR Index turns around, we’ll know that’s the case.
If it doesn’t, we must accept that giving away space on the showfloor and extending early-bird deadlines are not going to be enough to salvage our upcoming events. A more thoughtful remedy will be required for a deeper dilemma.
Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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4 Hacks Donald Trump Has for the Event Organizer

trump-imageClosing in on a month after the election, I thought by now half of us would have gone back to making their own pesto, collecting butterflies and sitting alone in a dark room listening to “Pagliacci,” while the other half would have returned to their hootenannies, bearing profane messages on their T-shirts and racing their RVs.

But, alas, election fever isn’t over quite yet. However, the result is in: Like it or not, Donald Trump won, and he did it in the most untraditional of ways.

What means did he use that event organizers can hack?

First, they can abandon their faith in traditional communication channels and find the most direct way to reach potential attendees. Throughout the election, pundits declared there was no way Trump could compete in this or that state without buying more television air time.

Instead, he famously took to Twitter and put on daily over-the-edge performances in locations that didn’t seem to make sense politically. Yet his message resonated with a certain voter in a way that Hillary Clinton’s didn’t.

Is it time for you to drop those tired e-mail and direct mail campaigns and find a channel to communicate directly with your audience?

Second, he worried less about “getting out the vote” on Election Day and more about creating a brand that somebody who might potentially vote for him could identify with.

It’s a scary proposition but, given the limited resources you have available, are you still better of fretting about where your registration numbers are compared to last year? Or would you be smarter to focus more on simply getting your message out to everybody who might be intrigued?

Third, about the nonstop questionable “facts” Trump blurted out: Even though much of what he said could not get past the media’s fact checkers, enough voters in the right states didn’t care. Post-election analysts have it right. Media watchers tried to take him literally, but not seriously. Exactly the opposite with his voters. They cared less about the details and more about Trump’s underlying message to them.

Do you spend your time telling potential attendees how your event will help their businesses and their careers? Or are you busy making sure they know what time the opening reception starts?

Finally, Trump reached those on the margins, people who in many cases had not voted in years, and converted them into loyal brand followers.

Does your marketing target those who attended your event last year? Or are you looking for a way to reach those who don’t even know about you yet, but who could benefit if they did? And how do you reach them?

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He will participate in a webinar Dec. 16 entitled “Keep Your Attendees from Cheating on You.” Hart can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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Why Association Show Organizers Are So Frustrated

cropped-OTC-image.pngI spoke this week to the organizer of one association show who knows why his show is declining in revenue, attendance and significance to its industry. He knows why a for-profit upstart could come in and steal whatever enthusiasm is left in his industry for an event – and there’s nothing he can do about it.

Many association managers today find themselves stuck between the proverbial stone and a hard place. They recognize the realities of the events industry today. They know that overall association membership is declining because its relevance to members is dwindling.

They understand their faithful audiences have many more ways to connect with potential partners and learn what they need to know to do their jobs better. They also understand how more nimble players can swoop in and launch a competing “pop-up,” worrying little about legacy issues and more about profits.

That’s their stone. Their hard place is a board of directors that doesn’t get it, the board that’s a legacy itself and doesn’t understand why attendance at the show and revenue are declining – when, from their point of view, nothing else has changed.

We all know how hard it can be to tell a boss he or she doesn’t know how much they don’t know.

Start this way: Ask your board to review its event goals. And don’t let them say, “That’s your problem.”

Is their primary goal to make money with the annual show? Is their No. 1 priority to get as many members there as possible? Do they want to use the annual event as a vehicle to deliver messages to a larger audience about the industry?

Is their best answer, “Because the bylaws say we have to have to”? (If it is their answer, you’re really in trouble.)

To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter what their answer is, as long as it gives you an opportunity to explain why you’re not accomplishing their goal now – and what you’ll have to change to do so.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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