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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