Declining Show Attendance? Consider a Partner

by John Haughey // Nov 30, 2015 Uncategorized

Business People Jigsaw Puzzle Collaboration Team Concept

With the hope of fostering greater long-term viability, some organizations are attempting to infuse new relevancy into their conventions and conferences by finding partner groups to create joint events with.

Trade shows, conferences, seminars and conventions can be the lifeblood of associations, industry groups and nonprofits, bringing members from different regions together, reinvigorating common purpose, and generating revenues.

But there are pitfalls, too. With so many demands on members’ time and money, these events can struggle to draw the attendance necessary to attract the sponsors, vendors, and stimulating speakers that elicit the excitement, educational opportunities and contacts necessary to be productive and profitable.

The reasons for considering collaboration are as variable as associations themselves.

Those Already Doing It

In July, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists announced they would hold a joint convention in 2016. The NABJ-NAHJ may already have won the title for the longest acronym, but they’re also hoping the prospect of attracting 3,000 journalists in an election year to a single event, could entice Presidential candidates to address the combined assembly, and possibly serve as a debate venue.

In 2013, the Technology and Engineering Educator Association of Maryland (TEEAM) and the Maryland Association of Science Teachers (MAST) held a joint annual conference after years of declining attendance and low vendor participation at their events. Their joint conference featured 30 vendors, up from the 23 their separate events had previously drawn.

The motivation that fostered the TEEAM-MAST collaboration is typical, said Lisa Messina, Chief Marketing Officer with Las Vegas-based ConferenceDirect, which orchestrates 10,000 events worldwide a year.

“There are a handful of organizations that have tried it, some for synergistic reasons and others because they are on the outs with membership and sponsors, and want to stay in business,” she said.

Successful Collaborations

Competition from other event-organizers can also spur associations to form partnerships for joint conferences, said Gregg Balko, CEO of the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE) in Los Angeles.

Facing stiff competition in drawing its global membership to conferences around the world from JEC Company of Paris, Balko said, SAMPE joined forces with the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) to stage the Composites and Advanced Materials Expo (CAMX) events.

As a private-owned business, JEC has advantages in developing programs and drawing vendors over SAMPE, which, as a membership-driven nonprofit, “has to go through a board of directors” before it can respond to members’ changing needs, Balko says.

SAMPE had previously staged joint meetings with ACMA, which represents more than 3,000 manufacturers. “We decided to pull the trigger on creating a whole new event from the ground up,” Balko said of the combined conference.

The result: “We created a strong, medium-sized show,” he said. “It enhanced our revenues.”

It’s Not all Wine and Roses

But, Balko cautions planning joint events is “not for everybody. You have to determine if the business objective makes sense.” He advises answering these questions before proceeding on a joint venture.

  • 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?

Even with all those questions carefully answered, there can be additional practical problems you might not expect.

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” Balko says.

Among those problems were some surprising ones, like terminology.

“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.”


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