Archive for the 'Associations' Category

24
Feb
15

Feel the love

word-of-mouthA few months ago, I was looking for a kid-friendly, clean, affordable place at which my family and I could eat during a weekend getaway.

So the first thing I did? Turned to Yelp for customer reviews. I didn’t want marketing speak, but instead the pros and cons of dining experiences.

I did the same thing a few weeks later while looking for a hotel.

The point is: Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool. And it’s often overlooked.

But an e-book by WebLink spells it out for associations.

According to “3 Keys to More Referrals: Leverage Your Member Love,” engaging happy members can be a powerful member recruitment tool. Although research points to higher member conversation rates among those who’ve been referred, many associations are afraid to ask for a referral.

“When you are making your members happy with excellent customer service, it’s a perfect opportunity to ask if they know of anyone else who may have similar problems/needs that require excellent customer service,” the books says.

And although it seems logical that members want to refer others, the main reason they don’t is because no one asked, WebLink says. But when asking, make sure you offer a variety of options.

For example, some members may be comfortable submitting a testimonial, while others prefer to simply click on a rating (perhaps via your website). Or, if your association has a Facebook page, ask members to recommend you on Facebook. Simply provide them with a link to a web page, article or blog post, ask them to add a personal message and then share the link. And share their Facebook post on your page.

Of course, not all members will be willing to refer. To determine who is, conduct a survey, online or via telephone, the e-book suggests. Keep the survey short and collect contact information from those who take the survey.

question_mark_shutterstock_101783026The most essential question to ask: “On a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being extremely likely, how likely are you to recommend our association to a friend or colleague?”

Next, WebLink recommends calculating your results. Those who offer a nine or 10 in response to the above question are those who are considered “loyal referrers,” while those who reply with zero to six may actually detract members. So, focus on your loyal and happy members.

“Keeping your association’s referrals growing relies on your commitment to continually improve your relationships with your members,” WebLink writes. “A good referral program is easy to understand, lets the member know what kind of people to refer, is worth the member’s time and makes the referral process quick and easy to complete.”

But all this is moot without using touchpoints effectively, WebLink says. Touchpoints are all the ways in which you engage members, from telephone interactions to email newsletters to social media. Make a list, and then figure out the appropriate messaging based on the method of engagement.

For example, take advantage of your members’ recommendations by placing them on your website. Choose a location on your website that requires members to make a decision or take action. Example: Place a testimonial on the membership application page near the membership pricing to reinforce the idea that association membership is worth the expense.

So, the next time you’re dealing with a satisfied member, whether at a conference or over the telephone, ask for a recommendation. You’ve got nothing to lose, and you just may find that your goal of increasing membership is attainable.

10
Feb
15

Our screwed up thinking about creating conference experiences

This month’s guest blog post is by Jeff Hurt, executive vice president of education and engagement for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. It was originally posted on Jan. 28.

Jeff Hurt

Jeff Hurt, executive vice president, education and engagement, for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hurt.

As conference organizers, we need to learn about the power of experience.

Well, we already know about experiences. We have them all the time.

We’ve had experiences with our families and friends. We’ve had experiences with work. We’ve had school experiences. We’ve had experiences with institutions and organizations. We’ve had vacation experiences.

Unfortunately, we’ve made some very faulty assumptions from our own experiences. And we’ve even institutionalized some defective planning processes based on those experiences and what serves us best in our practice. Not what serves our paying attendees best.

For instance, we assume that if we secure experts to tell attendees what to believe, attendees will believe it.

Then we expect that attendees will adopt the experts’ beliefs as their own. Thus, those beliefs result in actions that lead to positive results. So attendees leave our conferences changed for the good.

All attendees have to do is register, pay, show up, sit quietly and listen. The rest occurs like a magical mental assembly line.

But that’s not how it works! At all! Ever! I mean infinity-ever!

The truth about experiences

Our experiences actually form our beliefs.

Our beliefs form our actions.

Our actions create results.

Our family experiences shape our beliefs about family. Our school experiences shape our beliefs about education. Our relationships form our experiences about friendship and love.

Our own past experiences shape how we plan and create conferences. We bring our beliefs from our experiences with other institutions into our conference planning process.

Our own beliefs of what a conference should look and feel like actually limit our ability to create authentic, engaging new experiences. And in doing so, we have created experiences that now frame how our attendees view conferences.

rear-view-mirrorLooking back to move forward

We need to explore why attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, volunteer leaders, conference planning teams and conference hosts feel the way they do about conferences.

We’ve got to understand how we got where we are today.

It’s only in looking back that we can move forward. Then we can point to where we need to change directions. Then we can create new archetypes for exemplary experiences.

At its core, conferences are about people. Regular conference attendees perceive other conference attendees through interactions at the conference. The power of experience reveals a lot.

Turning nostalgic down conference lane

Let’s take a nostalgic mental journey down conference lane.

Visualize yourself walking down a traditional city street lined with various buildings. Each structure houses a different institution.

What do you see? Which of these buildings might be the perfect metaphor to describe your conference?

  • The Theater
  • The Boarding School
  • The Rigorous Academic Ivy League University
  • The Library Of Yesteryear
  • The Police Department
  • The Mayor’s Office
  • The Funeral Home
  • The Quaint Archaic Museum
  • The Political Action Committee
  • The Courthouse
  • The Church Or Synagogue
  • The Sports Stadium
  • The Department Store
  • The Local Bar And Pool Hall
  • The Mall

What type of city building best describes your current conference experience? What type of metaphor would you like to describe your future conference experience?
Editor’s Note: We encourage you to visit the original blog post to leave your comments to Jeff’s post!

03
Feb
15

A night away? We sure did pay.

detail-of-young-businesswoman-opening-door-to-hotel-room-with-key-card-2The last time I booked a weeklong family vacation, I was shocked at the prices of hotel rooms. We weren’t looking for anything fancy, but those prices sure did crimp our style.

And we’re not the only family of five suffering from hotel sticker shock.

According to a new report by STR Inc., a hospitality research firm, hotel rates in 2014 were the highest they’ve ever been, with an average of $115 per night – that’s a 4.6 percent climb. And rates are expected to rise an additional 5.2 percent by the end of this year.

In addition, according to a LA Times story, this year hotels will tack on guest charges, such as early check-in fees.

According to the STR report, New York City boasted the highest room rates in 2014, where hotel guests paid an average of $263 a night. The next three top-dollar locations: Oahu Island in Hawaii ($221 a night), San Francisco ($207) and Miami ($185). And Nashville, Denver and Atlanta were the hotspots for revenue growth in 2014.

Not surprisingly, higher-than-history hotel rates translate into unprecedented revenue for hotels. On average, they netted about $74 per room.

But even though hotels are earning more profit, guests shouldn’t expect a break, said Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University’s Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management.

On the contrary, hotels may very well implement new fees this year, such as a charge for requesting a specific type of room, he said.

All this said, consumers don’t seem to mind, which is good news for event planners.

Money in the form of many large billsDuring 2014, hotels sold more rooms than ever (1.1 billion), according to Hotel News Now. In fact, the occupancy rate in 2014 rose 3.6 percent to 64.4 percent. Atlanta and Denver experienced the highest jumps in occupancy rates, according to the report.

“The U.S. hotel industry experienced a great year and ended 2014 on a positive note,” said Amanda Hite, president and COO of STR Inc. “The year’s performance broke several records thanks to continued strong demand.”

So what does this mean for your organization as it plans events for 2015? It looks like your guests could be paying more. The STR report indicated group rates rose as well, and with higher occupancy rates, it could be harder to book affordable rooms for your event.

All the more reason for your organization to take another look at the ROI of its events. If people will be forced to pay more for their rooms, they’ll want more from their programming – and perhaps expect you to offset the increase with a less expensive event.

Oh. And it seems three event hotbeds – Miami, Denver and Atlanta – may crimp your style. Will this lead to more events in smaller, less desirable cities? Time will tell, so stay tuned.

01
Feb
15

Bonus content: Event Garde e-news – February edition

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne, deputy editor for Associations Now.

Q & A with Samantha Whitehorne, Deputy Editor, Associations Now

Q: If you were a superhero, what would your name be, and why?
A: Sassy Samantha. Of course, I’d only use my sass for good. And I would have the ability to fly, because it would be awesome, plus I’d like to wear a cape.

Q: Which season describes you best, and why?
A: Fall. It’s crisp, refreshing and moderate.

Q: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without?
A: Music.

Q: If you lost one of your senses, which would you want it to be, and why?
A: I think I’d choose smell, if only because of the emotional impact that comes from some of the other senses – like being driven to sad and happy tears by things you’ve seen and heard.

Q: You’re stranded on a deserted island. Who do wish was with you?
A: I’ll go practical here and say someone like Bear Grylls. I need someone with me who has stellar survival instincts, because I’m not sure I can trust myself to not eat something poisonous.

06
Jan
15

Meetings mean money for hotels in 2015

RM_snip_hotel_sign_glassA new year means new professional development opportunities. Admittedly, I’m a PD nerd. So I’ve been excitedly surfing the web for all things writing, media relations and public relations.

But if I have to pick, I’m going to choose an event hosted in a hotel with comfy beds, free Wi-Fi, probably a restaurant….and the list goes on.

Thanks to PD nerds like me, in 2015 hotels should get a big financial boost. According to a new report by Social Tables, the meetings industry will hugely influence the profits of hotels.

First up: cybersecurity.

I touched on it last week in a post about MPI’s meetings forecast for 2015. But it’s worth repeating: Cybersecurity is becoming the No. 1 concern among professionals. Within the last few months, retail giants Target, Home Depot and Hobby Lobby have all experienced security hacks, resulting in the theft of customers’ financial information.

When businesses send their employees to a hotel for a conference, they also send crucial financial information – which they expect will be protected. And so, if venues want to attract clients, they’d better keep up with cybersecurity enhancements.

“The potential for valuable information to be hacked or stolen via insecure networks is a real threat,” said David Peckinpaugh, co-chair of Meetings Mean Business. “As such, cybersecurity at hotels will become increasingly important for events and meetings in 2015.”

In fact, according to the Social Tables report, it seems advanced technology will have the greatest effect on hotels and will be in great demand since Americans own, on average, four digital devices.

In addition to providing adequate Wi-Fi coverage, some hotels are experimenting with remote/mobile check in. Last year, Starwood Hotel and Resorts became the first chain to offer such a service, according to the Social Tables report. Think about the convenience for meeting planners: No more keys in packets.

Consumers are becoming more technologically savvy – and demanding – and hotels are following suit. In 2015, an increasing number of hotels will offer technological conveniences such as whiteboards, social media screens and mobile apps.

conference-preview-img“Meeting planners are becoming more and more creative in rewarding attendees who interact and use technology than ever before,” said Gene Hunt, director of event sales at the Grand Hyatt Washington. “They’re marrying concepts such as gamification with technology before, during and after meetings to develop program content – and it’s our responsibility to help them achieve maximum results on their investments in these technologies.”

Also listed in “9 Ways Meetings Will Impact Hotels in 2015”:

  • Virtual reality travel experiences
  • High occupancy rates (roughly 65 percent)
  • Measurable data on meetings and events

But I think most interesting in the report was brand expansion. As the economy improves in 2015, upper scale hotels will experience an uptick in occupancies for leisure travel, as more people can afford expensive accommodations.

Such a shift will most likely force event planners to seek out lower-priced hotels/chains for events, analysts predict.

“Couple this with the fact that over the next 20 years, the middle class will grow from 2 billion to 5 billion, and you have a powerful argument for the idea that an increased presence of affordable brands to accommodate the meeting needs of planners (affordable room blocks, meeting spaces and build-your-own meeting packages, etc.) will force diversification of hotel portfolios to include more affordably priced properties, and with them, more affordably priced meeting spaces,” the report said.

And so, hotels have a prime opportunity to attract budget-savvy meetings planners and a still precocious meetings industry.

What do you think? If a hotel employs you, we’d love to hear from you.

30
Dec
14

A Happy New Year for meetings?

Happy New Year hd wallpaper 2015The champagne is chilling and we’re pumped to watch the ball drop as we find ourselves humming “Auld Lang Syne.”

Yep. 2015 is nearly here. Maybe not quite so exciting for event planners, however. We know: It’s crunch time for you. Time to book all your conferences and events and finalize the budget.

The past few months have been a bit harried, no doubt. That’s understandable since it appears 2015 might be challenging for meetings and events.

That’s according to Meeting Professionals International’s Meetings Outlook (fall edition).

The report, developed in partnership with the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, found that in general, costs in 2015 for event services are expected to rise, while budgets are expected to grow only slightly. Specifically, analysts predict air travel costs to rise 5 percent; room rates 3.9 percent; food and beverage/catering costs 4 percent; audiovisual costs 3.1 percent; and meeting room costs 2.5 percent.

Add to that limited guest room availability and shorter lead times for booking, according to the survey’s respondents. In fact, from June to September, the percentage of respondents who faced short lead times doubled from 5 percent to 10 percent.

“We are finding room rates escalating,” said Kevin Beckman, director of strategic accounts for Crowne Plaza Hotel Louisville, and a member of the MPI Kentucky Bluegrass Chapter. “We are adjusting our revenue goals for 2015 and increasing our rates for group business in 2015 and 2016.”

04_30_12_airfareThanks to rising costs, event planners are forced to be more creative. Examples from the MPI report include creating centerpieces from in-season flowers and simple craft supplies and using polyester-like tablecloth pieces. It also means choosing the right location, i.e. a rooftop terrace for a younger crowd (read: less décor needed).

“Great architecture goes a long way, if you highlight it with lighting,” said Pam Madewell, of the MPI Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter, who runs an event management firm. “Fabulous architecture means you don’t have to put a theme-y thing in that place.”

Coming off the heels of a recession, ROI for meetings continues to be important. Unless it’s worth it, companies aren’t going to send their employees to events, and once again, professional development may hit the chopping block.

As a result, MPI says meetings focusing on practical topics, such as training, sales and education, will see the most growth.

WiFiAnd, finally, there’s technology. I’ve written about it many times, and we can’t escape its influence. As technology advances, associations are expected to keep up.

With laptops, iPads and smart phones in hand, participants arrive at events expecting easy connectivity. But some venues don’t seem to have the appropriate Wi-Fi capability.

That’s why Christina Devlin, of MPI’s Oregon Chapter, may purchase a dedicated router to use onsite. She wants to ensure attendees can connect multiple devices simultaneously and enjoy reliable, hiccup-free Wi-Fi.

In short: Event planners may have to plan further ahead and stretch the dollars a bit more. But, from the sounds of it, if you provide good ROI, your guests will come.

As you prepare for 2015, Event Garde wishes you much prosperity. Happy New Year!

23
Dec
14

Lessons in leadership from 2014

This guest blog post by Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, originally ran Dec. 22 on Associations Now. Athitakis has written on nonprofits, the arts and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History. You can follow him on Twitter at @MarkANMag.

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now.

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now.

So, what did we learn in 2014?

Part of me wants to say: Not as much as one would hope. Boards remain dysfunctional. Associations often are still slow-moving ships, particularly when it comes to globalization. Diversity remains a challenge. However, I don’t want to close out 2014 with a resounding “Bah! Humbug!”

Throughout the year I’ve spoken with plenty of association leaders, staffers and experts who are doing meaningful and path breaking work; look throughout AssociationsNow.com and you’ll see my colleagues have done the same.

So take the five lessons-learned below not as a lecture about how leaders have fallen short, but as reminders that there’s always work to be done; this list only reflects where I figure that work is most needed.

It’s never difficult to find a CEO who will bemoan his or her board in private, or do it under cover of an anonymous survey.

Globalization is less of a might-do and more of a must-do. In 2014 the ASAE Foundation released research revealing that many U.S.-based associations are still struggling to expand their reach overseas. (More research is to come in 2015.) As sticky wickets go at associations, this is one of the stickiest, but it’s also among the most promising in terms of financial growth — and, even if you’d prefer to focus on mission more than money, it’s where the future members and users of your services are, particularly in the Middle East. This needn’t be an overwhelming task — even focusing on a couple of products can move the needle.

Disengaged boards are a killer. Boards are too nice to the CEO. They’re neglectful. They don’t do enough to help a new CEO settle into the gig. It’s never difficult to find a CEO who will bemoan his or her board in private, or do it under cover of an anonymous survey. And I do worry, as I wrote back in May, that social-media herd mentality might trickle down into leadership, leading to groupthink. But for the moment, I’m looking at the bright side: There are plenty of associations doing smart work assembling and educating their boards to do meaningful strategic work in the midst of these challenges.

Man-ListeningListening is an underrated leadership skill. I tend to gravitate to this particular leadership theme without explicitly trying to; it just seems that so many shortcomings with CEOs boil down to errors of miscommunication and failures to listen. If an exec isn’t listening to what his or her staffers are saying, he won’t have a sense of what their ambitions are, won’t be able to capably review their progress and will struggle to keep them on board when challenges arrive. Listening is the easiest skill to pay lip service to, and perhaps the most difficult to master.

Diversity starts with you. Without question, associations have made great progress in recent years in making their staffs and boards more diverse. But the seemingly popular instinct at addressing the issue — to create a task force or diversity committee — can risk echoing the marginalization it was meant to eradicate. Executives need to own diversity as a core competency as much as membership and revenue — all the Lean In circles in the world won’t mean much if the guys at the top aren’t getting the message and boards won’t evolve unless they’re mindful of where they’re underrepresented.

The big organizations don’t have this figured out any better than anybody else. Corporate America is often carted out as a better model for associations, particularly when it comes to generating revenue — it’s the tacit message delivered whenever somebody says, “Our association needs to run more like a business.” True enough, corporate execs get all the attention from magazine covers (well, almost all). But you didn’t have to try hard to find executives in the corporate world struggle to stay on point as much as anybody else. I gingerly suggested in March that perhaps GM was on the right path in responding to its cars’ ignition-switch problems; the months that followed have only made a fool of me. Apple’s board structure was much celebrated, but I think there are more interesting governance questions than board size. And even large nonprofits can have a leadership crisis when the executive steps into contentious territory. Case studies from the big guns can have some meaningful lessons to deliver, but ultimately the approach that works is going to be the product of what you’ve learned from what you’ve observed in your own organization.




meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, hot yoga, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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