Archive for December, 2014

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.

16
Dec
14

The makings of marketing mavens

Marketing_tomschaepperTwo years after graduating college, I entered the association world.

I served as director of communications for an association for four years – and I loved every minute of it. As all association professionals understand, resources were thin but job responsibilities were huge. I was all things communications, media relations and public relations.

But marketing? Not so much.

True, we launched our first official marketing campaign a couple years into the job. But with too few hours in the day and a never-ending list of priorities, marketing just wasn’t at the top of the list.

Fast forward 10 years, and I’m now a public relations professional who loves all things marketing. Today, we blur the lines between public relations and marketing, especially thanks to digital and social media. Yet, the mission is the same: Build your brand, your reputation and your credibility by engaging key audiences with specific (albeit simple) messaging.

And that takes an incredible amount of work and vision.

Associations are in a tough spot, forced to do more with less. So where does marketing fit in?

It often struggles to justify its existence, but associations seem to be embracing it as best as they can, according to a new report by Demand Metric Research Corp., a research and advisory firm serving the association industry.

The 2014 State of Digital Marketing in Associations benchmarking study was administered mid-October through mid-November, with membership associations holding the largest response rate. The median size was 1,001 to 5,000 members.

Marketing business salesKey findings:

  • Three-fourths of associations in this study report their marketing is somewhat to very effective. Eighty-eight percent think members perceive their marketing and communication efforts as sometimes to always relevant and professional.
  • For associations rating themselves most effective at marketing, strategy and planning is their most frequently cited capability. But for those that rate themselves least effective at marketing, strategy and planning is the fifth most-cited capability.
  • E-mail, event and content marketing are the top ranked tactics in terms of effectiveness.
  • Almost 90 percent of associations include an e-mail newsletter in their digital marketing portfolio, but only 41 percent use an e-mail preference center.
  • The ownership of marketing tasks – such as pricing, positioning, promotional channels, data analysis and technology spend – is fragmented, with a number of other association departments frequently owning these tasks.
  • In an increasingly technology-driven market, IT owns most of the technical skills marketing needs to succeed.
  • Only 13 percent of associations report not using any marketing metrics. For the 87 percent that are, most are using volume or activity metrics, such as click-through rates, which don’t provide true indicators of marketing’s contribution.

So, more than half of respondents reported that marketing strategy is important, and that they have the staff to design and implement such a strategy. But the key is to achieve buy-in: Marketing is an all-hands-on-deck approach. It shouldn’t just fall on the shoulders of the director of marketing and/or director of communications. Leaders should provide the vision; the board of directors should adopt it; and leadership should provide guidance to all staff. And all staff should operate with key messages in mind.

In the survey, respondents possessed three marketing capabilities: membership engagement strategies and campaigns; public relations; and membership retention and strategies.

But what about tactics?

Respondents ranked e-mail and event marketing as the top two marketing tactics, followed by social media, website/SEO and content marketing. But here’s the problem: Without content, there’s no marketing strategy. Content is the foundation from which to create all marketing strategies.

For example, e-mail newsletters and campaigns should be consistent with branding (the look and feel of the association).

The same goes with blogs. Although many associations aren’t blogging, blogs are crucial marketing tactics. They’re the perfect places to post content (content marketing). In addition, blogs are invaluable SEO tools.

Of course, marketing without analytics is useless. Google analytics are simple and effective, and associations should be using them. But the only two analytics most associations employ according to the study: click through and open rates.

“Marketing is simply too important to leave entirely in the hands of the marketing team,” the study’s authors wrote. “It is a function that must pervade the entire organization, guided by strong leadership that collaborates effectively with everyone, from the board and below.”

best-marketing-tacticsAs a marketing and public relations geek, I’m excited about the data this study provides. In summary, though, here are some takeaways, as listed in the report:

  • Strategic orientation. The most effective marketing functions in this study are those who prioritize strategy and planning. If your team feels like it’s too busy to take time out to plan and develop marketing strategy, then you’re opting for lower marketing effectiveness.
  • Embrace content. The content marketing effectiveness gap revealed in this study is huge. Most of the marketing tactics associations are using rely on some form of content as input. Learn how to develop and deploy content effectively.
  • The ownership and responsibility for some of the key marketing tasks is very fragmented. Much of this fragmentation would go away under strong, executive marketing leadership. Even without a marketing executive, associations can give their marketing teams a better chance by allowing them fuller ownership of the things for which they have, or should have, responsibility.
  • Marketing is increasingly a technical pursuit. Associations need to equip their marketing teams with the skills and training to function in the modern world of marketing.
  • Any use of marketing metrics and an analytics process is good, but even better is when that process uses metrics that do more than just report on activity levels. Association marketers need to identify metrics that truly indicate the value they create and then hold themselves accountable to them.

So what do you think? Is marketing part of the plan for 2015?

09
Dec
14

So long, chicken

Mason-Jar-Cocktails_heroJust as we all start trying to lose those holiday pounds, it looks like 2015 is going to be a fun year for food and drinks.

Drinks served in mason jars. Art installations created from donuts. DJ booths made from cookware. Out-of-the-box – and off-the-plate thinking – will define 2015, according to a new e-book by socialtables, which produces cloud-based software for the hospitality industry.

Socialtables asked top catering firms Four Five One Events and Windows Catering to predict the top 20 catering trends. Goodbye plated chicken and rice medley. Hello raw food with flare.

“The innovations within food and beverage in the past year have elevated catering to creative heights not seen before,” socialtables wrote on its blog. “In order to understand the scope of opportunities available to planners and venues in 2015, we asked two of the country’s most sought-after catering companies for their predictions on the food, beverage and design that will shape menus in 2015.” 

As the economy has improved, so have menus. And so, when planning your next conference dinner or post-work get-together for members, consider some of these new trendy twists.

Table to farm – Recently, the “farm to table” concept, in which organizations serve farm-raised meat and organic vegetables during meals, was all the rage. But now, “farm to fork” is catching steam. Meals will incorporate the regions from which ingredients are harvested: edible flowers; white asparagus; a rainbow of vegetables.

VIP treatment – Everyone loves to feel special. But not everyone can afford upscale reservations at swanky places. So creating a VIP dining experience leaves a lasting impression. Instead of a pre-plated dinner, organizations will offer restaurant-like ambiances in which hostesses seat guests who order from a menu.

mar2011-foodchain-07Comfortable seating – Workplaces provide provide beanbag chairs, exercise balls and stand-up desks to their employees. So folding chairs or traditional rounds of eight seem almost out of place, old-school even. Instead, event planners will offer loveseats, porch swings and rocking chairs to create a cozy and creative culinary sensation.

Mini morsels – Tasty, bite-size temptations will replace five course meals. Since food presentation will be key in 2015, caterers will offer small, colorful samples that blend flavors: soup shots coupled with tea sandwiches; mini-meatloaf cupcakes topped with a mashed potato frosting; pint-size éclairs filled with jellies, peanut butter, chocolate.

Family-style feasting – These days, it’s not often families eat dinner together. But laughing together while enjoying family favorites creates lasting memories. As such, organizations will provide more family-style dining experiences, serving food in dishes that guests share. Just like a family dinner, the concept creates kindred closeness, fosters networking and avoids awkward small talk.

Savory and sweet – A match made for the palate. Menus will offer stunning combinations such as bourbon bacon jam and maple-flavored bacon. (Let’s be honest: Who doesn’t love anything bacon?!)

Comfort foods – And while most of us will be on a New Year’s health kick, caterers will still be crazy about comfort foods – offering favorites like baked potato salad and cheesy corn bakes. That said, caterers predict Azian zing will find its place among traditional barbecue. Think Korean barbecued short ribs.

“Windows [Catering] CEO Andrew Gerstel believes that the coming year will usher in a renowned interest in small bites, while predicting that palates will expand to welcome specialty foods like Pink Himalayan salt,” socialtables wrote.

Hungry now?

What are some of the most memorable meals you’ve had at professional events? How do you spice it up for your event participants?

03
Dec
14

Instructional Design: The New Normal

I fled this week from the blustery temperatures of Grand Rapids, MI to a warmer climate in Dallas, TX. Always the bridesmaid (facilitator) and never the bride (learner), it was a chance for me to turn the tables and become a participant in ATD’s Master Instructional Designer Program.

IMG_0784It all started at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. I was booked on a non-Delta flight with a brief stop in the Bermuda Triangle (otherwise known as Chicago). For some reason, my flights through Chicago are always delayed – or, in this case, canceled.

Nevertheless, I found myself on a direct flight to Dallas six-and-a-half hours later. Other than a screaming toddler, the flight was relatively low-key. I digested much of my pre-course reading assignment before landing just yards from an occupied gate. After what seemed like an eternity, the other plane departed.

By the way, is this the new normal of airline travel? I still remember as a kid traveling with my grandmother on flights that were nearly empty. At that time, I had my pick of an entire row, not a measly seat.

IMG_0785But I digress. While the cool evening air and the endless road construction tricked me into thinking it was all a dream, the elegantly decorated hotel lobby pleasantly surprised me. If you follow me on social media, you know just how much I’m digging the magic of the holiday season this year.

Which brings me to today: day one of the program. If you’re not familiar, ATD stands for the Association for Talent Development and the Master Instructional Designer Program is a three-part credential comprising:

  1. A self-directed review of instructional design basics;
  2. A three-day face-to-face intensive learning experience; and
  3. An elective and a learning project.

So, what is instructional design? Fundamentally, it’s a systems approach to analyzing, designing, developing, implementing and evaluating any instructional experience. Put another way, meeting professionals often focus on meeting management and logistics (e.g., food and beverage, AV and function space) while instructional designers focus on the content presented.

Think back to the last conference you attended. Do you remember what you had for lunch? I bet it was a chicken dish of some sort. Now really think about the sessions themselves. Answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions:

  • Were the speakers well prepared?
  • Did they hold your attention?
  • Did they draw upon your prior knowledge?
  • Were you aware of the learning objectives?
  • Was the content well organized? Well delivered?
  • Did you participate in an activity that tested your proficiency?
  • Did you receive feedback about your performance?
  • Have you applied this knowledge to your workplace?

IMG_0787If you answered “no” to a majority of these questions, I’m guessing your experience was less than desirable. It’s also likely that an instructional designer could have improved the sessions by coaching/mentoring those speakers in the elements that result in quality instruction.

Now think about the education sessions your organization offers. How would your attendees answer the questions above?

Whether you mostly utilize industry speakers or professional speakers, it’s likely they have content expertise. That is, they’re recognized as thought leaders within their respective industries. They’re generally not instructional designers, though. That is, they’re not familiar with adult learning, cognitive processing, learning styles and learning objectives – all of which are just the tip of the iceberg.

So, on Feb. 26, 2015, I’ll be further exploring what this means to associations in a webinar I’m developing for the Michigan Society of Association Executives. I hope you’ll save the date and plan to join us. I promise to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” I’ll also help define what’s in it for your organization. Ultimately, instructional design is the new normal. Without it, you simply have chicken, chairs and water.




meet aaron

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

meet kristen

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

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