Let’s deal with another association sacred cow; ego driven meetings. This is a true “elephant in the living room” situation—one where we all look at it but deny its existence. Does your meeting really need all the frills, extras, and perks?
First let’s ask ourselves, for whom is the meeting really intended? Is it for the active working industry stakeholders? Then why all the frivolous meeting trappings—who are we trying to impress? Or might it be to impress non-members? If we are trying to impress non-members with our meeting “smoke and mirrors,” does that mean that we have no honest ROI (return on investment) to offer in return for one’s annual membership dues of conference registration?
If we want our industry stakeholders to consistently support our meetings, we need to cut out the fat and deliver the meat. Frills are fat—meat is education and effective networking. Control extravagant extras that deliver no real ROI to the attendees. If only a few members golf, but we are keeping a deceased golf tournament on life-support—why? Let’s stop the unnecessary spending and deliver real value for every dollar that is invested in our meeting registration, hotel stay, and travel.
The Real Cost
Every meetings industry magazine features at least one article annually on reducing meeting cost. Even the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association puts on three “Affordable Meetings” conferences a year. It is the same old tired saw, “We’ve got to do more with less.” But, is that true? Line item veto is the necessary tool to employ here.
For years, associations have been able to get “Meeting Partners,” aka, vendor sponsors to pop, in many cases, for the lion’s share of the meeting cost. But wait, today the vendors are expecting ROI—now what do we do? Moving past my caustic cynicism, may I please point out the elephant? Let’s talk about unnecessary frills, elite member benefits, and ego driven decisions.
While every meeting and industry is different, what remains constant is the discretionary spending of the executive director and volunteer president. This is where there are generally plenty of sacred cows to grind. Does the volunteer president really need a suite? Perhaps it is necessary; but only if he or she hosts nightly events for the membership.
Hauling staff across the country to an annual meeting can be a nice reward for the staff member but first do the cost-benefit analysis. Many times it will be more cost effective to hire local temporary help. But the earned flights and staff rooms are free. No they’re not. I have personally negotiated and signed enough meeting contracts to know that this is erroneous thinking.
“The general session staging was so beautiful and I was really motivated to attend the meeting because Mr. or Ms. National Celebrity was keynoting. “ Really—do you really hear this? I don’t think so. If you have to pay a national celebrity a hundred grand to motivate people to come to your meeting, what does that say about the value of your meeting? Sorry, but not much. Deliver the meat rather than the fat—give the attendees something that will actually make their business and personal life better. Deliver usable skills, knowledge, and perspectives.
Elite Member Benefits
What about room upgrades for the board members and past presidents? Do you really think the upgrades are free? Not on your life; the rank and file members are paying for those upgrades in their nightly room rate. How about extravagant board dinners? The adage of rewarding board members for their service is questionable. They get more value than do other members through their high-levels of engagement. There is also another reality; some of the board members evade their responsibility and are bankrupt of action and follow through. Why reward them? While I’m not suggesting that board member recognitions are valueless, just that they must be tempered with results. Otherwise, that spending will easily diminish the ROI for the rest of the members.
Elite member benefits manifest in the most unusual ways. As an example; one association in North America gives its president, each year, a travel budget of $25,000 to visit other “sister” organizations around the globe. Does that help the North American members’ ROI? Absolutely not, there is zero benefit to the membership in that presidential perk. It is just a bonus the board voted into policy for itself. Would the money be better spent promoting the association’s accreditation program or possibly offering better food at their convention? Sure it would be more logical, but then it is an ego driven decision.
Associations must be responsible and look close at line items and be aware of the times. Like the challenge of overly lavish salaries and benefits for municipal, state, and federal employees, during a time of budget shortfalls. When public sector employment packages eclipse those of the private sector, the private sector will revolt. Associations must consider the same conundrum as it is easier for association members to vote with their checkbooks than change their government.
Ego Driven Meeting
How wonderful is the yearly “President’s Theme” in the greater scheme of things? Truly, the association’s executive director should be the holder of the long-term vision—providing that the association can keep one. The yearly presidential zigzags in direction serve nobody except the president’s ego. Stop it already! The money spent is squandered, unnecessary, and just another cost escalator.
Then there are the president’s, executive director’s, and the conference chair’s discretionary funds to be used for whatever they want. Might some oversight be in order here? Those funds simply raise the total cost of meetings and thereby minimize the ROI for members.
The hard truth is that while social conscience activities give us warm fuzzes, they are generally ego-driven. These activities deliver no ROI to attendees other than good feelings, and possibly a bit of networking. Do those activities if you must, however be honest about the motivation and the ROI depreciating effect on your event. Yes, a few members will laud the association for its efforts; however most will just tolerate the event. The preponderance of our society members prefer to give in their own way, rather than being forced into the herd mentality.
All of the above might be considered necessary and at miniscule cost. However, on a singular basis each might be acceptable but collectively these line-items can dramatically increase the total cost of your meeting and greatly reduce the ROI that your members receive for their meeting attendance investment.
Don’t Forget the Sponsor Needs
All too frequently, pushed to the back burner of importance, is the ROI that meeting sponsors receive. Today, so many associations call their sponsors, “Partners” but what does that really mean? Partners: what a wonderfully erroneous and politically correct term. Partner is actually a legal term with a very specific meaning and liability for one another is connected. There is little ROI for sponsors in ego driven meetings—labels do not deliver value. Sponsors are there for one reason—to do business—to sell.
Meeting sponsors are an incredibly precious asset that associations must nurture and cherish. Otherwise, those comfortable and expected checks will go somewhere else. Just to get you thinking, how many companies are now channeling a healthy percentage of their marketing budgets away from traditional broadcast and print media toward social (Internet) media? Yearly, the numbers are quickly increasing.
Also to get you thinking, many hospitality companies have rechanneled their marketing budgets away from traditional trade expos in favor of hosted buyer events. Why, because the hosted events deliver better ROI. Vendors have choice. Many associations would be well served by transferring the hotel room upgrades away from board members and toward their valued “Partner” sponsors. This will help them to engage in their primary desired activity—selling.
Meetings, and their sponsoring organizations, must deliver honest real-dollar ROI to all members, in all categories, in order for them to consistently lend their support. Consider grinding up yet another sacred cow—the ego driven meeting. Also consider running all budgetary spending, regardless of new or legacy, through a cost-benefit analysis matrix to find more sacred cows for the grinder. Always error on the side of more ROI for your the members.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.
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