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How to pin down an association meeting planner

You know how it goes. You finally get some headspace to complete that report that’s been hanging over you all week. You are poised over the first paragraph when the phone goes. It is an enthusiastic sales person who is convinced their venue is the solution to a problem you don’t think you have. No wonder association buyers avoid cold callers like the rest of use give chuggers the swerve. But that does not mean that venue operators should abandon all hope. Andy Burman, chief executive of the British Dietetic Association, said: “The mistake venue operators make is insisting on speaking to the chief executive – that’s annoying. I could be brought in quite late to the process and someone else will do the legwork. “Venues need to take a more laid back approach – just tell us who they are and what they are.” Burman said that his association has detailed requirements when it comes to deciding where to hold its events. He says: “We are about to sign off on an event for next March. We used to use Vinopolis but it is too big for us. We are looking for a blend of things. We need a lecture theatre for about 300 people but we want much larger exhibition space so we are quite specific.” Sarah Bundock, events and marketing manager at The Physiological Society, underlines Burman’s points. She says: “I’m quite approachable but I don’t like pushy people. A phone call is acceptable but we are specific about the kind of venue we want. It has to be near a major conurbation and a transport hub for one thing. We keep getting calls from Telford but we tell them it really isn’t suitable. “We wouldn’t be swayed by a subvention – I don’t like to call it a bribe – but we do appreciate support. A colleague recently organised an event in Edinburgh and they were great with help blocking off rooms for us and arranging travel passes and free drinks. “I’m responsible for organising our main annual event which will take place in Cardiff in July at the international arena. It is just before the Ashes and the CVB was a great help blocking rooms so we didn’t lose any allocation.” With all eyes on the unsavoury practices of Fifa’s top executives, the thorny issue of paying an association to bring its event to a destination is more sensitive than ever. A survey of UK based PCOs (Professional Conference Organisers) undertaken by the Right Solution revealed that 15% thought subvention was always important in their bid preparation for international conferences, a further 72% thought it was often important and only 14% thought it was rarely important. Celia Galeotti, head of events at the European Wind Energy Association, told CN: “We do pay attention to subvention. We want to know how the destination can support the event.” Aileen Crawford, head of conventions at Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, said: “Associations don’t choose a destination based on price or subvention, they make their decisions based on their own criteria, ambitions and potential links into the specialist subject matter in that city. “We aim to understand what is important to the association to enable us to work in partnership to deliver a successful conference. An example of how we use our expertise to work with associations can be seen through our ambassadors. Glasgow established the first conference ambassador programme in the UK, and since then we have grown this to a talented team of more than 1,660 individuals. “We provide subvention to support the strategic aims of the association. Once attracted, the conference will provide a legacy to the city which includes, knowledge exchange, new research contracts, improved services and new policy dynamics across the city. “Fewer than 4% of meetings that took place last year in Glasgow received subvention. Subvention is not a primary driver for associations to choose a destination. Glasgow trades on its expertise, capability and capacity.” Among recent wins for Dublin are the World Congress on Women’s Mental Health in March 2017 for 800 delegates and an IT technology event for 2,000 people in June 2016. Sam Johnston, manager at the Dublin Convention Bureau, says: “We cover the cost of the bid document or bid presentations. We will cover the costs for up to two of our conference ambassadors to travel to make the formal bid. If needed, we will fully host a site inspection for the decision-makers. Once a bid is confirmed as being won, we can then host the site inspections for the planners to see how the full proposal and programme will work. We provide marketing support to associations, finance that goes towards their efforts to maximise delegate attendance, something that benefits us as a destination and them as organisers. This is based on audited attendance from international delegates - those from outside the Republic of Ireland - and is around €10 per head for the first 999 and €15-20 for each one after that.” Becky Graveney, head of associations at London & Partners, says: “London is unable to offer financial subvention to event organisers but we overcome that by focusing on our exceptional destination offer. We have modern and iconic venues, excellent transport links and a wealth of expert speakers who are working at the forefront of their respective fields”. Nick Brooks-Sykes director of tourism at Marketing Manchester, said subvention was only used in special cases. He said: “Marketing Manchester assists organisers in finding and negotiating the best rates and added value. Where a major event does benefit from financial support, it is assessed on a case by case basis, with the event having to provide robust evidence on its economic impact and its links with the city’s strategic objectives.” Taking a punt on events in Cambridge At Conference Cambridge, staff are celebrating the news that the city has jumped up the International Congress and Convention Association global rankings for events held in 2014. It leapt from 182nd in the world to 101st, up 81 places and in Europe from 95th to 58th, up 37 places. Cambridge has made it into the top five cities, in fifth position behind London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester. In 2013 it was in eighth place. The rankings are based on the total of international association meetings held year on year. Judith Sloane, deputy manager at Conference Cambridge, said: “The service is free, easy to use, saves time and is available to anyone and everyone; and there is no obligation to book. “We also operate the ambassador programme, open to academics who believe that Cambridge would make a great destination for their association or professional body and need advice and support to make it happen. “Many associations and societies will open a competitive bidding process when deciding on a destination for their events and research confirms that bids delivered with the input of a local representative have a stronger chance of success.”