When the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) first coined and defined strategic meetings management, it was initially for multi-million enterprises holding dozens of company-wide meetings annually and investing millions of dollars in these internal corporate events. Eventually, the relevance of implementing strategic meetings management expanded as smaller organizations started holding and putting more money into their meetings.
Associations is one segment that developed a need for a strategic meetings management program:
The three biggest associations in the United States — the American Association of Retired Persons, the National Rifle Association, and the National Education Association — have a cumulative membership of approximately 44.7 million members.
Associations advocate group the Power of A estimates that one-third of Americans are a part of associations — whether as members, employees, or volunteers. According to their research, there are approximately 315,000 association meetings held in the U.S. annually with approximately 59.5 million participants attending these events.
Given the volume of activity surrounding association meetings and the amount of money spent on these events, it comes as no surprise that there is an increasing need for a strategic meetings management program among associations.
If you’re involved in the planning of meetings and events for your association, here are three tips if you’re considering implementing a strategic meetings management program:
1. Centralize the Tracking for All Your Meetings
The majority of associations plan their meetings budget for the calendar year during their planning sessions. This may work for small associations, but not so much for bigger organizations. This is because these planning sessions usually don’t take into account all board meetings, retreats, and smaller activities. The expenses associated with setting up small association meetings can quickly add up and create a deficit due to unaccounted/unplanned spend.
The scenario becomes even more problematic if an association has several geographically disparate chapters and each is planning its own set of meetings that don’t go through a centralized system.
One of the key components of building a strategic meetings management program is to create a centralized system where all meetings and meeting budgets are approved. With a centralized system, all meetings are approved and budgeted for using one standardized set of procedures.
2. Get Lower Rates from Hotels and Suppliers by Leveraging Spending
Hoteliers are expecting that meeting expenditure will rise by 0.8% per attendee. With a budget that is typically smaller compared to big enterprises, cost-reduction is one of the biggest goals of a strategic meetings management program among associations.
By leveraging cumulative and bulk spending, associations are able to negotiate lower rates and secure cost-saving contracts from vendors, suppliers, and other event partners such as hotels. If you are a smaller association and you don’t hold enough meetings in a year to qualify for lower rates, you can seek the services of a strategic meetings management partner. What this firm could do is combine the meetings/events of all its clients to negotiate contracts with hotels and suppliers. It works like a mutual fund. These firms pool small investments together to get better leverage with the joint spending of their clients.
3. Focus on Strategy and Involve Stakeholders/Potential Partners as Early as Possible
A well thought out and customized strategy is crucial to achieving sustained success with strategic meetings management. What are the goals of your associations and what are your objectives with your association meetings and events? Where does a strategic meetings management program come in?
The tactics — how to source, what functions to outsource, how to handle payments, what technology to use, and policy issuance — needs to come from a centralized strategy.
Once you have a core strategy, involve relevant stakeholders and potential partners right away. This includes your association chapter leaders, highly-engaged members, key community personalities, and potential partners such as hoteliers. Involving them in the process as early as possible increases your chances of getting buy-in from your internal stakeholders. This also creates opportunities for potential partners to give their feedback as they will be crucial in the success of your strategic meetings management program, especially when it comes to getting cost-saving contracts from vendors and suppliers.
Strategic Meetings Management = Better Meeting Experience for Your Association Members
To some extent, associations have similar goals as large enterprises — build recognition, engage and empower stakeholders and members, and use meetings and events to help share critical information such as new objectives and where the association is headed. It was really just a matter of time before associations realized the value of implementing a strategic meetings management program.
At the end of the day, the goal of any association is to create a bigger and stronger membership base in order to further advocate its agenda. The quality of the experience that members get from your meetings is a big factor in achieving this goal. Thus, the need for you to implement a strategic meetings management program.