Association and Exhibition Model – Not So Dissimilar

This post written by Cathy Breden, CAE, CMP, Executive Director of CEIR

A blog post written by Seth Kahan for Fast Company outlines six key issues he sees not-for-profit associations facing. He states that powerful economic trends are reshaping associations. I agree that economic trends are impacting associations, but to a much larger degree it is access to readily available information and connections that can be made via the Internet that have the potential for causing a major disruption to membership as we know it. Several of the points he makes also hold true for the exhibition industry.

Mr. Kahan states that the fundamental model of membership is in question. Sound familiar? Many have said the fundamental exhibition model is dead. Certainly, CEIR’s own studies do not show this to be the case.

He suggests that many are no longer willing to pay to belong to an association, especially with education being so readily available, which is true; however, the key is how valuable the education is to an individual, how the individual wants it delivered and how much are they willing to pay.

Associations are the largest provider of post-college education and skills training for America’s work force. A lot of that education takes place on a show floor! He references Facebook as a large association with the ability to start a group at no cost. Sound familiar?

He also suggests that membership in an association may be turning into an engaged action, which he defines as the collective action of a group. The action may be anticipated or intentional and might include taking a class, buying a product, attending a live event, and tweeting, for instance. Certainly, we strive to create meaningful engagement on the show floor.

Competitive intelligence and Big Data are today’s buzz words. I do agree that having the ability to dive deep into data to understand the needs, wants and desire of customers is critical, regardless of the organization type. Many organizations are challenged with how to collect the data, and even more challenged with how to interpret the data into meaningful, useful information. LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest are way ahead and have the deep pockets to do so.

Exhibition organizers are also facing these challenges. Exhibitors and attendees/buyers alike have been impacted by the global economy, and today more than ever, exhibition organizers need to understand where the growth opportunities lie, and be continually innovative in developing experiences around the needs and wants of their customers. To be successful, organizers must be proactive rather than reactive, mapping out their strategies, yet being nimble enough to quickly adjust those strategies.

It will be interesting to see how associations respond to the challenges outlined in Mr. Kahan’s post, just as it will in the exhibition industry. One thing is certain, we continue to live operate in a time of constant and breathtaking change. We all better be prepared.

What are your thoughts?

I can’t get away without mentioning Predict: CEIR’s Annual Outlook Conference, 12 September 2013 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. During these unpredictable times, the Predict program is being created to help in identifying and developing business strategies for remaining relevant in a disruptive business environment. If you are a C-level exhibition organizer and are thinking about whether to attend, send me an email.

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