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Focus: Association Meetings Management
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AMCs support the meeting objectives of their association clients through conference design, participant marketing, site selection, registration, programming, technology, logistics, attendee experience, and tradeshow and sponsorship sales. 

Stringfellow Management Group outlines some of the issues associations face when hosting events and speaks to their approach to solving them and ensuring a successful event in their ‘Day in the Life’ of Association Meetings Management video.

Why You Should Retain an AMC to Run Your Meeting

Kathleen A. DeMarco, CAE
Senior Account Executive
Stringfellow Management Group, Inc.

What do you think AMCs offer associations when it comes to meeting management?

There are key attributes that AMCs offer to benefit association clients when it comes to managing their meetings. First, AMCs typically have a variety of clients and that enables us to take approaches, successes, and best practices from a wide range of events, and tailor them to them to a particular client’s meeting whether it’s an annual conference, an awards ceremony, or an educational event for professional, trade or foundation clients. Another important advantage in working with an AMC is our bargaining power. At Stringfellow Management Group for example, we track total room usage and spend data in several categories for all of our client events, and share this data with our major hotel partners. That gives us bargaining power on rates that we can bring to bear for all of our clients, especially smaller associations with less total room usage. Having that kind of leverage makes a big difference for our clients and what they are able to achieve with their meetings.

How do you ensure that the meeting you are working on is attuned to the association's industry and its needs?

Larger AMCs may have teams dedicated to meeting management and they bring that expertise to bear. Our structure is different in that we provide a consistent staff team to work on all aspects of the client’s requirements, year round. The team understands the client, has full knowledge of all programs and projects, and gets to know the volunteer members well, allowing the team to be very attuned to their needs and their industry. We also make a point of attending other events in our clients’ areas of focus, to gain a broader sense of their overall meeting experiences. Finally, we do post event evaluations where we ensure questions are asked that will help us market future events to those who haven’t attended and of course, help improve future meeting experiences for those who were at the event.

What is Stringfellow's approach to working with an association to support their meeting objectives?

Transparency is really important – clear, open and constant communication between the staff team and the volunteers on goals and objectives help us take a customized approach to each client that optimizes their resources across the board. We also work to apply successful elements from our other clients’ meetings when relevant. As an example, one of our clients employs a lot of interactive discussions rather than presentations. We’ve used that model to make technical meetings more interesting by having thought leaders engaging around relevant trends. Overall, I would summarize our approach as focused on transparency, customization, a clear focus on strategic objectives/goals and measureable outcomes.

What are some of the key considerations for associations when retaining an AMC to assist them with their meetings management?

As I alluded to before, AMCs have different approaches and structures so it’s about finding the one that meets their particular needs. Associations should consider their strategic goals and objectives and determine what kind of support they need to ensure their success. Having an AMC partner that takes the time to understand them and their industry, and that also has collaboration at its core is essential. Finally, clearly defining the roles of the staff, volunteers and the AMC team up front is crucial to ensuring the association’s expectations are met.

What do you consider to be some of the important meeting trends associations need to keep in mind?

I think there’s one big trend and it just happens to have a lot of tentacles: technology and how you apply it to your approach to meetings.

We’re seeing more of our clients employ mobile apps, allowing attendees to put together their personal schedule, access information and presentations, and engage in social sharing. Gamification and badging are really gaining traction in that context.

Virtual meetings and learning, once a very painful necessity, has now grown by leaps and bounds because we have technology that enables it to be effective. It will never take the place of face-to-face meetings but if you find the right balance, it can really impact what the association is able to offer, allowing them to go beyond webinars to learning platforms.

And we have to keep in mind how technology has effected how groups engage with each other. Different generations want different things in terms of how information is delivered to them and what networking means for them. We need to ensure we are sensitive to that and that we enable meaningful participation.

Kathleen A. (Kathy) DeMarco, CAE is a Senior Account Executive for Stringfellow Management Group, and serves as the Executive Director for Generic Animal Drug Alliance (GADA), National Association for Small Business International Trade Educators (NASBITE), and Web Sling and & Tie Down Association (WSTDA). She has worked in association management for nearly 30 years, encompassing advancing roles in project and program management, strategic planning and implementation, membership development and retention, budgeting and financial management, meeting and event logistics, and communications.

CASE STUDY: Key Tactics for Virtual Meetings

 

Seven Questions to Ask When Selecting a Meeting Venue

By Marechiel Santos-Lang
Executive Director
AMPED Association Management

 

I recently did a site inspection for an association annual meeting and saw two very different properties in Tampa: one was a magnificent 300-acre resort hotel away from the city; the other was five-minutes from the airport and sitting on 35+ acres overlooking the Old Tampa Bay. In New Orleans, I visited three properties: a historic hotel located right in the French Quarter; a 2,000+ guestroom hotel with views of the riverfront, connected to a convention center and an outlet mall and across from a casino; and a new 1,600-guestroom property located in the Central Business District. As expected, the properties that hosted me had sales team members who were generous, welcoming and enthusiastic.

Just like many of the site inspections I have done in the past, the visit was quick and a whirlwind. You have three-to-four hours to spend in a property, perhaps two-to-three hours more if you’re sharing a meal with their sales managers. If you’re lucky to stay overnight in the hotel you’re considering, you have overnight through the morning-after to get an actual feel for service, the check-in/check-out experience and the state of the upkeep of the hotel and its amenities.

Successful site inspections start with a thoughtful pre-work. In our case, we had our executive committee share with staff their desired cities to host the meeting. The committee first identified over a dozen possibilities. To narrow down the list, I went back to the committee to provide general city information such as a sampling of flight arrival times from major nearby airports (access), weather probabilities on the chosen month (comfort), and the number of association meetings held in the city (experience and attractiveness). From there, the list was narrowed down to eight. Then, I sent out an RFP to all the cities’ convention and visitors bureaus and a few of our chain hotels’ national sales office contacts asking them to forward the RFP to properties they thought had the capability to host a meeting of our size and budget.

The RFP was written with background information of the association, the goals of the meeting, the expected number of attendees, the projected F&B expenses, the detailed program, sleeping room requirements, square footage of and when each meeting room was needed, the concessions requested and the decision factors. I also added custom questions that determine ancillary costs of AV, Wi-Fi and transportation, including questions asking for marketing and sponsorship sales ideas should their hotel be chosen.

I received over 80 responses. Two thirds were declines. To me, this was a good sign. It meant the RFP was thorough enough to weed out properties that didn’t meet the criteria and our budget. In the end, 11 hotels from five cities submitted a bid. After a comparative analysis of the hotels that proposed in each city, I recommended three cities for consideration to the committee. Two of the three bubbled up as choice cities. This led me to pursue hotels in Tampa and New Orleans, the top two cities voted on by the committee.

After four days traversing two major cities, walking through five properties with a combined meeting space of over 600,000 sq. ft., I returned to the home office in Madison with an informed recommendation. The recommendation will be presented during our upcoming program committee and executive committee calls in a couple of weeks.

How did I arrive at my conclusion? What are the factors that a planner might want to consider to suggest a future meeting venue for an association meeting?

Does the venue meet the program goal and match the attendee type?
Yes, the chef’s food sampling could be the tastiest, the property is magnificent and a meeting planner might have been given the chance to sleep in one the hotel’s grandest suites. But does the hotel offer an atmosphere that meets the program goal of the meeting? In our case, the goal was to provide networking, mentorship and collaboration to young, up and coming specialists and researchers. It’s an inaugural meeting for attendees who have a formal work nature. Is the venue conducive to continuing education or would it be distracting? The choice of venue dictates the tone of the future meetings. There are two sayings: Do it right the first time. And, first impressions last. I believe these two apply.

Does the property offer a meeting space that is fluid?
On paper, a property might say they have all 30,000 sq. feet of space you need. But onsite, you discover the meeting rooms suggested require close to 400 steps to navigate between them. If you only have a 20-minute coffee break, the time spent going from and to distant rooms is a time-waster and the opportunity to network is lost.

Is the property accessible?
Access here includes having a good number of fly-in options from various airports, the affordability of the flights and the amount of time it takes to get from the airport to the conference hotel. If the flights your attendees will likely take don’t arrive in the city until noon and your conference opening session is at 1 p.m., going to a property that is 30 miles away and needs to beat noon-hour traffic might not be a good meeting venue choice.

Are the costs within the budget and what’s the value for the money?
Unlike incentive travel or private corporations, an associations’ budget is not unlimited. The hotel must be able to offer costs that meet the budget. A planner should consider not only the big bucket costs, like sleeping rooms, meeting room hire and F&B, but also ancillary costs, like transportation, Wi-Fi and room amenities. It’s possible that a hotel might quote a slightly higher sleeping room rate. But if the hotel offers an all-inclusive rate that covers the guests’ Wi-Fi, access to the fitness center and airport shuttle services, or gives you a complimentary room of 1 to 40 instead of 1 to 50, the extra $10-$15 might be better for the over-all bottom line.

Are there other meetings taking place while your meeting is ongoing?
While it is not reasonable to expect yours would be the only group at a large-sized property, it’s good to know how busy the hotel is going to be while you are holding your meeting. Onsite, you can casually probe hotel staffing levels and preparedness. Their answer will give you a glimpse of their capabilities to handle multiple meetings with the level of service you hope to receive.

Are there renovation plans on the dates you plan to hold the meeting?
While renovation plans aim to please hotel guests in the end, holding a meeting in a property while it is undergoing renovation is not ideal. Find out the gravity of the renovation and how it might affect the meeting and sleeping rooms. As a general rule, I don’t recommend choosing a hotel that has planned renovations, regardless of their extent.

What is the state of the upkeep and maintenance?
The website pictures are breath taking. The descriptions are superbly written. But is the actual state of the infrastructure and maintenance up to par? Nothing replaces a personal site visit to see and imagine for yourself. In one to two years, will this hotel stay the way you’ve seen it, be better or worse?

Marechiel Santos-Lang has experience providing leadership and program management for national and international medical, trade and scientific associations. In 2010, she was named one of InBusiness magazine’s Forty under Forty List of Emerging Leaders. She is one of twelve American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Diversity Executive Leadership Program (DELP) Class of 2015-2017 scholars. DELP is a prestigious two-year program that recognizes individuals from under-represented identity groups who demonstrate exemplary leadership skills and a commitment to advancing the association community. DELP scholars participate in an accelerated leadership program of education, mentoring, and volunteer service in the association community. At AMPED Marechiel serves as the associate director for the Americas Committee for Treatment & Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) and executive director of the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA). 

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