For decades, association management companies (AMCs) were perceived as firms that catered to small associations who could not afford their own staff, offices, furniture and equipment. This could not be further from the truth, then and particularly, now. For many years, AMCs have managed trade and professional associations with budgets running into the multi-millions. They could not have accomplished that without offering a wide, comprehensive array of services necessary to successfully manage full-service, growing associations.
Quite prominent among these services have been conference and trade show management. It is very common for even the smallest of AMCs to arrange, administer and sell multiple conferences and trade shows within a given year, with larger firms handling as many as one hundred or more of these functions annually. Clearly, AMCs possess the knowledge, expertise, and experience to not only manage meetings and trade shows, but to promote and sell them as well.
Over the last decade, there has been a decided shift by AMCs to unbundle many of their services and sell them individually to the customary not-for-profit entities. An additional, concurrent shift, has been the promotion of these unbundled services to for-profit organizations. Both of these factors have led to new marketing opportunities for AMCs, and consequently, have allowed a wider range of organizations to utilize their services.
Why the shift? There is a growing need for standalone associations (those with staffs and offices of their own) and corporations to reduce their budgets and work smarter. This has been happening for several years.
Think about the fact that it takes a sizable staffing effort to properly manage all phases of a major conference. Throw in a trade show, and it becomes a yeoman’s task. Depending upon the size of an organization, it will either maintain a dedicated conference/trade show staff, or pull supplemental staff in from other departments to help along the way. This can be detrimental to the organization in two ways: 1) it is maintaining a conference/trade show staff all year-round when it really only requires this level of effort for a portion of the year; and 2) if it pulls other staff in to assist with conference planning, it means something else in the organization isn’t getting done.
AMCs offer an alternative to these scenarios. Their involvement in an association’s conference and/or trade show can be as much or as little as the association wishes. They can take over the entire project for you, or handle just one segment. They can work with an in-house director of meetings, or serve in that capacity for an organization.
Many AMCs offer trade show planning services, ranging from one end of the spectrum to the other, including developing sales prospectuses for potential exhibitors, designing floor plans, selling and assigning exhibit space, making all arrangements for food functions, signage, and audio-visual. They also serve as an on-site administrator, handling all post-trade show business such as thank you letters, review and payment of invoices, debriefing and making recommendations for the following year’s show. Even small trade shows are huge undertakings, and AMCs can relieve organizations of the multitude of tasks necessary to pull off a highly successful one. The same holds true of meetings, conferences and conventions. Either working in tandem with your meeting planning staff, or serving as that staff, AMCs will work efficiently, profitably and professionally on your behalf, freeing your staff to handle other elements of business.
Do AMCs charge rates that are less expensive than maintaining your own staff for these functions? No - their costs for staff, office space and equipment are the same as yours. However, there is a built-in cost-efficiency that can, and often does result in reduced costs for your organization. You are only hiring an AMC for the job at hand and therefore, you are only buying the time necessary to do the work. Plus, as an agency-type business, AMCs are accustomed to working quickly and efficiently. By necessity, they have developed task-oriented systems and procedures that lend themselves to speed and efficiency, while still maintaining a high level of quality.
Is there a danger of the AMC undermining your staff, and by virtue of doing a terrific job, supplanting the need for your association’s staff? AMCs recognize that while they are in the business of offering comprehensive services to associations, they are also very sensitive about the concerns that some staff members may have. Quality AMCs will offer non-compete agreements as part of their standard arrangement.
Association management companies offer the expertise, experience and comprehensive knowledge of meeting and trade show planning that is hard to duplicate elsewhere. If you are considering outsourcing any of these functions, your organization would do well to consider an AMC.
Cliff Brownstein is the Principal in the management consulting firm Practical Strategies. He specializes in addressing strategic management and marketing issues for AMCs and associations, and is a former AMC owner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 301-299-6068.