Watch Out, There’s Some New Competition in the Meetings Space

More media brands are holding events to create new revenue streams outside of traditional print and digital advertising. How do these events compete with association meetings, and what can associations learn from them?

Earlier this week I was up in New York City taking some time for my own professional development by attending FOLIO’s MediaNext conference. In other words, I got to geek out with some really smart people who are just as excited as me about discussing the current and future role of media in attracting and engaging audiences and how digital has completely transformed the editorial and advertising environments and will continue to do so in the future.

The relationship that [media] have with a reader is nowhere near as intimate as the relationship an event organizer has with an attendee.

But being that I just so happen to also write this Meetings Blog for, I also went into the conference with that hat on, looking for some nuggets and takeaways that I could bring back to readers.

To be honest, I was worried about how much of what I would see and hear would directly apply to association meetings, but it was relatively easy to find, considering that media brands are concerned with many of the same things as association meetings: Generating revenue, growing subscribers (or attendees, in the case of meetings), and attracting new audiences they’ve never had a relationship with before.

Even more interesting is one new way that media brands are going about doing these three things. Want to take a guess? (Insert six-second pause here.)

By holding meetings and events.

That’s right, with traditional print ad revenue significantly declining, more publications and websites are holding events in order to diversify their revenue streams and build their reader communities. How common is it? Well, over almost three days of the conference, I would guess that the idea of holding branded events around content, publications, or websites came up in more than half of the sessions I attended.

Why the sudden push? “The relationship that [media] have with a reader is nowhere near as intimate as the relationship an event organizer has with an attendee,” said Ray Bianchi, senior director of expositions and events for the American Farm Bureau, which produces five of the largest agricultural events. “Brand equity around a magazine or other publication or web article is not enough to change behavior, and that’s why publications are being asked by sponsors to start live events—because face-to-face can transform behavior.”

Bianchi offered up The Economist as an example: The publication receives as much revenue from its events as it does from traditional advertising sources. “They’ve been successful because they’ve offered elite, cutting-edge education to people that they can’t get elsewhere,” he said. “They’ve found their niche, and they know how to serve it.” Bianchi also added that these events are doing well because they are quick to market. For instance, The Economist can launch an event within two months of coming up with the initial idea and sell it out. How many associations are able to do that? Probably not many.

While these new events from the for-profit sector do add competition to the marketplace, imagine the possibilities in terms of revenue and member engagement if associations could be a bit more nimble around developing and executing events. Of course, I’m not talking annual meetings, but smaller in-person or virtual offerings. Take a look at which of your content is creating the most buzz at the moment—whether a magazine article, blog post, new story, or book—and create an event around it, something I wrote about a few months back.

Sam Martin, Texas Monthly’s director of digital strategy, has seen it work. “Events are a big part of our community building,” he said during his session at MediaNext. The magazine has started to host events that correspond with some of its cover stories and its annual Texas Monthly BBQ Fest, which brings together a “community of people from all around the world who love barbecue” and corresponds with the publication’s annual top-50 list, is sold out. “We bring people together. They eat. They drink. They get to know one another and build the community, which translates to additional revenue for us,” he said.

Bill Harper, vice president and group publisher of Yoga Journal and Vegetarian Times, also is on the same page. He said he has one goal in mind when it comes to their publication-branded events: “To bring the magazine alive and to deliver an experience attendees would never have the opportunity to replicate elsewhere.”

Sounds a whole lot like what associations strive to do at their meetings, doesn’t it?

Now my intention in writing this post isn’t to scare you about some new competition. Rather, my goal is to get you thinking about if you’re meeting your attendee expectations currently, and if you’re not, what could you tweak or change right now or in the near future to deliver these same types of experiences to your attendees with some of the same goals in mind?

After all, at a minimum, customers and members expect the same experience from your association as they do from anywhere else they get their knowledge. With additional competition, how are you making sure you carve out that niche for your association and that your members continue to view your events as their “must-attends” to engage and build community? Share your thoughts below.

FOLIO’s MediaNext conference, held earlier this week. (photo via FOLIO's Facebook page)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!