Meeting Crashers: How Concerned Should You Be?

Meeting crashers are skipping the formal registration process and are instead lurking at parties, at bars, and in lobbies to get face time with your registered attendees. How can you deal with the issue and avoid a loss of revenue?

I’m sure that many of you have seen movie Wedding Crashers. But just in case you need a refresher or an introduction, actors Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn star as a pair of divorce mediators who frequently “crash” wedding parties, complete with elaborate cover stories, all in an effort to enjoy free food and drink, meet women, and network with powerful—and sometimes famous—guests.

Just by running into [clients and friends], they introduced us to a bunch of potential new clients.

Don’t quite understand how this has anything to do with association conferences? Well, I have two words for you: meeting crashers.

Earlier this week I was pointed to a New York Times article that took a look at how people are working the bars and hotel lobbies on the sidelines of events, such as the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, to meet potential clients and partners—instead of paying to attend.

According to the Times, the cheapest pass for the festival was 3,252 euros, or about $4,300. One crasher, Justin Gignac, told the publication that during the weeklong event he and his company cofounder networked at night at restaurants, bars, and parties. “We had a lot of clients and friends there,” he said. “Just by running into them, they introduced us to a bunch of potential new clients.”

Others interviewed in the piece said other factors are leading to conference crashing, including hotel and travel expenses on top of registration fees. And many attendees believe they can get the information and education they used to get at conferences at any time now, thanks to the internet. So, the main reason they attend these events is to network and get face time with others in their industry.

No matter the reason for the rise of the meeting crasher, what can planners do to crack down?

One solution could be to charge a premium for networking. The Times piece gave the example of Internet Week New York: Only the most expensive pass—at a price of $1,295—gave participants access to parties, mixers, and networking.

Back in July, Dave Lutz over at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting suggested a few ways planners and organizations can counter conference scammers. He suggested that instead of making them pay a premium, you can lure these ambushers in by “offering a more affordable option, like a Limited Access Pass, which includes opportunities to attend some of your major networking functions.”

Another strategy is to take advantage of technologies like QR codes and RFID (radio-frequency identification) that allow you to scan badges and limit access to properly credentialed attendees. These tools have some limitations: They would not work beyond the confines of a meeting’s traditional venues, such as the convention center and at association-sanctioned receptions, unless you also got party sponsors to support it.

However, you also can go more low-tech with this. If crashers are becoming a problem at your event, let convention center and reception venue staff know about it and work with them to come up with a plan of attack.

For example, I was particularly impressed with how thorough Music City Center staff was in checking credentials when you walked into the convention center at the ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition in Nashville last week.

But perhaps the best thing you can do to keep people interested in your conference beyond its networking opportunities is to do as Lutz suggests and constantly change things up to keep attendees on their toes as to what to expect and then exceed expectations, making them want to register for the next conference.

Has your organization had to deal with meeting crashers? If so, how did you handle it? Or what are you currently doing to keep them away? Share your story in the comments.

If you see these guys at your meeting, check their badges. (New Line Cinema)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

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