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Turn Your Harshest Critics Into Your Biggest Supporters

By / Apr 25, 2019 (Bulat Silvia/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

While associations may want to hide from negative feedback related to their events, confronting it and responding creatively can turn dissatisfied attendees into die-hard conference supporters.

I’ve blogged a few times about how associations can best respond to negative attendee feedback.

But recently I’ve come across two examples that show how responding to or developing a creative initiative after receiving negative feedback can produce a positive result.

The first came from this week’s episode of Dax Shepard’s podcast, Armchair Expert. During the show, he shared a story about reading an article in the Boston Globe years ago that took an unfair dig at his career. Angry at what was said, he tweeted the reporter and asked him why he wrote what he did. The reporter messaged him back, admitted that he didn’t know why he included it and that it wasn’t fair to Shepard. From that, they ended up building a relationship, bonded over their journeys to sobriety, and even met up years later for coffee.

“The power of something negative is infinitely stronger than the power of something positive,” Shepard said. “But how both sides react to that negativity can result in something better and stronger.”

The second example comes from the Association for Creative Industries. In an article posted on PCMA.org last week, Andria Gibbon, AFCI’s vice president of events and education, discussed the unusual way the group dealt with pushback from members and a significant decline in attendance after it moved its annual Creativation show from its longtime home in Anaheim, California, to Phoenix in 2017.

After brainstorming with the Phoenix CVB, AFCI decided it would fly five members who had openly expressed dissatisfaction after attending previous Phoenix-based Creativation shows to the city ahead of its 2019 meeting to sell them on the location.

Over the course of their three days in Phoenix, these five AFCI members got a private bus tour of downtown, tried out affordable restaurants, and visited places of particular interest to those in the creative industry, including a letterpress and a concrete studio.

The trip won these previously dissatisfied attendees over. But AFCI knew it needed to do the same with its entire membership. To help with this, AFCI’s PR manager checked in with the group during the trip and turned their comments into video testimonials and blog posts that AFCI pushed out on its website and social media channels over several months.

Gibbon told PCMA that she considers the initiative a “huge success:” After two years of decline, attendance at February’s Creativation was flat compared to 2018.

What Shepard and AFCI did wasn’t easy. Sure, Shepard may have had some star power working in his favor, but confronting someone who writes something negative and asking them why they did it takes guts. As does reaching out to attendees who had complained about a conference’s new location in a post-event survey and offering them a free trip to that destination in hopes that you’ll not only change their minds but that they’ll also spread the word to other members that your conference is worth attending.

They both put their egos on the line, recognizing that by making themselves vulnerable they may be able to turn the negative into a positive.

What creative approaches has your associations taken to resolve negative event feedback? Please share in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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