Meetings

Global Spotlight: A Big Strategy: Think Small

By / Aug 1, 2019 (ShawnRayHarris/E+/Getty Images Plus)

How small regional events can engage a global membership.

In 2010, the Academy of Management anticipated that it would soon reach a crossroads: By 2020, more than half its members would hail from outside North America. Much of that growth had been organic, and AOM, which represents management and organization scholars, needed a strategy to better serve its increasingly global membership.

“We did a comprehensive membership survey to ask how the academy could become indispensable to them,” says Terese M. Loncar, AOM’s chief operating officer. “A lot of the responses were, ‘Have a meeting in my backyard.’”

Simple enough. But AOM wanted to make sure that any initiative to launch regional meetings didn’t cannibalize its big annual meeting, which was regularly held in North America and attracted more than half its attendees from outside the continent.

So AOM’s approach has been to think small and build regionally. It’s hosted workshops for as few as 50 attendees in places like Ghana, Hong Kong, and Chile, where there’s a known base of academics in the field. From there, AOM builds partnerships with schools to launch regional specialized conferences for as many as 500, targeting those prior workshop attendees in Chile, for example, to attend a larger meeting in Mexico City.

“That’s the kind of starting point that these small workshops create,” Loncar says. “We’ve learned that we can plant seeds through those workshops.”

AOM has learned plenty about the importance of partnership-building, contracts, and cultural intelligence through the process, and the regional conferences have proven profitable, Loncar says. Moreover, the conferences have drawn in substantial numbers of people new to AOM’s work: 40 percent of attendees at recent regional conferences in the UK and Israel were nonmembers.

“It’s a byproduct we’re incredibly surprised about,” Loncar says. “We’ve thought first to serve our members, but there’s a conversion opportunity on the back end.”

In the past two years, AOM has hosted two regional conferences every year and plans to continue that pace. Moreover, its success with those meetings has made AOM confident enough to take its biggest conference global, moving it to Copenhagen in 2025 with plans to move it around the globe in the years to come.

That, Loncar says, can help AOM meet its goal of becoming truly international by lowering financial barriers to entry.

“Meetings revenue has overtaken membership revenue in our organization, and that’s intentional,” she says. “We’d love to reduce our membership rates, have more members, and grow both the conferences and membership as a byproduct.”

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. More »

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