PCMA’s Approach to Student Engagement: Nurturing Future Leaders

Bringing students through your association’s membership ranks may be challenging, but it’s necessary to develop a pipeline of industry leaders. Learn how the Professional Convention Management Association has created programs and content designed to attract students and encourage them to remain members.

For several years, the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) had a student membership in place with a nominal fee. However, PCMA decided to make membership complimentary for students in 2020.

“In July 2019, Roy Evans, the first president and CEO of PCMA passed away, and we wanted to make student membership complimentary to commemorate his legacy,” said Meredith Rollins, PCMA’s chief community officer and executive director of the PCMA Foundation.

By offering free student membership, PCMA was able to remove a barrier to engagement, allowing students to get immediate access to the association’s resources.

“We’ve had a lot of success with this decision,” Rollins said. “We’ve increased student membership by 300 percent, and it’s been wonderful to build up the next generation of professionals in the business events industry.”

Offering free student membership is just one strategy to attract this group to your organization. Rollins shared how tailoring communication, as well as creating programs that focus on engagement and career opportunities, can encourage students stay with associations beyond their college years.  

Communicate to Your Audience

Though PCMA had more students join since offering free membership, that decision also meant that this group had less skin in the game. In response, the association focused on its communication plan, reaching out to students right before their graduation to encourage them to join the next level of membership.

“That was initially a big gap for us,” Rollins said. “When they take their first industry job, they aren’t necessarily sponsored by their organizations to join PCMA, so we created the Next Gen membership category to make membership more attainable.”

Rollins also recommends using social media when connecting with student members. For instance, PCMA has increased how it engages with student members through LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.

“Tailor your communications to make sure you’re talking to them on the right platforms,” Rollins said. “Our student members just aren’t as reachable through email as some of our other members.”

Engagement and Career Building

Providing student members with resources such as education content and access to established members can help them get a better understanding of the industry and start making early connections.

PCMA gives students access to gated content, including recorded content from meetings and webinars and its member directory, to help them find other members in their local community or near their university.

“We’ve also had our chapters reach out to students in their area,” Rollins said. “It’s a great way to start meeting people in the industry and make connections, which can lead to job opportunities.”

On the career front, PCMA also recently launched an internship portal within its career center, making it easier for students looking for exposure or an introduction into the industry to search through the list and get a better sense of what they want to do.

In addition, it’s important to design programs that keep this group excited about the industry and engaged with the association. PCMA offers a program at its annual meeting where industry experts and professionals talk with students about career pathing and opportunities.

“We’ve also made it easy for students to form their own student chapters,” Rollins said. “Recently, we reduced the steps it takes to form a student chapter, so that’s a way for them to get engaged with us on their campuses.”

PCMA also holds a global competition for student members. Working in teams, students receive a case study and develop a detailed proposal for a mock event from start to finish. 

“We’re always trying to add new offerings,” Rollins said. “Like many industries, we know the pipeline for talent in the business events industry is struggling, and we know our members are concerned about workforce, so we’re doing everything we can as their association to add more opportunities to attract students and keep them engaged.”


Hannah Carvalho

By Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now. MORE

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