Meeting planning might be the new “sharing economy.” That term likely brings to mind crowdfunding and ride-sharing. But without a doubt it lends itself well to how associations, venues, suppliers and event destination marketing operations have been partnering to host in-person conferences once again.
“Other organizations are completely willing to share. ‘Hey, here’s what worked. Here’s what didn’t. Here’s what we ran into,’” says Elaine Richardson, senior director of conference operations and special projects at the National Black MBA Association.
Lesson 1: Collaborate and Then Collaborate Some More
NBMBAA relaunched its Annual Conference & Career Expo in early September at Chicago’s McCormick Place. Intense collaboration internally and with other associations helped make the conference possible, Richardson says. “Everyone has to be really generous with their information.”
That willingness to share and be extra flexible in most every way extends to DMOs, venues and suppliers too as the conference world navigates the COVID-19 recovery landscape.
Both Choose Chicago and McCormick Place “were committed to helping us execute a successful event,” says Elizabeth Ambacher, vice president of meetings and expositions for the National Apartment Association. “We partnered closely with Choose Chicago.”
Like NBMBAA’s conference, NAA’s Apartamentalize 2021 was among the first events held at McCormick Place since the pandemic shuttered the expansive venue.
Ambacher and Richardson say they met often with Choose Chicago staff and McCormick Place leaders—far more than was typical when planning events before the pandemic. The frequent communication helped the meeting planners keep attendees, suppliers and association staffs informed. Both noted that the regular exchanges became especially critical as the Delta variant surged in late spring.
Ambacher recalled that Choose Chicago even gave her a heads-up when the city’s mayor was about to hold a press conference about mask mandates.
Lesson 2: Communicate, Communicate and Communicate Some More
Although Chicago has been proactive in its health and safety measures throughout the pandemic, changes and unknowns continued to force adjustments right up to the NBMBAA and NAA events. That translated to sharing updates with attendees—often and swiftly.
“Overall, we needed to make people feel safe, that it would be safe to come,” Richardson says. To that end, whatever safety updates came out, members and attendees heard it first from NBMBAA.
But, even when providing important safety protocol information, “it’s important to be positive,” Ambacher adds. “We would always pair it with something positive about the conference, something attendees could look forward to.”