Why on earth work with associations?

Simon Pryor FSAE FAIM

About Simon Pryor

Simon Pryor has been Chief Executive Officer of the Mathematical Association of Victoria for the past ten years, part of a continuing thirty-plus year career in the not-for-profit sector. A committed professional, he has served as a volunteer director of the peak body in the association sector for four years and, as a result, now serves as the inaugural President of the Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE), formed from Associations New Zealand Incorporated and the previous Australian Society of Association Executives. He has experience as a small business and economic developer and as a strategic planner for local government. He is on the board of the NFP responsible for the celebrated Brunswick Music Festival and has served as Mayor of his local city. He takes pride in his past as a Melbourne tram conductor.

Why would you (work with an association as a PCO)? The list of good reasons not to is considerable. Volunteer committees that take an eon to make the simplest of decisions. The uncertain finances of a not-for-profit trade, industry, professional or sporting body. Folk who know no boundaries and insist they know your profession of meetings and events management better than you. The perils of the international bid. The vagaries of politics in a small organisation. A drawn out business cycle to plan around. Managers whose key priority is to reign in costs. Committees who want it all, but for a song. Traditions that stand in the path of progress.

This is just the beginning of a list of negatives that could so readily be added to.

But consider this: Throughout the global financial downturn, the impact on tourism of Aussie dollar highs and business naysayers criticising the value of face-to-face meetings, New Zealand and Australian trade, industry and professional associations have continued to hold education events, plan trade exhibitions and conduct meetings of members. Sure, the number of participants attending each event may have been down, but in the main the frequency of these association meetings and events have held up over the last three years. Now, can a PCO say that about the meetings and events held in the other two big sectors of the New Zealand and Australian economies; government or the corporates? Probably not.

Associations can be the great constant for a stable PCO business. Never the most lucrative of clients, but less likely to cancel their business at the slightest economic tremor.

The question arises, though, as to whether there is enough of this association business to go around. To which the rejoinder is; are you kidding? A typical European, North American and Australasian economy is made up of a public (or government) sector, business (For-profits as big as Apple and BHP-Billiton and as small as the local family-run foodcart) and a large NFP sector (Charities, community agencies and trade, industry and professional associations). Generally, this overall NFP sector can be as large as a nation’s entire retail sector. This means that, within the overall NFP sector, there will be many thousands of trade and professional associations in each and every nation. All of them arrange meetings; from small Board meetings through regional and national meetings all the way to huge international meetings.

Australia’s Productivity Commission reports that the total  NFP sector consists of at least 700,000 organisations with over 59,000 being ‘economically significant’ entities, employing over 890,000 staff and involving the services of 4.6 million volunteers with a gross value added (GVA) contribution to Australia’s economy of at least $AUD 55.6 billion. Flowing from the work of the Productivity Commission, AuSAE calculates that there are over 16,500 trade, industry and professional associations in New Zealand and Australia for PCOs to work with. Now, for PCOs on both sides of the Tasman, that is a bag load of potential business.

Convinced that your PCO enterprise needs to capture some of the meetings and events business that must inevitably flow from these 16,500 associations? Keen to start identifying just who these bodies are? Interested in developing the knowledge and expertise that will ensure your business knows how to engage with the association sector? Well, now that we have your attention, these are questions for another day.

*The PCO Association has invited Simon Pryor to contribute irregularly to the PCO column in CIM. In future editions he will delve further into the important relationship between the meetings and events industry and the world of associations.

Managing Change in the Mice Sector

What would you do in your business, if, in 12 months time, your product or service was irrelevant?

That was the challenging question posed to delegates at the PCO Association’s annual conference in Auckland by Lynne Schinella, chief executive of training company Ripe Learning.

Schinella said the conference theme “Adapt, Improvise, Overcome” was very apt, as she predicted that 2012/13 would be a “fairly stagnant” market.

“I don’t think that’s ever been more relevant as we teeter on the brink of another GFC, at best in Australia and New Zealand we can expect a market with little growth and plenty of turbulent times ahead,” she said.

“I hear a lot about innovation but don’t really see much evidence of it.”

Emerging trends included cost-cutting, small events merging with larger ones, intense competition for attention, and delegates looking for more connection.

She said studies showed that a high percentage of respondents took part in virtual conferencing, and that tweeting was a growing trend in both online and live events. Free internet would soon become a staple requirement at conferences as delegates increasingly used the high tech tools available to them.

But many people – especially those in the SOHO sector – were still looking for human contact.

“Networking, business leads and education – these are the three reasons people attend conferences,” she said.

“The cornerstone of education is the speakers – they should be relevant, on-topic, and authorities in their field.”

As change was inevitable, it was important to learn how to manage it, she said.

“Desire and belief are not enough. Focus and commitment are needed.

“Don’t just wait for change to happen. Create change – if you are an innovator, you are ahead of your competition and you are the one making the rules. Use the strengths of people in your organisation who love change.

“In healthy economic times, you can get away with one size fits all. But when it’s time to adapt, innovate and grow, we need diversity. Differences in people bring fresh perspective, different ideas, robust debate and innovation. If your team is full of one type of person growth will be stifled, because everyone is too busy validating each other’s ideas.

“It is not the smartest or most talented people who get the best results, it is those who take massive action towards their goal.”

Useful websites recommended by Lynne Schinella for managing change:


Insurance Matters

Insuring against a range of potentially disastrous events – not just natural disasters – is essential for PCOs, according to Jason Holmes, of H2 Insurance Solutions.

“What can you do to protect the financial investment of your client in the case of, for example, a fire at the venue you have booked?” he asked delegates at the PCO Association conference.

With the recent history of so many natural disasters – the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, earthquakes in Christchurch and Japan, floods and cyclones in Queensland, hurricanes in the United States and floods in Thailand – PCOs should be thinking of how to best protect themselves and their clients if the worst happens.

Potential risks include damaged venues, gas leaks, death or serious workplace injury, airport closures because of bad weather, adverse weather at outdoor venues (including marquees) and the non-appearance of key speakers for your client’s conference. Circumstances may also prevent overseas delegates from getting to the conference.

Holmes said other issues include communicable diseases such as bird flu or SARS also need to be considered, and insurance cover for terrorism events is also being asked about more and more.

He said PCOs should make their clients aware of the need for insurance, assess the risk and establish how high it is, then decide whether to accept that risk or to insure against it.

The next decision is how much to insure for, whether that is gross revenue, costs and expenses or net profit.  The minimum should be insurance for full costs and expenses, he said.

PCO businesses need professional indemnity, public liability, business package (property theft, vehicles) and general property (laptops etc) insurance, he said. All PCOs should at least have liability insurance so they are not responsible for something that is the responsibility of the conference owner or promoter.

“Insurance does matter,” he told delegates. “Protect the finances of your conference and make sure your client knows it.”