Focus: Blog

"Travel Safe" carries new meeting in conference planning

Posted by Kimberly LaBounty on Wed, Oct, 29, 2014 @ 23:10 PM


Business as Usual for Meetings and Events Despite Ebola Fears

With fears of Ebola spreading in the country spreading faster than cases of the deadly disease, there are few signs that the anxiety is affecting the meetings and events industry.

In a poll released on October 16, the Global Business Travel Association found nearly 80 percent of the 421 corporate travel survey say the disease has little to no impact on international plans in the past month. Additionally, more than 90 percent say it has not affected domestic travel plans.

The poll was conducted between October 13 and October 15, the day news broke that one of the nurses who treated a patient that died of Ebola in Texas and is now exhibiting symptoms had flown for Cleveland to Dallas while running a fever of 99.5 degrees.

While her temperature was lower than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for screening travelers in Ebola-affected countries, the health agency acknowledged the health-care worker should not have been allowed to fly on the Frontier Airlines with 132 other passengers. The airline and CDC are reaching out to those on board, though the consensus from medical officials is the disease was probably not spread because the nurse was only in the early stages of Ebola.

A day after the latest bit of bad news, one air traveler at Washington Dulles International Airport was seen in a full-body Hazmat suit. Similarly, a Washington Poll nationwide survey found two-thirds of Americans are concerned about Ebola, with 40 percent of respondents saying they are worried a family member will become infected. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) added to the chorus of fear, suggesting on Thursday President Obama place a temporary travel ban on the West African counties where nearly 4,500 people have died from the virus.

The president has thus far resisted such measures, earning kudos from the Washington D.C.-based U.S. Travel Association. “The Obama Administration’s Ebola response has thus far been thoughtful and measured, and has resisted the temptation for draconian overreaction,” USTA President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement on October 8. “Relevant agencies across the federal government deserve praise for the responsible, deliberative approach they have brought to this high-profile problem.”

The Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau is taking a similarly cautious stance. The CVB reported no meeting cancellations since Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan died on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. (A second nurse who treated Duncan and contracted Ebola is now listed in good condition by the hospital.) The Design-Build Institute of America held its annual conference and expo in Dallas in early October, reporting more than 1,500 attendees on its website.

“It’s been very low key, matter of fact,” says Dallas CVP and CEO President Phillip J. Jones of the reaction he’s seen. “You’re not going to get Ebola by walking down the street. You have to be in within very close proximity with someone who’s been infected.”

That said, Jones says he and his team are monitoring the fluid situation on an hourly basis. For now, the CVB is focused on education efforts, just as planners are. The GBTA study found 36 percent of travel managers gave tips related to Ebola, and another 41 percent planned to do so in the future.

Topics: association strategy, meeting planning, online marketing

Trends for 2014 - Content and Communication Strategy

Posted by Kimberly LaBounty on Thu, Jan, 23, 2014 @ 12:01 PM

I was just reading an aricle published by Entrepreneur magazine, "5 SEO Trends Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know for 2014" and thought it to be a great list for our associations too. The first one really got my mind moving. Author Jayson Demers tells us:

Effective SEO has three pillars

Jayson encourages us consider content, links AND social media when designing our content jack black school rockand considering marketing and content strategy. He emphasizes the importance of focused content and explains we should consider social media an extension of our reach. I know here at Apex we work to ensure the content of our blasts are also  mentioned in our FaceBook and LinkedIn pages, and tweeted when it makes sense. Jayson reinforces the importance of that -  search engines think our stuff is important as a result because it is discussed socially. Add to that links from other sites and it's the equivilent of becoming the content rock star. Not only do you have something good to say, but everyone else thinks so too.

I thought this was great for those of us in the association world. So often we want to be "the source for X(insert area of industry expertise here)" but don't always accomplish that. These three pillars help us remember that our content needs to be valuable and we need to reference it in our social media channels. Then, why not suggest to our members that they also reference it on their sites or in their social medial pages. We share calendar listings with other associations. Wouldn't it be great if our members also mentioned us? For example, are we suggesting in our speaker agreements that faculty mention their participation in their sites or social media pages, and do we provide a link to our conference page? Are our newsletter authors doing the same?

Do you have ways you are connecting these three pillars with your associations? I'd love to hear it!

For those who want to read the other four, here's the link to the article:

Topics: marketing strategy, social media, marketing content, content ideas, association strategy

Perfection in Meeting Planning

Posted by Kimberly LaBounty on Wed, Jan, 23, 2013 @ 21:01 PM

Earlier this winter I was asked to come to Tupelo, MS. The birthplace of Elvis Presley, it has a great downtown, a buzzing business community, and divine blueberry donuts at Connie's! I met with the staff and leadership of the Chamber of Commerce and Department of Economic Development. Together, they hold approximately 120 events per year. Their meetings had a great reputation and staff felt they were doing a good job, but they wanted someone to take a look at their planning processes, the events themselves, and how they are managed internally. They told me they wanted to reach PERFECTION.

A I arrived to a well-run organization; extremely professional with great leadership. They recently experienced staffing changes and wanted to use it as an opportunity to evaluate, assess and improve.

Meeting planning can be much like our busy lives - we keep moving and planning to do the same - more meeting and planning - and then we plan some more. Like a song I know states, "I think I am running just to catch myself." We barely finish one before starting the next and our evaluations are mostly about whether the speakers, topic and content pleased our attendees. But how often do we stop and remind oursleves the purpose of the events, who they are for, how those attendees see value, and how to differentiate our meetings from others? Do we need to hold this many meetings? 

One of my favorite books is Begging for Change. I remember it was pretty controversial when it was published because the author actually questioned the value of more - more organizations and more programs. Should we instead focus on improving the organizations and programs that already exist?

So while I was there, we analyzed who attends, why and why not. We questioned if events were competing with each other. We also asked how much staff time was used for each event. Finally, we questioned how we could make those events even better.

Evaluating the successful meeting requires looking at more than whether the AV was flawless; it requires assessment of the overall goals and objectives, assessing whether the target audience attended, if it stayed on budget, and whether the return on labor invested was worthwhile. They are the fundamental questions we learn to ask when we learn about planning meetings, however, we must remember to continue to ask those same questions every time and not get lost in the logistics.

Topics: meeting planning, meeting audit, event consulting, meeting consulting, Tupelo Mississippi

Association Communications & Content Marketing

Posted by Kimberly LaBounty on Tue, Nov, 06, 2012 @ 09:11 AM

 news b w resized 600As part of helping our associations' strategic planning and working to obtain more members, better dialogue and interaction with members, we have spent the last month drafting ways we can extend the life of content in association publications, meetings, and other areas staff and volunteers create by way of content development and content marketing. Granted, much of the healthcare and legal news might be time-sensitive, other content can certainly be re-purposed. Here are some ideas we intend to use:

  • Creating a FAQ Page on client websites using the top ten questions we get here at the office (often about career advancement, certification, resources)

  • Pulling past articles with large open rates/high read rates and using them as examples of what lapsed or prospective members are missing out on - in attempt to convince them to join

  • Sending out a "month in review" for those clients we send weekly updates

  • Assigning more "meeting reporters" who can draft summaries of sessions at annual conferences or regional meetings. We will then share with members who couldn't make it.

I hate to see content go to waste - and as an association, we create a lot of it! Associations are a credible, contemporary resource for content that matters to members and non-members in the field. By taking meeting planning one step further and daily office tasks to the next level, associations can communicate in a variety of ways without creating new content.

Got any ideas you'd like to share?

Consumer Focused Design – Member-Centric Association Management

Posted by Kimberly LaBounty on Tue, Mar, 27, 2012 @ 09:03 AM

I’m taking a design class through the Art Institute of Chicago– not graphic design, but general understanding of design concepts, influencers and movements, and how those apply to the disciplines of products, fashion, architecture, etc. (Completely selfish motives – and all, really, for fun.) What I have found so fascinating is our discussion of how design is consumer centric. Instead of the ordained expertise of the designer creating what is “good” for the consumer, designers are focused on client needs, actions, interactions and taste, and designing what fits – what makes sense. Certainly there remains respect for and admiration of unique design. Certainly we love to be in the company of those renowned, respected and legendary. But it’s shifted to be all about the consumer now. Product design, interior design and structural design are about meeting the end user where they are. There in lies our challenge and our path to success as professional associations. all about meIn association strategy and implementation, our ability to “design” an organization – a community – a network – that meets our members where they are with what they need. Our approach is not so much top down, where only our board knows best – but bottom up, in open space, and inviting feedback and input. Easier said than done. Our first task is to collect the information and feedback in a way that not only makes sense, but also starts to form a case. The second task, is then to begin to help association leadership understand that leading is as much listening as it is, well, leading.

Topics: association strategy, board development, membership

Extending the Event and Marketing Experience

Posted by Kimberly LaBounty on Thu, May, 26, 2011 @ 09:05 AM

Nkotbsb album coverDon't laugh, but I was at the NKOTBSB concert last night - for my 5-year-old! Yes, thanks to the power of YouTube, he is in love with the song, "Larger than Life." Who would ever tie the Backstreet Boys with bullet trains, but there happens to be a video with that song playing in the background. As a result, "Larger than Life" is not just a '90s throwback, but the theme song for his passion.

As a cool mom, I thought it would be great for him to see the song live, so when I saw tickets become available, I jumped at the chance - and learned a few more things about how technology is trancending our lives, expectations, the event experience. Elementry maybe, but a good reminder for event management, event marketing and social media.

  1. Remember - the web is a resource for anything you love. You will find channels, videos, communities who share that same love. Thanks to YouTube, we have seen bullet trains in languages and countries outside our own - no flight needed.
  2. Adding to the event experience doesn't have to cost much. The video wasn't done by movie production experts but still sent a message that resonates. Even at the concert, the opening act simply had three 3'x8' video panels as her backdrop - and boy did they provide impact, with little set-up!
  3. Then there's the reminder of how important that "wow" factor will always be - lights, choreography, sparkle, and sounds. (and in this case, good-looking men). It could have been a concert of just singing - but what a difference, what an experience and what a memory. So it is with meeting management - it could be just another educational session, but adding special touches can make the difference.
  4. Speaking of experience - my special moment was seeing my son's face when BSB played that "bullet train song," dancing on his chair. But my other son's experience had to be captured on video - I think he spent as much time videotaping the concert and taking photos as he did actually seeing it without a lens. Why? To take it to school today to show his friends. (he's too young for facebook - or I'm sure it would have been posted). That is why as association managers, marketers and meeting planners we need to be sure we openly offer attendees the opportunity to share their experiences - and encourage it - because they will.

So think about it - we went from a love of trains, to a YouTube video with "Larger than Life," which then prompted us to purchase the song so we can listen any time. Now it is the theme song for a passion, and led us to purchase concert tickets, resulting in my writing this blog post and my sons telling two schoolroom classes all about it - and the video and photos will last decades.

Topics: marketing strategy, event planning, event experience, social media, NKOTBSB

Succession Planning as Part of Your Association Strategy

Posted by Kimberly LaBounty on Thu, May, 05, 2011 @ 13:05 PM

forward thinkingI attended an invaluable event last night – the C-Suite Dinner Series hosted by the Chicago Health Executives Forum (CHEF). The topic was succession planning and the event’s unique setting allowed advancing (and budding) professionals an opportunity to discuss its importance, challenges and what organizations are doing (or not) to sustain growth and viability. Here were my take-aways:

No doubt, some organizations are better than others – and we need to learn from those who do it well. For example, is succession planning part of your culture? Does it begin at on-boarding? Do you recognize your top talent and consider them when looking to fill leadership roles? Are you helping them train their staff to move up when they move on? How important is it that incoming leaders have diversified experience – beyond one department or division?

External changes and resourse limitations make succession planning difficult. I sat with leaders in healthcare who all agreed their jobs will look completely different in ten years. This is reflected in other industries as well. Our success is based on flexibility, and preparing a variety of talent. Dr. Kenneth Cohen notes whatever the model selected, “it should be congruent with the stated values and culture of the organization and with the resources available to effectively manage this initiative” in his white paper, The Practice of Succession Planning. The mention of resources seemed to ring true, as our group recognized the establishment of such a plan often results in the need for additional, unanticipated, training.

The event focused on healthcare, but succession planning is critical for any industry, any association. Board members should begin their term with the understanding they have a role in identifying budding new talent and finding their replacement. I have seen board members stuck in a position because no active effort was made to develop and mentor talented people.

We have helped CHEF produce these unique dinners for three years – matching C-Level executives with advancing professions in casual, intimate dinner settings. It’s an invaluable opportunity for face-time with industry leaders. It’s also an opportunity for senior executives to share their expertise – a give-back, if you will. If you are interested in starting a similar series, feel free to contact Apex – we would love to help you create this unique opportunity for your members!

Topics: association strategy, succession planning, management continuity

Where Do We Go from Here? Association Strategy in Motion

Posted by Kimberly LaBounty on Wed, Apr, 13, 2011 @ 23:04 PM

strategy Undoubtedly many associations (and organizations for that matter) struggle with the need to determine their strategy. Personally, I think that’s the easy part. Head to your local library, do your favorite web search for “strategy” or “strategic planning” and pow! Thousands of resources pop up, and hundreds of consulting professionals to help you verbalize it all. And strategy is necessary. But even once that is determined, I would argue it is even harder to maintain that strategy.

What does sticking with it matter you ask? IT IS YOUR LIFE. Too strong? Please ask yourself if you join/follow/support things because they sway in the wind or because they stay the course. Every organization needs a visionary to set the course and motivate others. But then life happens, and time passes…and they forget.

Don’t do it! Don’t waste the time, energy, and resources of your visionary! You know how hard it was to get him/her there! Consider visionaries like federal funding – use it up or it goes elsewhere. Answer: a strong leader willing to implement and leadership willing to accept the fact they have to stick with it.

If you consider this minimal you are mistaken. In fact, it is significant. As an association, it determines how you design your meetings, events and communications. It determines who you seek for support and collaboration.

It’s not easy. Even when leadership determines the strategy, leadership will continue to raise the same questions. Not because they question your authority, but because they think they have a great idea.

Entrepreneurs thrive on reinventing themselves. Sometimes they try to reinvent the association too. As a result, they lose sight of the organization’s core competencies. They need someone to be the heavy – to be the check and balance of whether new ideas fit the strategy. Don’t assume a decision – even by consensus – won’t be questioned or swayed six months later.

Strategy takes vision. Implementation takes guts. I would encourage management companies to take the risk – remind leaders and tell members about the focus, strategy and goals of an organization. Don’t just be a “third party.” Yes, the board governs. The board sets strategy. The board determines where the organization should be heading in the year(s) ahead. But then the retreat is over…

Topics: association strategy

Newsletter Content and Your Association Strategy

Posted by Kimberly LaBounty on Thu, Mar, 31, 2011 @ 09:03 AM

Last week I wrote about the importance of “getting in touch” with your members. Whether it’s a monthly or weekly communication, showing your members activity within and an eye on the outside world conveys your position as a leader - and a good organization to belong to.

ideasBut the next question is always – what do I communicate? Where do I get my content? I’d love to do a newsletter but I have nothing to say. Really? Here are some ideas of content we’ve either seen or used:

  • Identify new members – this can be a simple list with a thank you for joining message, OR TAKE IT FURTHER
  • Interview a new member about what they do, their role in the industry, how they got there, what their challenges are, how the changes in our economy are affecting them and how they are working through it.
  • There should always be a link to join, a link to your upcoming meeting and a link to any other priority your association maintains. USE IT AS AN OPPORTUNITY
  • To get their feedback on their favorite session or their burning platform issues.
  • Got an upcoming conference this fall? Ask one of your speakers to write a short article on the topic of their session. It’s a good advertisement for your meeting and the speaker will appreciate the extra advertising (consider a link to their website).
  • Just about to start your spring conference? Recruit volunteers to write a summary of the session – be a “reporter from the floor.” Or,
  • If you have tweets going during the session, summarize those or at minimum use some for quotes from the session.
  • What else is happening in the industry/economy that relates to your session? Is there an article you can share?
  • Are there other priorities for the organization? They should be regularly included in your content. For example, if you have an active policy and advocacy committee, suggest they contribute on a regular basis. Supporting research? Report on that.
  • Is there an overriding theme of, say, connecting, this year? consider articles that talk about the many ways people are connecting with each other - even if it's outside your organization.
  • Consider your members as people – what are the challenges they face in life? Balance? Budgeting? HR? Financial planning? Consider pulling articles from other areas that might be of interest.
  • Finally, there is so much happing in our world, from fighting and civil unrest in the Middle East to the tragedies in Japan, to our continued effort to master healthcare here at home. Sometimes it’s tough to translate how it affects us now and the future. Your ability to interpret these major events tells your members you have their best interests in mind.
These are just a few ideas. How about your success stories? Share what you like to report.

Topics: content ideas, association strategy, newsletter content

"Don't Forget to Write" & other Online Marketing Tips

Posted by Kimberly LaBounty on Wed, Mar, 23, 2011 @ 20:03 PM

map smallWith spring break around the corner, some will travel to great places. "Don't forget to write" "Don't forget to post" or "Text me" will be the directive. No matter what your preference, we all love to connect. We like to know what's happening. The same is true with the associations we belong to. When was the last time you "touched base" with your members? Do you still have the right address?

Apex was just awarded All Star status as an online marketer by Constant Contact. I know - sounds a bit like a commercial. Cynicism aside though, Constant Contact is one tool we use to help association clients keep in touch with their members.

For example, when we started with one client last year, I immediately noticed how rarely they communicate with their members - made me wonder if members felt out of touch? To reverse this trend, we drafted volunteers to write articles, and started sending brief email newsletters. The result? An average open rate of over 20%!

Email newsletters don't require too much time IF you have a marketing strategy in place. Here are some online marketing tips:

  • Create a template to match the association brand
  • Draft 1-3 articles with relevent content - don't forget the association's overall marketing strategy and members
  • Include association updates (membership notices, event promotions)
  • Set a consistent schedule - stick to it!
  • PROOF before sending
  • Link to relevent pages
  • Send with a subject line that gets their attention

Many associations have trouble finding content. Do you have ideas for great content? Share your tips with us! We all need ideas!

Topics: marketing strategy, marketing content, online marketing, email marketing