Does Your Registration Process Stop Me from Registering

I love Holiday Showcase. I have been a few times and I have always had a great experience. I go to see the exhibits, connect with old contacts, and find some really great destinations that make it into my client’s rotation.

The past few years have sucked for me because I have a client that holds their annual conference over the same dates. Bummer, sad face.

Smile…… the client moved their event to January this year…. Whoo hooo, I think I am going to Holiday Showcase!

Or not

Something changed my mind. Something stopped me from registering. I will not be going to Holiday Showcase this year. Sad, long face.

I was really excited that I would be able to go this year. I had already made plans to stop and see three hotels and I was having dinner with a cool destination the night before. I was making the most of the opportunity and this is the type of thing that makes exhibitors happy.

So – Why am I not going to Holiday Showcase

The answer is pretty easy; their registration process. The questions are so intrusive they are something akin to a colonoscopy.

When I read the registration questions for Holiday Showcase they make me believe that Association Forum does not want me to attend their event. Oh well. I guess I can live without them considering I have not gone in the past couple of years. I will cancel the appointments, skip the dinner, and have a normal night at home surfing those crazy interwebs dreaming up rants like this.

Really. No skin off my back. I know when I am not wanted.

Why do I feel I am not wanted?

The answer is that I am a third party (independent) planner, that is to say, I have many association clients, I do not work for one association. Because I am a third party planner, I must be a second class citizen.

So, how are third party planners treated different?

In this case, Association Forum must think that we are all liars and cheats and because we are liars and cheats, they make us jump through flaming hoops of death just to attend.

You kinda get that woozy feeling when you read the little disclaimer:

If you can stomach that, here are some of the questions that they ask:

  • What is the largest peak night for my groups.
  • What is the smallest peak night.
  • Where do I hold my meetings.

Now, if the questions stopped here, it would be “no harm no foul”. I will answer these questions because they help sell exhibit space and I am a “pro-sponsor” kind of guy and think that it is awesome to add value. But they don’t stop here, here comes the colonoscopy as per the above image.

Get out your rubber gloves.

They actually want me to provide the name and detailed contact info for three clients so they can contact them to make sure I am a real person who really plans extra special association events that they deem worthy.

Association Forum will not market or solicit the provided client references, and most reference verifications will take only a few moments of the client’s time to complete.

This is the part that bothers me to no end and got my undies in a bunch. In-a-bunch I tell you.

What are we five years old? You have to call my mommy to see if my conference equals someone else’s conference? Sorry, but I am not giving you my client’s contact info. You want to know what my inner voice is saying at this point? “Danger Will Robinson, Danger”.

How can we be sure where our valued, worth a ton of money information is going? Should I take their word for it? Why should I? They are not taking my word that I am a meeting planner.

Trust is a two way street my friends.

Let’s think this through. Third Party Planners are inputting this information and it goes God knows where. Who is on their little committee that approves or disapproves our “qualifications”? Are they Association Forum Staff or are they a part of the registration company that would love to get their hands on my client list? Perhaps these calls are handled by a volunteer that works for a competing company? We don’t know and if you cannot trust us, we sure as hell should not trust you.

Beyond this little issue, I simply cannot believe they are asking me these questions because we are not five years old, we are professionals. This process makes Association Forum look Authoritarian and about 20 years behind the times. What if I only have two association clients because I am a great meeting planner but sucked at selling to a third client? Can’t provide three…. You are not worthy to walk with us.

Sorry to be ranting here but this has really pissed me off. How dare you ask for this information? How dare you question my abilities and my professionalism before I ever walk through the door? How many of your not-checked-up-on association attendees are just there for a free meal and a get-out-of-the-office pass?

Half of the third party planners I know only have ONE client. Does working for one association make you better than someone who contracts with one association? Apparently so because it clearly says “MUST have three client references”.

This is the 21st century and we have a little thing called the internet. If I want to know if someone is qualified, I can find out in 10 minutes without ever asking the victim… er..”attendee” for a stitch of information. Let’s put it this way, before I meet with a client, I know more about their company than the client does and if Association Forum would step into this century, they could actually have the same results without pissing off every third party, independent planner on the planet.

We all know that anyone who has spent more than a couple years in this industry can scan a list of attendees and pick out the bullshit in 10 seconds flat. Check the crap and leave everyone else alone.

Stopping the hordes

Now, we know that they will say that they ask these questions because there are hordes of fake third party planners beating down the door to sneak into the exhibit hall and session rooms. These rampant fakers want to get those really awesome free giveaways like notepads and pens. Those darn fakers will do just about anything to soil the linens, eat the food, and god forbid network with “their” people making fake small talk. These fakers will do anything to be in on that secret Association ju-ju – You know the stuff, it is the secret sauce that makes associations magical.  This must be the reason and if they can just verify those darn references, they can make sure that all those fakers can’t be let in. Get the pitchfork honey, we are gonna go get us some meeting planning fakers!

The truth is, the process of making the attendee answer these questions is lazy and it is insulting.

There is no problem having standards and requirements because we all know that some people who are not qualified will try and get in  but if someone registers and you question their credentials, look up their website or call them. Do not ask me to provide you with MY client’s information up front so that prying eyes have access to this information. I hate to point out the obvious to Captain “Event Planning” but if someone really wants to get into this little shin-dig, they can probably fake three client references that seem legit.

How about a simply including “All registrations subject to verification of qualifications” in the terms and conditions….and then actually checking the ones that you question.

We have to be real here. This is not some fam to a faraway place that people want to escape to, this is an Association event. In Chicago. At the Hyatt. In December. This is not a 5 star resort on the Mexican Riviera.

Just to be open, let me answer some of their questions just to show that I am cool with sharing info, I am just not cool with the way that it is asked.

  • My largest client had 3500 peak last year and had just over 10,000 room nights. We also filled the convention center for three days and had over 100 exhibitors.
  • My smallest client had 55 peak last year and had 220 total room nights.

With the economy, many associations and corporations are outsourcing event and meeting planning tasks but these associations cannot benefit from an awesome event like Holiday Showcase because a small independent planner does not want to share privileged information, cannot share this information, or does not meet some arbitrary benchmark or number of clients.

This does not make sense to me; not in 2012.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am not ranting against the event or Association Forum, I like them both. I am simply ranting against their registration procedures that are clearly circa 1986 channeling 1956. These procedures are from the age of the fax machine and a Flock of Seagulls, these are not the registration procedures of the information age and social media.

I hope that you and your industry’s event do not something similar when putting together the registration questions and policies for your conference, whether association or corporate. You end up turning off potential attendees and making a bad name for yourself in your own community.

Make your registration clear and concise and ask the information that you need and nothing more. If you question an attendee’s credentials, look them up or call them but don’t subject the honest, hardworking members of your audience to these types of anti-inclusion practices that build resentment.

Your attendees may not say something out loud today but rest assured they are talking about it behind your back.

About the author

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston is the Publisher and Chief Writer Guy of PlannerWire | You can learn more about him here , connect with him on Twitter , Facebook , Google + and LinkedIn.


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  • We got this signing up for an enewsletter. We damn well nearly didn’t complete the reg. Why on earth would they make something like a newsletter seem so exclusive? Go figure. Isn’t an association meant to foster a sense of community? Cor.

  • Keith,

    Association Forum is committed to continuously improving our events using feedback we collect from a wide array of sources. We understand from your post that you feel strongly that the registration process for Holiday Showcase is in need of reexamination where reference requests for independent and third party meeting and event planners are concerned.

    First, let me share how much we appreciate and value the business that independent and third party meeting and event planners bring to Holiday Showcase. This yearalone, we will be welcoming more than 150 of them who have already registered and been approved to attend. Unfortunately, we have also had a problem and noted concern from exhibitors about individuals who misrepresent themselves as planners in an attempt to access the exhibit floor. While we don’t believe in unnecessarily burdening registrants, we do believe in ensuring that
    neither our attendees’ nor our exhibitors’ Holiday Showcase experience is diminished as a result of those individuals who like to attend for reasons other than the business purposes of the event.

    Our three-member staff team – the only individuals who access client reference information – combine online searches, direct contact with registrants, and virtual and direct reference follow-up to determine the legitimacy of each registrant profile. If direct reference outreach is deemed necessary, our top priority is to ascertain the information we need in the most respectful and least intrusive means possible; and we never share client reference information with outside parties. To do so would only serve to diminish our reputation in the eyes of a community that is critical to the success of Holiday Showcase year in and year out.

    While these processes have been in place for the last several years and were developed in conjunction with our Holiday Showcase Exhibit Advisory Group and other member volunteers, it would be my pleasure to speak with you about what methods you believe we could employ to qualify planners in the most judicious manner possible. I personally view your feedback as an opportunity for us. Furthermore, I would like to personally invite you to attend Holiday Showcase this year and would be pleased to offer you a complimentary, full-day registration so that you can once again experience this dynamic event, which is designed to help you and other planners nurture existing relationships and grow new ones.
    If you are interested, please feel free to contact me directly at
    Christie Tarantino, CAE
    President & CEO
    Association Forum of Chicagoland

    • Christie,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to post a comment and I do appreciate your words and thoughts (and thanks for the invite, I would be a fool not to accept as I am a huge fan of Holiday Showcase).

      I agree that this is a great opportunity to work on the registration process and this could be a great chance for other associations to learn as this is something that many struggle with. This is certainly not a unique issue.

      I am happy to share my thoughts because I do actually have a number of ways that you can work with third party / independent planners that would not require them to divulge sensitive information while at the same time satisfying the needs of the event and the sponsors (as I mentioned, I am always pro-sponsor). The solutions are there if we mix together a little technology, a little thought, and a little elbow grease (you will note I did not necessarily say that they are easy -LOL).

      I will reach out via email to start a conversation and thanks again.

  • Keith, coolest thing about this post is you ranted and the CEO of the organization dealt with it head on and on your turf. Wish more association leaders handled social media triage like that!

    • The question is… did they deal with it? They actually answered the question exactly as I predicted in the post but I do hope that this will actually get them thinking about how best to engage third party planners.

  • Great post, and I hope some needed changes come out of this. The feeling that third party planners are second class citizens is why I did not renew my long term membership in the largest industry association. I could no longer give them hundreds of dollars a year, to treat me poorly and tell me to my face that I was less important than other members. When you make it very clear that you only care about corporate and association planners, I can see no reason why you need my money, time, and support anymore.

    It is a complete violation of my client’s privacy to give their contact information, and thanks so much for standing up for what is right. They entrusted me with this information, they never said I could share it online and have people call them. Hopefully, you can get this changed not just for this event, but use this as the case study for changing perceptions in the greater hospitality industry.

    • Really awesome point that even I had not considered. It really is a violation of the client’s privacy to ask for this information and do they think it makes us look and feel when we have to ask our client’s for permission to give out this information “Hey Miss Client, I am so low on the industry totem pole that they need for your to verify who I am so that I can go to a trade show”……

      I really hope that change comes from this and I will keep everyone updated as to what I learn as time passes.

  • Keith, this was a great post! I sincerely appreciate the spirit behind your comments, and as a fellow “third party planner” I experienced many of the same impressions that you did, while registering for this year’s Holiday Showcase. The difference is that I did not speak up as you did. I just let it go.

    In hindsight, I wish I had taken the constructive action that you did. Kudos to you my friend.

    And to Christie Tarantino, I say congrats to you for being so open minded and forward thinking as to immediately respond to this blog article in the positive way that you did. Well done.

    Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and I look forward to seeing you both in cyberspace!


    Mike McCurry

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