Where are the Meeting and Event Planners? Associations Should Ask Themselves.

I was talking to an industry buddy the other day and we were commenting about how it seems that every industry event that we attend is populated by a planner/supplier ratio of about 10/90, we both agreed that this has been going on for quite sometime although not at these levels. We started to ask ourselves why this was and how come the problem is reaching epic proportions and we came up with a few reasons that are probably blindingly obvious but I thought I would make note anyway. The problem is not an “industry event” issue either, the problem may actually be within the association itself. This is also not a rant on one association, this is a rant on all of them, they all have good qualities and they have all have bad qualities, the cracks are starting to show with many of them though.

I am also sure that the following holds true for most industries and their associations, I can only speak to what I know. What I do know is that some are trying. I work with associations that are trying to change, they are thinking about the future and their members and to those associations, I say bravo!

Industry events smell like ass:

This is the truth. I am not sure who is planning all of our industry events but they really need to get up to speed before there is no one left. The suppliers have to be there, it is their job. Planners on the other hand have a choice and we are choosing not to go because the topics are stale, the formats are stale and we know that we are going to be jumped by 100 suppliers 10 seconds after we enter and before we have had a couple of drinks. Try something new for God’s sake, hold an event on the subway, on a roof or on a plane, we are sick of going to the restaurant that you think is cool, and hotel ballrooms, while useful for conferences are not great social spaces.


Many companies are cutting back on how much they are willing to spend on their employee’s continuing education and learning and quite frankly, there is little bang for the buck with many associations. I belong to one association and for the life of me, I have no idea why I am a member except for the fact that I am expected to be a member. Guess what, I am not renewing.

People do not mind paying Ferrari prices for a Ferrari, they will however, balk at paying those same prices for a Ford Festiva and frankly, I am only seeing Festiva from many of you. Time to up your game and start living in the real world. The time is over when people would buy whatever you are selling, you now have to have a product that is worth the cost.

Same old, same old:

If you belong to many of our industry associations, you will notice after a while that all of the events are populated by the same people telling the the same stories year after year. I do not think that it has ever dawned on any of our associations to go out and actually get fresh faces to join or attend and if they do have “new member recruiting” campaigns, they suck because they fly right by me and I do not think that I would miss them…. part of my job is watching the internet.

Trying to please everyone:

No one gets behind something that they do not believe in and our industry associations do not believe in anything. They take no stands, they do not speak out and they try and be friends with everyone… you are here to serve my interests and not the interests of your corporate sponsors. You all suck up way too much to the people that can throw you the biggest bone and leave the people that you are supposed to defend laying in your wake. It would be my guess that you are more likely to see your association president out to dinner with a big corporate sponsor than actually talking to an entry-level planner… If you hear a giant sucking sound, it is the sound of your association executives kissing the ass of their biggest donors because everyone is more concerned with their own survival than doing what is right.

Here is food for thought, if one of our industry association’s major sponsors was caught doing something terribly wrong, do you think that they would come out with a statement about the “wrong” or do you think that they would simply keep their mouths shut and the money in the bank…… uh-huh, that is the same thing that I thought.

You want to have overwhelming attendance and member ranks that are full? Start listening to all of the people on the totem pole and not just the Chief Muckety Mucks.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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