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October 2012

Olympic Flames, Freemiums, and Food Trucks

By Deborah Sexton, President & CEO of Convene.

Ideas from outside the meetings industry.

I have pulled together some recent examples from the media on everything from the Olympics to growing restrictions on food trucks - that offer lessons for meetings of all kinds.

Going Green

The 2012 Summer Olympics in London is now being hailed as the greenest Games yet (see our CMP Series story here).  Host cities typically must clear giant hurdles when building and operating facilities, and transporting hundreds of thousands of people in ways that are world-class and efficient yet don’t leave a heavy carbon footprint.  Thirty-four percent of materials used in permanent venues at this year’s Olympics were recycled, and seven of the 34 venues were temporary (many more existing venues were simply reconfigured - see our cover story about ExCeL London here). Public transport was widely used.  And organizers even created a unique multiple-burner Olympic cauldron that weighed a fraction of its predecessor in Beijing and used significantly less gas flow.  That an event this huge successfully made sustainability such an important focus serves as an inspiration for all kinds and sizes of events. 

Disaster Preparedness

In August, the Republican National Committee (RNC) demonstrated quick thinking and excellent coordination as Tropical Storm/Hurricane Isaac appeared to be barreling down on the Republican National Convention in Tampa.  The RNC postponed the first day of the convention and carried out a completely revised schedule for the remaining three days - one that managed to fit in all of the major canceled speakers and appeared to run flawlessly.  Had the storm ended up hitting Tampa directly or being more severe, many questions would have remained about how and whether organizers would have proceeded.  It’s a perfect reminder of how important it is to have disaster-scenario plans in place.

Giveaways

A recent Wall Street Journal article (convn.org/WSJ-freemium) explored the “freemium” model and found that many new businesses are trying to build a customer base by giving away free online products and services - and failing.  The conclusion was that even though the freemium strategy seems simple, it can be a difficult and lengthy process.

The article reminded me of the missteps many news organizations made when the Internet was just gaining traction.  In the rush to get online, they gave away so many of their stories for free that people stopped buying their papers and it was difficult to convert them back to paying customers.  Keep this in mind when deciding what to give away: Just because you’re putting it online does not mean it has to be free.

Rethinking Competition

As food trucks become increasingly popular, many cities - under pressure from brick-and-mortar restaurants - are starting to clamp down by issuing restrictions on when, where, and for how long they can operate.  Your own competitive threats may take the form of other face-to-face meetings, virtual meetings, social media, or other marketing vehicles.  But just as a food truck can’t deliver the same experience as a sit-down restaurant, neither can social media deliver the same networking as a professional event.  Does that mean we should ignore social media or virtual meetings? Of course not.  The focus should instead be on how to incorporate the best of our competition into our own events.  We provide a few examples of that in this month’s Online column.  

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