Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

June 29 2015

The Line Item You Need To Add To Your Meeting Planning Budget

By David McMillin

You’ve looked at the budget for your meeting countless times. From F&B costs to room fees to equipment rentals to signage and staffing, you know the list of projected expenses all too well. However, you may be missing one surprising line item that can make a big difference in your meeting’s success.

“Budget for attending a competitor’s meeting,” John Folks, President, Minding Your Business, told an audience at the 2015 PCMA Education Conference in Fort Lauderdale. “By talking to some people who are there, you’ll get some really interesting insights about what’s motivating them to attend.”

For many meeting planners, the thought of taking three or four days to participate in another meeting might sound like more trouble than it’s worth. Can’t you just look at the program online and check out the social media buzz to get a feel for what the experience offers? While that might provide a glimpse into a competitor’s value proposition, it won’t be enough.

“As attendee dollars and time get constricted, you want to make sure they are choosing your conference,” Folks said when I caught up with him after the educational session. “You can’t do that unless you know why they’re going elsewhere and for what.”

Identifying Your Competition

What if your meeting appeals to such a specific audience that you feel like you don’t have any real direct competition? Folks reminded me that everyone has competitors. No matter what your organization does or what type of material the program covers, there is another meeting that wants your attendees’ registration dollars.

“It might not be a traditional face-to-face meeting,” Folks said. “It could be a virtual or online offering. It could be a chapter. It could be education education offered by suppliers, a member or a new organization.”

Folks also highlighted that the popularity of for-profit seminars has been growing at an accelerated pace as more attendees indicate they are willing to pay for the content and the experience.

Additionally, you cannot rely on your loyal, year-after-year attendees to point out your biggest threats. Instead, you’ll need to find a way to motivate non-attendees to complete your surveys and tell you where they turn for their continuing education credits.

“The competitive landscape is changing so rapidly that every organization should make sure they are always asking their attendees, and particularly those not attending their conferences, where else they are going for education and networking,” Folks said.

Checking In On The Competition

So how often should you or someone on your meetings team be working to understand the on-site experience your competitors are delivering? Folks recommended including those registration and travel expenses in every annual budget.

“Most organizations have several other meetings that may compete for a segment of their  members or prospective attendees,” Folks said. “We recommend that an organization add a line item in their department budget for at least one competitive visit annually.”

Looking for more valuable takeaways from the 2015 Education Conference? John Folks' full session from Education Conference is available for purchase here

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