Top Tips for Marketing to Associations
February 9, 2017
Associations are an important market for many venues and convention centres. Their needs and buying patterns can differ significantly from corporate clients so how do you get your venue marketing right? We spoke to Julie Watterston of Watterston Associates, an expert consultant with over 20 years’ experience working with venues and destinations to attract association business.
When associations are considering a venue for their congress, what are the first things they look at?
This depends on whether it is an International Association or a National Association. Generally, the International Association will be attracted to the destination in the first instance but in equal measure, they are also likely to require a local organising committee so, ideally, they need local academics within the Association’s specialism who would champion the event. With a national association they would look at the destination and also tend to rotate around the country so maybe would go North one year, South the next etc. Any venue needs to have good infrastructure, accessibility, a range of hotels within easy walking distance and state of the art technology.
How important is it for venues to work with a destination or convention bureau? What are the challenges if they don’t?
A convention bureau will do a lot of the work for them with regards to recommending suitable venues for various aspects of the event such as the main congress, welcome reception, gala dinner etc. They can also assist with hotel blocks. Convention bureaux vary in what financial assistance they can offer as some have subvention programmes but in nearly all cases, they will still provide free local information, maps for delegates and assisting through the bid procedure.
Are there any venue features that are particularly appealing to associations?
Built in AV, a good event manager, and a good ground flow from one breakout room to the other. Of course, all venues must be accessible to all delegates.
What do you think are the main differences in the venue requirements for association events compared with corporate events (if any)?
An association generally requires a longer hire of the venue, potentially 3 days or more and generally has a number of parallel sessions, sometimes together with a trade exhibition, poster sessions etc. This isn’t always the case though as some of the major corporates build impressive sets and have a long get-in and get-out period but generally smaller corporate events are only one or two days and do not have so many breakout rooms.
What are the turn offs for associations that venues should avoid?
Free (and good) wifi is a must. Even if the cost is “hidden” in the venue hire it seems that people prefer this to having to pay specifically for wifi.
Are there any consistent complaints from associations about the information provided by venues?
The biggest one is that associations like to deal with just one or two people so an Event Manager who oversees everything is vital. An association does not want to be dealing with lots of different suppliers within the centre. After all, in general, the association meeting planners tend to be academics or medical professionals and conference organisation is not their main job.
If you could give one top marketing tip to venues looking to attract more association business, what would that be?
Sell your destination first and foremost. Any venue worth their salt will have the infrastructure and facilities and this is expected in today’s market.