Asia Pacific’s top association leaders came together in a recent webinar to discuss how associations can provide value to their members on the road to recovery from coronavirus. The actions that associations take over the next few months will make the difference in associations that find success and those who don’t.
The panel included the following panelists: Datuk Dr. Raj Abdul Karim, the President of the Malaysian Council of Child Welfare and Chair of the Malaysian Society of Association Executives; Charles Villasenor, the Chairman at the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives; Antonio Codinach, the Regional Business Director of APAC of PCMA; and Marcel Ewals, the Director of Associations and Marketing of MCI Group. The panelists gave insights into the impact of the pandemic and strategies to help associations when moving forward.
The pandemic has undoubtedly left the event industry in huge trouble. It’s a wake-up call for businesses: it’s the most serious shift the industry has faced and is forcing associations to rethink their business models. We may never go back to the same industry that we had before. Taking this into account, there are a couple main things that associations must do in order to move forward.
First, remember that you hold influence in your society! The trajectory of the event business is going to be largely impacted by the decisions of your local government. It’s extremely important to advocate the government to support local businesses during the shutdown and as reopening begins. This could mean the difference between surviving the pandemic and shutting down.
Another thing to consider is the importance of communication with your members. Use online events to reach your audience. Ask what they need in the current situation and how your association can help them. Get feedback on how you’re doing and ask what challenges they expect to experience in the future.
Use this communication to provide content and education that offers value to them. The more you understand the needs of your members, the more you will be able to curate differentiated content.
Finally, associations must consider the effect that an online work environment is having on their employees. Without face to face interaction, it is harder to communicate with employees and maintain morale. Association leaders must communicate with their employees and help to keep them motivated within the associations.
Develop communication plans, immediately shift all efforts online, and reach out to employees individually. If your employees are not motivated and contributing towards moving forward, it could mean failure for your association.
This crisis is similar to those of the past, such as 9/11 or the market crash of 2008, in that the success of businesses is coming down to their resilience. However, unlike these past events, we have no definite timeline for recovery. There is no telling whether this will be a couple of months of economic downturn or many years. Thus, associations must form strategies that take this uncertainty into account.
When building a strategy, associations must react quickly. Restructure your organization as fast as possible in order to survive. Cash is extremely important- associations are already dealing with diminishing or halted cash flow, and many will run out of money if they do not make these adjustments quickly enough.
When considering new strategies, associations should also put measures in place that will allow them to rapidly adjust based on what happens in the future. Associations should also consider the long term implications of these crises and adapt to these- for example, even once governments permit large events, how will customers react and readjust?
In addition, associations should be wary of any emotional decisions. It can be extremely difficult to quickly adjust or shift away from methods that have been used forever and been successful in the past, but innovating new solutions is the only way associations will move forward. Associations must take a step back and look from a hostile point of view. Changing times require changing strategies.
With these high levels of uncertainty, however, also come opportunities. Associations must stay aware of the changing industries and changing demands. For example, we’re seeing an opening in the certification industry and online education. Formulate a business plan that takes advantage of these new opportunities. Every association has the opportunity to rediscover their industry amidst the crisis.
This shift online is also forcing associations to rethink their revenue models. In-person events are a large driver of revenue, especially in Asia. Associations are facing the challenge of how to monetize their online communities.
When looking to monetize online events, associations must analyze the demand side of the business to determine where they can provide value and plan their supply chain according to that. After determining where they can provide this value, they must look for the source: how do you get the components in your event to create that value?
This could mean working with technology players and other service providers to bring complementing components to the product. Then, associations can operationalize this product so that members will come back and be willing to pay for it.
Associations must also consider their competition: it’s no longer just the local associations. The competition is now heightened to the global landscape and is not limited to other event organizers. Tech companies themselves are also competitors.
For example, for things like online certifications, associations may not be equipped to compete with the array of competitors. Therefore, associations need to plan and source appropriately to be able to compete. Remember that the ability to organize events doesn’t necessarily translate to the ability to organize webinars or live experience.
To combat this increased competition, associations should seek sponsorship or work alongside other industry players.
One trend that we are seeing amidst the coronavirus crisis is associations offering free membership. Is this something your association should be doing?
This all depends on how much of your revenue is generated from memberships. For example, associations in the United States usually generate half their revenue from membership payments, whereas associations in India generate far less from membership.
Offering free membership is a way of reaching out as an association and shows your members that you care for them. If you decide to offer it, make sure to use it your advantage and use it to grow your membership base.
If associations offer free membership without considering the financial implications for their specific associations and without utilizing it to its full advantage by generating new members, it will just burn cash. Ensure that your choice is right for your associations and aligns with your redefined value proposition.
Converting live events onto a virtual platform is obviously the easiest solution in the current climate. However, this should not be an ad hoc solution by any means: when converting their events, associations must take the time to truly analyze their online business model and connect with their members.
To develop an online business model, communication with customers is key. Through time, find regular touchpoints within the industry that you are focused on. After webinars, follow up and collect attendee feedback. Determine what real value you are offering through your online services. Once this is determined, you can then begin to monetize.
Consider the changes you need to make to your content and your staff as you make this switch. From a content perspective, there are a lot of professionals who may be very experienced in live events, but unable to convert this experience online. How can your association help and educate them to become outstanding virtual facilitators and speakers?
In terms of staff, look at the talent within your organization. Do you have the right talent for the right jobs? What’s coming next requires creating new roles and redefining old roles.
Finally, consider how you are going to program your webinar. How will you convert a three-day conference into an online event that people are interested in participating in? People have a current attention span of eight seconds, so we really need to change the dynamics of these events and program webinars like a TV show.
Use customer feedback to determine how long to make your live events and ensure that customers are staying engaged.
Lots of uncertainty lies ahead, but one thing is for sure. The industry will never go back to the way it was before with an overwhelmed supply of face to face events. Recovery is going to entail a better combination of face to face engagement and digital aspects. The way that this fusion looks for your association is up to you, based on your value proposition and your market.
If you're looking for a way to digitalize your organization and improve your membership experience, Book a Demo today, and we'll show you how Glue Up's engagement platform has been helping chambers and associations the world over with thier post-COVID 19 woes.