The Association of the Future is Connected

Reprinted from Associations Now 2017 Guide to AMCs, July/August 2017 (page 8). Authored by Karla Taylor.

AMCs have for decades epitomized the sharing economy. Being part of it can bring your association significant purchasing power and economies of scale. Here's how.

If you hear the term "sharing economy" and think Lyft or Airbnb, picture this: In late 2015, three medical societies held back-to-back conventions at the same Seattle venue.The three societies were unrelated and had different audiences ranging in size from 900 to 3,000. But because they shared the same team of meeting planners at the association management company SmithBucklin, they were able to use some of the same signage, lighting, screens, and production infrastructure for their general sessions and exhibit halls. “We were able to leverage collective buying power and negotiate collective savings of thousands of dollars on labor and materials,” says Carol McGury, executive vice president of event and education services at SmithBucklin. When you hear “sharing economy,” maybe you should think “my association.” “The sharing economy is touted as a new and innovative concept,” says Barbara Myers, CAE, CEO of the association management company IMN Solutions. “But the idea of the AMC is rooted in the same principles: economies of scale, services shared by many, and greater cost savings and expertise to help you achieve your results.” If a major part of your association’s future depends on strategic use of dollars and cents—and whose doesn’t?—here are three ways an AMC can help you by sharing resources of all kinds to leverage your purchasing power.

Because they serve so many associations at once, AMCs are uniquely positioned to provide maximum impact through shared resources. The connections AMCs can offer translate to these benefits.

Vetted vendors. “An AMC is like a vendor database,” says Katherine Pankratz, senior account manager at VTM Group. Staff managers gather and exchange intelligence about which companies offer the best expertise and price. “This saves your association cash outflow and time, but it also saves you the headache of picking a vendor blindly,” she says. AMCs may also know specialized vendors that your association needs, but only rarely. And because AMCs represent multiple organizations, “they have a seat at the table with suppliers and can influence direction on products and services,”McGury says. For example, when an AMC is negotiating with a mobile app provider, the staff can bargain about service levels and discounted pricing to meet client needs.

Industry knowledge. Whether an AMC specializes in financial associations or fraternal organizations, it will develop insights into what appeals to these specialty markets and can help develop the sponsorship and exhibitor packages that will sell best. For example, by observing how buyers react to various clients’ offerings, McGury has found that many potential customers are less interested in one-off opportunities—lanyards and speaker underwriting—and more interested in ongoing access to decision makers. So SmithBucklin is developing revenue sources for its clients by working with sponsors and exhibitors to create year-round engagement opportunities. “After seeing what five other clients are doing, we ask: ‘Why do it his way? Why not that way?’”McGury says.

Favors when you need them. As important as good planning is, sometimes unexpected needs pop up. Pankratz works frequently with a graphic designer who, because of their ongoing relationship, is willing to offer scheduling priority. “Because your AMC has this database of contacts, you can call and say, ‘I need this collateral tomorrow,’” Pankratz says—and because the partnership is good for both sides, you often get it.

AMCs do so much business that they’re often a first stop for vendors that want to preview product innovations and trends. “This gives our clients access to additional ideation that’s happening in the industry,” McGury says. “We have conversations based on future needs we’ve identified, or what’s up and coming, or there there’s a gap we now see in a service.” For example, based on experience with other clients, your AMC will know the best way to help speakers take advantage of second-screen technology to increase audience involvement. Great ideas also grow out of experience that can be both broad and deep. “Stand-alone associations have really bright people doing the work, but they only now that they know,” McGury says. AMC meeting planners, by contrast, might work on a half-dozen annual conventions a year for different clients. “By the time they’ve been with the AMC three years, they’ve worked on 20 different events and learned about 20 ways to market, to promote speaker engagement, and to deliver innovation,” she says. At the same time, AMCs can expose you to new ideas for combining face-to-face and digital learning or for sharing-economy business models that can encourage millennials to use your room block instead of Airbnb. An AMC’s staff includes experts who understand the trends in global meetings, know the legalities of hotel contracts, and have the skills to redesign websites. And this broad expertise usually comes at no extra cost to the client, Myers says.

Any time you can save money, you’re better prepared for the future, Pankratz notes. With an AMC, you save thanks to:

Economies of scale. Whether you’re in the market for tea bags or technology, buying in multiples means paying less per unit. “A stand-alone association buys supplies for one team. An AMC may buy for 10 or even 100 teams,” McGury says. For example, a small association may not find it economical to invest in human resources software that would allow it to handle performance reviews online. But using a shared HR system turns cost-prohibitive into cost-effective.

Bargaining power. Buying in bulk also leads to greater leverage when it’s time to sign a contract. McGury’s education and learning services team recently negotiated with a video firm on behalf of several clients. “We got them to reduce the price not just for one but for all,” she says.

Cheaper staffing and space. Working with an AMC can lower training costs and, later on, reduce staffing needs. You’re sharing a highly skilled workforce on everything from your back-office membership operations to social media projects. Even office space may get cheaper. “With changes in the workforce, we’re seeing more virtual work environments and more people taking advantage of teleworking options. This means that more organizations are questioning the value of brick-and mortar offices,” Myers says. If that’s the case for your association, an AMC can offer a physical address and maybe able to provide a home base for hosting meetings or welcoming members, much like WeWork, the shared workspace company. Myers predicts that opportunities to participate in the sharing economy, and the resulting savings, are only going to grow. “When you look at all implications for associations, you see a lot of potential, especially if you’re in a competitive space,” she says. “As a thought leader for our clients—whether large or small, full-service or a la carte—AMCs are doing the leading-edge research to find new ways to innovate in this realm.”

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