Co-locating your conference can be a high-risk, high-reward proposition.
Before you decide to co-locate your conference with another conference, you need to view the decision through a strategic long-term lens.
At the basic level, co-locating a conference is placing two or more conferences at the same location, at the same time. Some organizers blend both conference experiences together seamlessly. Others have two separate conference experiences allowing attendees to attend both events without paying additional fees.
Co-locating with another organization to produce a bigger industry conference sounds enticing. It appeases exhibitors and sponsors who want to attract new attendee segments. It lures attendees who want to maximize their time away from the office with two events in one. Organizations’ leaders may view it as a fast-track growth tactic or a way to reverse declines in attendance or revenue.
So how do you know if co-locating is right for your conference? While there are no right or wrong answers, this list of questions may help.
11 Business Rationale Questions To Consider
- Is it the right thing for your industry? Larger events usually get more PR and exposure, but if it’s not good for the industry, the PR and exposure can damage a brand.
- Is the mission of both organizations in alignment? Are both parties fully committed to the partnership?
- Are you considering a long-term relationship or merger? Co-location may be a good initial step before getting hitched.
- How much do you trust each other? Are both parties transparent and open to sharing confidential info? Will you develop a jointly competitive strategy so you both succeed? One of the biggest issues that organizations that are attempting co-location face is the information flow and confidence in the other party.
- Does the partnering organization’s attendee base represent a demographic segment that you want to grow?
- Will co-location bring greater innovation and nimbleness or have the opposite effect?
- Co-location often delivers expense savings. Meticulously analyze the revenue side: How will the pie be sliced? Will sponsors/exhibitors upgrade? Who gets credit for delivering certain attendees? Will you be able to afford better keynote speakers or entertainment?
- How will you brand the combined event? Leadership will care more about this than attendees and exhibitors.
- How will you account for indirect expenses, including staff time, or will you both absorb those? Is fairness baked into the deal for both organizations?
- Will you leverage a branded web asset or will you each promote independently?
- Who owns assets — data, relationships, content — created through the co-location?
6 Risk Questions To Consider
- Who signs agreements and accepts liability with facilities and vendors? It’s most expedient and efficient to have a blanket agreement that empowers one organization to sign on behalf of all the partners.
- Will a larger conference hinder intimacy and the quality of networking?
- Will there be too many options for attendees? Sometimes too many education choices confuse attendees.
- Will the division of responsibilities result in weakened customer relationships?
- What is the path for escalating problems or disputes that arise? Who arbitrates?
- Will an initial partnership have the unintended consequence of better equipping the other organization to compete with you?
Apply Logic to Logistics
When co-locating your event event with another organization, there are many logistical details to work out. For example, decisions around who gets which meeting space, headquarter-hotel rooms, and concessions are a bigger deal than you might anticipate.
Here are two suggestions that might help tie up some logistical loose ends:
- Consider creating cross-organizational committees for each major function (marketing, registration, expo sales/management, education), but have one organization responsible for delivering these functions.
- Standardize pricing between the conferences. This is critical. If customers are confused by the options, they’ll lose trust.
Want more information about co-location? The late, great Michael Hough penned an article in Convene, The Pressure To Merge nearly 10 years ago that is a must-read before making the decision to co-locate or merge. He was ahead of his time!
Adapted from Dave’s People & Processes column in PCMA’s September edition of Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. © 2011.
What is your experience with co-located events? What are some of the barriers to co-locating a conference?
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