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The end of the year is a time of reflection. And as I think about my career at AMPED, I am reminded of a number of fun and crazy adventures we’ve had while onsite at client events. No matter how big or small the meeting, there are always things that we handle quietly behind the scenes and attendees never know the wiser. Here’s a little trip down memory lane…

For starters, onsite registration numbers were higher than expected for a client meeting we held a few years ago in Scottsdale, AZ. It was the rush of registrants that arrived just before the opening reception that left us needing to replenish lanyards, badge sleeves and cardstock before registration re-opened bright and early the next day. After shuttling all 500+ attendees to the Heard Museum for the opening reception, another team member and I asked one of the bus drivers to take us to the nearest Office Depot. Keep in mind this was before the days of Uber! Just imagine a 56-passenger bus pulling in with only two people aboard desperate to restock, just minutes before closing! Meanwhile the rest of the team stayed back at the reception to make sure everything went flawlessly.

Or how about when you realize the name badges for a 600-person meeting have not been stuffed correctly and all need to be reassembled! This particular client had complex name badge requirements with color-coded sleeves, ribbons and even gems! We partnered with a vendor to print, stuff and ship the name badges. As we reviewed the shipment to make sure all was in order before registration opened, we realized about 20 badges in that everything was off my one. What else was there to do but un-stuff and re-stuff? That’s exactly what we did! Don’t worry, we later got a credit from the vendor for the inconvenience.

There are also times when the little things count — going the extra mile for even just a handful of attendees. Like the time an attendee was under the weather so we sent a care package to his guest room. Or the day that a spouse missed the bus for an afternoon tour so we arranged an Uber to get her where she needed to be. Or the yoga instructor who didn't show, so a colleague stepped in on a whim to lead a “chair yoga” session!

The list could go on and on. Can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store!

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Win win

Have you ever thought about hosting a joint convention with another association to advance your industry? If the answer is yes, I want to share some lessons learned from a recent experience with two trade associations that operate in related industries.

A joint meeting is a great way to create new touch points for a large group of people at one time. It fits within the mission of most associations who advocate for their members and promote new business opportunity. Your members can save money by not having to travel to two separate meetings during the year and these companies can maximize their exposure, and sometimes invest more, due to a greater expected ROI.

It’s not that easy however, because merging two associations will have its challenges. Primarily in how both cultures fit together. Think of a joint meeting more like a business merger or acquisition instead of a meeting - the culture fit is key to operationalize the experience. Your goal should be to deliver on all of the most important aspects of your association meeting, while also fitting the experience into a larger joint program. The cultures match is paramount to achieve success, so the organizers should have a good idea about what events will fit with the norms of each group.

Here are some other things to think about.

Eliminate complexities. Culture matters.
The simpler the better in terms of program format. Remember, this is a new experience for all members. They are not going to your convention this year, they’re attending a joint event (new experience). Don’t fall into the trap of trying to re-create your convention entirely. Both associations must compromise on the format to reduce overall uncertainty of the members. If things get too complex, members will feel like they don’t have enough information and will turn off if they see others engaged who are more familiar with the process. Think strategically about the format of the meeting and how you want members to interact. It won’t work to just take each individual association meeting, merge them together, and wait for the positive reviews to roll in.

Double the networking time
Associations should give members enough opportunities to meet each other at a joint convention. Members want to see their customers, old friends and colleagues first, then branch out to meet new people from the other association. The program should have double the opportunities to network than what you’re used to. This additional time will give members a chance to make their normal rounds and not feel pressured to meet new people at every opportunity. The best connections are made through friends and word of mouth, so give them a chance to talk.

More people overall also means that your members will lose out on those spontaneous runs-ins with old friends and colleagues. This will create a feeling that ‘the meeting is too big.’ Try to create a good balance in your program with large networking events and smaller more focused receptions or meet ups. Often times, we think our normal format can simply accommodate more people with a bigger space. The fact is – people are not always willing to break the ice. Make it easy for your members to feel connected to the larger group. The need to have a place and not feel like an outsider. Matchmaking events can work well in this area, but note it will involve more staff time and support to coordinate a good effort. A poorly planned matchmaking event can have greater negative ramifications than not doing it at all.

Limit the amount of separate meetings.
While each association plans their own business meeting, as well as Board and Committee meetings depending on the rotation, try to limit the one-offs which will make members choose. These events for only one group can create an environment where members of each association are attending their own events instead of actively participating in the joint programming. It’s almost like having two groups in the same space but living in their own silos. The more opportunities there are to choose, the more people will notice non-participation from the other side and think it’s a symptom of the people not wanting to be engaged. For example, host your new member and first timer events together. Another idea is to have staff from each group work together on the other’s events. The association staff can help introduce members to each other and promote a positive dialog about collaboration that helps all attending. 

Maximize your keynote speakers.
The educational program is probably the easiest part of the joint meeting, especially if the groups have similar interests, but don’t overlook its importance. Selecting a very high-profile speaker will create a unique excitement that’s not the norm. Selecting two or three really good speakers has its advantages also if you plan to do breakout sessions or deeper dives. Don’t hire more than three speakers though, or your members will feel like they are missing out. Inspiration and business leadership are two qualities to look for. Don’t get too technical or specific on content because it won’t apply to all attendees.

Control your costs, but don’t go cheap.
Make sure people get the most important parts of your convention experience, then compromise on other aspects. The members are paying the same rates to attend the joint meeting, so when they see double the amount of people, they will naturally think the convention will make double the profit. Meeting planners know this is not the case. Large groups incur additional costs for security, F&B and more, so be conscious of how everything is presented. If your members are used to plated dinners, don’t go with only reception style meals because its makes more sense for a larger group. Also, don’t have each association order their own food, make it consistent.

This is one of the hardest parts about merging cultures for a joint meeting to decide how revenues and expenses are matched. That being said, a joint meeting is a great time to try new things and innovate, so don’t be afraid to try something new where it makes sense. After you meet your basic needs, be creative in how other aspects of the event are presented.

Have fun. Be a Champion.
In the end, your members want to feel like you have their back. They appreciate responsiveness, honesty and the feeling that you have their well-being at heart. Have fun at the event and be a champion on-site for your organization. Offer help to all attendees, promote a positive and collaborative mindset, and introduce people to one another. The little things are noticed.

Joint meeting organizers have a very important role to play in supporting volunteer leaders who have been involved in planning for many years. Let them help you spread the word about what’s really important at the meeting – advancing your industry and creating new business opportunities.

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Collaboration

As we enter into the month of October, the color pink is everywhere. Television, radio, newspapers, billboards, magazines, walks, fundraisers, retail merchandise… the list goes on in efforts to promote National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Talk about collaboration! This health care campaign was formed to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis and treatment and has become a global sensation with a phenomenal collaborative effort.

Collaboration inspires a sense of community and the opportunity for people to learn from each other. While the collaborative activity of promoting National Breast Cancer Awareness is huge on a global scale, collaborative activity at the workplace, on a much smaller scale, mobilizes teams in various capacities to come together and reach common goals.

The AMPED team recently put collaborative efforts to the test when Hurricane Irma was slated for a direct hit in the Ft. Lauderdale area. One of our newest clients was having a large annual conference in this area, just two weeks after the hurricane was to hit. Decisions had to be made about keeping the conference in Ft. Lauderdale as planned, not knowing what damage may ensue, or moving the entire event to a new location in a different area of the country. Through this process, we learned the value of collaboration, both internally and externally with various teams. Below are a few thoughts on effective collaboration that resonated with me as we worked together to produce a successful outcome for our client:

1. Collaboration will expand your community and your opportunities to connect with people for new ideas. When we were considering moving to a new location, our CEO happened to be at a conference with hospitality industry leaders including CEO’s from convention and visitor bureaus across the United States. After discussing our situation with industry peers, many CEO’s offered their advice, assistance and resources to help us through the process of potentially moving the conference to a new location. Ideas were presented that we never knew existed.

2. Collaboration allows you to expand your experiences and knowledge. Our team had not been through a situation like this before. Through many forms of collaboration, each one of us was able to establish new areas of “expertise” that can now be applied to future circumstances.

3. Collaborations provide a built-in sounding board and a system of checks and balances. This experience provided many opportunities for our team to bounce ideas off of one another, blend complementary strengths and recognize areas where we could improve. It made us a stronger team.

In the end, our collaborative partners made the decision to stay at the Florida destination, as originally planned. And the conference experienced a record number of attendees! Collaborative efforts made this possible.

 

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SWS staff 2017

After 11 months of planning for a conference hosted in Puerto Rico this week, I'm taking it all in from my office in Wisconsin and hoping that the staff handling logistics onsite has been equipped with all the details and knowledge behind each day’s events. My random text at 2 a.m. to a colleague would say otherwise, but I’m also 29 weeks pregnant and keep hearing about pregnancy-induced brain fog, let’s blame that.

Early in the planning process, with the ongoing concern of Zika in Puerto Rico, staff members were free to decide whether or not they felt comfortable attending the conference. This gave us plenty of time to ensure there were replacement staff onsite and that everyone felt prepared for their roles.

Undoubtedly, the staff representing our client onsite are doing an amazing job (see photo). Here are a few tips to help if you find your team in a similar situation:

Develop a game plan. With all of our client meetings, we prepare a Staff Roles sheet which outlines core events and responsibilities. Develop this plan early and think about who can fill in for any staff unable to attend onsite. Nail down those who will be involved in order to keep them in the loop as planning proceeds.

Brief staff from the start. Meet regularly throughout the planning process to keep staff up-to-date. Our team schedules weekly check-ins to get everyone up to speed and discuss any concerns. This will also help avoid a “brain dump” right before the meeting (although this won't necessarily prevent one…see below).

Create a staff operations manual. Equip staff with a comprehensive guide that can be easily accessed onsite. Include all meeting contracts, banquet event orders, floorplans and other important documents. Add in contact information for vendors, board members and staff. List your sponsors, exhibitors and VIPs. Use this as your main resource for event information.

Communicate with outside vendors. Once you’ve decided who will handle responsibilities onsite, reach out to vendors and introduce them. Include staff on important communications as planning wraps up and arrange a time for vendors to meet with staff once they arrive at the meeting destination.

Schedule a pre-conference briefing . . . or brain dump. Run through the meeting from day one to the conclusion to make sure all staff are aware of the schedule and their role at the meeting. This is the time to answer any last-minute questions and get the team excited for a successful meeting!

Be in regular contact with onsite staff. Maintain contact by email or phone and make yourself available as a backup if needed. There will be questions and unexpected stresses, so offer to help back at the office. You may also get a few calls from vendors that are used to contacting you. Help direct them to the right person onsite.

With the conference wrapping up today, I am eager for staff to return and hear all about the conference and its successes as well as improvements for next year. We only get a second to breathe before 2018 planning begins!

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cheesecake

For meeting planners, the word “attrition” is a pretty common industry term, most often used in reference to guest rooms. However, paying attention to food and beverage guarantees — the “other attrition” — is equally important.

Usually hotel contracts have a food and beverage (F&B) clause that requires a group to generate a minimum amount of F&B revenue through the course of the meeting. The F&B clause goes on to say that if the minimum amount of revenue is not generated, the group is responsible for making up the difference. The F&B clause will require the shortfall plus the tax. Whether it’s called an F&B guarantee or minimum, it really is an attrition clause.

Here are a few tips to avoid paying more than you need to if a shortfall occurs:

Know the profit margin
Often, clauses are based on the difference between the guaranteed F&B revenue and the actual F&B costs incurred by the group. If you can, do not agree to terms that require monetary damages based on lost revenue. Instead, try to base it on lost profit. Know the profit margin!

Last year, we were negotiating with a hotel in San Diego for a large convention taking place in 2018. The hotel incorporated an extremely high food and beverage minimum in the contract. Knowing the profit margins for F&B helped us successfully negotiate terms to minimize the potential amount owed if a shortfall would occur.

Industry standard profit margins for food and beverage are between 35 and 40%. For example, if a group signs a contract with a $50,000 minimum, but only realizes $40,000, there is a shortfall. However, it does not make sense to pay for the full amount of $10,000. Despite the shortfall, the hotel never had to order the food, pay any staff to prepare it, or serve it. Instead the group should negotiate to pay between 35 and 40% of the shortfall.

To calculate the amount owed, take the total shortfall amount and multiply it by the agreed upon profit margin percentage.

Know if F&B damages are subject to sales tax
Before agreeing to pay taxes on shortfalls, check with the state in which your meeting is being held to see if taxes are required by law. If a portion of the F&B minimum guarantee is never purchased, then usually no sales tax is owed because nothing was sold in the first place. Know this before you sign the contract.

Consider ordering more food rather than paying the shortfall
If there is a shortfall, consider purchasing enough extra food to make up the difference. This could mean enhancements to a menu, upgrading a reception or ordering a fancier dessert.

Attendees will likely have a more favorable impression of the event and the group will avoid paying F&B damages to the hotel without getting something in return.

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