26th April 2007

Doing the right job

Associations should focus more on their membership, thinks John Spain

After several years of speculation, debate and negotiation, the three main exhibition industry associations are now united under one roof following BECA’s decision to join the EIA last month.
Whether or not this will turn out to be a good thing will remain to be seen as time goes on and I wish everyone involved good luck with making the theory a reality.
I don’t want to teach people to suck eggs but I hope that one of the first questions the AEO, AEC and AEV ask themselves is ‘what exactly is an association?’
The reason I say this is because in numerous conversations I had over the years on the subject, one thing has become clear. This is that there is a perception among people in the events industry that we are absolutely flooded with associations not all of which are doing a proper association job.
The major gripe is that too many associations are little more than marketing organisations. Instead of concentrating on issues affecting the membership they tend to take on the task of selling the industry to the outside world. This is obviously important work but it should never become the sole purpose of the organisation.
In years gone by I was privileged to be present at two Exhibition Venues Association conferences. These were real eye openers because the major part of the conference was spent discussing issues that were totally relevant to the delegates, the sort of things that are seldom given an airing in the wider industry but which were, nevertheless, crucially important to the venues sector. There was never any suggestion of a given venue delivering a sales pitch in one of the seminars because, obviously, with all the other delegates being from venues too there wasn’t much chance of getting a booking. The event was therefore refreshingly free of sales pitches.
Compare this to the conferences where someone is booked to give a talk on, say, the whys and wherefores of using A/V. Inevitably they see this as a golden opportunity to sell and therefore embark upon a bullet pointed sales presentation rather than giving a balanced analysis of the issues. This is of no use to anyone and turns out to be a waste of time where it could actually have been quite interesting.
I’ve no reason to suppose that the EIA will turn the three associations under its wing into marketing firms but I would, just in case, like to register my plea for inter industry discussion first and marketing second.