Dear Associations, We Need to Talk

We need to talk

Why we’re starting a working group to help associations answer the tough questions about 2021 and beyond


For months, we’ve been talking to our association clients about their plans for hosting events in 2021.

We haven’t yet heard an association with a plan that sounds like it will work. And by “work,” we mean resonate with members in a meaningful way and compel them to turn out because you are providing something they can’t find elsewhere. 

We know that some of you are planning hybrid events. Others are using magical thinking and hoping live events will be back to business as usual. And then some of you . . . well, you don’t have much of a plan at all.

We also know that so many things are working against you this year. Uncertainty is the biggest one: What will 2021 look like? 

Hotel contracts may be a challenge. And let’s not forget your sponsors. Will they want to continue spending thousands of dollars sponsoring an event with very low turnout?

We wish we could change these things, but we can’t.

All we can do is force the conversation about creating a plan for next year and beyond. We’re talking about a real plan that answers questions like: In an uncertain world where the last six or seven months have turned everything upside-down, what is it that we actually bring to the table for our members? What’s the through-line that makes our members feel connected to our purpose? What even is our purpose? 


Do You Have a Clear Value Proposition?

First, let’s be clear: Your event will most likely take a hit next year, no matter what you do. Sponsorship will probably be down as well. The real issue on the table is whether you will just ride it out and hope 2022 is magically different and everyone returns as normal . . . or use the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and force yourself to answer those questions above regarding your purpose. These questions, by the way, are all to do with the value proposition of your association (something we’ve written a great deal about).

As you work to formulate your event plan, your value proposition can help you identify the space where you can win. Because what you won’t win on is innovative technology, free stuff, and incentives. Early bird sign ups? Forget everything we know about early bird incentives. It’s a different world post-COVID, where we’re all in one big game of chicken, waiting to see what will happen before we commit to anything.

Practically speaking, this means you need flexibility hard-wired into your event. But metaphorically speaking, your event needs to be about something—something that taps into your members’ sense of belonging, need to connect at a human level, and desire to be better. 


Let the Conversation Commence

Your association has something unique to say about each of those areas—belonging, connection, and betterment. This is the place where the conversation about what next year might look like should begin.

So . . . are you having that conversation?

We have found that while some associations are jumping right in and working to answer the tough questions, just as many are walking around anxious, unsure how to even begin navigating this conversation.

We think it’s time to bring these issues into the light and try to come up with some answers.

That’s why Rottman Creative is putting together a working group of forward-thinking people to talk about the future of events for associations, and how associations can rethink their business model for a post-2020 world. 

The rough plan is to host three 30-minute Zoom calls, spaced two weeks apart. We’ll recap our discussions in an email, highlighting the most relevant take-away. We’ll also host a Slack channel, where we discuss the most pressing issues associations are facing for 2021, with an eye toward figuring out solutions and creating better value propositions. 

We don’t have the answers, but we do have a strong sense of the questions to ask, and having worked with more than 150 organizations over the last [how many?] years, we can confidently play the role of facilitator.

We believe that the way forward is to focus on being better. And right now, that starts with being willing to have better conversations. 

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