Association Meetings: “Location, location, location,” vs. “Content, content, content”

Association Meetings: “Location, location, location,” vs. “Content, content, content”

I have a tradition of bringing home a magnet from the different cities I visit, both from my personal and business trips. Our kitchen refrigerator is quickly running out of space, especially as our clients choose new and interesting locations for their meetings. From Seattle to Miami, from New York City to San Diego, our fridge is a testament to the effort associations put forth to find a vibrant and exciting meeting location.

But my refrigerator also has magnets from Cleveland, Memphis, Minneapolis and Austin, to name a few. These are great cities, but they are not necessarily known as “destination” locations, like some of their coastal cousins. However, they are attractive alternatives that offer the meeting space and hotel blocks that associations require.

So how can one association have a record-breaking meeting in November in Minneapolis, while another experiences underwhelming attendance at a spring meeting in San Diego? There are several possibilities, of course, but the most important is content. McKinley has worked on several association meetings-related projects, and our research participants almost always point to content as the most critical issue when deciding whether to attend. Give them education, and they will come, members say – and they prove it through their repeat attendance.

“Content” is a very broad word, however, so it’s important to know what that means. For some associations, content may mean detailed presentations on specific topics by industry experts. For others, it could mean a keynote address made by a governor or former U.S. president. Other research participants have mentioned their interest in the TED model, where long presentations are eschewed for short, impactful and thematic discussions. In the end, there’s only one true way to know what type of content your attendees and members want: ask them.