Reporting on the State Of The Conference Industry


2018 has officially arrived, which means it’s time to launch our 2018 State of the Conference Industry Report.

For the fourth year in a row, we have tracked and reported on the role that content plays at an annual conference. Through an online survey of 143 association professionals, this report outlines the challenges associated with managing, distributing and leveraging that content.

For the first three years of the report, we typically observed minimal changes in data from year to year, as you might expect. This year, however, we are actually noticing some significant shifts and new trends in the conference industry. Here are a few points we found particularly interesting:

The Introduction of “Omnipresent” Content

Determining how to provide content at the conference has always been a challenge for meeting planners who are continually balancing the diverse needs and preferences of a multi-generational audience with a generally flat conference budget. Based on this year’s survey results, however, the issue isn’t as much about appeasing the majority based on your attendance profile. Thanks to technologies such as on-demand streaming services, attendees are starting to think of content as being “device-agnostic”, accessing it anywhere, anytime, and in whichever format is most convenient and relevant for them at that moment, while also enhancing the learning process, of course. This is creating some new challenges for meeting planners, as well as some tough decisions.

Content is (finally) extending beyond the conference

For quite some time, it has been widely recognized that an organization’s educational content is its greatest asset, and the annual conference is one of the greatest sources of new, fresh content. Despite this, only about half of respondents indicated that they re-use their conference content for any purpose…until now. This year marks the first time we’ve seen a notable increase not just in whether they use it, but how.  Associations have finally figured out how to break down internal silos and are investing in resources and processes to make this possible. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

  • Membership growth rates continue to be flat, but the expectation to increase conference attendance still looms large.
  • Conferences and associations aren’t seeing a large uptick in younger members and attendees, despite the fact that they are becoming the largest segment of the population.
  • FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is a tremendous motivator for younger attendees, who are already “content gluttons.”

This year’s findings have already sparked quite a bit of conversation around here. I encourage you to download the report and share it with your colleagues. We’ve even provided some thought starters to help jump-start the discussion in your own organization.


Print Makes a Comeback in 2011

Over the past few years, the need to lower costs and “go green” coupled with increasing using of mobile and internet technologies has steered meeting professionals away from providing printed handouts and learning materials at events.

  • Is cost really the issue?
  • Do members and attendees not value hard copy?
  • Has print lost its impact?

Fact: Our printing business is growing. How? Because many training organizations still provide printed educational books (manuals, workbooks, binders, etc.) to help educate their attendees. And since they offer multiple training events at various locations, the need for for a distribution strategy and partner is important.

This doesn’t mean organizers of events should be printing everything, but maybe your organization needs to consider your attendees and members. I hear things like, “our attendees have not pushed back” … but maybe they just stop attending your event (or did not renew membership) because it lacks the educational value and networking they might get somewhere else? Maybe your registration numbers are a reflection of this?

So when this article hit my inbox, “7 Reasons Print Will Make a Comeback in 2011” written by content marketing expert, Joe Pulizzi of Junta42 – The Content Marketing Revolution, I had to read it.

Here are the key points that Joe Pulizzi makes and my reactions to them:

Junta42: What’s Old Is New Again: Social media, online content and iPad applications are all part of the marketing mix today. Still, what excites marketers and media buyers is what IS NOT being done. They want to do something different…something new. It’s hard to believe, but I’ve heard many marketers talk about leveraging print as something new in their marketing mix. Unbelievable.

  • My thoughts: As a marketer and attendee to events, social and new media compete for my attention. I used to find conference programs in my traditional inbox, so when I get something event or education-related in print, I like it. It’s different.

Junta42: Customers Still Need to Ask Questions: We love the Internet because buyers can find answers to almost anything. But where do we go to think about what questions we should be asking? I talked to a publisher last week who said this: “The web is where we go to get answers but print is where we go to ask questions.” The print vehicle is still the best medium on the planet for thinking outside the box and asking yourself tough questions based on what you read. It’s lean back versus lean forward. If you want to challenge your customers (like Harvard Business Review does), print is a viable option.

  • My thoughts: Do people really do their best thinking at their computers? I don’t. Sometimes it’s in my car or while I’m sitting on the couch or on the patio. And, I like having the content that I am working on in print, not my iphone or netbook. I like to write notes and circle things that I need to check out or dig into. That’s hard to do on my computer.

Junta42: Print Still Excites People: I talked to a journalist recently who said it’s harder and harder to get people to agree to an interview for an online story. But mention that it will be a printed feature and executives rearrange their schedule. The printed word is still perceived as more credible to many people than anything on the web. It goes to the old adage, “If someone invested enough to print and mail it, it must be important.” Whether that’s true or not, that is still a widely-held perception.

  • My thoughts: Amen to this point. When the editors of MPI’s One+ Magazine wanted me to write an article about online event communities and told me it would be in their printed magazine, I was ecstatic (did you see it?). Have you ever walked into one of your breakout sessions and asked the attendees if they would like a printed copy of the session handout? I’ve seen this happen in person. Almost 90% of attendees raised their hand. But why? They can get the handouts online.

Junta42: Unplug: More and more people are actively choosing the unplug, or disconnect themselves from digital media. I’m doing this more myself. I’m finding myself turning off my phone and email more to engage with printed material. A year ago I didn’t see this coming. Today, I relish the opportunities when I can’t be reached for comment.

  • My thoughts: With in a few clicks you can go from Google to Amazon to your email to Hootsuite, then back to email, then to… you get my point. I receive 100+ emails and internal messages EVERY day that ask me to click to more external links. I am not telling anyone to not publish content online, but realize you’re competing with the fact that you can lose you reader in just one click. Can you ever get beneath the surface with digital content? Maybe print is just what you need to learn?

What do you think?

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Industry Survey

Each year, Omnipress collects data from meeting planners to benchmark event content trends. The results will be published in our annual State of the Conference Industry Report in March.

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