Blurring the Lines
A couple of weeks ago I attended the PCMA Education Foundation Dinner Honoring Professional Achievement, where three outstanding members of our community were recognized. This event is always well attended and, despite the political duties that come with an event like this, I always enjoy catching up with people that come from all over to be a part of this. While I don’t necessarily want to extend the monkey suit wearing time, I do wish that I had more than a minute or two to spend with people that I don’t get a chance to see that often. In some cases, this may be the only time all year I see some of these people, so keeping up with the resulting changes from a year ago can be daunting!
One thing you can always count on in our community is that there is constant change. I talked with people that were planners last year, but are suppliers this year; some are planners working for supplier companies, but some have fully crossed over. I myself was an operations person working for a hotel company who now is fully on the planner side of the equation. Are we defined by a membership category within our community? If so, when does ‘supplanner’ start to gain traction as a vertical?
How does this breakdown the barriers, even within a category? Within the planner category the main sub categories are corporate, association, medical, and government. Why do we do this to ourselves? For me, the corporate planner can also be my exhibitor and customer, so what is of interest to that vertical is also of great interest to me. No longer can we afford to say “that only applies to X or Y category,” as a member of the community it has become increasingly important to have knowledge of the broader spectrum. The implications of this go far beyond just a having a passing knowledge of issues affecting other community verticals, and leads to understanding how all the pieces of the puzzle start to fit together for a better understanding of how to improve tomorrow.
Within the cautiously optimistic constraints of the global economy, competition is fierce and knowledge is a key component to proving your value every day. No matter where you find yourself today, it could always be completely different tomorrow and you had better be prepared. As an association planner, it is imperative that I have a solid understanding of the current issues facing my members, exhibitors, and suppliers. How can I improve the experience of these people if I don’t understand what it means to be on that side of the coin? Yes, I did just state that I need to improve the experience of my suppliers, in the same breath as members and exhibitors. This may just be my philosophy, but I believe that we are all working to elevate the customer experience, even if it is the customer of my customer, and including suppliers as partners can make all the difference in the world.
This blurring of the lines is occurring even at a company level. For example, this year PMA partnered with the National Grocers Association to setup a produce pavilion on the NGA show floor. We sublet the space from NGA and then re-packaged it (with help from our suppliers) to sell to our members for a profit, which we used to cover all of our expenses. This falls under the member value umbrella and helps to keep us relevant to our membership, while exposing some of my 800+ exhibitors to a new audience. Following that success, we have agreed to increase our pavilion footprint for the 2013 show, in order to extend that value to an expanded member audience. Now we are a re-seller, both a buyer and seller of goods outside of our normal operating parameters.
Co-opetition was a short lived buzz word about ten years ago, but was it just ahead of its time? As organizations attempt to meet the ever-expanding list of needs from internal and external clients, disparate groups are finding common goals and common ground that benefits all aspects of the discussion. Where competitors refused to consider cooperation before, they now find themselves forced to look for new ways to reduce expenses, while providing superior value to a more knowledgeable audience.
This is not some new breakthrough thought on my part, in fact far from it. Look, for example, at Target who shares television advertising space (and expenses I am sure) with some of its suppliers, in order to expose both brands to their customers and potential customers by promoting both brands at once. I predict that we will start to see this type of cross-promotion on the show floor, as exhibitors look for ways to reduce expenses and increase exposure. “Cross-boothing”, a sort of mini pavilion made up of two or three companies that work together on a daily basis, could become a way to not only save money, but cement those relationships that already exist within the supply chain. For example, if a strawberry grower, a fruit packager, and a cold chain shipping company all decided to exhibit together in a 10’ X 30’ instead of each renting a 10’ X 20’. This would result in a huge reduction of expenses, well beyond just the cost of a booth, and allow a more diverse set of skills to come together in the marketplace. It would also reduce revenue from the show floor, but that difference could be re-routed to sponsorship or advertising.
As these lines continue to blur, both on and off the show floor, how do we take advantage of the opportunities presented to us? If information truly is the key, how do we share knowledge among the community, in order to benefit ourselves and our customers, thereby helping to ensure our continued relevance and existence?
As always, leave a thought for the next reader!