Monthly Archive: January 2009


Good Meeting Strategy Reduces Risk Abroad


Previously appearing in the December 2008 issue of Association Meetings magazine. Co-written by Michael Payne, Smith Bucklin and Peter Turner, MCI.

Financial planners will tell you that trying to “time the market” to buy or sell stock is a recipe for failure.  You need to follow a plan according to your personal needs, coupled with long-term horizons.

This approach is also appropriate today as we look at whether, and how, to run international meetings.  Although today’s economic climate has created some major challenges, many organizations are still implementing and/or planning international events – both in the United States and around the world.Associations and companies often seek to expand their international footprints to benefit from the ever-growing global marketplace of products and services.  They know that, while the market may be flat in the United States, opportunity may be quite good in Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia or even Latin America.  For example:

  • The World Bank’s 2008 “Doing Business Index” of leading indicators ranks Central and Eastern Europe as the best places for business growth – especially new business.
  • The World Economic Forum’s 2008 “Global Competitiveness Index” provides high marks to several moderate Arab countries that represent excellent emerging market private sectors, free market principles and more relaxed local regulations.
  • The World Economic Forum’s 2008 “Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index” rates destinations like Hong Kong and Singapore higher than Holland, Belgium, China or India.

To increase chances for success with international expansion, local issues need to be addressed.  They range from choosing the right local market to enter and the right local service providers to knowing which obstacles can be avoided.  International events can provide important returns but they require more effort and flexibility than domestic meetings.

Following are some key guidelines for helping to conduct a successful international event in today’s economy:

Sell them what they need, not just what you have to sell

Whether your organization has a history of activity in a given region of the world or is looking for ways to enter a market, you need an event strategy based on serving local customer, partner or member needs, expectations and outcomes.  This may require adapting your content, promotions and event schedules in ways that may be new to you.  Include local stakeholders in the development of your event’s strategy to help “market test” your design.

Understand and navigate local market opportunities and barriers

Government policies that hinder the free flow of travel will create problems if you don’t know how to work around them.  Look for more open, accessible and business-travel-supportive destinations.  Also, make sure your destination decision is based less on glossy, alluring brochure photos and more on logistics considerations such as visa and import restrictions; the likely delays/costs on products arriving for trade shows and other events; customs controls; and waiting times at airports.

Excessive restrictions and controls create disincentives for travelers and discourage international participation at events.  Of course, the irony is that these policies end up costing the same governmental entities substantial dollars in lost business opportunities and tax revenue.

Also, rely upon appropriate and objective third-party information sources to gauge a country’s support of regulations and ethical and pro-business practices (specific to your industry and travel and business tourism in that location), as well as the prevalence of good infrastructure and a large quantity of quality local service providers.  We recommend using the World Bank, World Economic Forum and Transparency International.

Find ways to mitigate your risk

There are many risks involved in planning international events.  Following are some common risk factors, as well as some ways to mitigate them:

  • Currency fluctuations – Meeting revenues should be collected in the currency of the event country since you will pay expenses in the same currency.  If you have offices in that region, you should use profits to support local efforts.  Otherwise, keep proceeds in a foreign bank account to help with future events.  If repatriating funds is desired, it is good to buy a currency hedge to lower exposure.
  • Travel costs – Airline capacity reductions and rising ticket costs are continuing to impact the industry worldwide.  Ensure that a location has the necessary air travel infrastructure and a reasonable schedule and pricing.
  • Registration offerings – The depressed economic climate will likely require even more proactive programs and incentives in order to encourage registration and attendance.  Attendees, exhibitors and/or sponsors must anticipate a return on their investments of time and money to commit to an international experience – even more so than a domestic event.  The tighter the economy, the more questions they will ask: Should I attend?  Can I afford to exhibit?  Can I send fewer people from my company?  Should I stay as long?  Organizers have to be able to address those concerns in a proactive and measurable fashion to ensure participation.
  • Cultural differences – Develop a plan based on expected audience delegation size and needs and have interpreters and/or select translations of content available.  Get advice from volunteer leaders or local partners.
  • Contract negotiations – Secure good local partners who know the market and who may offer influence as a volume purchaser to help you before, during and after contract negotiations.
  • Co-locate or partner – Share costs to help lower risk.
  • Resell opportunity – Repackage the most popular content from an event as a residual sales product available via the Internet to generate more revenue for little extra cost.

Hire local experts with the right experience

Finding the right local talent with expertise and experience in key value-added areas can mean the difference between profit and loss while also reducing your time spent managing challenges that you may not anticipate on your own.  For example, through the SmithBucklin + MCI Global Partnership, SmithBucklin client organizations are able to tap into the regional marketing and meetings/events expertise of MCI’s 31 offices in 20 countries around the world.  This gives clients instant access to locally relevant marketing and promotion, event planning, PCO (Professional Congress Organizer) and Ovation Global DMC (Destination Management Company) services.

Areas in which partners with good local knowledge and expertise can have a major positive impact include market research, sponsorship development, destination management, housing, currency risk, registration and meeting logistics.  Involving a partner with experience marketing to a certain region is particularly important since ineffective marketing and promotion is often the greatest barrier to achieving event goals.

Be present in the region everyday

Would you want to buy a product or service from a foreign company or a membership from a foreign association that did not have a presence in your region?  What if that company or association tried to conduct business in another currency other than your own?  Likewise, how would you feel if that company or association never tried to work with you locally to adapt products or services to your needs, or bombarded you with promotions that didn’t accommodate cultural differences?  You would be less likely to buy their products or services or join their association.

If you are serious about growing globally, you need to have a solid understanding of the region you are targeting.  You need local experts with the right functional expertise, whether that involves adapting strategy for membership and products to the region, creating locally relevant products or membership benefits, or managing revenues and expenses in local currency.  In short, it is all about building relationships.  You cannot do that by just holding periodic meetings in the region to placate the locals.

As you consider the opportunities your organization may have around the world, make sure you are not making decisions on impulse but rather based on sound management practices that reduce your risks while increasing the likelihood for a successful meeting.   Ask yourself what business goals you want this meeting to achieve for the region after the event concludes.  Have a plan.  Focus on the long term.  And remember, position your organization for the opportunities that are available and be the first to benefit when a local regional market rebounds.


Social Media and Viral Marketing for Global Fundraising Advocacy

Experimenting in tough economic times can pay off with exciting new ways to reach stakeholders not only in far flung geographic locations but also in virtual ones.  In the world of global advocacy, finding new ways to raise awareness for your cause, educating the less informed, and raising financial support among global audiences where they spend their time requires fresh ideas to tap their interest.

The 2009 World Kidney Day Campaign is conducted in partnership between the International Society of Nephrology and the International Federation of Kidney Foundations represents a strong alliance between kidney health professionals and patient groups to bring global attention to the prevention and treatment of kidney disease.  MCI Brussels has provided worldwide staff support for the campaign since its inception.

World Kidney Day (WKD) aims to raise awareness about the heavy burden of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Annually celebrated worldwide on the second Thursday of March, WKD offers a crucial, visible opportunity to inform and educate health policy-makers, people who are at highest risk of CKD, and the general public that kidney disease is common, harmful and treatable.

Reaching over 60 countries through regional and local media and public promotional and training programs to promote kidney health through screenings and prevention programs, WKD and its global strategic partner network is helping to promote public health while building its own brand awareness. 

Recently, WKD’s Global Project Team has been using YouTube as a advocacy channel to spread its videos and local campaign material throughout the world.  Using the free tools to distribute and track consumption.

WKD also has a global campaign Facebook page (with volunteers creating local WKD pages too) to further promote word of mouth marketing to supplement the global and local marketing and PR programs that have been its great strengths.  This provides more easily sharing among friends and family.

New for 2009 is the use of Second Life (SL) to reach out to SL-residents as a test market where we can learn to take advantage of this new world.   Initially, the goal is to keep things simple and volunteer-focused.  So far, WKD organizers are finding that many SL-residents are very supportive of charities and willing to support worthy causes.

So far, WKD staff have created a Second Life Promotion Box, containing “virtual” notecards, poster, t-shirts and bags that have been currently placed in about 5-6 SIMS with more to come as SIM owners permit the team to put up “point of purchase” WKD stands on their “land/place” in Second Life.   In addition, staff created a WKD group that people can join.

Soon plans include to organize some WKD virtual events in SL such as a WKD-quiz, an informative discussion, and some “live” musicians to perform in order to draw people and spread the word.

Check back to find out if Second Life can provide “new life” to global fundraising.


Engineering Society Builds Chinese Community for Long Term Growth

The International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) wanted to tap the dramatic trend in the global pharmaceutical industry’s migration of more and more operations to India and China.  This included traditional manufacturing members as well as R&D which was seen as a new target of opportunity, especially in the Generics sector of the industry that is strong in China. In short, being in China was seen as a way to diversify the geographic membership portfolio in some very strong markets.

Initially, ISPE sought to grow membership in China from its global headquarters by fostering relationships with key Chinese government agencies, providing support to local members and volunteer leaders, and building ISPE brand value awareness in China.  However, they encountered some challenges:

  • Initial efforts to build relationships with key government partners slowed due to communication and cultural differences
  • Participation of volunteer leaders was not active enough because they didn’t have proper local functional support
  • Educational events and networking opportunities were not well organized or opportunities exploited

The key to overcoming these challenges was having local resources to provide scale to penetrate and then manage relationships and services using a professional local presence.

ISPE opened its Office through MCI Shanghai to provide locally relevant business service support for local members and prospects, invigorate partner opportunities, and manage critical administrative duties:

  • Establish close and good relationship with stakeholders in China: the government, corporations and universities.
  • Develop new training courses tailored to Chinese market
  • Provide local volunteer leader support
  • Revitalize the ISPE Chinese version website
  • Translate all the collateral and produce a website in Chinese
  • Manage ISPE’s pavilion at the China Pharm 2008
  • Manage the ISPE China Conference 2008 held in collaboration with China Center for Pharmaceutical International Exchange (CCPIE) an arm of State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) in November 2008.
  • Manage the audience generation through marketing and promotion activities, registration, logistics, speakers, sponsorship and on-site support
  • Provide marketing including e-blasts distribution and posting conference information on industry publications

Within 3 months of ISPE China Office’s marketing efforts membership increased by 12.7%, the prospect database grew by 36%, and 85% of e-marketing recipients were reading ISPE conference information.   Conference sponsorship reached 58% of targeted goals after only one month of promotion.   Top officers from SFDA (China’s State Food and Drug Administration) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) were reengaged and agreed to give speeches at the ISPE China Annual Conference in 2008.   And CCPIE agreed to send its first Chinese delegation to the ISPE Annual Meeting.

At the end of the first year,  ISPE realized: a successful annual conference in Beijing developed with the China Center of Pharmaceutical International Exchange (CCPIE), Chinese membership grew from 124 to 407 members, the first student chapter in Sichuan University was formed with more than 100 students members,  translation of marketing collateral,  an ISPE China website, and a monthly e-newsletter.

To continue this success, ISPE China Office will concentrate on continuing to build a strong local presence to raise local brand awareness, provide strong and timely support to ISPE’s growing volunteer leader network,  and continue to provide relevant products and services tailor-made for the Chinese market.