The pandemic has all Association Management Companies (AMC) working with their association clients to rethink how to get back to “normal” or define the “new normal” for their operations. 

Connecting In-Person vs Virtual  

Many associations have returned to in-person meetings and conferences while maintaining the virtual attendance option. Depending on the audience, in-person works well, but most members have got comfortable with the option of virtual, and the demand for this is still prevalent in many associations.  

There are many advantages to maintaining virtual meetings and conferences post-pandemic. Top of the list is the cost-efficiencies of not traveling combined with tight schedules making the virtual option ideal for many members. The financial cost of attending events in-person has soared and hopefully, those increases stabilize over time.

Some members also look at the environmental impact of in-person meetings and view the now preferred virtual meeting as more environmentally friendly. Virtual meetings help associations reach their EDI (Equity, diversity & inclusion) goals of making meetings more attainable for those that cannot afford to travel or are avoiding travel due to pandemic concerns or environmental reasons.  

I recently received feedback on offering virtual meetings in real-time or recording the meeting and offering access afterwards. Feedback to consider when looking at virtual meetings and whether to stream them live or record them are as follows: 

  • Live streaming in real-time adds an additional level of technology challenges and costs, that might not be worth the overall value (or headache!) the association is trying to provide to virtual attendees. With virtual meetings things can go wrong including Wi-Fi issues for the host and participants, and live streaming is not only labour intensive – it’s also expensive for the AV provider and the association staff/event moderator.  
  • Virtual and real-time attendees’ participation is not as robust as we all hope or perceive it is and can be summed up to virtual attendees having the ability to ask questions in real-time, but those virtual attendees are competing with the in-person attendees. Few questions come from the virtual floor – and those that do come in are from a small number of virtual attendees.   
  • Chat features for virtual and real-time attendees can very quickly become a place where individual attendees complain about access or issues that are personal only to them (generally their own Wi-Fi but they don’t understand or sometimes their employers VPNs are blocking their access, but they don’t know that prior to the event no matter how much pre-event communication takes place!). Or worse, virtual attendees input text or questions we know they would normally never pose in-person in a room full of fellow members.  As all the virtual attendees can see those chats, the person moderating, who is often managing more pressing items, must make the decision to address those chats or simply ignore them.  
  • Another option is to take an in-person event and record it and release it following the event to members that have registered and paid to receive it. Members unable to attend can then view it at their own leisure and as a member exclusive (i.e., membership perk!). Turnaround for the recordings of an in-person event is quick and can be a big cost savings versus doing a live stream.  
  • Associations need to have discussions about what works for members and staff, financial requirements and restrictions – along with the best way to deliver content that is valuable and meaningful to members.  


Connecting with Consumers 

Recently I had two association clients that took a different approach to how they present themselves to consumers. These two clients each had their own consumer show that existed prior to the pandemic and their industries both focused on recreation and outdoor activity.

The pandemic had a real impact on the surge of outdoor activity, and both benefited from it but also struggled from supply chain issues.  

Both associations agreed to join forces and present a combined consumer show hoping to attract consumers that love the outdoors and could benefit from being exposed to both product lines. The benefits the associations realized from joining forces were as follows: 

  • Shared risk and reward for the financial success of the show 
  • More diverse products to showcase, to elevate the consumer experience 
  • Allowed each group to work through any supply chain issues that otherwise may have prevented one of the associations from holding a show in 2023.  
  • Enabled the exhibitors to showcase products and get exposure to outdoor enthusiasts that might not have been on their radar  

Now the big question is – will they do a combined show in 2024? The dust hasn’t settled on the results of the show for 2023 yet, so discussions will take place. The main point here is neither association would have considered combining the shows had the pandemic not happened. Both groups experienced a ‘new norm’ approach to getting in front of consumers. 

Thinking outside of the “norm” is hard. Often, it’s comfortable to stay within the zone, especially if it works. Sometimes a shake-up is good to see how an association can expand its offerings and deliver something fresh to key audiences.  

Throughout the pandemic most associations have been forced to look at new and innovative ways to operate and redefine their approach. Overtime it’ll be interesting to see how the “new normal” dictates how associations connect within the association and outside of it.  

Learn more about managing an association in the “New Normal” era: