Need to reimagine your event or improve results but your organization is stuck in the past?


The realization that changes are needed for your event can creep up slowly or come suddenly. New executive leadership, missed financial goals, a competitive threat, downturn in the economy or other disruptions can really rock the boat for associations. An event operation once perceived as efficient and steady can suddenly seem inflexible and reactive, making change management difficult if not impossible.

One of the most talked about Learning Lab sessions at the August 2018 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition was “Walk the Talk of Change Leadership.” Change is difficult for any organization, and non-profit associations are no exception. Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, provides a great report of the session in his blog titled “Avoid the pitfalls of change management“.

Implementing any new initiative at an association is usually met with resistance. Why? Because the path of least resistance is to maintain status quo, and no one likes to get out of their comfort zone. The event team is already overloaded with their day-to-day responsibilities and they see change as just more work.

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. So, how do associations create a culture that supports change needed to reimagine an event or produce better results? As Mr. Athitakis’ blog post points out, change management needs to happen at the top, but leaders also need to spend time considering how change plays out in middle and lower levels too.

Along with creating a culture of change, below are some things to consider so your association can successfully make the necessary changes that can produce positive results:

  • Consider bringing in an outside event consulting firm. While often brought in to review what’s happened in the past or to create a strategic plan, consulting firms can be a catalyst for cultural change within the organization and help leadership and staff navigate the pitfalls of change management. An outside voice in the room gives rise to honest, sometimes difficult conversations that need to happen on the path to real change.
  • Make sure you have a solid plan for the new initiative or changes you are trying to implement, including the goals or financial targets, actions needed to execute, resources, timeline and metrics to measure success throughout execution. Too often, associations try to implement ideas without a well-thought-out plan and most of the time, expectations fall short, goals are missed, and budget is wasted.
  • Think through the implications of a new initiative. What actions do each department need to do to execute the strategy? Develop a matrix for all actions and include the time it will take to accomplish the initiative for each staff resource. Does your event team and other supporting departments have enough time to complete the initiative when it needs to be done based on the current event schedule and their workload? Just adding more work without the necessary support will only discourage your team from supporting the initiative. Getting buy-in from the staff at all levels and ensuring they have the necessary resources and support will go a long way to maximize employee satisfaction while getting everyone excited to put in the extra effort to ensure the initiative is properly executed.
  • Test and measure, test and measure, and test and measure again. For example, if you are trying to attract an entirely new target audience to the event, don’t spend all your marketing budget right out of the gate. Test and measure results and then adjust the messaging, target lists and creatives to continually optimize results.
  • Don’t try to do too many new initiatives at once and ensure there is plenty of time to plan and execute them. Too often, associations try to implement several new programs or initiatives at once only to find none of them are given the attention or time needed. Include the changes you want to make in your long-term strategic plan to allow plenty of time for planning and implementation.


Want to reimagine your event or improve results by implementing new initiatives, programs or strategies? Make sure your organization has the proper change management process in place and the buy-in from the top down before venturing into unknown territory. It will save a lot of time and costs and improve employee morale when you’re ready to implement changes!


Karen Vogel

Karen is an accomplished marketing & business development leader who has launched, revived and managed industry-leading trade shows and conferences for Reed Exhibitions and consulted with dozens of trade associations, publishers, event organizers, and Fortune 500 companies to improve event financial, attendance, lead generation, and brand results over her 25 year career.

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