Why on earth work with associations?



Simon Pryor FSAE FAIM

About Simon Pryor

Simon Pryor has been Chief Executive Officer of the Mathematical Association of Victoria for the past ten years, part of a continuing thirty-plus year career in the not-for-profit sector. A committed professional, he has served as a volunteer director of the peak body in the association sector for four years and, as a result, now serves as the inaugural President of the Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE), formed from Associations New Zealand Incorporated and the previous Australian Society of Association Executives. He has experience as a small business and economic developer and as a strategic planner for local government. He is on the board of the NFP responsible for the celebrated Brunswick Music Festival and has served as Mayor of his local city. He takes pride in his past as a Melbourne tram conductor.

Why would you (work with an association as a PCO)? The list of good reasons not to is considerable. Volunteer committees that take an eon to make the simplest of decisions. The uncertain finances of a not-for-profit trade, industry, professional or sporting body. Folk who know no boundaries and insist they know your profession of meetings and events management better than you. The perils of the international bid. The vagaries of politics in a small organisation. A drawn out business cycle to plan around. Managers whose key priority is to reign in costs. Committees who want it all, but for a song. Traditions that stand in the path of progress.

This is just the beginning of a list of negatives that could so readily be added to.

But consider this: Throughout the global financial downturn, the impact on tourism of Aussie dollar highs and business naysayers criticising the value of face-to-face meetings, New Zealand and Australian trade, industry and professional associations have continued to hold education events, plan trade exhibitions and conduct meetings of members. Sure, the number of participants attending each event may have been down, but in the main the frequency of these association meetings and events have held up over the last three years. Now, can a PCO say that about the meetings and events held in the other two big sectors of the New Zealand and Australian economies; government or the corporates? Probably not.

Associations can be the great constant for a stable PCO business. Never the most lucrative of clients, but less likely to cancel their business at the slightest economic tremor.

The question arises, though, as to whether there is enough of this association business to go around. To which the rejoinder is; are you kidding? A typical European, North American and Australasian economy is made up of a public (or government) sector, business (For-profits as big as Apple and BHP-Billiton and as small as the local family-run foodcart) and a large NFP sector (Charities, community agencies and trade, industry and professional associations). Generally, this overall NFP sector can be as large as a nation’s entire retail sector. This means that, within the overall NFP sector, there will be many thousands of trade and professional associations in each and every nation. All of them arrange meetings; from small Board meetings through regional and national meetings all the way to huge international meetings.

Australia’s Productivity Commission reports that the total  NFP sector consists of at least 700,000 organisations with over 59,000 being ‘economically significant’ entities, employing over 890,000 staff and involving the services of 4.6 million volunteers with a gross value added (GVA) contribution to Australia’s economy of at least $AUD 55.6 billion. Flowing from the work of the Productivity Commission, AuSAE calculates that there are over 16,500 trade, industry and professional associations in New Zealand and Australia for PCOs to work with. Now, for PCOs on both sides of the Tasman, that is a bag load of potential business.

Convinced that your PCO enterprise needs to capture some of the meetings and events business that must inevitably flow from these 16,500 associations? Keen to start identifying just who these bodies are? Interested in developing the knowledge and expertise that will ensure your business knows how to engage with the association sector? Well, now that we have your attention, these are questions for another day.

*The PCO Association has invited Simon Pryor to contribute irregularly to the PCO column in CIM. In future editions he will delve further into the important relationship between the meetings and events industry and the world of associations.