Yesterday, the HSMAI MEET National wrapped up at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. For those of you not deep in the meeting planning business, HSMAI is the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International. These folks recognize and respect the “affordable meetings” market of small and mid-size associations and nonprofits and put on a great trade show and “Meet University” for the small-shop event planners.
HSMAI walked the talk of hybrid events, offering both how-to sessions as well as offering free access to more than 10 live broadcast workshops to those who could not attend in person. This was made possible by sponsors such as INXPO, Freeman and the new bXb Online creatively working together to make this an affordable option for HSMAI. They were a bit understated about their sponsorship, so I wanted to give them a shout-out here.
One thing that I think worked very well at HSMAI was the use of employees of sponsoring companies as content providers/thought leaders. I raise this because I rarely go a week without a conversation with an association leader (both staff and volunteers) who perceives conference presentations by sponsors as “selling out.” There is this idea that sponsors want to be part of the program to just hawk their wares.
I think it’s time to look beyond this construct and take a deeper look at the thought leadership your sponsors can provide your association members and attendees. In fact, I think it is time to fully embrace conference/trainings content as something you expect your sponsors/partners to engage in. After all, you and your partners share an equal investment in your industry. They also know that a sales pitch disguised as education is a big turn off to association members. If they haven’t yet figured this out, help them understand how to best bring their knowledge to your members. Everyone gains when it works well. (James Spargo of J. Spargo & Associates and Steve Boyce of INXPO both did a great job of respecting the promise of their peer learning/speed learning sessions at HSMAI MEET National.)
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the organizers of HSMAI for bringing to my attention the amazing Laura Schwartz. Honestly, I don’t know how I was unaware of her and her book Eat, Drink and Succeed. I don’t think anyone has every presented the path to meaningful business relationships through social events as clearly and effectively as Laura. Her book is a must-read for anyone responsible for sponsor relationships and cultivation. Seeing her bring her book to life is even better.