By Bob Bauer
Happy Birthday to . . .
Marking the anniversary for your association can be a fun thing to do. I’ve done it once already and will be doing so again fairly soon. By way of background, we’re a bit of a hybrid here. We’re the staff of a food industry trade association. Over the years, however, some smaller groups within a segment of the food industry have come to us to ask us to manage them; so we’re a quasi association management company as well. Our main association, AFI, takes up 85-90 percent of our work.
In 2006, AFI marked it centennial. In 2017, one of the other groups we manage will celebrate its centennial. Though it will create some extra work, I’m already looking forward to the centennial. AFI’s celebration was well received, so we’ll probably do something similar to what we did back then, with some technological improvements.
The first thing I did was get together for a lunch with some old-timers, including my predecessor, to get some input on how they thought the association should mark the occasion. It was a great couple of hours filled with lots of reminiscing. Though I wasn’t able to get a lot of input about the event itself, I heard a lot of great stories about the association, its members and its impact. It also spurred everyone around the table to check at home for old pictures, etc.
Picking the date and location were among the next steps. Should we do it at our annual conference, which is typically held in Florida? Should we do it in a resort-type setting at another point during the year? We opted to do it in on a Saturday night in New York, the night before a large trade show many of our members attend. Though we’re an international organization with member firms all over the world, our highest concentration of members is in the New York metro area. So that, coupled with the trade show, made the date and location the logical choice. We opted for the Roosevelt Hotel. Teddy Roosevelt happened to be president when our association was founded.
We have a small staff, so I decided I would handle the association’s history research on my own, some of it on my own time - like there was a lot of that. I soon discovered it was a lot of fun and was happy to squirrel away even more time to put things together. Before long, we had a timelime of important dates in the association’s history, pictures going back many, many years and copies of association publications, such as newsletters, bulletins and our annual publication. We put together four DVDs – one with the timelime, one with pictures from the association publications and two of pictures from association events. At the event itself, we put four TVs around the room and the adjoining foyer and had one DVD run repeatedly on each. We had a fifth TV that showed a highlight DVD from a convention the association had in Morocco, still the most-talked-about event in the association’s history.
We marketed the heck out of the event; using old pictures, highlighting the convenience of the event being the night before the show that opened the next day, everything we could think of. Though I can’t remember exactly what the numbers were, we reached our target in terms of domestic members registering to attend. We had hoped we would get more of our foreign members to attend, since some were in town to exhibit at the upcoming show but we fell a little short on that end. Some told us they didn’t want to have a late night the night before an important show, with some adding the jet-lag issue.
We were trying to do things on a budget to keep registration costs as low as possible, so I took advantage (with the board’s approval) of having a brother who is a musician (keyboard player/singer) who gave us a great price to play at the event. I also reached out to a local photographer who I knew did good work at a reasonable price. It was cheaper to pay both their travel time and costs than to hire someone in the city. I also knew the quality I was getting. I simply had to tell both what I had in mind and knew they would deliver.
The night itself was great. The DVDs were a huge hit. As people gathered around to look at them, their eyes would light up when they saw a familiar face they hadn’t seen in a while or when they saw something about an issue they and the association faced way back when. The music was perfect for this type of event. The photographer got hundreds of great photos. The past chairmen (and my predecessor) who spoke all kept to their word and stayed within the short time limit they were given.
Over the next few days as I walked the floor at the trade show, many people who went to the centennial celebration told me what a great event it was and even more who didn’t attend said they heard so much about it they wished they had attended. The centennial celebration proved to be a nice lift for the association because people were proud to be a part of an organization that had been working on their industry’s behalf for a full century.
As I prepare to start working on the next group’s centennial, I’ve got a few ideas on things to add. We’ll do a lot more membership recruitment marketing tied to the centennial. This group exhibits at a couple of trade shows. I’ve seen people serve birthday cake at booths and it’s usually resulted in a lot of extra traffic. I’m sure I’ll be able to get some members to volunteer time at the shows to serve cake/talk up the association.
With the past celebration and the upcoming one, one of the keys was/will be to have information for non-members (when promoting the event and just the centennial in general) to show them why their competitors have valued their membership long enough for the association to reach such a milestone.