A New Model for Association Meetings?

Increasingly, associations are interrogating traditional ways of creating meetings and events programmes. Delegate numbers are broadly on the up, but audiences continue to demand more engagement and specialist content. Organisations need to draw a balance between managing effective continual professional development, and giving delegates curated content based on their specialities; creating a legacy of knowledge across its often global membership.

For many associations, this need is set aside the requirement to create revenue. So, how can an association continue to create value for its members while also capturing, and commercialising, the scientific value that comes from bringing large numbers of an active community together?

Broader Look

The European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO) is one that is taking a broader look, and in doing so, re-writing the manual in terms of how it works within its membership, and how it builds its event programme for now and the future.

In 2016 the ESTRO annual congress attracted over 6,000 delegates across 6 days. It’s 36th gathering was a success both in terms of its growth in delegates, but also in its delivery. However, it became clear to many within the association that more and more ‘breakout’ content was needed and delegate feedback showed that, with the meeting growing so much, traditional networking was getting harder.

Equally, the congress never took its eye off its dual responsibilities to; firstly, ensure that new specialist research and technology was shared amongst the scientific community, and for those within it to be allowed the chance to network, discuss and debate the findings, ultimately adding value to their experience and a lasting legacy for the event.

“We quickly realised the need for a broader business model, spinning off some aspects of the traditional congress,” commented Alessandro Cortese, Chief Executive Officer, ESTRO. “A new approach that gave us the opportunity to create smaller, highly specialised meetings that came directly to the delegates or to the areas of excellence, rather than them coming to us. It gave us the opportunity to host more events, all feeding off the main convention, allowing us to have forums for content throughout the year, and more specialised networking for professionals.”

An Opportunity

In terms of the physical location of these events, again, this presented an opportunity for the association. The main congress continues to benefit from the support of its host destinations, and taps into the city’s network of organisations, academics and opinion leaders that were based on their doorstep. However, a new meeting model would allow events to visit different destinations and tap into richer local networks of academics and professionals.

The first option for such a meeting was Glasgow. Already, ESTRO had a strategic relationship within the city, not only amongst the professional and academic community, but with the city’s main conference centre, the Scottish Event Campus, and the convention bureau, Glasgow Convention Bureau.

Glasgow had also just opened the Imaging Centre of Excellence (ICE), attracting a network of globally leading professionals, who were bringing their expertise to the facility. ESTRO itself was incredibly strong in Glasgow, with equally strong relationships with leading experts at the University of Glasgow, as well as professionals at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

“Our new model changed to one where the content, the science, technology and the network would lead the choice of destination. Glasgow was an obvious choice; the strong professionalism in the universities, the newly launched ICE, and our relationship with the city, made it a safe option to try out the new model,” commented Alessandro.

Both the Scottish Event Campus, and the conference bureau were well known to the event organisers at ESTRO, having met through the Leading Centres of Europe network; with an already close understanding of Glasgow and its premier destination, this only increased the desire to come to the city. At its heart, the SEC has a strong reputation for hosting medical conferences, and had the knowledge and expertise to support such a meeting. With this in mind, an agreement was put in place to establish a new event at the Scottish Event Campus, with options to continue the collaboration in the long-term.

“We’ve known Alessandro and the ESTRO team for some time and got to know that there were synergies within the city and the Society,” commented Kathleen Warden, Director of Conference Sales, SEC. “We knew that there was a desire to tap into the scientific community of Glasgow, all we needed was a reason, this was it.”

Scientific Networking

The event took place as a scientific networking workshop for 220 medical physicists involved in Radiotherapy. It was built on a new concept for scientific exchange: five topics were selected and participants, both academic and developers from the industry, were invited to actively contribute to the programme, with the intent of advancing scientific research. The developments in the specific content areas were discussed to facilitate the potential application and maximise the impact on the cure for cancer.

“When associations such as ESTRO look to do something different with their conferences and events, it provides the conference organiser, host convention bureau, and the local academic and business communities with an opportunity to create a more engaging platform for knowledge exchange. This both enhances the overall experience for delegates and has the potential to leave a lasting legacy on the host city,“ commented Aileen Crawford, Head of Conventions, Glasgow Convention Bureau.

“ESTRO’s approach is a fantastic example of connecting on far-reaching levels within the destination,” commented Neil Brownlee, Head of Business Events, VisitScotland. “Association conferences and conventions provide strong platforms for new ideas and innovative thinking, paving the way for collaborations, research and new discoveries. ESTRO’s model will go far in developing long-term collaboration with Glasgow – long after the main event has taken place.”

This article was contributed by Alistair Turner, Managing Director, EIGHT PR & Marketing. Picture: Glasgow Science Centre and Cityscape.

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