Convention Management Group was launched on a foundation of proven success in managing one of the largest association-owned event portfolios in the USA. After working on staff with the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) for twelve years, I started Convention Management Group (CMG) in response to demand from other associations for event management services in 1990. Food Marketing Institute represents supermarkets, grocery stores, and food brands, which are pretty sophisticated marketing powerhouses. Think about all the national branded and store branded food, beverage, general merchandise and beauty care products you see in a supermarket. Food retailers have also been leaders in retail technology for decades and were among the first pioneers of scan technology, energy efficient equipment & refrigeration, automated distribution systems, and near field communications to name a few.
FMI’s annual trade show was a dynamic event that we grew strategically through tailored educational content and audience marketing that targeted attendees from more than 100 countries. Over a twelve year period, non-dues revenue related to FMI’s event business grew from about $5 million, to $35 million.
Because the FMI Show was a high-profile event in the association world, FMI was approached by other related associations asking if we would manage their events for them. Serving as outside show management wasn’t part of FMI’s mission so we politely declined, but FMI’s leadership indicated that they were supportive if I, then a senior vice president, wanted to start a separate company to serve that market. In fact, as I was assembling our start-up team, FMI hired the newly formed Convention Management Group to help in an advisory capacity as they launched three new events.
From the beginning, we followed five principles:
- We were selective about the clients we took on. Our criteria was straightforward: The event needed to have the potential to be the premier B2B exposition for the industry served, and the client needed to commit to providing the support necessary over a five-year period to aggressively grow the event. For our part, we committed to understand their industry, develop a five-year plan that detailed growth strategies and budgets, and execute that plan.
For the first couple of years, we took on just one new client per year so we could focus on them and hit a home run our first turn at bat. As our reputation grew and we expanded our staff, our capacity for growing our customer list grew accordingly.
- We avoided debt and were fortunate to be able to self-fund from the start. As a result, we were able to focus on total turn-key event management, and customize our decisions and solutions based on client needs.
- We developed a team of in-house veterans who learned how to maximize event performance.
- We continually invested in technology and committed to ongoing training to use new applications to their full potential.
- Whenever possible, we joined client organizations as associate members and actively participated in both staff and committee meetings. We committed to listening to client staff and their members, and regularly conducted surveys to better understand what their challenges were. We worked hard to be credible within each client organization and as a result, became trusted partners.
Our first full-service, turnkey show management client was the American Meat Institute which represents meat, poultry and seafood companies like Tysons and Hormel. Over the next five years, we developed a terrific food industry portfolio of clients that included the International Dairy Foods Association, the National Food Brokers Association, the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, the American Beverage Association, and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. As we enjoyed success with food industry organizations, we started attracting non-food organizations including the National Mining Association, Bicycle Industry Association, Construction Specifications Institute, American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association, United Motorcoach Association, New York State Fire Chiefs and more. CMG excelled at taking under-performing events and building value for both attendees and exhibitor/sponsors in a way that improved customer satisfaction and, just as importantly, dramatically increased association non-dues revenue.
CMG was also an early pioneer in co-locating non-competitive events to create a larger marketplace with a broader cross-section of buyers and vendors in attendance. Co-locating takes two or more complementary association events and holds them at the same time as one larger show. This reallocates costs away from logistics and into program content as well as into marketing and promotion for the event. Co-location benefits attendees by letting them register for a single badge that gives access to multiple tradeshows, and benefits vendors who want to reach an audience beyond a single association’s core membership. When managed correctly, each sponsoring association maintains its own program content and financial prerogatives, but enjoys the cost savings of shared logistics.
However, sharing event production responsibilities is a big undertaking that can be a daunting challenge for even the most experienced association managers. CMG willingly took on those responsibilities as part of their event management offerings. We became known as the B2B event experts who were able to anticipate and work through the financial, political, marketing and operational logistics that are key components of a successful co-location.
In 2006, we were approached by Food Marketing Institute about purchasing The FMI Show. It was an exciting idea, but we needed a partner with similar business philosophies, financial savvy, more staff resources and established organizational processes to be successful. About that same time Naylor Association Solutions was looking to expand services beyond member communications. I met Alex DeBarr and was impressed by his commitment to excellent service, ideas for maximizing team performance and vision for Naylor as an integrated solutions provider. As the discussion evolved, we explored the pros and cons of CMG becoming a part of Naylor. In 2007, Naylor acquired CMG as its events division. Although the purchase of the FMI Show did not happen, we’re pleased that virtually every CMG client we had at the time transitioned with us to Naylor.
Since then, our event portfolio has grown to include powerhouse events like the National Plastics Exposition, The NBMBAA Expo & Conference, National Association of Fleet Administrators and National Apartment Association. At the same time, it’s gratifying to know that today some of Naylor’s longest-served accounts originated as CMG clients. I enjoy seeing these long-term relationships continue under the Naylor umbrella and expand the ways they work with us under the scope of Naylor services. The American Food Fair, co-located with the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago, and the U.S. Pavilion, co-located with the Americas Food & Beverage Show in Miami are examples of long-standing Naylor clients that represent best practices in B2B event co-location.
Where is the Naylor Events team going in the future? Under the leadership of event industry veteran John Gallagher, we continue to build in-house teams of proven event professionals who consistently exceed client expectations. Naylor added Global Exchange events and their portfolio of appointment-based events to our offerings in 2012. The events division will continue to be part of a comprehensive total Naylor solution rather than just one solution on its own. We’ll continue to refine our expertise in co-location while furthering our integration with other Naylor products. Integrated solutions offerings were a significant part of the original vision back in 2007, and I think that vision will continue to guide the events team in collaboration with the entire organization as Naylor enters its next 50 years.