This month’s Corner Office profile shines on Kevin Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International (ACI-NA), which represents approximately 200 governing bodies in the U.S. and Canada that own and operate more than 360 North American airports.
Association Adviser: How many members does ACI-NA have?
Kevin Burke: ACI-NA represents approximately 200 governing bodies in the U.S. and Canada that own and operate more than 360 airports in North America. We also have more than 380 World Business Partner and Associate Members representing a wide variety of businesses that provide products and services to the aviation industry.
AA: When was ACI-NA founded?
KB: The Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) is the oldest international airport owners and operators organization in the world. It was formed in 1948 as the Airport Operators Council (AOC).
AA: Is there such a thing as a typical ACI-NA member? If so, describe?
KB: No. We have a saying in our industry: “If you have seen one airport, you have seen one airport.” Airports are highly regulated operations, but they are owned and operated locally. That creates a lot of challenges for airports. While airports are required to meet certain safety and security regulations, every airport has a unique set of challenges it has to overcome to be successful in a competitive world. We work with airports every day on a wide variety of issues, including safety, security, financial planning, passenger facilitation, marketing, environment and much more.
AA: Kevin, we understand you came from the apparel industry. Was it difficult making the transition to the air travel industry?
KB: The U.S. apparel and footwear industry is a global industry with a vast supply chain. I spent a lot of time in airports all around the world when I was president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association. My experiences as a frequent passenger have given me great perspective on the challenges facing modern and competitive North American airports. While the issues are entirely different, I am finding both industries to be incredibly fast-paced and filled with passionate people.
AA: You were named top lobbyist by The Hill last year. Congrats. What’s the key to successful lobbying at the local, state and national level?
KB: I have found that you can be a successful advocate by understanding two key principles. First, you have to find the most compelling part of your story and tell it in creative and impactful ways. Second, you aren’t the only person or industry impacted by your issues. Every industry or association has some stake in the work you do, either upstream in which they impact you, or downstream in which you impact someone else. To be successful, we have pulled together a strong coalition of supporters who benefit from a healthy, competitive airport system. Not only has our coalition helped strengthen our case, our coalition has given us a louder voice with which to tell our dynamic and compelling story.
KB: The key to maintaining our authoritative voice of in the industry is to identify the current industry trends and challenges and provide our members with the most up-to-date information and best practices. We also have to continually look beyond the horizon to keep our members abreast of potential issues as they emerge. The association is a consensus builder, bringing together the interests of all airports in the United States and Canada.
AA: How does ACI-NA’s benchmarking research contribute to membership engagement, retention and the reach of its brand?
KB: As “The Voice of Airports,” we pride ourselves on being able to produce the needed research that helps our members strengthen their ability to serve their passengers, customers and communities. Our members play an active role in helping shape and create the research we publish. With their participation and feedback, we are able to produce meaningful research that benefits them.
AA: ACI-NA seems to be introducing a number of successful new wrinkles and innovations every year. Do you have a formal innovation process? How do new products and services get developed?
KB: We love innovative ideas at ACI-NA. We have had a lot of success with the launch of the Mobile Passport app that we created in partnership with Airside Mobile and the Custom and Border Protection (CBP). The app is designed to help you skip the customs line at U.S. airports by filling out your profile and answer CBP’s questions in advance through the app. The app has had successful launches at four major airports – Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Miami International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport. We look forward to watching the app expand to airports across the nation.
AA: We understand the ACI-NA Annual Conference and Expo was named one of the fastest growing trade shows in North America. What is the key to keeping exhibitor growth in line with attendee growth?
KB: Through our ability to attract industry decision-makers, industry support for the ACI-NA Annual Conference and Exhibition continues to grow because of the high priority our members place on having an impactful forum to discuss challenges and collaborate around solutions. On one side, our members participate in insightful conversations about the significant challenges airports face in a modern and competitive world. On the other side, our exhibit floor is packed with innovative solutions that help airports overcome those challenges. The mutual exchange that occurs during the show is the real value for the industry.
AA: How has technology helped you managed the rapid growth and complexity of your shows?
KB: We unveiled an event mobile app for a recent conference and were delighted with the results. More than one-third of event attendees used the app. Of those, more than 72 percent of users checked the app more than 10 times. Our mobile app was well-received by members, but we had a bit of an educational process to undertake to ensure they knew it existed and how to use it. We look forward to expanding our app for the ACI-NA Annual Conference and Exhibition in October. We also have developed an express registration process, similar to a mobile boarding pass, to get attendees onto the show floor faster.
AA: Your shows offer a number of daily newsletters/clips? How have they been received by attendees and sponsors? What’s the key to publishing them successfully?
KB: The launch of our new Centerlines LIVE (the name of our new daily conference newsletter program) strategy has been wildly successful. Not only does it help our partners gain extra visibility among their peers, it gives us a valuable channel to communicate with attendees about conference developments. We even went one step further and expanded our reach to include our whole membership for signature events. It’s been a powerful way to get timely information to members who couldn’t make the conference. It also serves as built in marketing for the next year’s event.
The key to publishing a successful e-daily newsletter is building a strong partnership with the publishing team. Take the time to plan each and every issue. Build a theme. Seek out great photo opportunities that help keep attendees (and non-attendees) in the loop. Help the publication team meet the “in the know” attendees who can help share your organization’s message.
AA: What tools and metrics do you use to measure attendee and exhibitor satisfaction at your shows?
KB: We use a lot of the traditional tools that other associations use to measure our effectiveness. We use on-site and post-event surveys. We also conduct a biennial membership satisfaction survey to make sure we’re keeping the pulse of our members. We also receive a lot of personal feedback directly from the ACI-NA Board of Directors, our valued associate members and event attendees. I love getting emails and phone calls from members letting us know how we did, even if the feedback isn’t what we had hoped to hear. It makes us better the next time. We also host an on-site exhibitor briefing to help facilitate feedback. Most importantly, I walk the show floor, talk to exhibitors, listen to their ideas and thank them for their support.
AA: What could association show organizers do better in terms of marketing to attendees and selling to exhibitors?
KB: Driving attendance and revenue dollars is not a challenge solved by relentless email marketing campaigns, as needed as they are. Associations should always take a step back and ask themselves, “What is the return on investment for attending this event?” That’s what we do before we start planning for any event. We drive attendance by being a credible and forward-thinking organization that provides members with an innovative forum to exchange ideas, solve challenges and see the latest innovations on our show floor. This is why our members come to the ACI-NA Annual Conference and Exhibition. That’s also why they come to our smaller specialized conferences that happen throughout the year. Attendees know they will learn something new, meet airport industry peers and see a fresh solution at any conference they attend. It’s all about new and fresh ideas.