More pepper, less paper

// Johanna Müdicken

How will association planners work in the future? At the “Associations & Meetings” Info Day players discuss the negatives and positives of digital transformation.

Der dritte Infotag "Verband & Tagung" im Estrel Berlin. Photo: DGVM

DGVM-Geschäftsführer Wolfgang Lietzau. Photo: DGVM

Oliver Fink, Fink Different, während seines Vortrags. Photo: DGVM

Turnaround. Viral marketing, paperless conferences and event apps – digital transformation dominates the meetings world. This also has an impact on traditional association structures. The results of the “Association Report” annual trend survey for 2019 show that digitisation activities take centre stage in organisations. “For the digital transformation, associations need to stimulate and provide a platform for knowledge transfer between education and practice, between traditional companies and start-ups, and between IT providers and users,” observes Dirk Widuch of the Southern Hesse Trade Association.

Hence the Info Day poses the question: “Digitisation of events – added value or just a gimmick?” Initiated by the German Society for Association Management (DGVM), the meeting took place for the 3rd time last June. 600 professionals were in attendance at Estrel Berlin.

While 80 exhibition partners presented their latest projects and technologies, attendees discussed current requirements in more than 20 sessions. “They’re basically the same as 10 years ago,” says DGVM Managing Director Wolfgang Lietzau. “That is the need to constantly develop new ideas, formats and programmes in order to attract members and stakeholders to the events.” Lietzau sees “digitisation not as a challenge but as an opportunity.”

Nevertheless, the stumbling blocks of digital transformation were still a focal topic at the Info Day. There was no beating about the bush on “Fuck Up Night”: What happens if innovations and cutting-edge technologies don’t work in practice? Head of Bielefeld Marketing Gabriela Lamm talked about the attempt to offer a new format. “We didn’t brief people properly and, in the end, it was simply too much for them,” she says. “We can’t just completely change our offers from one year to the next.”

Annette Ebert of the German Frozen Food Institute had a similar experience. Her association had the idea to offer an event app for annual conferences. “But then we came to the conclusion that our target group would hardly use something like this,” she says. “We found that it’s simply too early for us.” Nevertheless, she believes that you cannot ignore digitisation if you want to keep up with the times.

Not least, this includes integrating social media into communication, points out Tim Richter of the German Association Forum. LinkedIn is particularly well suited to sharing industry and specialist information. Associations should make better use of the platform. At the end of his presentation, the audience agreed on the relevance of online networks. The question remains as to how to keep the channels up-to-date on top of the daily workload.

The presentation by outgoing AUMA Managing Director Dr. Peter Neven also sparked some lively discussions. “Digital was yesterday” it said on the poster which he demonstratively held up at the start. He talked about “analog communication platforms in a digital world”. Even if trade fairs currently fall victim to verticalisation, face-to-face encounters will remain vital in future. He ended on an optimistic note: “There’s no substitute for a handshake at a trade show.”

GCB Managing Director Matthias Schultze and Dr. Christina Buttler, Director Strategy & Innovation MCI Germany, shared their vision of how associations should organise events. Audiences are becoming ever younger, more female, and more tech and digital-savvy. Hybrid formats are on the rise. “Smart” congress management via face recognition, new room concepts or virtual event components are therefore future success factors, they both underline.

Oliver Fink, founder of the consulting firm Fink Different, gave a similar verdict on the digital transformation of meetings. “Interestingly, digitisation has now resulted in people and their individual experiences taking centre stage,” he explains to the association planners. This needed to be borne in mind for events. But if you want to make events more participatory, you need a participatory leadership style, says Fink to the decision-makers: “Leading means, above all, ‘more pepper and less paper’. – Get out of your team’s way to make first-class events happen.”