Saturday, February 13, 2010

MPI Virtual Access Pass – Forward Thinking or Short-Sighted??

Some of you may recall last July (2009) MPI (Meeting Professionals International) rolled out a “Virtual Access Pass” (VAP) for its WEC (World Education Congress).  The fee for this pass was $299.00 providing access to all their sessions virtually.

This move caused quite a controversy in the Events community, because of the aggressively high price tag for such an event, combined with a tough economy.  Subsequently there was a surge of blog activity, unanimously denouncing this pricing model, as being short-sighted and non customer service focused.  For a more complete synopsis of the discussions that took place back in July read this blog by Jeff hurt.

This past week, I decided to check into the possibility of acquiring a VAP for the upcoming “Meet Different” MPI Conference in Cancun, Mexico, taking place February 20-23, 2010.  I visited the MPI website, and learned MPI is in fact offering a VAP for this program.  The good news is MPI is now offering the VAP to its members free of charge.  A VAP is available to non-members, but sadly, for the hefty price tag of $325.00.

Like many business professionals, I am provided financial support, by my company, to be a member of one industry organization.  For many reasons, I have chosen PCMA (Professional Convention Management Association) as my organization of choice.   Besides delivering superb education and terrific events PCMA also routinely offers “free” webinars for hot industry topics, and also, with the recent January 2010 Annual Meeting, free virtual access to their meeting content, regardless of membership status.

Ironically, I can purchase, if I wanted to, an MPI membership for $375.00 US, and then I would have access to a “free-of-charge” VAP for the Meet Different Conference.  Unfortunately, as with many other people, my budget will not allow for that.  Even if I could afford to purchase a membership, I wouldn’t.  You see, I am not convinced that MPI is very forward thinking.  I believe they are missing out on a huge opportunity to acquire new members and greater visibility of their organization.

Put yourself in my shoes for a moment … as a non-member, if I were offered a taste of MPI events, on a complimentary basis, or at least at a low price point, then I just might embrace the spirit of what they did and consider joining the organization.  Instead, I am forced to make a choice, write a large check to attend an event virtually, without any notion of what real value I will receive, or choose not to participate.

There are many conferences and events, with virtual components,  being offered on a complimentary basis.  For example, the Virtual Edge Summit is being held over the same dates as the MPI program.  I have registered (for free)  for the Summit, and will attend that event, instead of MPI.  The folks that put on the Virtual Edge Summit are thought leaders, and they understand customer service.  I will focus my time and attention on their conferences and events.  In fact, I will probably buy from them, in the future.

It seems to me, that MPI could have funded their virtual technology for this event, by leveraging sponsorship opportunities.  Perhaps they are doing that too, I don’t know.  Maybe they just need operating revenue, and that is the bottom line.

Question:  What is your opinion of how this has been handled?  Do you think organizations should put a hefty price tag on virtual content?  How do you think these services should be funded?  Please share your opinions!

Follow Michael McCurry on Twitter

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Cameron Toth February 13, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Hello Michael,

I am checking into the pricing. I thought the virtual pass was much less. I will get back to you and your readers.

Cameron Toth
Social Media Chair
MPI WestField Chapter

Reply

Michael M McCurry CMP February 14, 2010 at 10:00 am

@Cameron Toth,

Thanks Cameron, I will be very interested to learn what you find out.

@michaelmccurry

Reply

Dave Lutz February 14, 2010 at 6:34 am

Mike, I think the critical thing that each event organizer needs to do is to promote the virtual access pass (VAP) pricing and benefits from the word go. It’s really no different than offering one day pricing. Each potential attendee can then decide to be there live or remotely. Do you know if the pricing being offered is the same as what was promoted for the past few months or is this a late adjustment?

At a minimum, MPI would be wise to toss at least a few sessions out there for Free to expand their reach. As you recommend, possibly getting sponsors for those sessions makes sense. There’s also something to be said for making some sessions available weeks or months afterward to extend reach and give the live attendees the benefit of receiving the information first.

Reply

Michael M McCurry CMP February 14, 2010 at 10:06 am

@Dave Lutz,

From my perspective, the issue is twofold..

1. The price-point for the VAP is in my opinion ridiculously high. The material being presented by MPI does not appear to be so compelling that they could justify the high price tag. With the availability of online education at very low or no cost, why would I buy a $325 virtual pass for this event?

2. Your second point I agree with… if MPI were to at least offer a few sessions on a free basis at least then I could sample the quality of their content, and make buying decisions based upon that.

I am pleased they at least offered this virtual content to their members free of charge… that is an improvement over the July WEC where they tried to charge exorbitant prices to their members as well.

Thanks for your contributions to this discussion.

@michaelmccurry

Reply

Swan February 14, 2010 at 7:55 am

Thx for the post. MPI has definitely made a step in the right direction by giving the online viewership for free to members. This adds extra value to being a member and provides conference exposure to those who are members, but have never gone.

The beauty of presenting online content is that each new viewer costs practically nothing more (just a little bandwidth). Since most event professionals now seem to agree that online viewing increases interest in the overall program, any organization’s goal should not be just to maximize current revenue, but to also maximize viewership that will drive future revenue.

The best-practice model in this space seems to be
– One or two freebie online viewership/participation opportunities – this brings in a flood of viewership and social media attention
– A moderately priced full online participation that captures a large portion of those with smaller budgets and who are unsure of the value of the conference.

Swan
@SpkrInteractive on Twitter

Reply

Michael M McCurry CMP February 14, 2010 at 10:09 am

@Swan,

I agree with you Robert, that at least MPI is offering the viewership to their members free of charge.

Your remaining comments are right on… I think you are on the right track. MPI really needs to embrace this philosophy or they are going to be left behind by other more forward thinking organizations.

Thanks for contributing!

@michaelmccurry

Reply

Kevin Richardson February 15, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Mike,

Great post. This is one that routinely causes me pause. On the one hand MPI is offering a VAP. Bravo for stepping into that space MPI. On the other there is a perception that MPI isn’t the most forward thinking of groups so (1) why would I join and (2) why would I attend in person or virtually.

When I see that a group facing this perception has created a VAP for their education event I want to applaud for their courage. However I halt prior to that first clap when I see that they’re charging for me to attend the event. I am already suspect on the event’s value and the way to squelch my suspicions is to charge me to prove me wrong? Seems backwards to me.

Why not open the virtual event to any and all who want to attend? What not sponsor the virtual community to offset the cost and educate virtual and onsite attendees of the solution providers in the virtual space? Why not go transparent with the community with your concerns about a free to all VAP hurting paid attendance?

In my opinion, the goodwill deposit giving away the VAP creates far outweighs the cost. And, if the event is truly beneficial I’d think the free virtual access would have a positive impact on membership in the long term.

What an opportunity to build community.

Reply

Michael M McCurry CMP February 15, 2010 at 3:15 pm

@Kevin Richardson,

Some really terrific comments here Kevin. You hit the nail on the head.

I too believe the concept of giving away the VAP would stimulate membership interest as well as more interest in their conferences.

Thanks for contributing!

@michaelmccurry

Reply

Theresa February 16, 2010 at 7:56 am

In full disclosure, I am the strategic communications manager at MPI global headquarters. I can be reached at any time by journalists and bloggers to clarify data on any articles prior or post-publication. My address is tdavis [at] mpiweb.org.

Points of Clarification:

MPI heard many of the concerns from the VAP experience at WEC. As such we’ve created this VAP for MeetDifferent so that it is available at a variety of customizable price points, starting with sessions as low as US$27. Customers can select audio, video or both types of sessions depending on their needs. And choose as many or as few based on their budgets and interests. We listened to the concerns and we believe we’ve responded by creating the best options for non-members to still experience the elements they want
Detailed information is available here. http://www.mpiweb.org/Events/MD2010/Overview/VAP.aspx

Additionally, MPI *regularly* hosts free webinars open to all members of the event industry around critical issues as well as thought provoking issues. In fact we’ve hosted a number recently and they are still available. Many of the MeetDifferent sessions can be found here: http://www.mpiweb.org/Events/MD2010/MDSchedule/webinars.aspx

We promote these efforts through our social media channels (twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Blog) as well as in our newsletters, magazines and to our local chapters around the globe.

It is vitally important to MPI to reach out not only to our dynamic membership, but also the industry at large. We are charged, as are many associations, with balancing providing significant value to our membership with giving away content to the industry at large for free.

Reply

Michael M McCurry CMP February 17, 2010 at 10:34 am

@Theresa,

Thanks so much for your contribution to this discussion and as I said on your blog site, I appreciate MPI’s approach to having the blog forum and the open discussion regarding this topic.

It definitely is a big step in the right direction offering the VAP to members on a complimentary basis. Kudos to MPI for doing that.

As Dave says below, the real challenge is how to create exposure opportunities for potential members and Meeting attendees, by enticing them with a taste of the conferences through virtual content.

It will be interesting to see how the industry responds to this over the coming months, and thanks for contributing to this ongoing discussion.

Mike

@michaelmccurry

Reply

Cameron Toth February 16, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Fantastic job Theresa. I applaud your efforts and I am sure many in the online events community do the same. I love the conversation between Dave, Robert, Kevin and Michael. In a bitter and tight economic environment it makes sense to let folks get a taste of what you have to offer.

I admire MPI for providing an example to the events community of how to monetize there events. For an outsider to see a non-profit charging a lot of money for a face to face event or a remote event, it leaves a perception that something less than altruistic is going on. What MPI has to do a better job of is to share the stories of the MPI foundation and how it is helping people everyday. The MPI foundation has helped me and several of my personal colleagues over the last year and this non-profit (http://www.MPIweb.org) would not be able to do that without dollars in the savings accounts.

I help run a non-profit (http://www.SoundBusiness.org) that helps educate students and due to corporate donations drying up we have been forced to ask our students to pay for select programs that we offer. It is not an easy process and the communication has to be very clear. I have been lucky to have MPI as an example to look to and learn from.

Thanks MPI and thank you Theresa!
@CameronToth

Reply

Dave Lutz February 17, 2010 at 8:14 am

Theresa, I for one applaud you for commenting above. I think what MPI is doing with the VAP for your members is awesome and should help increase the value proposition for participating members.

The big opportunity out there for associations is how to leverage exceptional content from their live events to help get non-members to join or attend. It will be interesting to see how MPI and others attack that opportunity in the years to come. Introductory price points will need to be more affordable. Good luck in Cancun!

Reply

Kevin Richardson February 17, 2010 at 9:52 pm

I too join in the applause for Theresa’s honest response. I strongly believe one of the healthiest things the industry can do is lead the way in answering the paid vs. free question by using our own industry events as labs and learning from the experience. I for one get really excited about putting on my event industry lab coat and learning some lessons together. Thanks Theresa. I look forward to hearing more about how the VAP is received.

Reply

Michael M McCurry CMP February 18, 2010 at 7:15 am

@Kevin Richardson,

Our industry is one big learning lab these days… great point Kevin!

We all learn together and from each other. I will really be curious to find out (if they are willing to share the information) how MPI does with the VAP for non-members as that is the true test of monetization… how much response do you get?

Thanks for contributing Kevin, as always!

@michaelmccurry

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: