Saturday, August 21, 2010

Is ASAE’s 2010 Virtual Conference Pass a Value or a Virtual Rip-off?

Many of my events industry colleagues are headed to the 2010 ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) Annual Meeting and Exposition this weekend.  From what I understand there is a terrific program.  Unfortunately, I won’t be attending this conference, face2face, or otherwise.

In case you are wondering virtual content is available for individuals unable to attend the event face2face.  In fact ASAE is offering a virtual access pass which includes the following:

  • Twenty four (24) preselected education sessions that will be streamed live via video, including three (3) general sessions, nine (9) interactive thought leader sessions, and twelve (12) learning lab sessions.
  • Attendees may earn upwards of 12 CAE (Certified Association Executive) credits.
  • Access to various events designed specifically for the Virtual Annual Meeting including online networking opportunities.
  • up to seventy (70) on-demand learning lab sessions which are recorded on site and made available to the virtual attendee through November 2010 via audio synch-to-slide technology.

ASAE’s Virtual Conference Pass

Does this information call you to action?  Are you ready to register?  Well, here is the catch.  ASAE’s virtual package is going to cost you a whopping $595.00 if you are a member, and $795.00 if you are notNote:  The non-member deal is actually better than the member’s offer, because ASAE is including one year’s membership with that package.

Through my active involvement in PCMA (Professional Convention Management Association) I am clearly aware that many associations are still struggling with restricted travel and education budgets in 2010.  The continued financial pressure has made it difficult for many event professionals to attend events, particularly “big-ticket” conferences such as ASAE.  In fact, attendance by many association executives at regional/local versions of these events has also decreased over the last couple of years.

Given financial sensitivity, how does a hefty Virtual access pass fee accommodate the greater ASAE membership’s needs?  Or, is this package targeted at only organizations, or individuals, with a fat wallet?  How does this pricing strategy drive membership loyalty?

Where’s the Membership Value?

How are the needs of  less fortunate members being met … individuals who don’t have the fiscal resources to pay that large virtual registration fee?  I am sure they would also love to benefit from some education content.  Where are these folks getting membership value?  Is ASAE even concerned about that?  Just wondering …

It will be interesting to see how many association executives actually write the check for this virtual pass?  I am even more interested in how they will perceive the value of the experience, given the size of the investment.  Will ASAE share these statistics with the industry?  I doubt it.

Today I saw an interesting tweet on the #ASAE10 hashtag, announcing “30% of virtual attendees will become in-person attendees.” Awesome!  My question, while we are discussing relevant statistics is, how is ASAE performing in the category of membership retention?

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Traci Browne August 22, 2010 at 10:31 am

Talk about sticker shock Michael! While they are offering 24 sessions to choose from you can only attend 9 (several running simultaneously). That is $88 per session for non-members and $66 for members. They do also give access to 70 recorded on-demand sessions available to virtual attendees through November…I don’t know about you but I’m pretty busy and don’t see myself being able to take advantage of more than 3 or 4 of these.

I am not against charging for virtual access to a conference if the value is there. I’m just not sure where the value is. Is the content in these presentations going to be that much different or better than what I can find available on-line for free or even a $20 e-book?

What really confuses me about all this is what we hear back from conference attendees over and over again. The main reason they attend a conference is for the networking. Personally I would like to see networking further broken down in surveys because I don’t think what people mean is they enjoy talking to someone for 3 minutes and exchanging elevator pitches. I think it’s the peer-to-peer communication that is so valuable. But I digress…If people are forking over all this money to network with education being a distant second why are we still charging people the premium for the education portion? Why are we marketing the education as being the most important aspect of our conferences?

I just don’t honestly see the $88 value in these sessions. Most of the speakers I’ve never heard of with the exception of Bill George who I honestly would not mind hearing (but not for $88 if it doesn’t include lunch and a glass or two of wine). The first session is equally as unworthy of my next $88. The first speaker – I can pick us his book for less than $20 on Amazon…I’m sure that is the content of his talk. The second speaker – actor/journalist – again…I can buy the book. Now the third speaker one could argue that he probably charges much more than $88 per hour for his advice…but then I’d rather pay him for the hour and get only the information I need and get only my questions answered…not the audience’s. The fourth speaker could very well be smart and dynamic…but I can get this information out on the inter-webs any time I want it.

My point is simply this…no one at ASAE has sold me on the value of the pass. If the sessions are the value (as I can’t participate in my favorite part…the networking) then to me there is no value. Don’t even let me start on how I can purchase 12 CAE credits by simply handing over $595.00…although if it’s money they want to make why not just set up an online shopping cart and monetize your organization that way…give the virtual access pass away for free.

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Michael M McCurry CMP August 22, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Traci,

All I can say is amen! You have raised so many valid points in your comments that I could not possibly add to them.

Thanks for adding your perspective to the conversation.

I would love to see some feedback from someone at ASAE… some sort of response, but I suspect that won’t happen.

Thanks again,

Mike

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Maggie McGary August 23, 2010 at 9:32 am

Great post and I’m glad to see someone blogging about this. I have nothing against charging some type of fee for virtual access…but I agree that this amount is excessive. I guess if you need the CEUs maybe it’s worth it, but if you’re like me and would be attending for the session content and the networking, there’s no way I’d pay this much.

I think that associations who want to charge this much for a virtual option are going to have to bring some kind of value added to the table: say, a live online chat with Bill George or something, or the ability to submit questions to speakers live–in other words, some kind of participatory element that benefits the virtual attendee and makes them an actual attendee. As far as just the session content, there are so many people blogging about the event now that if I’m interested in a certain session, most likely I’ll be able to find a blog post about it or find someone who was in that session via Twitter and ask them for their notes or a synopsis.

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Michael M McCurry CMP August 23, 2010 at 11:18 am

Hi Maggie,

I am absolutely against charging exorbitant fees for virtual access in almost any context. I just don’t see the business reasoning in it. Unless an org is offering education content that is uniquely compelling and not available elsewhere it does not make any sense.

On one hand I applaud ASAE for continuing to offer virtual content, but then they stub their toe by offering it at such a high price point that few people can afford it. I like your idea about a live online chat with a keynote speaker, great idea!

Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

Mike

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Lindsey Rosenthal (@eventsforgood) August 23, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Great post, Mike! I didn’t even realize that the virtual participation in #asae10 was so expensive. This is one of the most expensive industry conferences to attend throughout the year (if not the most) and I have never fully been able to see the value. It is fantastic to meet others and experience networking here, but I can often find the same results either through social media or at another industry conference that costs MUCH less. For those of us independently employed, it is really not much of an option to attend, at least not when you can weigh so many other options against it. I certainly cannot imagine who would have purchased the virtual content at such a high cost. With the industry changing so quickly, including the rapid integration of social media, I don’t know who would be willing to pay that exorbitant amount for, as Traci put it so eloquently above, something I could pick up in an e-book. Thank you for bringing light to this – it’s interesting to see how these organizations are pricing their virtual options and, if possible, I’d really like to gauge how many people (and organizations) actually paid this amount.

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Michael M McCurry CMP August 23, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Hi Lindsay,

I agree with you. A person can attend PCMA Annual Meeting face2face for about the same registration fee as the ASAE virtual conference pass. That is a no-brainer. I will take the face2face networking anyday at the PCMA event over the highly priced alternative of seeing 9-10 sessions virtually at ASAE.

For education only I will take an ebook over a virtual reg fee costing hundreds of dollars.

Thanks for the contribution to the discussion.

Mike

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Dave Lutz August 23, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Mike, I’m live at ASAE and so far the sessions have not been very impressive. A face2face meeting like this should offer the best, most current and helpful information for improving an associations business and in this case, membership value. ASAE needs to take a leadership role and not attempt to monetize things every step of the way.

The virtual pass is a virtual rip-off! IMO they should be charging no more than 1/3 of the conference registration fee and bill it as a member benefit and one that helps strengthen and improve the profession. I like the idea of charging a premium for non-members and bundling in a 1 year membership. You’ll never convert the claimed 30% with the current pricing and value being delivered.

I’m learning way more in the hallways and on the show floor than I’m learning in the sessions. This afternoon’s session with Joy Behar had a few great moments…I liked how she added some levity to the new CAE awards without taking away their thunder. She is an awesome person to conduct an interview and helped make it entertaining. Unfortunately, the questions that they had her ask were self serving and not of high value to what members need to better perform their job. There was a mass exodus. I would assume the value prop for the virtual attendees was low too!

I enter each room with high expectations and have left all but one disappointed.

Our industry associations need to rock the house on face2face! Our future depends on their leadership.

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Michael M McCurry CMP August 24, 2010 at 8:00 am

Hi Dave,

Wow, I hear passion in your written voice. Your comments are spot-on.

I am sad to hear that the ASAE sessions have not been very good. It’s amazing to me that an organization that charges among the highest registration fees in the industry could offer such mediocre education content.

This further underscores the concern with charging such exorbitant virtual conference pass prices. If the face2face attendees aren’t engaging with the content can you imagine how the remote participants feel?

Thanks for contributing to the discussion Dave, and hope the rest of the event is better quality.

Mike

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Jeff Hurt August 25, 2010 at 11:19 am

Mike:

Like Dave, I was at the ASAE 2010 annual conference. I have to admit that the greatest learning took place in the hallways, over meals and in impromptu discussions. I attended two sessions that were of great value to me and one was live streamed. Other than that, there was not much valuable education content for me. And that was the common thread among most of the attendees that I spoke with.

As Jeff DeCagna said in the Freeium session that I attended, quoting Chris Anderson, “Abundant content should be free. Scarce content should be expensive.”

Here’s the question I have for ASAE and all conference providers:
“Is the content/information you are live streaming, unique enough, scarce and of considerable value that you can charge a fee?”

I have to admit that what I saw on site at ASAE’s Annual Conference was not unique content worth $600. It was abundant information I could get anywhere. Although ASAE said 200 people purchased the live streaming package.

In comparison, ASAE just released some education research in a book priced at $89.95. I think that’s expensive, especially for 85 pages. However, it is the only place I can get this research information. It is scarce information and I need it. So I’m willing to pay a high-fee for it.

Ultimately, the goal of the live streaming drives the fee, if any. If the goal is to reach new audiences, spread the conference messages beyond all the membership, attract potential new members or attendees, low-fees or free is the way to go. If the goal is an additional revenue stream, then expensive fees is an option, considering there are those who will pay. Either way, there will be people who line up on both sides of the discussion for and against what ever is decided.

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Michael M McCurry CMP August 25, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Hey Jeff,

It’s amazing to me to hear that the best learning opps, at such an expensive conference, took place in the hallways and at social functions, rather than in the sessions. That is not a good indicator of the quality of the event at all.

I am absolutely in agreement with you on pricing philosophy for content. The objectives should drive the approach, but in the end the content and its positioning relative to what is available in the marketplace will determine the price.

Interesting that 200 ppl paid the virtual content fee. Thats pretty darn good volume at nearly $120,000.00 I guess it would be hard to turn your back on that revenue opportunity.

My question still is whether ASAE is sustaining membership loyalty with their pricing practices?

Thanks Jeff, for contributing to the discussion.

Mike

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Mike McAllen August 25, 2010 at 11:45 am

Big Mike-
As a newbie to any of these types of association events ( I am a behind the curtain production guy) and really only introduced to them by my social media friends, I was amazed at how expensive this virtual pass was. Wow! I make a pretty good living with my business, but as Jeff said- I can find most of this information on the web. What they should concentrate on is driving more people to the event. Just cover production costs. ASAE loses out on people like me since I had so many friends at the meeting, I would like to attend, but if I could watch some of the content I am sure it would get me there the next time. I don’t want to drop some major cash on something I know nothing about. That I have to sit at my computer? How much is it to attend the conference itself?

Great post!

The other McMike

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Michael M McCurry CMP August 25, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Hi Mike,

Your point is well taken of “driving more people to the event” but that apparently is not their higher objective. Revenue is.

I, like you can not afford to pay these hefty registration fees, so I guess I just won’t participate. The same content, that I am interested in, is widely available, both online and at other more affordable industry events, such as PCMA Annual, where the registration fees are much lower.

Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

Mike

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