Meetings Spotlight: New Destinations, Earlier Marketing Boost Dairy Association's Attendance

The International Dairy Foods Association, in an effort to raise attendance for its 2010 events, this year decided to move some meetings to more geographically central venues and implement new marketing campaigns earlier than in the past, already generating higher pre-registration numbers for next year's program schedule.

The Washington, D.C.-based association, comprised of more than 200 dairy processing member companies and more than 300 member companies that provide processing equipment and supplies to the industry, also revamped its virtual meetings with upgraded technology that provided a more interactive experience.

After attendance at some smaller meetings dropped by about 15 percent last year, senior director of meetings and educational services Diana Carmenates began marketing for January's Dairy Forum 2010 in the early summer, well before the association's traditional event marketing timeframe. The forum had 423 paid registrants as in early December. At the same point in 2008, the 2009 forum had 332 paid registrants. Ultimately, that event drew 800 attendees.

Carmenates' marketing campaign includes e-mail advertising blasts, e-newsletters and video content on the association's Web site.

Carmenates, who works with a registrar and coordinator, oversees about a dozen meetings annually from marketing through execution. Larger meeting attendance is in the hundreds, and smaller workshops and board meetings average from 30 to 75 attendees, she said.

IDFA also employs a manager who oversees the association's trade show, which had been collocated at the Worldwide Food Expo for the past several years but was hosted separately as the International Dairy Show at the Dallas Convention Center in September.

IDFA also moved some of its events from cities including Dallas and Kansas City to the Chicago area to help drive attendance. Many of the association's members are based in the Midwest.

One such meeting is the Dairy Sustainability Symposium, where the association selected vendors, such as the InterContinental Hotel Chicago, based on requests for proposals that include questions on hotels' environmental practices. Responses were analyzed by association management company IMN Solutions, which handles some IDFA meeting contract negotiations and site selection.

Carmenates also manages two webinars per year as part of the meetings program. During her year-and-a-half tenure at IDFA, she upgraded the virtual meetings technology to a more interactive platform with enhanced visual elements through vendor Comm-
Partners. Since the switch, webinar attendance has grown. "We found that webinars have been popular with the economy the way that it is, because a lot of people are limited in their travel," she said.

For live events, the association offers airline discounts ranging from 5 percent to 10 percent off published fares and books room blocks negotiated through IMN Solutions. Travel arrangements are offered to members and attendees through conference Web sites.

With hotel and meeting venues still very receptive to planner negotiations, Carmenates already has booked space for large events and smaller board meetings through 2014. "It was definitely a buyer's market," she said, "and I wanted to take advantage of those rates."

Originally published Dec. 21, 2009