The Relevance of Competition

Mary Byers was in Washington, D.C., last Friday afternoon, speaking about her new book, 'Road to Relevance: 5 Strategies for Competitive Associations'.

The Executive Briefing program was sponsored by Affinity Center International and Experient, and Convene was lucky enough to get an invitation. So there I was, one of a few dozen association professionals sitting in small groups in a quiet meeting room at the Grand Hyatt Washington, while Byers presented key insights from Road to Relevance, which she and co-author Harrison Coerver intend as companion to their previous collaboration, Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations.

An overarching theme of the new book — as its subtitle makes clear — is that associations must think of themselves, make decisions, and act as competitive organizations. Which, Byers noted on Friday, is not something that every association is comfortable with. She and Coerver write: “In the past, most associations played in their own sandboxes with little competition. That competition-free environment is gone. The number of associations serving industries and professions has grown dramatically, resulting in increased association versus association competition. Competition from the for-profit sector has increased for virtually every association offering, from publications to trade shows to educational programs.”

From my own experience with PCMA, this is undoubtedly true. The meetings and conventions industry is a crowded marketplace of professional, trade, and advocacy groups that sometimes partner, sometimes collaborate, and sometimes compete. And here at Convene there are certainly magazines with which we go head-to-head, and our approach to that competition is frankly much more entrepreneurial — proudly, invigoratingly so — than at other association magazines I’ve worked for.

All that said, one of the things I love about covering this industry is that pooling information is a collective priority. It’s not that there’s no sense of confidentiality or proprietary data or trade secrets; but those things don’t seem to trump the desire of the many meeting professionals I’ve interviewed over the last five years to share what they know and what they’ve done — successes and failures, best practices and lessons learned — with an eye on elevating the entire industry. Since I’ve been with Convene, I believe I can count on two fingers the number of people who have told me that can’t or don’t want to talk to me for an article I’m writing.

What that means, interestingly enough, is that by choosing to take a non-competitive approach to information sharing, these meeting professionals have ensured that their industry, as a whole, across its broad, wide face, will continue to get bigger and better. And that makes it inherently competitive.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.