Global Meetings

Around the World in 5 Meetings

Want to grow your international presence, but not sure how to get there from here? Unfold our map of five different routes to expanding your global reach through meetings and events.

The pace of globalization is speeding up. A recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute, the business and economics research arm of McKinsey & Company, finds that the global movement of goods, services, and finance has risen five-fold since 1990, reaching 36 percent of worldwide gross domestic product in 2012. Fueled by the rapid spread of digital communication, global flow of goods, services, and finance could double or triple by 2025, the report predicts, with the stakes getting ever higher for those who fail to keep up: “Global flows are creating new degrees of connectedness among economies — and playing an ever larger role in determining the fate of nations, companies, and individuals; to be unconnected is to fall behind.”

Whether that’s an overstatement remains to be seen, but there’s no denying that the digital age is fueling the growth of global connection at an unprecedented pace, and organizations of all stripes are looking for new ways to expand their international reach. Here’s a look at five associations taking different routes to going global through their meetings, trade shows, and educational events. One group is just starting out, three are expanding their efforts, and one has been on the road to international outreach for decades.

Route 1: Member Meetings Around the World


Since its split from the American Institute of Mining Engineers in 1985, the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), whose U.S. headquarters office is in Richardson, Texas, has grown into a global association of more than 143,000 members, with just over half of them residing outside of North America.

Leigh Ann Runyan: ‘It’s important that the meeting take on the flavor of the destination.’
Leigh Ann Runyan: ‘It’s important that the meeting take on the flavor of the destination.’

Given the global nature of the oil and gas industry, it’s not surprising that SPE held its first meeting outside the United States early on, in 1989. Today the organization holds more international meetings than domestic ones — thanks to a membership-building strategy of opening offices and chapters in key cities around the globe. Each of these regional branches has its own roster of meetings. SPE’s annual meeting, the long-established and highly regarded Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE), is now held in locations around the world, and is managed by the meeting staff of the SPE office in the host region. ATCE was held in Amsterdam in 2014, and will be in Houston this year and Dubai in 2016.

Given how the management and location of the meeting is rotated, one of the biggest challenges is making sure that best practices are communicated from year to year, according to Leigh Ann Runyan, CMP, SPE’s managing director for North America. “With the meeting traveling to different locations, it’s important that what worked really well the year before gets communicated to the office that will be handling the next meeting,” Runyan said. “Sharing this kind of information is critical.”

ADVICE “Content is always king, so that’s going to be consistent from meeting to meeting no matter where the event is held,” Runyan said, “but it’s important that the meeting take on the flavor of the destination as well. That’s what attendees want and are expecting.”

Route 2: Market Research, Education, and Trade Mission


The world’s appetite for organic food and products is growing rapidly. Sales in the United States alone jumped 11 percent last year, to a record $35.9 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), a U.S.-based group representing 8,500 organic businesses. OTA is working to facilitate global export opportunities for members through a variety of tactics, including developing critical market research and targeted education at its U.S. meetings and seminars.

The Orgatic Trade Organization meeting in Seoul, Korea.
The Organic Trade Organization meeting in Seoul, Korea.

“We start with member input, asking where organic companies are sending their products and how those products are performing in that global market,” said Laura Batcha, OTA’s CEO and executive director. “Depending on the answers, OTA can respond with education geared toward developing business networks or better understanding how to respond to foreign customers.” OTA also conducts in-depth market analysis, looking at the flow of global organic trade, analyzing which countries are consistently increasing imports of U.S. organic products. “This data helps us develop seminars around understanding technical barriers to trade,” Batcha said, “such as policy gaps in country-specific organic standards.” OTA offers educational sessions at several industry shows in the United States, including Natural Products Expo East, where the association holds its own annual member meeting as well.

OTA also works to grow overall demand for organic products by conducting overseas marketing events geared toward consumers and importer networks in international markets. Funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service Market Access Program allows OTA to participate in these types of programs, Batcha said. For example, earlier this year OTA participated in BioFach 2015 in Nuremberg, Germany, hosting 14 organic suppliers in its space at the USA Pavilion. The suppliers expect more than $4 million in sales as a result of their participation, according to OTA follow-up reports. OTA also co-hosted a reverse trade mission in March at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California. More than 20 buyers from 13 countries participated in more than 300 one-on-one meetings with OTA members.

ADVICE “Find an organization that is developing an international strategy you see working for your members,” Batcha said. “Review their online materials really well. Then find a contact and get 30 minutes on the phone. Be prepared with a list of questions. You can’t expect they will have all the answers, but at least you get your ideas flowing with the help of someone who has been in your shoes. Most of the time, people are happy to help.”

Route 3: Customized Outreach and International Collaboration


“Making a world of difference in care” is the tagline for the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO), reflecting the association’s desire to become the most trusted source of cancer information worldwide. To help achieve that goal, ASCO has embarked on a number of initiatives involving global outreach at its Annual Meeting and other events.

About 34 percent of ASCO’s more than 36,000 members and fully half of the 30,000 oncology professionals who attend the Annual Meeting — along with a significant majority of those attending the Virtual Meeting — come from outside the United States. International attendee participation at the meeting began to rise quickly starting about 10 years ago and likely is leveling off at present levels, according to an ASCO spokesperson. “Cancer is a global disease, ASCO is a global entity, and the Annual Meeting is a global forum,” the spokesperson said.

Half of ASCO’s attendees are from outside the U.S., so the organization made special accommodations at its 2015 annual meeting.
Half of ASCO’s attendees are from outside the U.S., so the organization made special accommodations at its 2015 annual meeting.

More than 3,000 abstracts from 80 countries were submitted for ASCO 2015, held May 29–June 2 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, where the meeting takes place every year. The program saw the debut of the Global Oncology Symposium, essentially a meeting within the Annual Meeting — designed to facilitate in-depth discussions of international issues in cancer care. The symposium included a mix of scientific abstracts and educational lectures, and was open to all attendees.

ASCO also offers extensive services for international visitors at the meeting, including an international-assistance desk, where attendees can find help with language interpretation and learn about education sessions, grants, membership, and other programs. The society advocates with the Chicago Department of Aviation to increase its staff to shorten customs lines and cut wait times during the annual meeting.

Throughout the year, a program called ASCO International aims to connect international members and organizations through a large and expanding portfolio of oncology workshops and award opportunities. Two years ago, ASCO announced a commitment to doubling its international programs, and in 2014 ASCO and its collaborating organizations hosted 55 educational events in 33 countries.

ADVICE “To attract attendees from outside the United States, the attendees need to see that the science and education are relevant to them,” ASCO’s spokesperson said. “And there needs to be excellent international outreach on site to make the meeting as easy and enjoyable as possible. Do that, and your international members will help spread the word.”

Route 4: Creating an International Trade Show

International Carwash Association

The Chicago-based International Carwash Association (ICA) is cruising into the global arena with a new event, Car Wash Show Europe, at Amsterdam RAI in the Netherlands on Oct. 5–7. The program will complement ICA’s annual show in Las Vegas, The Car Wash Show — already the world’s largest exhibition for the car-wash industry, with some 6,800 attendees and 125,000 net square feet of exhibit space.

ICA’s Car Wash Show draws nearly 7,000 attendees.
ICA’s Car Wash Show draws nearly 7,000 attendees.

“As we looked for new growth opportunities, Europe presented a unique situation,” said Eric Wulf, ICA’s CEO. “It’s a market of interest to many of our domestic members, from suppliers looking to sell to operators looking to learn and network, and it’s also a market where there isn’t an existing show.” Indeed, while there are a handful of national car-wash associations in Europe, none has an exhibition. “We aren’t competing with those organizations for membership,” Wulf said, “but instead looking to involve them as partners in Car Wash Show Europe. In fact, we hope that Car Wash Show Europe will increase the visibility of those national associations in order to provide greater reach and resources for their own members.”

When Convene interviewed Wulf in June, Europe’s three biggest car-wash associations had just signed on as partners for the European show. Wulf said the partnerships don’t involve revenue sharing, but complimentary booth space is being provided for the associations, along with meeting space for one group’s membership meeting. “Down the road, if this event is successful,” Wulf said, “ICA might be able to provide additional support through pan-European market research that we would develop and provide free of charge.”

MCI International is handling the planning and logistics for the event as well as sales for the European market. SmithBucklin, which manages ICA and its Vegas show, is managing U.S. sales for the European show. The biggest challenge so far is the “lack of benchmarks” that every startup show has to deal with, Wulf noted, but he was happy to report that as of June, 70 percent of the 35,000 net square feet that ICA has reserved at RAI has been sold. The target attendance for the event is 1,000 to 1,500, he said, but it was too early when Convene spoke to Wulf to track those numbers.

ADVICE“For us, this was at least a five-year journey,” Wulf said. “It takes time to build personal relationships, to delve into the data, and to do your due diligence. Along the way, we worked with Terrance Barkan, CAE, of GlobalStrat to assess the market and test our assumptions. The company did a comprehensive study of the market and the potential of a trade show, which confirmed our thinking and enhanced our plans.”

Route 5: Licensing Content and Programs


Based in Alexandria, Virginia, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is extending its global reach through a content-licensing model that gives authorization to specific partner organizations — in Brazil, China, India, and several other countries — to use and resell SHRM content and programs. This allows SHRM to develop new international revenue streams with less investment and risk than it would have using its own resources, according to Howard A. Wallack, SHRM’s vice president of global business development.

Ninety countries were represented at SHRM 2014.
Ninety countries were represented at SHRM 2014.

In addition to its efforts to expand internationally through its licensing program, SHRM has been actively building international attendance at its Annual Conference & Exposition, registering more than 1,000 international attendees from 90 countries at last year’s meeting in Orlando — about 8 percent of total attendance. SHRM expects that percentage to grow even more as the international partnership program develops, Wallack said, adding that SHRM’s overall international revenues have grown to more than $5 million annually.

ADVICE “If you work through partners, it’s very important to exercise due diligence when selecting partners, and to have a solid system set up for execution and management,” Wallack said. “Being able to track the most important data, such as revenues, registrations, and unit sales, in real time is a great way to spot problems early on and to take corrective action.”

Regina McGee

Convene Contributing Editor Regina McGee is a writer and editor based in Massachusetts.