AIA and APA have long held their joint meeting in early January. But prior to this year, it had been a decade since the conference had been scheduled so close to New Year’s Day. (Read our Pre Con profile at convn.org/joint-pre-con.) “Because so many of our exhibitors are booksellers, they don’t really have the budget to pay the Chicago union fees for drayage,” said Andri Cauldwell, AIA’s senior director of conferences and event planning. “I was worried that I would potentially lose exhibitors if we set up over the holiday.”
Cauldwell’s solution was to set up on the morning of Jan. 2, the meeting’s first day. Due to uncertain weather in Chicago at that time of year, this “was a big gamble,” she said. And although the situation was “a bit touchy” — a semi truck containing signs and furniture got stuck on a highway into Chicago that had been closed due to snow — the organizations were able, just barely, to get the exhibit hall up and running on time.
The weather also affected attendance. “We weren’t sure what to expect, considering we were there when the polar vortex hit,” said Heather Gasda, CMP, APA’s director of meetings. Still, between 90 and 95 percent of pre-registered attendees made it — a drop from most years, when weather affects “perhaps a handful,” in Gasda’s estimation, but not a crippling number.
APA and AIA were able to get a good rate for their room block due to the meeting’s early-in-the-year dates, but that also meant they had to meet higher F&B minimums. That led them to hold their joint opening-night reception in the Hyatt Regency’s Crystal Ballroom, rather than — as is typical — in an area museum or special-event venue. Yet few attendees were upset that they weren’t going off-site; rather, they were happy not to venture out in subzero temperatures.
As for education, both groups have separate tracks. AIA has introduced new professional-development sessions designed to help members justify the cost of attending by helping them prepare for tenure, manage their 401(k), or — this year — grapple with the concept of open access (free and online access to peer-reviewed scholarly research), which has demonetized what was previously a revenue stream for academics. The session was well-attended, Cauldwell said, starting out with 100 members and “whittling down” to 30 or so. “The group ended up getting into a really great discussion,” Cauldwell said, “and they ended up taking it out of the classroom and into the bar, which is where archaeologists tend to end up.”
Convene’s Pre-Con/Post-Con series asks meeting planners about their challenges and how they intend to address them (Pre-Con), and then circles back around after the meeting has occurred (Post-Con) to see how well they worked out.