For the event marketer, there is an enormous difference between corporate and association events. Corporate events are often held in “attractive tourism-focused” locations such as Hawaii, Florida, or Las Vegas. The primary reason for those locations is to provide the attendees with a “mini-vacation” in a place where they can combine the attendance of the corporate event with some excitement and entertainment. In sharp contrast, many associations are limited by their organizational bylaws or covenants as to where they can hold events. It is highly unlikely that the Arkansas Temperance Association is going to hold its event in Sin City, preferring to hold it in a dry town such as Murfreesboro. However, there are many other variances which make organizing and marketing the different events… very different indeed!

Corporate events = short lead-times

When it comes to corporate events and meetings, they are generally discretionary in nature, and the determination is almost always up to the management of the company. In the case of a product introduction event, it may not occur if there are no new products which are worthy of the huge fanfare or in the case of an incentive event or trip, it may be cancelled if the company is underperforming this quarter or if employees have failed to reach their sales or performance quotas. Management always holds the key to the timing and scope of the event with the possible exception of the annual shareholders’ meeting which is generally an obligatory event necessitated by the existence of a publicly traded company.

Association events = long lead-times

Association and organization meetings are primarily mandatory in nature therefore they are highly predictable and the lead times are usually very long. Predictability and lots of time can make for a very happy event marketer as there are usually a minimum of surprises and panics in the course of the campaign. Best of all, many of these events are generally held at the same time each year and that is yet another advantage which allows solid and sustainable scheduling when it comes to event marketing. Association bylaws generally mandate a convention or conference at least once a year, along with a smattering of board and management meetings, therefore event marketers working with these types of organizations benefit from a much calmer production process than their corporate counterparts.

Individual or committee?

The primary difference between association and corporate events is the way that the decision making structure is organized. In the corporate arena, the decisions about holding an event and its focus and extent are usually made by a C-suite executive such as the CEO or president. The decision is often singular as it has been made without the participation and extensive rumination allowed by a committee, which then proceeds to provide the event marketer with a guide to how they want the event structured and presented. When it comes to association events, it is the committees and in some cases the endless committees which make the determination and that is where the event marketer can often experience intensive frustration.

Bizarre & fractional committees

In the committee based decision-making process found in most associations, the event will be subjected to extensive debate through the board of directors, the executive committee, the outreach committee, the education committee, the site selection committee, the exposition committee, the hospitality committee and even some bizarre and fractional committees such as the family activities committee or the pet accommodation committee. Given that the majority of these association committee members are volunteers and therefore do not have firm training or in many cases extensive experience with event marketing and management, their dictates can often be confusing, counterintuitive and even counterproductive.

Therein lies the fundamental tradeoff between corporate and association event marketing: While the corporate event is usually concocted, conceptualized, and directed by a single individual executive on shorter lead times with far less consistency, the association event benefits from consistency and long lead times at the cost of having to deal with a range of committee directions which are usually far from optimal or in some cases, even remotely desirable. Both have their advantages… and drawbacks!