Be Thankful for Outsourcing: Managing Vendors For a Successful Event

By Lynn McCullough

Vendor outsourcing should be an important consideration for associations. To pull an event together, there are going to be some areas where specialists will be most effective in obtaining the desired results. Many associations don’t have staff with the expertise needed to execute various aspects of an event. As a result, they must plan early to identify what services make sense to outsource so the headquarters (HQ) team can focus on the services they do best.


Following are five tips for managing vendors to ensure a successful event:


  • Plan Early. Associations need to include funds in their budget for outsourcing, which could be a challenge due to financial constraints. To proactively address, identify what services should be outsourced during the planning phase. Look at the areas that will make a true impact on an event—both during the promotional and onsite phases—including marketing, audiovisual (AV) and communications.


  • Utilize Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs). Employ the CVB in an event destination to source vendors and services locally. CVBs promote the development and marketing of a destination, focusing on convention sales, tourism marketing and servicing events. Typically, providers that are part of the CVB are established businesses who have experience working with events and meeting planners.


  • Develop a Request for Proposal (RFP). Once three top vendors are identified, provide them with a clear RFP. It’s critical to bring the vendors in early and communicate your event goals, so they can lend their expertise to help you meet them. Let vendors know your timelines and your preferred lines of communication (i.e. email, text), so there’s a true partnership as your event dates draw near.


  • Don’t Skimp on Technology. Don’t underestimate the power of effective AV at your event. What good is paying $10,000 for a speaker, if their presentation looks dull on the screens and he/she can’t be heard around the room? Additionally, the grand entry to a room should give attendees a “wow” factor to set the tone for the event. Let your AV partner know the look and feel you want and let them come back to you with suggestions and ideas.


  • Consider the Big Picture. Associations with smaller staffs might consider outsourcing activities, such as registration management or the meeting planning itself. There are many steps involved with planning events—from speaker sourcing, marketing and developing networking opportunities. In some cases, it could make sense to outsource the logistical aspects of your event planning, so your association staff can focus on the “big picture,” board and committee collaboration and program development.


There are numerous benefits for associations that form productive vendor relationships. Take time to consider the different options to work with vendors, as well as the new tools that are available today. For example, CMA Association Management works with an organization who recently invested in a new conference website. Because the website was the first place potential attendees went to learn about them and their event, they wanted to “make it shine.” The goal was to position the association as professional, up-to-date and innovative in their industry. As a result, there have been rave reviews from members about the new website. There also has been an upward trend for registration.


Maybe it’s time to offer attendees a new registration tool, like the one I just shared, or a mobile app. After years of a printed on-site program, associations have a new alternative with mobile apps, which offer real-time schedule updates and ways to message other attendees. There are many mobile app vendors to consider. Take some time to research their various features to select the best fit for your group. These are just some examples of areas where working with outside vendors and your HQ team can bring additional value to your association’s members and for your events.


Lynn McCullough is a senior client services & meetings advisor at CMA Association Management.


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