Friday, May 13, 2011

Genealogy Conferences - Some Thoughts On “The Money Thing”, PR, and How “Free” Is Often An Illusion (Part Three)


In the last post, I asked (mostly rhetorically) “So, if it’s not the speakers who are making all the money that make these conferences seem to be “expensive”, who’s raking in all the dough?

Generally, it’s being spent on overhead (including all that pre-conference advertising, printing, and other organizational stuff) AND on the private-sector venues where the actual conference events are being held. 

The Venue Doesn't Come Cheap

Conference centers and hotels have talented and skilled professionals on their staff whose sole job it is to negotiate prices with the volunteers/staff from the various groups planning conventions.  Remember: these conference and hotel folks are trained to get the best possible deal for the hotel/conference center, while at the same time make the group’s conference organizers who are considering the space think that THEY are getting the best possible deal.
Moreover, conference centers and hotels are not motivated in the slightest by charity.  They care not one whit about genealogy. They are motivated solely by profit.  Like I said last time, they do not care if your group is poor or rich, important or unknown ; space and food are their stock in trade, and they have prices based upon supply and demand.  

You can be sure that if anyone is going to take even the slightest loss at a large genealogy conference, it will not be the conference hotel or the conference center providing the space, meals, or anything else.  

A well-run hotel/conference center business is designed to make as money as possible, plain and simple.  That’s exactly what it’s supposed to do.  That’s one of the principal reasons that conferences are “expensive.”

"Profit" Is Not A Dirty Word

Also, a well-run conference should also make money for its organizing group.  It’s in the interest of NGS, FGS, NERGC and all other event organizers to make a profit with their conferences. In fact, that’s what conferences are supposed to do.  

If conference organizers say that all they want to do is bring in enough money to cover their expenses, they should be asked to step down by the governing board and relinquish their management positions, because they’re not doing anything good - either for their organization or for genealogy.   In fact, they’re putting the genealogy conference concept itself at risk. 

if conference organizers planned poorly and caused their event to lose money because they messed up on a few details and didn’t allow for enough of a financial cushion to cover unanticipated expenses, conferences would stop all together.

Then, there’s that “other thing” again - 

(b.) the “what genealogy should cost” perception. 

As I said in the last post, lots of genealogists think that everything in genealogy should be free and that making money in pursuit of genealogy is somehow tainted and dirty. 

Free, Free, FREE!!!!

Genealogists like “free” stuff.  Problem is, it’s hard to find really “free” stuff.  Sure, there’s some “free” stuff on the internet, like, for one, and then, there’s lots of stuff that looks “free”, until you figure out that the freight is being paid by somebody else - like advertisers. 

Guess what?  Lots of genealogists use Facebook.  Facebook is “free”, right? So - if it's free -  why did investment bank Goldman Sachs back in January 2011 value Facebook (the company) at 50 BILLION dollars?   

It’s because of all that advertising revenue – now and in the future.  The more users, the more Facebook can charge advertisers to push out their ads.  That’s why Facebook is seemingly “free” – not because the folks at Facebook think you’re deserving of a great social media deal.

So, that “free” thing being elusive, genealogists know that they often have to settle for “inexpensive” (i.e., almost free) stuff.  When it comes to conferences, it soon becomes obvious that even “inexpensive” is hard to come by, especially if “interesting location” AND “great speakers” are things to be considered.

Changing Genealogists' "Worldview"

Since things are not likely to get much cheaper real soon, what with the cost of food and fuel and taxes, it’s incumbent upon conference organizers to try and change the genealogical community’s perception of conference costs.  They need to be changed from “too expensive” to “a remarkably good value for your genealogy dollar.”  

 This means more public relations, and more cost comparisons with other similar things.  Trend lines that show the costs of genealogy conferences over time compared to, say, the cost of college tuition over time. Interviews with people who point out what they’ve learned at conferences and what a great value for their dollar spent that they received.  Also, more outreach to people who have never been to a conference, perhaps by having a special “one-day” beginner’s rate that gets you into a half-day of beginner talks along with a “how – to” program with ads placed by the vendors in the exhibit hall for very little money.

In other words, conference organizers need to work on public perception in the genealogy community, convincing folks that conferences are a really good deal, just like Mark Zuckerberg and his team have convinced their users that Facebook is “free.”

Conference "Sizzle"

Also, conference organizers need to remember to sell "the sizzle", because conferences are more than just “steak”.  In addition to being intellectually nutritious, genealogy conferences are supposed to be fun.  Hint: the current Disney World website shows me that three fun-filled days at the theme park will set me back about $243.00 in tickets per adult.  I can get a “moderate” room for $179.00 a night at the park itself.  

Now, this year’s NERGC admission was less than Disney World for even more fun-filled days.  The hotels were less expensive.  Of course, there were no real rides, but there was plenty to do all day, kind of like a genealogist’s “theme park”. 

So, maybe it wasn’t actually free, but compared to Disney World, it was a bargain.

[Yet more to come… about volunteers, the exhibitors and maybe a new model being used elsewhere, not in genealogy]

No comments:

Post a Comment