Any organization that plans a live conference or big annual meeting knows how hard it is to increase attendance over the prior year. There are so many factors in play. Upping your game on the programming, just the right keynote speakers, picking the right location, deciding if you can increase your registration fees without suppressing demand, new competition, audience fatigue, and a dozen other issues that can impact attendance.
So how did the Consumer Bankers Association (CBA) for the ninth consecutive year achieve record attendance?
Ten years ago, the new CEO, Richard Hunt decided to combine eight meetings into one. Each of these meetings represented a focal point for the banking industry such as home equity lending, automotive finance, and small business banking, among others. In a bold move, the CBA decided that there was power in a larger community and that one larger meeting was the way to best serve their members and the consumer and retail banking industry. It worked.
Now, the audience has grown by over 300%, exhibitor and sponsor funding has increased by 4000% (that’s not a typo) and audience satisfaction is at an all-time high. There are 37 bankers who have perfect attendance and haven’t missed one conference in nine years.
How did CBA do it and how do they continue to break every performance goals year over year? The list of what they do right is long, but here are what I see as the top 10:
1. The CEO is the CEO. Richard Hunt is both the CEO of CBA and he’s the CEO of the event – this really matters. CEO leadership is the number one factor that makes this event successful.
2. It’s a team effort. Every member of the CBA team attends the event, builds relationships with the members and works tirelessly to deliver a great product.
3. Member engagement. CBA is built upon a committee structure and the committees are the force behind great programming.
4. General sessions are a performance. Each general session is choreographed, scripted, scored, rehearsed, and integrated into the entire experience. These general sessions are fun, entertaining, relevant, and insightful – no talking heads allowed.
5. True north. CBA ties everything together with a unifying theme; this year, it was Beyond The Bank. This isn’t just a marketing tag line; it’s a strategic design element that sets CBA LIVE apart from every other banking conference on the market.
6. Jeans. Yes, denim blue jeans. That’s the dress code. 1,500 banking industry executives wearing jeans – it makes a difference in how everyone interacts. It’s just more comfortable.
7. Love thy sponsor. Industry business partners are a priority and are treated with respect. They are given great opportunities to support the organization and the members. The business community invests a lot in CBA and CBA delivers real value 365 days a year.
8. Finger on the pulse. CBA LIVE is up-to-the-minute on the issues the audience wants to know about – you can’t get what happens at CBA LIVE anywhere else.
9. Integration. Every element of this two-and-a-half-day experience is aligned, synchronized and tight. CBA knows what the top of the puzzle box looks like so every piece fits together perfectly. The entire event is designed with intention.
10. Investment. CBA knows the impact of this event on membership, loyalty, relevance, community, industry reputation, financial performance, and CBA brand value. And they invest accordingly.
There you have it. Every organization has their own formula for success. CBA has figured out what works for them, and it REALLY works for them. Nine years of consecutive record attendance is no small accomplishment, especially given the ups and downs of the banking and financial services industry over the past decade.
What is your success formula? What’s on your top ten list? One of the best lessons I’ve learned over the years is that if you want to be successful, study success.
CBA LIVE is a lesson in success.