Insights to shape your tomorrow


Is your Association ready for tomorrow?

from Robin Lokerman
President, MCI Group


Associations influence the world. If they don’t transform, they will not be around in five years.

One thing is very clear: Every aspect of association engagement has been altered by COVID-19, and any organization that has not embraced the virtual world with a robust e-learning platform, online community and other digital tools is in dire straits.
What strategies have you implemented to ensure business continuity and community engagement? Do you know how your association will operate and grow in the new normal? Transformation is key, and now is the time for associations to rethink and transform. It is about designing a completely new engagement model with virtual educational learning experiences, new revenue strategies, agile governance and relevance.
The digital experience must be convenient, valuable and relevant.
In this issue of Focus, read about associations that are in the process of transforming their business models, including examples of new innovative engagement strategies. Associations need to (re)act now and FAST!


Is your association ready for tomorrow?

2020 was a year of disruption. Now what?

According to a recent survey of 200 associations around the world conducted by ICCA, 66% believe that COVID-19 has fundamentally impacted how they operate. The global pandemic and digital revolution have forced associations to rethink their value proposition, engagement strategies and ways of doing business.
And despite their reputation of being slow adopters, associations, like every other organization, have had no choice but to embrace the digital revolution and optimize the numerous advantages and opportunities they offer to build sustainable engagement models with their communities.

The community-building mindset
How satisfied are your customers? Associations tend to overlook the large number of customers interested in their offerings, products or programmes. Just because they are not interested in paying for a membership does not exclude them from your association community. You should adopt the mindset of building community and consider your association as an open professional community rather than a closed membership organization. Every customer has a role to play and contributions to make, and should be considered a valued ‘member’ of the community. “Projections for 2021 are changing as our world is changing so quickly. We’ve taken a customer-focused approach, looking at the community and how we can provide connection with our member, build relationships and share knowledge,” said Amy Burke, MA, CAE, Executive Director of the Special Libraries Association (SLA).

Digital-first strategy
In a recent study of association members conducted by Community Brands, 50 percent of respondents said they value their membership more than they did before the pandemic. Members see their associations as increasingly vital, and with more online and virtual options, they are engaging. In another survey, 75 percent of nonprofits reported an increase in demand for their programmes, and a whopping 85 percent agreed that technology is the key to future success. Do associations have a choice? Not really. The traditional one-sizefits-all approach to membership is over. Today’s members and customers want customized and personalized experiences — and digital solutions offer endless opportunities. “It was a step into the unknown, but we were willing to explore another way of going about our processes that may lead to more efficiency, time and money savings in the long run. It was an opportunity to tap into digital technology to see how things can be done better,” Ronnie Tan, President of the Singapore Institute of Landscape Architecture (SILA), said regarding the organization’s move to a cloud-based digital platform.

Building trust
Like any other business, associations must listen to their members’ and customers’ needs, expectations and values. In our highly viral environment and interconnected world, perception matters, and Gen Z, the next generation of customers, craves trust and transparency. Building trust with stakeholders is key. “We had to be very maintained in our communication. We had to be careful not to over-promise, and always do what we say we are going to do. We knew we would build that trust if we stick to our commitments,” said Mark Cooper, CEO of the International Association of Conference Centres (IACC). “We provided interpretation and meaning behind every action throughout that journey. That’s key! It is almost like we were prepared with every decision that we made and communicated about it to provoke excitement.

Traditionalist, transitioner or future-oriented?
There are different types of organizations. Depending on their size, maturity, sector or even geographic location, associations will approach the ongoing volatility and increased digitization of the engagement experience differently. Those associations that have a more traditional approach to member engagement most likely will face difficulties in embracing their stakeholders’ changing needs. In this new normal, traditionalists will suffer from lack of agility and their financial status will suffer over the long term. Those in the transition phase have begun to address some of the critical components related to member engagement, relevance, agility and financial management, but there is much more to do. Future-oriented organizations have already addressed some of the critical factors to ensure relevance and value. However, the need for greater agility and digitization is challenging even the best of associations.

Making tomorrow possible
What will help associations thrive in this new world? The first step is to understand what is and is not working. More than 80 percent of associations have been forced to cancel one of their flagship meetings due to the pandemic, according to a survey by Association Meetings International. The financial result of these cancellations has placed a significant burden on associations— and also shows that they are relying too heavily on their event as the main source of revenue, above subscriptions.


Tradition isn’t good enough anymore. Today, associations need to have a real purpose. Association leaders need to rethink their fundamentals and provide more meaningful engagement and value for their members, customers and stakeholders. They must ensure future-proof and sustainable revenue growth and at the same time maintain relevance for their community. Is your association ready for tomorrow? F.A.S.T.© is designed to guide associations through a tailored roadmap for resilience and growth. To learn more, visit


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The world’s largest global LPG event goes virtual

Gathering an entire industry for a new virtual event with a limited lead time.


The World LPG Association (WLPGA) is the authoritative voice of the global LPG (liquid petroleum gas) industry, representing the full LPG value chain. WLPGA’s primary aim is to support the sector by driving premium demand for LPG while also promoting compliance with good business and safety practices.

Organized by the WLPGA, LPG Week is the annual global event for the LPG industry. The event travels the globe and each year takes place on a different continent. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, WLPGA had to postpone LPG Week 2020 as an in-person event in Dubai to 2021. But WLPGA also decided to maintain LPG Week 2020 as a virtual event to give industry stakeholders an opportunity to meet, learn and do business, as well as generate revenue to finance and sustain the association’s activities.

Renew, rethink, reinvent
WLPGA had to completely rethink its event model and transform its annual programme into a virtual global experience — called e-LPG Week — while managing the financial risks. Despite the short lead time, MCI France was able to develop and manage a fully virtual experience that included conference sessions, networking and business opportunities, and a virtual exhibition.

Educate and communicate
After sourcing technology platforms, MCI France had to pilot a panel of stakeholders to evaluate every step of the development and adapt when needed. Webinars and tutorials were organized to inform and train the audience for the new format and to offer guidance for developing content with shorter sessions presented by world-renowned speakers. With the support of a marketing agency and WLPGA, MCI France also developed a 360-degree marketing campaign with an emphasis on social media.

Engaging the LPG community
Under the theme “Bringing Energy to Life,” e-LPG Week ran a series of high-end panel sessions that dove into different aspects of the LPG industry. Industry leaders gathered during these interactive sessions and tackled topics from various global viewpoints highlighting the future of LPG. One of the main features of e-LPG Week was flexibility regarding access and scheduling. Attendees who missed any live or pre-recorded sessions could still catch the recordings for several weeks as part of the overall redesigned experience.

Throughout the event, 1,500 participants exchanged more than 5,500 messages on the platform, and the programme received some 15,000 clicks. “I attended a number of the sessions, and I was so impressed with the platform,” said Brian Richesson, Editor in Chief of LP Gas magazine. “Hands down, it’s the best I’ve seen. Having the ability to go back and view the sessions afterwards is so helpful for our needs, too.” “This year, the MCI team who has been our event partner for the past decade has revealed its capacity to successfully adjust to the current and quickly evolving event landscape,” said Esther Assous, Events Director for WLPGA. “They have been a real ally in organizing the first virtual global event for WLPGA, which has received outstanding feedback from the LPG community. We look forward to continuing this partnership over the coming years.”


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LPG week in numbers
programme clicks
messages exchanged


e-Voting platform supports first virtual general assembly


The 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) is a global, cross-industry organization of 130 companies from the automotive, technology and telecommunications industries, working together to develop end-to-end solutions for future mobility and transportation services. Because of travel bans, MCI Germany and Logos, MCI’s public affairs coalition and stakeholder management company, were asked to organize the 5GAA’s mandatory General Assembly as a virtual programme for members to vote on the latest board decisions.
After reviewing various voting platforms, MCI experts decided to develop their own bespoke platform to meet all the legal and confidentiality requirements of the voting process. With 140 voting delegates spread over four continents, MCI had to map the different steps and service providers required, and evaluate the potential traps and obstacles and how to avoid them.
Confidentiality of the vote had to be ensured due to the sensitivity of the topics addressed, such as elections of board members. Back-office allowed staff to monitor who voted, providing transparency to members on the number of for, against and abstentions.


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Tips for sponsorship revenues & engagement in virtual

How to make sure sponsors receive the right ROI with online platforms? How to maintain their long-term engagement in the virtual space? Virtual event solutions bring new and innovative sponsorship opportunities. The audience’s virtual experience starts well before the event itself and continues long after it ends. This leaves plenty of opportunities for sponsors to showcase their brand. By adopting a blended approach that is at the same time agile, strategic and human-centered, virtual sponsorships can be as effective as those for in-person events.
Here are five tried and tested value propositions to offer virtual sponsors maximum engagement and ROI:

  1. Adaptable and scalable packages
    Packages are designed based on sponsors’ needs and goals, not the organization’s revenue objectives.
  2. High-converting leads
    Sponsors extend their reach for a longer timeframe and with access to unique individual information and habits.
  3. Extended brand visibility
    Exhibitors brand and product videos are accessible yearround, with access to measurable data.
  4. Flexible and customized options
    Sponsors strengthen their brand awareness and engagement with impactful data.
  5. Hidden opportunities
    Revenue may hide in areas you didn’t think about, and opportunities to impress sponsors are endless.


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Digital marketing generates 24.5K leads for first virtual congress

A leading international congress expecting 10,000 participants was scheduled to take place in Cape Town, South Africa, in June 2020. However, in April 2020 it became clear that the event could not move ahead as a physical meeting due to the pandemic.
The association, which serves the healthcare field, quickly transformed its strategy to virtual with the support of MCI. This transformation enabled the association to meet its commitment to delivering educational content and bring the world congress into the homes of attendees. This process meant an entirely new digital marketing strategy had to be developed and implemented almost overnight, and involved creating an enhanced target audience strategy, new website layout and branding, and new marketing collateral for emails, digital advertisements and social posts. The campaign strategy consisted of three unique phases addressing multiple aspects:

Phase 1 — prior to the event focused on launching the virtual experience of the transformed congress and associated online learning platform through awareness and education.

Phase 2 — during the virtual congress experience to maximize engagement and interaction through daily emails, push notifications and social media activities.

Phase 3 — to promote extended learning and engagement via the online AI-fueled platform.

During the six-week campaign period, digital advertisements for the virtual congress experience were seen 14 million times, generated 24,500 leads, and 19,000 website visits, which was double the traffic for the previous physical congress over several months. The email campaign generated more than 46% of total website traffic, with the email announcing the launch of the virtual event website generating an impressive 60% open rate.

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How to build a powerful online community

According to research by Inversoft, 77% of organizations believe that an online community significantly improves brand exposure, awareness and credibility. But building an online community can be hard work. The challenge is to keep people engaged and coming back while stimulating and monitoring conversations in a natural and personal way, feeding content through champions and offering features that will make your digital community platform a powerful tool. Here are some key features to consider:



Additional features may include mentor match, learning management system (LMS), expert directory, reviews and much more.


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The power of trust in the transformation process

Kevin Baliozian, Executive Director,
Medical Library  Association (MLA)




The Medical Library Association (MLA) is a professional association with a membership of more than 400 institutions and 3,000 professionals in the health information field. Together with its management partner, MCI, the association was already in the process of redesigning and transforming its organization when the COVID-19 crisis began, so it was just an opportunity to go faster. Kevin Baliozian, MBA, CAE, Executive Director of MLA, shares key steps in the organization’s transformation journey.

What initiatives has MLA taken during the COVID pandemic?
MLA has been redesigning and transforming for the last five years, so we were ready for what is happening now. In fact, when the crisis started, it was an opportunity to go faster. For example, we were already thinking of transforming our annual meeting, which represents half of our revenues. Then COVID happens and we are going straight to digital for meetings and exhibit. By going virtual, by lowering pricing, offering financial aid, and avoiding the issue of travel, suddenly we are dramatically increasing the ability of people to participate and engage.
As a matter of fact, the organization has figured out a long list of projects that are way better to do virtually than face-to-face. MLA is now looking at going hybrid for our event next year, with the physical conference as an add-on to the virtual event experience when it was previously the opposite. The reverse strategy is forcing us to think how we are going to promote the physical conference over the virtual one.

What where the key steps in MLA’s transformation journey?
We focused on four key elements, including our communities, our governance and structure, our event and finally our financial model. Our first initial step was to unleash the power of
our 45 member communities. These communities are organized by areas of practice of health information or special interest and affinity. The health information element makes our members very connected to COVID. They have been reliable in providing trustworthy information such as search strings and trusted websites to the health professionals and making them available to the public. We also launched weekly topical 30-minute discussion sessions combining a presenter/facilitator on Webex with Slack discussion channels.
We then looked at our governance and operations. We organized a five-day pivot together with the executive committee and the executive director to review the association’s policies on committee appointments and content strategy, which was finally moved aside. Small working groups were assembled, including three members and two staff members for  vetting and coordination; and, finally, new roles were created and staff reassigned to new roles. The budget was reallocated with the support of the board and finance committee. As a result of these operational changes, member engagement has increased significantly with the involvement of new individuals not previously engaged. MLA’s relevance and perceived value have also increased.
The third step was to rethink and redesign our event to move to a virtual experience. Our annual conference and exhibits represent 50% of MLA’s revenues and is our largest contributor of funding. Our May physical event was cancelled and replaced by a virtual conference and exhibit in August. We initially decided to take our content and exhibition and make it virtual, but we finally scraped away that approach and thought, if we were to start from scratch virtually, what would the conference experience be like? A conference crisis team was assembled, including executive committee members, conference co-chairs and key staff leaders.
They were empowered to make quick and high-level decisions. At the same time, the staff was empowered to design a dramatically different experience. The launch of our first virtual conference was also the occasion to launch six new weekly online “open forum” gatherings on MLA’s topics, instead of two at the conference. The redesign of the conference experience now includes a live launch, an exploration week with asynchronous viewing and discussions, as well as live social events and a live action week a month later with interactive sessions, meet-ups with panelists and exhibitors, and social events. We are proud to say that 98% of our presenters maintained their presence and 95% of exhibitors expressed interest in maintaining their presence and sponsorships. And with this we were also offering a new experience to our members.
The fourth and very important step was to rethink financial forecasting and communication. The 2020 budget was no longer relevant, so we set up a series of scenarios based on actual metrics or events with daily cash management and safe strategies to ensure short-, medium- and long-term cash scenarios. By doing this, we demonstrated trustworthiness that the MLA leadership is fast and financially savvy to make the right decisions.

How has your board responded and supported you in this process?
As I was starting to think how the organization would go through this crisis, my president told me, “You’re not alone.” What I have found amazing is the team and collaboration and spirit of our board and executive committee. During that process, the decision was made to increase the number of communications in a massive way, including monthly informational board meetings, status reports of what is going on, and weekly open forums with members that are run by volunteers around various topics, so it all goes around building trust. The trust is essential, and building trust comes through a lot of great communications with the different groups. At the end of the day, whether members agree or not with the decisions the board is making, they know the board knows what it is doing.

Can you describe how the AMC model supported MLA in its transformation?
Our transformation journey required a lean, agile and quick decision-making process while working with the leadership. Building trust with the various stakeholders was key in that process. The decision was made to transform the annual event, which consequently has allowed us to transform the entire organization.
By transitioning to an association management model, MLA benefits from constant pivot and quality experimentation. We have earned a license to experiment with experienced professionals, shared knowledge and quality systems. This model has allowed us to solve engagement issues and address diversity to become truly inclusive. I can focus on association needs and strategy while operations are looked after by MCI’s staff. We have a better spread of activities during the year and we are now operating in a more agile, flexible and creative way.

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8 association trends in 2021


While COVID-19 has been an accelerator for change and a catalyst for associations and other not-for-profit organizations to rethink their relevance, way of working and business model, the pandemic is not the only reason for associations to consider their future-proof strategy. Associations have no choice but to embrace the digital revolution and adapt to thrive in the new
normal. At MCI, we have identified a number of drivers affecting associations as they grapple with this new era, including eight main trends:

1. Technology
Technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing and the Internet of Things are transforming every aspect of how we live and work. Associations must embrace these technologies to offer their stakeholders a more personal, intuitive and engaging experience.

2. Financial impact
As associations review their financial status due to the pandemic, they need to anticipate the potential knock-on effect, as members and sponsors are forced to protect their own interests. New products and programmes are critical to continuing to engage your community and ensure value and relevance.

3. Privacy and data protection
While the monetization of data is the lifeblood of many associations, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has placed limits on certain activities. Technological advances will continue to produce workarounds even as greater vigilance and demands for transparency grow.

4. Social distancing
Social distancing due to COVID-19 is changing the way organizations and individuals behave, requiring new ways of working and offering new opportunities for digitization. Virtual communications, events, and learning experiences are here to stay, and hybrid events are the New Normal.

5. Sustainability and environmental development
Addressing global challenges such as poverty, inequality, and climate change, the UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a clear pathway toward a better and more sustainable future by 2030. Associations are ideally placed to help advance the goals.

6. Ethics and values
Gen Z, the next generation of members and customers, demands ethical and value-driven behaviors and will choose to engage with those associations that are behaving ethically and doing good for the community.

7. Online reputation management
Shaping public perception of an organization by influencing online information can be quite complex in our universally connected world. Understand that while associations need to be hyper-transparent about their actions, they do not fully control their reputation.

8. Equality and diversity
Organizations increasingly will be judged by their ability and actions to reduce discrepancies between groups based on race, gender, sexuality, religion and other factors and to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion. In that, associations can play a key role.

  1. Embrace a digital and user experience mindset
  2. Make innovation and investment top priority
  3. Reach beyond the converted


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