When I got a call from the Shared Services & Outsourcing Network crew back last Fall (Autumn) to run a session at their European Shared Services Week in Budapest this month, my immediate response was "how the expletives are you going to convince operations executives under severe cost restrictions to show up at a 3-day boonie in Budapest in the midst of the worst recession since Harold got clipped by an arrow in Hastings in 1066?"
One of my favorite jokes (and I do have a rather strange sense of humor), is "How can you get two whales into a Mini"... and the punchline is "Along the M4 Motorway and across the Severn Bridge". If you don't understand this joke, click here. I am going to add to that one:
"How do you get 400 senior operations executives, 200 of whom lead shared services operations, to show up in Budapest in the middle of the worst recession in post-biblical times?"
Yes, they managed to defy gravity, common sense and many other undefiable factors
to achieve the unachievable. Namely, two dedicated ladies, Emma Beaumont and Sarah Clayton, personally convinced each and everyone of these people that they should beg borrow or steal to find a way to attend their conference. Some execs will even pay out of their own pockets if the networking opportunities are that valuable for them.
Normally, you just walk away and think "that was a good show", but this one deserves special recognition. This market is horrible for the events business in general. Sponsorship dollars and euros are at a premium and most firms have strict travel policies that only allow for essential travel. While some conferences have held up remarkably well, many of them have disappointed with their ability to attract senior executives.
So how did these folks pull it off? Obviously, a compelling program and speaker line-up is vital, but there are two other ingredients that these people have in spades:
1) Focus on the role of the senior practitioner. While many events will just focus on the buzz-line their sponsors plaster on their marketing collateral (i.e. "outsourcing", "BPO", "Transformation", "Cloud"), SSON focuses on all the aspects of the day-to-day role of their target practitioner; in this case shared services strategy, how outsourcing impacts shared services and their function, how technology impacts the role of the operations executive, how consultants can (or cannot) help, and which service providers are out there whom they should get to know. Plus, they even involve the occasional analyst to add his tuppence...
2) Focus on the network - with tenacity. End of the day, it's all about the network, the side-groups, the private discussions and the peer debate. It's also about peers having a good time networking with like professionals in other organizations. The key is to ensure these core groups all come along, and the rest will follow. Moreover, sponsors have savvied-up on which events are getting the customers along. Having the events organizers make their show impossible to miss is the secret ingredient.
End of the day, this recession is quickly fleshing out the survivors from the lower-value players. The quality associations which invest to survive this year will find less competition around next year, and will ultimately have more of the pie for themselves when budgets loosen up and confidence seeps back. The SSON seem to have found their M4.