SMERF Special Markets Journal
December 2010
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Huntsville, Alabama
Welcome to the SMERF Special Markets Journal eNewsletter!

Welcome to the first edition of the SMERF Special Markets (SSM) Journal eNewsletter! Our first physical issue was mailed out just a few weeks ago and we are excited to be taking another step forward.

SSM is a quarterly publication written specifically for those meeting professionals actively planning meetings in the Societal, Military, Education, Religious and Fraternal world. The Special Markets, which also include student/youth organizations and diversity groups, is the only true recession-proof market the meetings industry offers and represents billions of dollars of business every year.

SSM is published by Integrated Marketing Media, a company that represents more than 30 years combined experience in the meetings industry. To learn more about advertising or our online and integrated packages, contact Walter Barnard of Integrated Marketing Media at 469-230-6703 or at

The Peabody Little Rock
Daytona Beach, Florida
Rogers, Arkansas
Attendance Building 101

SMERF may be the recession-proof market, but a little encouragement never kept a conference attendee at home.

Organizations throughout the nation are trying to figure out the best ways to keep their members coming, and it’s all about drawing attention. Many groups get creative on their own, but plenty of sales professionals are happy to assist.

And some ideas won’t make much of a dent in the budget. The most obvious example: Facebook. These days, not even grandparents have an excuse for oblivion when it comes to this social networking website. Once it became a place for more than just college students, its users soared to 500 million. Creating an account and adding friends are free. Chances are the ubiquitous page also is home base for many of your group’s affiliates.

But many nonprofits have room to grow when it comes to meeting their members’ social media needs, according to a recent study from Site Global, a network of meeting, travel and event professionals.

Of the organizations surveyed, only 8 percent were satisfied with their use of available technology. Another 28 percent of respondents wanted more technology but didn’t have the money.

“This is a clear indicator that organizations looking to the future must assess the state of current customer expectations as it compares to their employment of technology,” Steve O’Malley, Site International Foundation vice president and research committee chair, said in a news release.

Another arm of the social media blitz: mobile contact.

Consumers want easily accessible information wherever they are. That may mean it’s time to prepare mobile versions of sites or text messaging services.

A recently released survey from the U.S. Travel Association showed almost 60 percent of direct marketing organizations will increase their budgets for mobile marketing in the next fiscal year.

More and more DMOs are offering mobile marketing as part of their assistance package to meeting organizers. That means an increase in their spending could equal increased marketing benefits for SMERF groups.

Pi Beta Phi fraternity takes a multi-faceted approach to attendance building. The group, whose national office is in the St. Louis area, communicates through daily social media updates, occasional e-mail and direct mail campaigns, website posts and quarterly magazine articles. Keeping the organization’s key messages in the forefront of volunteer officers’ minds can hearten turnout at biennial conferences.

“Leading up to convention, Pi Beta Phi sends information more frequently to our convention body,” said fraternity spokeswoman Eily M. Cummings. “We even send out a promotional mailing aimed to generate excitement about the event. It plants the seed for members to get online and register.”

If an organization’s Twitter feeds and electronic e-vites seem to be at maximum capacity, there is another angle to examine. Multimedia marketing is no replacement for good planning. Survey attendees about the perceived value of the programming for your meeting or event. If valuable content isn’t there, attendees won’t show, no matter how well you market the event.

Another factor is the sluggish economy, which has resulted in budget cuts for many tourism agencies, diminishing dollars available to SMERF meetings. That has lead to industry advocates gearing up for a campaign to the federal government.

The U.S. Travel Association in January started the Meetings, Incentives and Trade Show Council. Its agenda – offering more incentives to travel – could have positive effects for SMERF groups. Local tourism agencies could do more to lure their business.

“The MIT council is looking at different incentive legislative ideas and options to explore in 2011. We will continue to make the case that meetings and travel are an essential tool for business growth and development,” said Kristy Chandler, spokeswoman for the Travel Association. “Following the elections, we will have a better sense of the course of action the new Congress will take.”

Attendance Building Tips:
  1. Give plenty of notice through promotion.

  2. Use social media to enhance awareness.

  3. Plan valuable programming and promote that in communications.

  4. Survey potential attendees before the event to determine the best time and place.

  5. Follow up after events to learn about attendees’ experience.
Discover SSM
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Just visiting and spending money isn’t enough for some SMERF groups.

The growing trend of volunteering on trips can take groups from Florida to Hawaii and Africa to Asia.

A 2008 study from the University of California, San Diego showed some 40 percent of Americans are willing to spend vacation time volunteering. Just where and how long folks want to donate lines up with age and ability. Teens and retirees, for instance, appear willing to stay longer. But Baby Boomers likely would choose to stay in North America compared to jet-setting Generation Y, which would prefer travelling overseas.

“More and more people in all stages of life are thinking of becoming ‘voluntourists’,” Bob Benson, former director of study sponsor the Center for Global Volunteer service, says in a UCSD news release. “People are looking to spend their vacations and retirement in meaningful ways that make contributions to others.”

Levels of activity range from building homes to passing out water bottles to other tourists.

David Treybig’s group travelled across the Florida peninsula in September for its annual convention. Treybig is pastor at Tampa-area United Church of God. He also handles event planning for an association of churches that meets yearly in the Southeast U.S.

“One of the things we typically do when we go into a community is we select a charity or nonprofit organization and we try to help out,” Treybig said.

This year, the “Feast of Tabernacles” in Daytona Beach chose the Council on Aging and a local domestic abuse prevention group. That often comes with the assistance of tourism officials.

While some of the 2,500 church members gathered on the Sunshine State’s east coast visited the sites, Treybig said, most festival attendees gave money. Each organization received more than $3,000.

Active volunteer opportunities arise in the convention, during which churchgoers help fellow attendees. Special care is given in the way of assisting handicapped members with getting around, and providing childcare for single mothers.

Other groups took a longer haul this year.

Hawaii may seem like a real splurge. But with a still slumping economy, now could be the time to consider visiting the Aloha State.

During the summer, the Association of Science-Technology Centers met in Honolulu. Several of the educators made the trip over to the Big Island, home of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where they joined eco-tourism outfitter Hawaii Forest & Trail.

The science enthusiasts put in a little sweat weeding invasive species from a patch of native Hawaiian plants.

“We certainly look at every organization and every proposal that comes in to give them the best offer that we can,” said Chris Colvin, director of sales and marketing for tour guide Hawaii Forest & Trail.

Even some meeting venues are facilitating voluntourism for groups. The Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, Florida has designed a wide variety of group “voluntour” programs and opportunities, such as Build-a-Bike, Home Makeover and Beach Clean-Up. Through programs like these, both meeting planners and attendees gain a richer experience of the destination.

Iris Kuo, a Texas-based journalist who covered travel for The Wall Street Journal Asia, has covered voluntourism. Many she interviewed were disappointed in their experiences because they didn’t feel needed.

But that can be prevented, she said, with research.

“Sometimes people go in thinking they will save a village, so to speak, in just a week of work. Set reasonable expectations,” Kuo said. “Find a project where the organizers say they really need a burst of manpower and doesn’t require them to put in a lot of man-hours to train workers. “Say, 50 people digging a ditch or preparing a meal.”

David Clemmons is founder of and publisher/editor of “The VolunTourist” newsletter. He recently re-examined the trend in his publisher’s letter. In it, he re-defined the term voluntourism.

“It is an opportunity to exercise our cooperative mojo, to mature beyond a competitive, non-integral view of our humanity and to embrace the harmony that exists amongst and between. This is not to imply that we will form a clone-like homogeneity of travel experiences, but we will be well-suited to apply strategic thought and scientific process in evolving the intersection of voluntary service and travel & tourism.”

Voluntourism Planning Tips:
  1. Use voluntourism as an attractive pre- or post-conference event. Booking additional rooms within your host city leads to benefits for you and your organization in the future.

  2. Be aware of the additional risks/responsibilities. You may need to work with the non-profit group you’re serving to add a rider to their insurance to protect your members.

  3. Use the resources available in the destination. Often the convention and visitors bureau will be able to provide a list of local non-profits that can accommodate large groups.

  4. Survey potential attendees before the event to determine the best fit in regard to type of service, duration, and time.

  5. Figure out your cause. Find an organization that addresses a problem that is in line with your organization’s values.
Media Kit
Rapid City, SD
  market highlight  
  Catalyst West Coast
Religious Meetings

Prevailing wisdom about the Religious Market is that it, like most SMERF groups, is a cost-conscious, recession-resistant, year-round standby compared to other, more turbulent meeting market segments which have taken a hit in the last two years.

Jayne Kuryluk, executive director of the Christian Meetings and Conventions Association, observes that the religious market “is stable. Where other types of meetings would cancel in response to a dire economy, this market will continue to meet, though they may shorten the duration or cut back in particular areas.”

Other cost-cutting measures for meetings include using colleges and universities as venues, as well as increasing flexibility in dates, with some allowing as much as a three month window. This openness gives destinations and venues the opportunity to work with the organization and give it the best rate possible.

Kathy Reak, Director of Sales, Colorado Springs Convention & Visitor Bureau, says “the religious market for Colorado Springs is hugely important because they book year-round. Often times their meeting dates are flexible and they are willing to book in the off-season, which is a win-win for the destination and the meeting planner.”

Religious meetings are seeing many of the same trends as other meeting segments, like an increased reliance on high-tech multimedia and audiovisual equipment.

However, inclusion of these technologies should be approached with great care. Brad Lomenick, director of the church leadership conference Catalyst, warns “if you are leveraging video as a key part of your program, invest heavily in quality. We are all so used to great video quality in most every environment that seeing something of lesser quality at an event can be a turn off.”

While these general observations of trends in the religious market are applicable, it is a mistake to overlook the multiple facets represented by the term “Religious Market.”

“The Religious Market” encompasses quite a broad spectrum. Suppliers and destination marketing organizations must become wellversed in the nuances between these subcategories in order to effectively meet their needs.

Kuryluk presses that “you can’t over-generalize what the religious market is. It’s incredibly diverse. The religious meeting market encompasses everything from family programs to donor functions, from retreats to city-wide events. And each kind of event has specific needs.”

According to Reak, because of these different needs, “not all religious groups are after that $49 rate - many are open to a much wider range.” A 2009 study by the Religious Conference Management Association seems to confirm this, showing a dramatic increase in the popularity of resort hotels and the increased use of catering services.

As the religious market continues to grow, these disparities between submarkets will grow as well. Success will belong to those who recognize how to approach each type with awareness, knowledge and respect.

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Contact: Walter Barnard
Publisher, SMERF Special Markets Journal