Celebration of the Century
ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT, July 2004
By: Tina Berres Filipski
Association milestones are a great time to remember where you've been, examine where you are, and look forward to where you're going for the staff, membership, and the industry. Learn how to incorporate all of these elements into your next association anniversary celebration.
In 1903, the average hourly wage in the United States was 22 cents, the average life expectancy was 47 years, and only 14 percent of homes had bathtubs. Yet, the concept of imprinting a product with an advertiser's name and logo already had a toehold in businesses, resulting in a need for an industry association originally called the National Association of Advertising Novelty Manufacturers, located in Chicago.
As the century progressed, the association experienced seven name changes, a merger, three relocations, and sufficient growth to become the sole trade association in the United States for 6,500 companies that manufacture, imprint, buy, and sell promotional products. Items include everything from T-shirts, pens, and caps to sporting goods, buttons, and gift baskets.
On the anniversary of its first 100 years, the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), Irving, Texas, organized a yearlong celebration by producing a book, video, awards program, exhibit, and two mega-parties to honor its early visionaries and recognize the thriving $16.3 billion industry they helped launch. Our experiences in planning and executing an elaborate celebration may provide some ideas as you plan a significant event for your organization.
At the core of the celebration planning was the Centennial Committee formed in mid-2001 when PPAI's then-chairman Bob Davis, owner, Specialty Incentives, Inc., Denver, asked two former board chairs to serve as co-chairs of the committee and selected me as staff liaison. We immediately identified and invited 12 longtime and influential members representing both the supplier and distributor sides of the industry to join us. Most of these individuals were former board members, some had been association members for as long as 40 years, and all had been active in association leadership. The Centennial Committee also reflected a good balance of men and women of varying ages, mirroring the composition of the association.
Once we publicized the new committee and its plans in our publications and through news releases, the excitement for the association's centennial started to build.
Develop a multifaceted plan
Early Centennial Committee work provided a framework upon which to develop the numerous details that would follow.
Determine the mission of the celebration. The committee began by developing the following mission statement: "...to conceptualize, develop, and carry out a variety of events, publications, and/or products that create awareness of and excitement for the 100th anniversary of Promotional Products Association International. The aim is to promote the anniversary for a one-year period beginning in January 2003 and culminating in January 2004."
Define the scope of the project. It was important that the celebration not be a one-shot project but that it take the form of multiple events and activities spread across 12 months to create the biggest impact possible. The celebration targeted two groups. For members of PPAI, we sought to create camaraderie and reinforce teamwork among the members of the association through a shared history. Our objective with the second target group, the business media, was to engage their support in disseminating the message of the longevity of the medium to potential buyers in their markets.
Our plan was to kick off the anniversary at PPAI's major trade show, The Expo, in Las Vegas in January 2003 and culminate our efforts at that same show in January 2004. The committee also wanted to involve as many members as possible in this milestone because, after all, it was their anniversary.
In advance of the first in-person meeting, the Centennial Committee met via conference call to brainstorm ideas for projects and, in the end, voted to undertake six:
1. Assemble a mini-museum of vintage products and photos.
2. Publish a book chronicling the history of PPAI.
3. Produce a video as a companion to the book.
4. Produce opening and closing events at our January trade shows.
5. Create an awards program to recognize top promotions and top products of the past 100 years.
6. Produce commemorative gifts and giveaways to mark the occasion.
Delegate the tasks. The co-chairs then appointed five subcommittee chairs, divided the remaining committee members into those subcommittees, and gave each one a project. From that point forward, the subcommittees communicated independently via conference call and e-mail, made individual assignments, set deadlines, and reported to the full committee at our biannual meetings. I worked closely with each subcommittee, handling the details and recruiting staff support, such as meeting planners for the party and graphic designers for the exhibit and book.
Craft a budget
The board of directors approved $50,000 seed money for 2002 from the association's $12.4 million budget. Based on the Centennial Committee's plans, I developed an initial budget gauging what needed to be spent in 2002 and a pro forma budget for 2003. For example, 2002 expenses included deposits to the book author and video producer, letterhead, a sponsorship brochure, postage, and committee conference calls (the committee only met in person twice a year at our trade shows).
The bulk of expenses in 2003 included the remaining costs for the commemorative book (balance of writer's fee, design and production, printing and mailing); the balance due on production and miscellaneous costs for the video; party expenses (food, bar, bartenders, band, decorations, invitations, audio/visual/staging, entertainment, and complimentary tickets); awards (printing, mailing, and trophies); and the cost of the booth at two shows. I also budgeted for thank-you gifts for the committee members (gift baskets delivered to their hotel rooms at the January 2003 show). Publicity expenses (such as a centennial media kit) were included in a separate promotional budget.
We planned for projected budgeted expenses of $148,000 to be offset by two revenue sources: sponsorships and ticket sales for the party. Sponsorship revenue exceeded our goal, reaching $124,400, and additional revenue generated through party ticket sales resulted in revenue exceeding expenses in 2003. Celebrating the centennial was not intended to be a revenue-generating project, but we were able to cover all of our costs.
The 2004 budget included only the closing party and parting gifts for the committee members (logo-embossed leather cosmetic bags and money holders) ordered from a member company. Revenue sources were the same as 2003: sponsorships and party tickets, plus an association contribution based on its savings from having to produce one less event for the 2004 expo.
Spread the word
The first step in getting publicity is having a story to tell--and we did. We used an old photo taken at the 1925 convention as the centerpiece for several promotional pieces, including the cover of the media kit. Inside the kit, a news release detailed the centennial plans and included a brief history of the association, fun facts, and story ideas. The kit, mailed in fall 2003, was the second in a series of mailings (the first was a pen inside a folded card printed with a historical timeline) to industry and major business media across the United States.
The Centennial Committee's objective was to reach businesspeople through our media efforts, so we used five different media lists available through Bacon's MediaSource to target publications specializing in public relations and advertising; business newspapers and magazines; and local and national newspapers, television, and radio. We pitched story ideas tailored to each type of media based on format and audience.
Except for the pen, timeline, and media kit, all other communication was sent by e-mail, which is the preferred delivery method for most editors. This helped keep our costs low as well. The number of media alerts you send, of course, depends on the amount of news your event generates and how much time you have to devote to media relations. But depending on your association's budget, it's a good idea to send at least one mailed piece, preferably containing something imprinted that the editor will want to keep, such as a pen, portfolio, or mouse pad, for example. If you can afford to personalize the gift, it further ensures that the recipient will remember your message.
We also used our monthly magazine, Promotional Products Business, to carry a monthly series of profiles on longtime member companies as well as features including products then and now, past magazine covers, a centennial quiz, and a look at members' best memories.
The final piece of the publicity pie was served on November 20, 2003--100 years to the day after the first meeting of the association's founders--when we held an open house for all members, prospects, vendors, and media at our headquarters. The day included workshops on member benefits as well as office tours. A proclamation from the mayor's office and ribbon cutting by leadership and members of the Irving City Council marked the beginning of the next hundred years.
In spring 2002 the rubber hit the road. We had been promoting PPAI's upcoming centennial on a regular basis in the association's magazine and online newsletters and in news releases to the media. Next it was time to see what kind of support for the celebration members would provide.
Turn support into sponsorships
Promote high-profile opportunities. We mailed a brochure and letter to all member companies with a once-in-a-lifetime offer: to position the company as a top player by sponsoring PPAI's 100th anniversary. Follow-up communication reinforced the elite and exclusive tone and continued to tout the benefits--both tangible and intangible. As a result, member companies exhibited a tremendous outpouring of support, and the committee raised $124,400 toward 2003 projects--exceeding our goal by nearly 20 percent.
Offer something for everyone. The key to raising sponsorship dollars was to offer four levels, so that small companies as well as large ones could take ownership. The levels were Diamond, $10,000; Ruby, $5,000; Emerald, $2,500; and Sapphire, $1,000, plus an individual donor category for contributions of less than $1,000. Each level included benefits relating to publicity at the January 2003 show such as free tickets to the party and recognition in all publications, signage, badge ribbons, and so forth, with benefits decreasing as the pledge decreased.
From companies that couldn't provide sponsorship, we asked for product donations--imprinted with the centennial logo--as booth incentives, party favors, media gifts, and promotional tools to create awareness about the centennial.
Provide recognition. Each donor was listed in show publications as well as on signage at the event where the products were used.
When archives aren't available--memories are
Unfortunately, each of the three times that the association headquarters was moved, first from Chicago to Irving and then once again within the city, board minutes and other important papers from the early years of PPAI were lost. I spent a half day at our off-site storage facility searching for them to no avail. (See sidebar, Accessible Archives, for details on developing a deliberate record-retention plan.) Fortunately, we did have a large collection of fairly old issues of our magazine and its predecessor, a newsletter, dating back to the 1950s. A second important source of information was a brief 75th-anniversary publication. But the most valuable resource was our former director of marketing, Rick Ebel, now retired, who had been with the association for 26 years, had a great memory, and knew many of the association's veteran members personally. We hired Ebel to write our commemorative book, and much of the information he uncovered for the book was also used to create the video.
Creating and executing a multifaceted, inclusive, and well-promoted celebration takes time and money. However, the rewards can be significant. PPAI's yearlong centennial celebration, for example, created industry awareness and, as a result, was a catalyst for membership growth and retention with an almost 3 percent net gain in membership in 2003. The celebration also created a tailwind of momentum for many members' businesses, as they benefited by sharing in the longevity and prominence of such a milestone. But probably the biggest impact the anniversary had on PPAI is that it further united our diverse membership, reinforced the importance of their roles in business, reminded them all of the rich history they share, and brought out an unmatched camaraderie of spirit.
Consider the future
In looking back, my first thought is, "I can't believe it's over." Being liaison to the Centennial Committee was bittersweet. It's nice that it had a beginning and an end, but at the same time, it's hard to let go. The project was a marvelous experience, and I am honored and grateful to have had a part in it.
However, because I do not plan to be around when the association celebrates its next milestone anniversary--say in 25 years--I've compiled a lot of information to make the job easier for the next staffer. The archives, housed in our headquarters storeroom, now include all the photos and many of the products used in the exhibit, a copy of the book and video on CD-ROM, a disc containing many photos from the parties and events, and samples of the promotional products we used. In addition, the archives hold notebooks filled with all my records and copies of minutes, a full set of Promotional Products Business magazines and PPAI newsletters, all of the original archives, and a list of Centennial Committee members--just in case one is still around to jump-start the next anniversary celebration.
Tina Berres Filipski email@example.com is associate vice president for industry relations and publisher, Promotional Products Association International, Irving, Texas.
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