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event managers bow to changing demands

March 2005

The organizers of two of the world’s largest CSR and SRI conferences have shelved their showcase events, reflecting delegate demands for more specialized gatherings.

After holding three annual meetings, the Hong Kong-based Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia (ASrIA) will not run its annual conference this summer, and The Guardian and The Observer newspapers, which have jointly held a large-scale CSR function in London for three years, have decided likewise.

Each says its decision is a response to changing market demand, with delegates now less inclined to attend events with a broad theme and interested in more detailed information.

Charlotte Gooch, commercial conferences executive at The Guardian, said: ‘People now require more in-depth debate that you can’t really cover in a general forum. It’s becoming quite challenging from an event co-ordinator’s point of view.

‘We want to do something again, but when we do we will have to focus on specifics.’

Sweeta Motwani, ASrIA’s administrative director, said there was a general feeling that smaller events on specific themes were now preferred. ‘For us, it hasn’t really been an issue of getting enough delegates,’ she said. ‘It’s more the logistics involved for a small operation like ourselves, coupled with the fact that we see small events as being more useful. At the moment we don’t have any concrete plans for 2005, other than to say that we will probably be holding a number of smaller regional events rather than one big annual one.’

The trend in the past year has been for conference-goers to be offered sector-specific events such as the recent seminars for travel and food businesses.

There has also been more coverage of particular topics, such as supply chain management or verification, and of geographical regions. Even existing large-scale events, such as the Ethical Trading Initiative’s biennial conference this summer, have tended to move from plenary to workshop formats.

Tobias Webb of Ethical Corporation, the world’s most prolific organizer of events in this field, told EP expectations had changed as more companies have mastered the basics and now need practical advice.

‘People are a lot more demanding than they used to be,’ he said. ‘A few years ago it was, “Let’s have a CSR conference and save the world.” But now people want stuff that’s a bit more focused. Delegates are looking for stuff that’s quite complicated.’

Large conferences on general themes still appear popular in the Americas, however, partly because corporate social responsibility and socially responsible investment are at an earlier stage of development there. The Business for Social Responsibility 2004 conference in New York attracted 1200 delegates, and the Inter-American Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility in Mexico City was attended by 700. ‘You just wouldn’t get those huge numbers in Europe,’ said Webb.

Large gatherings in the Middle East and Russia arranged by other commercial conference organizers this year are also proving a draw.


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