What's the measure of a successful business event? Number of attendees, sponsorship revenue generated and new leads might be a few key performance indicators that come to mind. But another that should not be overlooked is the legacy an event creates - the reputation that results from its success, which can continue to enrich the attendees and organisation for years after.
That was the theme of "Creating Legacies and Impact in Business Events," a panel comprising four event planners at Malaysia Business Events Week, organised by the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau. In a session held at Shangri-La Hotel Kuala Lumpur, each shared the high-profile gathering they have brought to the country in recent years and discussed how a number of factors enhanced the gathering - and created a lasting impact.
Epitomising this approach was Datuk Dr Raj Abdul Karim, president of Malaysian Council of Child Welfare, who brought the Women Deliver conference, a three-day gathering of policymakers, advocates and researchers on the topics of health and empowerment for women, to Kuala Lumpur in May 2013. Some 4,500 participants from 149 countries took part in the event, which was by all accounts a major success - in no small part due to the fact of where it took place previously. Considering the first edition of the show took place in London and the second in Washington, D.C., KL might not have seemed like an obvious option for Women Deliver's third gathering.
"I asked [Women Deliver Founder Jill Sheffield]: We are discussing problems of women in developing countries, in countries where it doesn't really matter to them," said Dr Raj. "Jill said, 'but if I go to a developing countries where the needs are, I don't get the donors and the supporters.'"
Highlighting Kuala Lumpur's world-class infrastructure and logistical support
Dr Raj made the case for holding the event in Southeast Asia, a region that suffers one of the highest levels of maternal mortality in the world - but with cities like KL that also offer top-notch infrastructure and business opportunities. Estimating the event would attract 3,500 attendees, Dr Raj showed the organisation's representatives the city's wealth of event offerings, introduced them to relevant government agencies and outlined the destination's logistical ease.
"They were confident it had easy access, and that travel and visas were easy," said Dr Raj. "They absolutely fell in love with Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) because it had enough space to hold not only the conference but about 60 partners [including high-profile figures requiring high security, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, and royals such as the Crown Princess of Denmark] who had side meetings."
The event did not only succeed, but continues to be talked about and serve as a model for new events.
"The last Women Deliver was held in Vancouver last month, and people still talk about how the best Women Deliver was the one held in Malaysia," said Dr Raj.
Other panelists echoed Dr Raj's enthusiasm for the unique benefits of Malaysia.
Promoting Malaysia's educational strengths
Dr Nordin Bin Yahaya, director of the Higher Education Leadership Academy, Ministry of Education Malaysia, discussed his experience bringing the 14th Edition of Asia-Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE) Conference & Exhibition 2019 to Kuala Lumpur this March. It brought in 2,500 delegates (90% international) and an estimated RM49.6 million to the country.
What helped Malaysia stand out for this event, according to Dr Yahaya, were its "very good higher education systems - we produce students, have good universities in Malaysia and some of them are already in the world rankings - but not many academic communities know about the standard of education here."
The APAIE conference proved an ideal opportunity to showcase the country's educational strength. The marketing showcased this and promoted the event to universities and setting up promotional pavilions at industry events earlier than in previous iterations. They also increased their promotion to markets that had been underserved in previous events, increasing delegates from Indonesia and Thailand significantly.s
Sowing the seeds for future engagement
But while the event beat the targets the organizers had set, for Dr Yahaya, the real impact of the gathering was that it laid the groundwork for "continuous engagement and the benchmarking that we do to take our institutions further, to become better institutions and create better educational systems in our country to bring our country to the next level."
A legacy-building marketing strategy employed by the 84th IFLA World Library and Information Congress 2018, held in Kuala Lumpur in August 2018, was the creation of grants for ASEAN countries - five for each country in the region, going to members of library associations and national libraries. Malaysia had bid for the event three times going back to 2011.
What made the difference for the 2018 edition? "The chair of the bid committee was the same person for the first, second and third bid," says Puan Maimunah Kadir, past president of the Librarians Association of Malaysia, who served as secretary for the National Committee of WLIC for all three bids. Over that time, the chair saw that, "There was consistency, there was passion and there was a lot of support from the National Library, MyCEB and the Library Association and in the KLCC, we had a wonderful venue."
She stressed that the real difference maker was the financial support of those three organisations, which allowed them to better showcase Malaysia's offerings, including its top-notch libraries, which attendees would visit during the programme. Not only was the bid a success, but the event itself was, too, drawing 3,389 delegates, including 2,500 from international destinations. And the success of the gathering has made an impact that's lasted for the organisation.
"Young librarians could meet and exchange ideas with their colleagues from all over the world," said Ms Kadir. "That is a learning process that young librarians need and we were able to share it with them, and out of that we were able to create interest in the library profession and show how libraries are relevant."