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    5 Minutes With… Mandy Jennings, Venues of Excellence

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    We recently spoke to to Venues of Excellence Executive Director Mandy Jennings about the benefits of Membership Consortiums in challenging industry times, how they planned to support members through the pandemic, plus the views of both members and industry partners…

    How did Venues of Excellence (VoE) react with a plan for members as we went into the Pandemic?

    The board and team of Venues of Excellence acted quickly to agree a plan to help members through a very unusual and difficult period.  We have and continue to be in constant communication, offering support and guidance and providing our members with a number of initiatives.

    How do you feel you have supported venues during the lockdown?

    First and foremost, our membership year runs from June to May, so we had to very quickly respond to the pandemic and venue lockdown, putting into place a new financial membership package to help with fees, offering a membership discount and optional payment plans.

    Like many organisations we wanted to be able to communicate with our members whilst in lockdown and also to provide additional resource to venue teams to keep them abreast of the developments within the industry.  We created a weekly online communication plan, inviting industry specialists to share best practice and innovations; these have now become our weekly ‘Zoom to BOOM’ sessions with as many as 60 delegates online.

    Emma Boynton, Head of Sales and Marketing at Imago Venues commented on our approach during this time: “Our membership of Venues of Excellence has been invaluable through this pandemic. We have always found value in being part of a consortium that shares excellence but, during such unprecedented times, it has proved to be a vital support network. Every venue is faced with its own unique circumstances, but having such a network to share best practices and consolidate our responses to the crisis gives us confidence that we’re doing the right things, and our customers the peace of mind to plan their events. As well as providing the support for staff still working in the business, their weekly webinars and forums have been a brilliant way of keeping furloughed staff in touch, engaged and motivated for when they return.”

    The Venues of Excellence team have been in constant communication with the members to understand who is working and who is on furlough so we can update the people who are available. We are now working with venues to keep updated on planned reopening and contacts for enquiries.

    We had our first online Members Forum which is normally 1.5 days each quarter and we put this into a 2 hour Zoom session which was really well received.  This had a number of industry colleagues giving their feedback including Michael Begley, MD from Venue Directory and Charlotte Russell from PA Life.

    Michael Begley from Venue Directory on our ‘virtual event’ commented: “We were delighted to be part of the Venues of Excellence ‘Zoom to Boom’ event and found the event to be incredibly well attended by the membership and whilst we thought it would be us giving insights to the venues, we had some great feedback that will help us shape things to come. We received some great views on the steps towards re-opening and the feedback helped us shape our Safe Meetings development. Interaction with the VOE membership is key for us as a business as it gives us insight to the challenges and needs of the venues and this produces a collaborative approach to the task ahead of us, allowing us to support where and when we can.”

    We have our next Members Forum planned for 18 June and this is all about the venues reopening and we have guest speakers, Gavin Percy representing Quality in Tourism discussing the “Safe, Clean and Legal Accreditation”, alongside Louisa Watson, MD Wyboston Lakes Resort, one of our member venues sharing the ‘You, Me & Trust Campaign’ they have launched into the events industry.

    Our 2020 Annual Conference focused on #strongertogether, so we have been at the forefront of sharing with our member venues how other members are managing the post COVID-19 venue guidelines with our Future of Meetings and Events working group creating a series of initiatives including our Safety Commitment which sits alongside our 5 Quality pledges as a consortium to share best practice with venues for their safety and hygiene recommendations for reopening.

    Our Learning and Development Academy which launched in 2016 training over 150 delegates per year, has moved to online courses with our first course ‘How to plan for sales post Covid-19’.  Reshaping face to face training to online has enabled us to continue to offer our courses to delegates during the lockdown.  Sarah Clayton, Sales and Revenue Manager, University of Birmingham who attended the session commented: “I thought yesterday’s training was brilliant and wouldn’t hesitate training like this in the future.”

    Why did VoE create the Commitment Pledge Response to COVID-19 and what does it mean to the customer and member?

    VoE membership criteria expresses ‘excellence’ and we have five Quality Pledges that reflect our membership objectives.

    We know how important it will be for our member venues to reassure our customers when they are making choices about which venues to use for their forthcoming events and we wanted to give clarity and be very specific that all our venues take this extremely  seriously.  It seemed a natural development of our Quality Pledges to introduce our Commitment Pledge to support our members by announcing the pledge to the industry and will be actively used as part of the future criteria when we have new member requests.   We were very proud to see our venues were some of the first to come out with their policies (Wyboston Lakes Resort, Victory Services Club, Make Venues), and leading the way when it comes to the safety and security of their customers.

    To complement our pledge, we have within our Members Area of the website, our COVID-19 Resource Library with a plethora of useful information from venues and industry best practice around the events industry and the pandemic.

    Why is VoE’s COVID-19 Resource Library crucial to member venues?

    This is the true strength of a sales and marketing consortium like VoE which gives members the opportunity to share best practice and support independent venues.  We enable collaboration, promote excellence, and to have a central point of reference in times like this has been invaluable to members.  We have received some great feedback from members about how supported they have felt.

    How will VoE support members through proactive activities as venues begin to reopen in July?

    We have a number of initiatives in place including online presentations to clients and agencies, working with industry partners as a collective, helping with plans for future exhibitions, opening up new marketing opportunities, ensuring the venues have the opportunity to share new capacities, safety and security measures and facilities on virtual tours and presentations.

    What key things should venues look for from Consortiums at this time and why is VoE offering the discount to members… and potential new members?

    When independent venues are looking to join a consortium, my advice is that they need to understand why they want to join a consortium and what are the key objectives they have from the membership.  Partnering with the right consortium is key to any business growth and future success.

    Since our rebrand to Venues of Excellence in 2016, we have worked tirelessly to position the consortium at the forefront of conference and event planners.  Venues of Excellence is recognised as the UK’s largest sales and marketing consortium of specialist conference, meeting and training venues and we are able to offer considerable benefits to independent venues. From national sales and marketing activity to a collective negotiating power with key industry suppliers, not forgetting a professional support network of likeminded people. The strong and visible Venues of Excellence brand is an umbrella for all our members and allows customers to associate their venues with the quality and ‘Excellence’ that comes with it.

    Within our team we have a range of industry experts who work with VoE to deliver our business objectives and who are always on hand to support individual venues on projects and business advice.  We are also fortunate to have exceptional industry relationships and preferred partners who look to work with our member venues, combined with a great networking calendar to share best practice with industry peers.

    We never rest on our laurels and know there are challenging times ahead for members and indeed consortiums such as VoE to continue to flourish.  One of our key initiatives on the back of our #strongertogether campaign is to offer an ‘Exceptional Membership Offer’ to independent venues looking to join a consortium to gain all the benefits of VoE Membership.  Supporting conference and event led venues we are offering a 15% Discount for their first year’s membership for venues looking to join a proactive a sales and marketing consortium as we return to business.  We hope that many venues looking for support will see this as a great way to help relaunch themselves returning to business post COVID-19.

    The VoE brand is unrivalled within our industry and we are confident that we will continue to drive business to our member venues, bring true ‘value for money’ to their membership fees and be at the forefront of an industry adapting to changing trends and unforeseen challenges.

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    AUTHOR

    Stuart O'Brien

    All stories by: Stuart O'Brien