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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

Chambers Rethink Events to Provide Additional Value

It’s easy to see how business folks can become bored with their local chamber networking events after a while. Tucking away a few extra business cards, and remembering to be gregarious and outgoing only to run into the same faces and the same Swedish meatballs once again must be trying after a few months. These, of course, are the bad networking events the events that every chamber in the Valley is looking to distance itself from. Across the Valley, chamber directors and their staff all agree that hastily throwing together an event usually yields few positive results. “Good networking events require good planning,” said Patricia Anderson, Executive Director of the La Canada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce. “If you plan it well, so that it’s interesting and fun, those attending will feel it was worth their time and money to do it. You have to constantly be thinking ‘what would I want?’ “In March, we decided to make the mixer almost like a little wedding reception, turning it into a little mini expo for business members that would have something to do with weddings,” Anderson added. “We had florists, photographers, bakers. It was extremely well attended.” Last week, Anderson said, the theme for the monthly mixer was emergency preparedness, with a special focus on equestrian evacuation for all of the horse owners nearby. The sheriff’s office, along with representatives of the Pasadena Humane Society and other businesses educated attendees on how to evacuate on narrow streets covered with fire trucks. Anderson said that since the chamber has started to present themed mixers, attendance at the events has almost tripled. Without fail, every chamber president and every executive director will tell new members the same thing upon joining. What a person gets out of chamber, they say, is equal in value to what they put in. If a member attends business breakfasts exclusively, they may be missing out on the relationships that are truly valuable, says Lois Curran-Klein, chairman of the Woodland Hills Chamber of Commerce. She tries to get new members involved in some kind of activity as quickly as possible. “We sponsor concerts at Warner Center Park. We have our honorary mayor, Michael Miller, chairing the committee. At the first meeting, we had over 25 people out of those, almost 20 were new members, and very enthusiastic,” she said. “He gave them all assignments, and if you give them assignments, you start getting them into the loop.” Curran-Klein said that by the next mixer, the committee members were anxiously talking amongst themselves about their progress, already feeling more like they belonged. Less social, more substance Some directors think that chambers have come to rely too much on social networks to make their events a success. Annie Reed, president of the North Hollywood/Universal City Chamber of Commerce said that new members are looking for more business services from their membership, especially over the last few years. It’s not as easy to slide on a sub-par marketing event these days, she said. “Chambers have become social centers and networking groups. If you’re a sales person, which a majority of people in a chamber are, if you start to see the same faces every month, you’re going to stop coming,” Reed said. “Chambers can’t fool (their members any more). If chambers don’t start being member-centered, they will be out of business.” Wayne Adelstein, president and CEO of the North Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, has tried to steer that chamber away from thinking of itself as a social organization. In addition to mixers and monthly breakfasts, the group has set up a series of networking clusters, in which people who work in the same industries meet regularly. The clusters are usually made up of about 20 to 30 different people. Still, while chambers may work hard in the coming years to make themselves more of a resource to their members, monthly cocktails and breakfasts are likely to be the most visible and familiar events members associate with their chambers. Most presidents and directors agree that new members are concerned with networking events above all else, and chambers aren’t going to forget what makes people get up early.

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