Feedback. We love it. Thanks to all the delegates who take the time to complete surveys asking for input on GSCA events. We really do take the results and comments to heart and use them to ensure GSCA is meeting the needs of our members and delegates.
A case in point is feedback we received about the awards ceremony. Conference survey results from 2013 suggested that we should scale way back on the award presentation, so we did in Toronto. Results on that conference survey clearly indicated we took it too far. So in San Francisco in 2015 we found a happy medium that honored the industry and the winners but was still respectful of delegates’ time while staying within budget, with the result being that this year’s ceremony received high marks and supportive comments on the survey.
Another example is the closing party, often referred to as the distributor party. After the 2014 conference, the majority of delegate surveys indicated that the party was not important or was the least important aspect of the event. Also, when GSCA does not have a sponsor for an event, decisions have to be made on what is critical to the success of the event and the best use of our resources, including time on the schedule and budget considerations. Given the party’s low rating of importance, and the lack of a sponsor, it was not included in San Francisco. However, we received numerous comments both anecdotally as well as on the survey indicating interest in the closing party reappearing in future events. We will do our best to find a solution for the conference in 2016.
Certain questions come up every year on the surveys, so we thought we’d share some of the thought processes behind the decisions that are made when planning a GSCA conference. Here are some of the top themes from past event surveys.
1. What goes into choosing a conference location?
There are many considerations when choosing a host city and theater. The primary requirement is a giant 3D flat screen at a GSCA member theater. Ideally, the theater seats 400+, and digital/laser 4K along with 15/70 is desirable. Domes are a significant segment of GSCA membership, conference attendance, and film revenue, and films look much different on a dome than a flat screen, so ideally there is a 15/70 dome theater within the same city. If there isn’t one within the same city, we look for a location with a dome within a 90-minute drive. We also consider ease and cost of delegate travel, as well as opportunities for delegates to visit other museums and institutions in the host city. After finding a city and theater that meet those requirements, the theater has to be willing to actually host the event, which, for various reasons, isn’t always the case.
We also look for a business hotel within walking distance of the theater that has adequate function space to accommodate sessions, meetings, and the trade show at a cost that is financially feasible for GSCA—and that space needs to be available during the dates we need it. When considering dates, we do our best to avoid holidays (religious or otherwise), as well as avoid conflicting with other industry events, such as ASTC, AZA, and Jackson Hole.
All of these factors together drastically limit the cities and theaters that are able to host a GSCA event. So you can see now why it takes significant work on the part of the Conference Committee and staff to make recommendations to the GSCA board for event site locations.
2. Why is the registration rate so high, especially when there are so few meals included? Since the association has money in reserves, so why do we still pay so much?
The early registration fee (which hasn’t been increased since 2009) is $850. Using the 2014 conference numbers as an example, the actual cost per delegate was $1,110. Since a delegate’s registration fee doesn’t cover all the expenses to host that delegate, we seek sponsorship, film fees, and advertising revenue to help make up the difference. Almost half of all conference expenses are for food and beverage, with the bulk of the remainder going to costs for the theater, hotel audio-visual, printing & graphic design, shipping, the awards ceremony, and the mobile app. In recent years, we’ve reduced the number of meals provided to avoid raising the registration fee. We’ve also heard that people want more time for meetings, so having meals on your own allows extra time for those meetings to take place.
To help more members be able to attend the conference, GSCA has offered “buy one, get one free” or “buy one, get one half off” registration specials.
Regarding the reserve fund, that is set aside for special projects like the audience research survey and the BBOWS (Bring Back Our Wide Shots) film tests, or to be used as a buffer if we have a bad year. Using the reserves to subsidize registration fees would not be a good business practice.
One of our theater members recently told us that finding one good film at the conference means the box office from that film more than offsets the cost of sending people to the conference.
3. We need to negotiate better hotel rates so more institutions can attend. We don’t have to stay at the top hotels in the city.
We try to choose cities that are easy for members to get to, and those cities tend to be more expensive. Did you know a gallon of coffee in San Francisco cost GSCA $118? But even though we may be in what are considered “top tier” cities, GSCA works very hard to negotiate better rates for our delegates. The GSCA room rate for San Francisco in 2015 was $229. According to Bloomberg.com, the average hotel room rates in San Francisco are approximately $397, so GSCA negotiated a significantly lower rate than average. Lower cost hotels such as Red Roof, Holiday Inn, etc., can’t accommodate the meeting space we need and generally are not located conveniently to theaters, which would require busing delegates.
4. The schedule each day is very packed, with little time for meetings or breaks. There are too many films scheduled back to back with no breaks.
Films are the number one reason people come to the GSCA conference, so we want to show as much product as possible. Since some people are able to come to either the Film Expo or the Conference, but not both, we allow films to be shown at two events to ensure everyone has the opportunity to see every film presented. The schedule is based on the GSCA Film Policy, which prioritizes films based on the number of times shown at a GSCA event and the ratings the film received on the Films in Production surveys that film buyers complete.
We expect people who have already seen some of the films will use that time to take a break or schedule a meeting. We’ve also chosen not to schedule evening or late-night screenings so people are able to attend private sponsored events, schedule dinners with colleagues, or see the host city. The combination of making available as many films as possible and keeping that within a typical working day means the conference days will be scheduled pretty heavily.
5. You must arrange free wifi at the conference hotel and theater venues, or at least have an internet café.
This is a classic complaint heard by meeting planners. We have been able to negotiate complimentary wifi for the sleeping rooms, but meeting room wifi is a big revenue generator for hotels. Not all theaters have public wifi capability, so for GSCA to bring that in would be very expensive and could result in a higher registration free. One way we tried to address the issue this year was to make the GSCA conference mobile app a native app that didn’t require wifi for access. Delegates could update the app when they were in their sleeping rooms or on free public wifi. We also offer an internet café as a sponsorship opportunity when that’s feasible.
6. The conference schedule needs to be finalized sooner.
As film submission deadlines approach, distributors submit more films, move new films to films in production, move films in production to projects in development, or drop projects altogether, which all affects the schedule. We try to stay within the posted start and end times as much as possible, but the schedule may change slightly. We encourage delegates to check the schedule often, and we always post the date the schedule has been updated so you can check to see if there are changes.
7. You should leave more time for sightseeing, museum research, and visiting other venues.
One goal in selecting a conference site is to be in a city where delegates can visit other world-class institutions, and when possible we try to schedule a reception at a host institution so delegates can explore the exhibits. However, GSCA’s priority is providing time for films and sessions that benefit our members. We encourage delegates to stay for sightseeing and visiting institutions in the host city, and to accommodate that, we negotiate with the conference hotel to make the reduced rates available a few days before and a few days after the scheduled conference dates.
8. The food service during conference was disappointing. No more lunch and dinner on your own!
Survey comments include “need more time for meetings” and “schedule is too packed.” One way to address this was to have more meals on your own, which allows for more individual meeting times. When GSCA has hosted meals in previous years, as many as 25 percent of delegates did not attend the event, which was another indication that people wanted more time for their own meetings, and it is a huge expense to the association. We realize that delegates may want more networking opportunities, however, and will work to accommodate more time that is conducive to networking at future events.
9. Concurrent professional development sessions make it very difficult for me to attend everything I want to attend.
Delegate surveys indicate that professional development is one of the top reasons they attend the conference. We try to offer sessions that address the needs of various segments of the industry and let people choose sessions that are most relevant to them. If the sessions were not concurrent, it would add another day to the conference schedule. After the conference, we make recordings and presenter materials available on the GSCA website (member login required), so people can benefit from the sessions they missed.
10. Can a 'Dome Group' become an official conference participant? I'd like more info on how to make this happen.
Since the survey is anonymous, we’re not able to respond to direct questions like this, but we strongly encourage all delegates and members to direct specific questions to staff at any time. Our contact info is under the Contact Us tab of the GSCA website and at the bottom of every e-newsletter we send. We do our best to answer each and every question. The answer to this question is yes!
There you have it—the comments that show up most frequently on GSCA conference surveys and what goes into some of the decisions GSCA makes. If you have other questions or comments related to GSCA events, please feel free to send them to Tammy Seldon. Chances are that if you have a question, someone else is wondering the same thing.
Tammy Seldon is GSCA's Executive Director and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.