Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Finance and Accounting

Organizing a Successful Academic Finance Conference: Thoughts, Heuristics and Statistical Evidence

Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Finance and Accounting

Organizing a Successful Academic Finance Conference: Thoughts, Heuristics and Statistical Evidence

Article excerpt


Conference planners for academic finance associations are required to make many decisions related to the next annual meeting of the association. While organizers must make such vital decisions, little has been written in the literature to guide them. This paper offers insight into the factors influencing the success of an association's conference and provides some direction for conference planners. The perspective draws from the prior firsthand experience of two of the authors who served as board members of the Midwest Finance Association (MFA). They were the association's president and program chair who were the primary organizers for the 2008 conference in San Antonio, Texas, for which more than five hundred diverse individuals registered to attend. (1)

Since the organizations that support academic conferences are typically 501(c) (3), non-profit organizations that have minimal financial assets, the revenue from each meeting must cover the costs of that meeting. (2) Revenue is largely driven by membership and attendance. Costs typically include advertising, printed programs, session identification signs, name tags, production and distributions of the proceedings, meals, coffee breaks, receptions, organized social events, meeting space and/or equipment rental (if required), honorariums to speakers, travel grants and best paper awards. These associations are also generally required to guarantee a minimum number of room nights booked and a minimum amount of spending on food and beverages for the use of the hotel facilities. Hotel contracts may also require that the association pay for room nights if association members fail to fill the minimum block.

With conference costs that must be guaranteed in advance by the association and uncertain revenues, it is important for conference organizers to plan properly and have a well-attended conference to maximize the probability of success. Some issues involved in formally planning a conference are essentially exercises in dynamic demand management under uncertainty. Revenue management uses data and strategy to understand consumer behavior and increase revenue. For formal treatments, see Tallurin and van Ryzin (2004) and Lan, Gao, Ball and Karaesam (2008). (3) But, unfortunately, many important conference planning decisions must be made by gut instinct because the quantitative data required to make data-driven decisions is absent. Since most conference planners will also lack the time and requisite skill sets to plan at these levels of sophistication, they often--by necessity--have to use rules of thumb.

One such rule of thumb is to utilize average past conference attendance as a benchmark for future conference attendance and then use a projected variation for weather and other unforeseen possible contingencies. (4) Prior to the execution of this study, we used past conference attendance only as a token guide because the type of conference for which we were planning was completely new for the association. In planning the MFA annual meeting, we made every effort to enhance the success of the conference. We pioneered the use of multiple journals to have a special issue tied to the conference and the use of multiple keynote speakers to enhance interest in our conference from academics with a broad range of interests. Planning for the conference started two years in advance.

Successful conferences bear the hallmarks of optimal scheduling, yield management, task allocation, social events, optimal contracting and the overall academic experience. (5,6,7,8) Clark and McDonald (2014) comprehensively detail the range of the planning processes involved. No one person (or even a small team) has expertise in all of these specialized areas, so typical organizers of regionally named conferences are at a major disadvantage. Finance is also not narrowly confined to regions. The world is dynamic. State, national and international boundaries are quickly blurring in a world of technological advance. …

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