Peter Cooper, the ASA Representative on the Board of IAFE,recently attended the 2019 IAFE Conference. Here he shares key takeaways from the event

The Management Conference is a highlight in the yearly activities that the IAFE undertake and was well attended by the Association Members. The Conference took place in Costa Mesa Orange County – approximately 15 minute drive from Anaheim aka Disneyland or 1hr 45 minutes in peak hour traffic from LAX as I found out.

The program was set for 4 days including;

1. Day of Strategic Planning for IAFE
2. Board Meeting and Welcome event “Money, Chocolate and Wine”.
3. Day 1 of the Conference and Tour of Orange County Fair Grounds
4. Day 2 of the Conference and closing event.

Strategic Planning was the focus of the first day which was facilitated by Chris Brine and included the entire Board, CEO and 2 IAFE staff – 22 people in total. The Strategic Plan needed to deliver a short term (1 year) and long term (3 year) set of objectives. The planning session started with the theme of;
“What do we want to continue”
“What do we want to remove”

I have been involved in many Strategic Planning Sessions so I must admit the prospect of getting this down in a day didn’t seem achievable. The basis for the existing strategic plan was sound therefore the day came together well with several exercises providing the strategic levers required to formulate the plan. The 4 key areas which are currently being shelled into the plan include;

1. Foster Collaboration
2. Attract and Maintain Membership
3. Advance Education
4. Advocate for Agriculture

It is expected that the plan will be completed and approved by the board in the coming months.

Team building evening for the Board included a bus ride to Newport Beach and a Sandcastle building exercise. We were separated into 4 groups of 5 and provided with shovels and buckets. The competition was fierce however the groups all banded together to build a collection of worthy winners.

At dinner that night an interesting subject arose around the impact that legalised Cannabis and use at Fairs. It was only recently approved in Canada (November 2018), for its use whether medical or recreational. It triggered a long discussion on the ability for Commercial Sales at events, similar to alcohol. There was discussion about letting the consumption occur in smoking areas however the product is not always smoked as it can be eaten. It was concerning that it was difficult to measure the level of intoxication as cannabis stays in your system for 28 days. Risk Management of this will be a challenge for fairs in Canada and US and it will only be a matter of time before this appears in Australia – thankfully most issues should have been addressed by then.

The Board Meeting included the general agenda items, Minutes, Financial Statements, Staff Reports and Committee Reports. The meeting contained a few key recommendations, mainly the important discussion around the future location of the IAFE conferences. IAFE is contracted to San Antonio until 2021 and that has been problematic due to the current travel ban from California. The current situation is; California is restricting publicly funded travel because of recent laws that leaders view as discriminatory against gay and transgender people. All totaled, California now bans most state-funded travel to eight states. California’s restricted travel list are Texas, Alabama, Kentucky and South Dakota. They join Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.

A presentation from the CEO discussed the options for holding the conference post 2021, this included four years at one location or moving the conference around the US each year. Further work has been requested by the board however the option of moving the conference appeared to have the most support.

Wine, Chocolate and Money evening was held as the precursor to the IAFE Management Conference. All parties were sent a questionnaire to fill in and provide information on their financial habits and beliefs. There were 10 categories and you were taken through the characteristics of the category. For me, I was an accumulator with money (we were referred to as the bean counters of the groups). It was an interesting exercise in that you got to hear from the other groups and their relationship with money as well as the approach to making decisions involving money. We did also consume wine and chocolate throughout the evening.

Day 1 of Conference commenced with the first session on “Profit Centres and Revenue Streams”. This was presented by two fair executives that provided ideas and strategies on how they have grown income. There were a couple of areas that I found interesting;
• Merchandising – the US fairs do this well and see some incremental income from selling shirts and branded items. This is not new however they just seem to do it well and raise the profile of their event in doing so.
• Sea Containers – They were using for Props at their events after being painted in murals etc – during the year the containers store equipment and during event can be craned into position and act as theming, barriers etc.
• Cheerleading National Events – big in the US but growing in popularity in Australia
• Junk Jubilee – This is typically a boot sale but hugely popular in the US
• VIP Experiences – Whilst Australian shows do this now there were some good variations such as “Fair after Dark”- “Premium Party Experience”
• New Food Competitions – this is happening in Australia but some interesting combinations such as Charcoal Icecream and Cricket Pizza
• Goat Yoga – It’s a thing…

• Surf Parties – There are mobile surf pools that operate in the US and look great (no sharks)
• Parking – this is a big sell and income generator for the fairgrounds during events – they sell VIP parking packages (which I am sure most Australian events do if able)
• Fair grounds mentioned that they were moving away from Beer Festivals as there is too many popping up in the market place. Instead the fairs are putting in Craft Beer tents during their fair.
• LGBT day at the Show
• Another popular item and has seen significant growth in the US is “Wine in a Can”. There is a generation of RTD drinkers getting older and more sophisticated in their taste.

Leadership Transition was the second session in the day providing 3 different scenarios for succession planning the CEO.

1. Inhouse Candidate (Promotion)
2. External Candidate
3. Restructure

All three scenarios provided real life examples of how the fairs managed the transition, disruption and general staff morale.

At the closure of the first two sessions the conference delegates boarded buses and was taken to Newport Beach to go on a boat for a Whale watching expedition. At the completion of the excursion the delegates then made their way via buses to Orange County Fair Ground for a site tour and dinner.

The OC Fair & Event Centre is a 150-acre event venue in Costa Mesa, California. The site hosts over 150 events attracting 4.3 million visitors annually, and is home to the Orange County Fair, Centennial Farm, Costa Mesa Speedway, and Pacific Amphitheatre. The area of particular interest was the Centennial Farm – a city farm.

There was an area on the grounds dedicated to fulltime provision of the farm excursion for children. The grounds grow a number of crops, house a number of production animals and provide information of agriculture in general. Also a great way to provide information on potential career opportunities in the field.

Animals include Goats, Pigs, Oxen, Poultry, Rabbits and Sheep which are housed with information on the role in society. There is strong horticulture aspect to the grounds with many line items being grown and harvested.

The OC Fair provided dinner that evening which included all items served being from the farm – “Farm to Fork” if you like. This included the pig below which was BBQ for 12 hours and was very flavoursome.

Day 2 of the Conference was geared around “Leading and Scaling Change” and “Thought Leadership”. The premise was around the fact that the average person takes 3 years to fully adapt to major changes yet organisations make major changes every 18 months. Lunch included a working group discussion on various subjects – I chose to sit in the discussion on Communication Techniques which was interesting to see the various approaches from the organisations. There was nothing that I am sure we are not doing in Australia.

The room did several exercises over the afternoon session which involved Leadership and Change Management – “telling the story”. The Conference and Strategic Planning exercises were well worth the effort to travel from Australia and back in the week and the ASA involvement in the IAFE is truly appreciated.