Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Some Ideas for Associations to Generate Revenue

Every time I bring up the fact that there are too many events in the industry and that they tend to overlap, I am asked the same question: "How do you suppose we can cover our expenses if we don't raise money through events?"

Since I don't like to be the easy critic who doesn't contribute with any solutions, I have compiled some activities that associations could engage in to raise the visibility of the industry, instead of organizing events (which cost a lot of money for the organizers and participants, especially in an environment with limited willing sponsors).
  • Special Advertising Section in business magazines. Associations can buy 4 or 8-page sections and sell advertising to its members. The material could be written by Common Sense Advisory. Good publications would be the likes of BusinessWeek, The Economist, Time Magazine, Fortune, just to name a few. This activity meets the goal or providing visibility for the industry and raising money (buy the space for X and sell it for 2X).
  • Online fundraising is the wave of the future. As the “wired” generation matures, online may become the dominant form of fundraising. Associations should all have a "Donate Now" button on their sites.
  • Membership drives. Dues are the main source of revenue of any association. By increasing the number of members through campaigns and direct sales associations can boost revenues. Instead of Managing Directors, associations should focus on hiring Sales Directors.
  • Publications that can be sold in bulk to member companies with basic information about the industry. A "Localization 101" book would come in handy in the sales process. If an association had such a book available, I would buy 200 today as a Christmas gift.
  • Government grants are often offered at federal, state or local level to non-profit associations. The American Association of Grant Professionals has links to professional grant writers. I don't know if any grants exist, but I have not searched for them either. I would look for grants in the U.S., E.U. institutions, and maybe Ireland.
  • Gala dinners or concerts. Organizing fundraising events around other industry events is cheaper and requires less resources than organizing a conference. A night at the opera, a black tie dinner at a castle or museum, or special tickets for a rock concert can do wonders.
  • Celebrity endorsement. I know it is hard to find someone like Angelina Jolie who is interested in the promotion of translation and localization companies. But if the industry aligns itself with initiatives like Translators without Borders, we might get someone to be the face of the language business. This is a good example of initiative that could be embraced by all the industry associations together.
  • Viral marketing. Associations could get together to fund a generic 3 or 4 minute "Localization in Plain Language" video, similar to Twitter in Plain English. A video like this could go viral very easily and would cost about  $15,000. This is a typical cost that is too expensive for an individual company to bear, but an association could easily facilitate.
  • Smart Public Relations is probably the most powerful tool associations have to promote the industry. Unfortunately, good public relations is something that takes time and costs money. But it is also the best way to spend money. In my humble opinion, next time associations get together, they should only talk about Public Relations. They could find two or three core messages that everybody (individual translators, translation companies, tools companies, associations) agrees on and pool their resources to promote those messages in local, regional, and global markets. PR is what is going to put us in magazines, on the radio, and on TV.
I am sure there are more initiatives that can be thought of and I am happy to continue thinking about them, but I don't want to come to a discussion where organizing conferences is the only idea or solution.

I understand that nonprofit organizations have limited resources (money, staff, technology, time) with which to raise money, but I want to make sure that the effort  put into fundraising has the highest return on investment. What I ask myself is: Are we sure that the event that just raised $10,000 was the best use of our staff time and effort? We need to calculate the direct and indirect costs of an event and determine the real net income generated. Are there better, more effective ways to raise more money for less cost and effort? I believe we need to take a hard look at how we are raising money (or wasting money) and come up with better alternatives to achieve our goals.

Finally, I need to acknowledge the efforts of the leaders of the different industry associations. They are all volunteers and contribute to the industry while still running their own businesses and taking care of their personal lives. All of this in exchange for criticism and bad manners from people like me.  For you, my gratitude and admiration (but that doesn't mean that I agree with you!)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

About Associations and Events in the Translation Industy

It's that time of the year when we have to renew memberships in associations and decide where we are going to spend our hard-earned dollars, euros, and yens.

I am particularly fond of industry events. Over the years, I have developed friends, won clients, learned a lot (and I have even met my wife at one of these events). I like the camaraderie and the intercultural aspect of events associated with translation and localization, and I regret having to decline so many invitations every year. And this is what brings me to this blog post: There are too many events.

The tipping point for me was the announcement by GALA of their next conference in Prague.

Before I expand on why I think that GALA is making a huge mistake in organizing this event, let me lay out how I view the landscape and how I think it should work. First, when I talk about associations and events, this is what I mean.
  • Associations. The role of associations is to bring together people with common interests to achieve common goals. The assumption is that the group is more powerful than the individual members. Associations can be local, regional, or global, and they assemble individuals, companies or even other associations. Associations elect directors to work on behalf of the individual members and generaly meet once a year.
  • Industry Events are gatherings of professionals or organizations to discuss, promote, educate, and sell products and services related to an industry.
 Now, a little bit about the current landscape:
  • LISA and GALA are global associations that try to attract both buyers of language services and LSPs. GALA was originally founded by LSPs who were members of LISA and were not happy with the treatment they were getting there.
  • ATA-TCD (U.S.), ACCTI (Canada), ELIA (Europe) are examples of regional associations of LSPs. Their goal is to address issues related to doing business in a certain geographic region and to develop the skills of the employees of its members. Some of these associations are involved with standards. 
  • EUATC is the European Union of Associations of Translation Companies and it is an umbrella organization for national associations of translation companies throughout Europe. Its main focus is on quality standards.
  • ALC (U.S.), ATC (U.K.), ATA (Netherlands), FEDERCENTRI (Italy) are but a few of the many local country associations of translation companies. They address issues related to labor regulations, taxation, professional development, and more day-to-day issues related to running a translation company in a specific geography.
  • UNICODE and TAUS are special interest associations addressing specific technology issues like internationalization and translation automation.
  • Localization Institute and IMTT are examples of for-profit event organizers that focus on the translation and localization industry. 
  • ATA (U.S.), TAC (China), Abrates (Brazil) are some of the local professional translator associations that also accept corporate members.
What do these organizations have in common? They all organize events. They all want my money as a member, a sponsor or a participant. Many of them overlap.

Are they all legitimate? I am sure they are. Are they all good? Some are better than others. Do they do what they are supposed to do? Barely.

Here is where I would like to see improvement and change:
  1. LISA should focus on what it stands for: Standards. Unfortunately we see very little movement in that area. The association focuses more on events than on enforcing true interoperability among translation memories, which is a huge demand in the industry.
  2. Localization World is a great event, but it suffers from its own success. LSPs complain that there are not enough buyers attending. The organizers should put in place a true sales organization and attract a larger number of buyers to their events with incentives and promotions.
  3. EUATC and ELIA should focus on lobbying European organizations on behalf of their members. They should work together, as their charters are similar, though their constituencies are different (EUATC gathers associations, ELIA gathers companies).
So where is my beef with GALA and its event?

As I wrote in a Global Watchtower entry in July 2008, "one of the original goals of GALA was not to organize events, but to co-locate them with other associations. That was what made GALA unique. It wanted to promote the industry, it wanted to be an influencer, it wanted to collaborate. Now, it wants to make money."

You may recall GALA founder Hans Fenstermacher talking about a big P.R. effort for the industry, something along the lines of the Got Milk campaign which was hugely successful in increasing the consumption of milk. Where is that spirit? Where is that drive? Is the only way to promote the industry to organize another event?

As I wrote back in 2008 in that same blog post: "The bottom line is that fragmentation creates a problem of choice for members. But what’s worse, it dilutes resources that could be spent towards promoting the business of language or growing the proverbial pie. Instead, associations lose sight of their original goals, non-profits begin to act like for-profit businesses, and bureaucracies develop. The result? Everyone ends up spending more money to maintain countless organizations than in providing benefits for disoriented members who are now unsure which associations offer the best value."

GALA claims that their first event in Cancun was a big success with 86% positive reviews about the location and content. I wasn't there, but some attendees told me that they were underwhelmed. Optimists say that there were 100 people attending including spouses, pessimists say around 70, including 20+ speakers. I would like to see what the 14% had to say about the event. And I would like to see the effort and money placed in hiring a General Manager and organizing another small event go into what the industry really needs: Visibility!

Now my full disclosures: I am a member of the Board of Directors of ELIA, I have participated on the Board of Advisors of Localization World, my company is sponsoring the IMTT event "Think Latin America," my company just rejoined GALA as a member. I have voiced these concerns in person to almost all the GALA Board members.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Video of My Presentation in Bangkok

Here is a video of my presentation in Bangkok. If you missed the presentation at the ATA in New York, you will see that this one is very similar. The video lasts 36 minutes.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Localization and Translation Thailand 2009: A Great Event!

Sometimes I think that my job is participating in translation and localization events. Although I really enjoy the networking and the content, I must confess that there are too many and several of them just copy each other (but this is the topic of a future posting).

But every once in a while, in the most unexpected places, even a veteran like me can be surprised and re-energized by the contents of an event. For me, 2009 was the year of the small and unpretentious events culminating with Localization and Translation Thailand last week in Bangkok.

In the same line as the 6th Language and Technology Conference, in Córdoba (Argentina), and the ELIA Networking Days, in Vienna, the Thai event attracted fewer than 100 people, which made it a perfect venue for in-depth conversations, real networking, and the development of excellent business opportunities.

The highlights of the event were the keynote presentation by Andrew Rufener, the COO of Lexis Nexis Univentio, and the panel on new developments in localization R&D.

Andrew Rufener reported on his experience in implementing large scale machine translation in patent information services. A real case study by a group that thoroughly evaluated seven MT solutions and ended up selecting Asia Online's solution.

Philip Köhn, from the University of Edinburgh, showed some data on the performance of "monolingual translators" post-editing MT output compared to generic human translation. The concept of a monolingual translator is revolutionary enough, but the fact that industry domain experts perform better than professional translators in post editing tasks was viewed as heresy by the weaker souls in the audience.

My friend Hans Fenstermacher, representing GALA and, made a compelling presentation about the challenges that localization has to face because of the way content is developed and handled.

Dion Wiggins, the master of cerimonies and the brains behind the whole event, unveiled some of the accomplishments of Asia Online's new technology and how the world will view language technology differently in the near future.

Finally, I really enjoyed Biraj Rath's presentation about the untapped opportunities about the Indian market. I was amazed at how much I didn't know about India.

All in all, an outstanding event that exceeded all my expectations. For 2010, I am looking forward to Think Latin America in Búzios, near my hometown of Rio de Janeiro, and to ELIA's Networking Days in Istanbul. Both events will be in April and I am really impressed with the line up of speakers and topics (full disclosure: I am helping both events with their programs).

And if you want to follow the Twitter activity of several of the participants with quotes and comments from the speakers and panelists, click here.