“Every channel or platform available out there will be helpful for the exhibition industry. In the end, it is always being able to balance the needs of the industry and needs of the economy as a whole.”
AB. Over a course of three decades, you have developed a network of friends and allies in the association and MICE world. Please share with us your career journey, challenges that turn your dreams into reality so far. Who would you attribute your success to?
Octavio B. Peralta. If you ask any association leader today, nobody will tell you categorically that tracking the career path of an association professional has ever crossed their mind. So, I always believed that being an association executive is presented to you by fate. This is the case for me. When I first entered the association world 30 years ago, I had no clue whatsoever on what to expect and what to do. At that time, there was no school to go to and learn association management like other professions. But I was fortunate to have found a great resource in the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) where I subsequently became a member and learned the “ropes of the trade”, so to speak.
I have learned along the way that there is such a field of management as association management which is unique in itself since nowhere else can you find specific issues for associations only that are discussed and deliberated on as a body of knowledge such as, membership recruitment, retention and engagement, volunteer management, tax-exempt accounting and financial management, development of non-dues revenue, fundraising, among others. From my engagement with ASAE and involvement in its committees and task forces, I began to meet peers in the profession and built a network of contacts around the world. It also helped that my job as Deputy Secretary General and subsequently as Secretary General of my association then, the Association of Development Financing Institutions in Asia and the Pacific (ADFIAP), has afforded me to travel across the globe and has enabled me to establish relationships that I still have up to now and is still increasing.
I think my successful career as an association leader can be attributed to my focusing on what I call as the “3Rs” of association management, i.e., relevance, relationships, and resources (people, technology and funding).
AB. Better known as Bobby in the industry, and also known as ‘Association Man’, you have been instrumental in creating and sustaining multiple associations. Juggling multiple roles, what difficulties do you face while handling the tasks simultaneously?
Octavio B. Peralta. Having a global network in the association and MICE world has opened for me opportunities of creating, managing, and sustaining many associations, most of the time, even simultaneously. When I was ADFIAP Secretary General, I concurrently held the position of Secretary General of the World Federation of Development Financing Institutions (WFDFI) with members in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East and was the only one to hold the position for two 3-year terms. In November of 2013, this global experience and network have given me the wherewithal and the confidence to pursue my long-time dream of giving back to the profession I was destined to be and was able to establish the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE) and thereafter in March 2015, through my initiative, the Asia-Pacific Federation of Association Organizations (APFAO) got created.
While there were successes, there were challenges, too, like working in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual environment, relationship dynamics with different boards, planning events remotely and implementing them on-site, budget and financial management, communications, visibility and branding, etc. But all these challenges were surmountable because of the support and cooperation of members, the secretariat staff, peers in the industry, and similar-purposed organizations.
AB. How does your past experience helped you in building APFAO?
Octavio B. Peralta. APFAO was natural and pleasant consequence of the global network of peers and associations that I have built over these years. ASAE was very much a part of APFAO, providing it with a venue to meet with other “associations of associations.” Established in March 2015, APFAO’s founding members include PCAAE, the Associations Forum, the Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE) and the Korean Society of Association Executives (KSAE).
AB. What is your vision for APFAO? Can you share the latest developments of APFAO?
Octavio B. Peralta. APFAO’s vision is to be the hub of excellence in association leadership in the Asia-Pacific region. While APFAO is still an informal network of “associations of associations,” it is guided by its own constitution and office bearers. I currently serve as APFAO President. APFAO continue to collaborate with ASAE, the African Society of Association Executives (AfSAE) and the European Association of Association Executives (ESAE) as well as the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) and the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), among others.
AB. A mechanical engineer by education and a development banker by career, how did you land up here? Please tell us about what motivates you as an association executive.
Octavio B. Peralta. As mentioned, being an association leader is my destiny. My education as a mechanical engineer has given me a logical mind which is helpful in project management such as event planning. My training as a development banker has given me a caring heart, needed to advocate in the area of social, environmental and good governance (ESG) aspects of sustainable development. Having a WHAM (whole heart and mind) in everything you do brings forth inspiration, motivation, and a wellspring of ideas to do your work passionately as an association executive.
AB. What has been your biggest challenge in navigating today’s uncertainty? How have the fraternity come together to overcome challenges that you think was not possible without their efforts?
Octavio B. Peralta. The biggest challenge in today’s uncertainty, to me, is how to build a sustainable revenue stream that has been impacted adversely by the pandemic. One of the biggest generators of revenue by associations are registration fees from conferences, training programs, exhibitions, and other events which have been markedly reduced as they have been shifted from in-person to virtual events. Another source of revenue that has been unduly hit by the pandemic is sponsorship. Discussions and experience-sharing on these issues among other associations through forums such as IMS have been helpful to gain ideas and collaboration to meet these challenges.
AB. The exhibition industry has always been a good platform to plan ahead and provide a better platform for all trade. What are your thoughts on how best we can bring back business in the new normal?
Octavio B. Peralta. I have heard many times over from exhibitors that virtual, or even hybrid, exhibitions will be unable to replace the face-to-face version of it. I certainly agree with this observation because business transactions are built on trust and personal relationship between the buyer and the seller. Also, there is a limit and constraint in showing exhibited items virtually like a piece of machinery, for example. I think the government has a big role to play in leading the way for trade exhibitions to be back in business and industry and trade associations need to work together to bring their case to the government as well.
AB. Talking about the new approaches of learning and how the pandemic has changed the face of Exhibition industry? Do you think the industry would be shifting towards omnichannel business models to elevate a show’s value proposition post the pandemic?
Octavio B. Peralta. Every channel or platform available out there will be helpful for the exhibition industry. In the end, it is always being able to balance the needs of the industry and needs of the economy as a whole.
AB. On a personal note, we are curious to know what keeps you busy when you are away from work? Please tell us about your hobbies and other activities that you would love to do at home.
Octavio B. Peralta. Work has been an integral part of my life as an association leader. Before the pandemic, there was a clear-cut allocation of time for work, family and “me-time.” Weekends are bonding time for me with the family, including babysitting duties for my 3-year old granddaughter. Saturday is dining out with the family and date time with my wife to see a movie. Sunday is visiting friends and relatives or they visit us in our home. My “me time” is doing light weight workouts, reading books on personal success stories, doing crosswords, writing short articles on association management and governance in my weekly column for a local newspaper and posting blogs in my “Association Man” blogsite. The pandemic however has altered all these activities as mobility and meeting family and friends have been restricted. The work from home environment has been a balancing act between work and family bonding. But I still keep my date time with my wife watching videos at home on Saturday nights and my “me-time” interspersed during the day.
AB. What would be the one piece of advice you’d pass on to the industry?
Octavio B. Peralta. For associations, I would say to stick and to focus on their purpose because with purpose, they will remain relevant; if they are relevant, they will have loyal members; and if they have supportive members, they have the opportunity to develop services and generate revenues; and so on. For the events industry, I would say to stick to what they are good at, showcase more content and solutions, organize more impactful and experiential events, as well as create more opportunities for engagement and networking.