Membership Event of the Year

Published: 26 Nov 2020
Last reviewed: 19 Jan 2021

We learn the secrets behind the award winning memcom membership event of the year - the RIA Innovation Conference - by the Railway Industry Association.

The Railway Industry Association (RIA) is the trade association for the UK-based suppliers to the railway industry. We have been established for over 140 years, with over 300 member companies representing a large proportion of the rail supply chain.

One of our aims, as an organisation, is “to build a bigger and better” RIA. We want to make sure that we are representing an even bigger proportion of the UK rail supply network and our flagship conference events are a key part in achieving this strategy. With our conferences we aim to continually improve the quality of the content, make the events inclusive, professional and reach a wider audience – each year, seeking to do even better than the last. To do this we’ve invested a significant amount in event branding, promotional activity and media partnerships.


Tell us about the award-winning event: RIA Innovation Conference 2019

The RIA Innovation Conference is a 2-day flagship event, taking place in different parts of the UK each year. The theme for the 2019 event was “M.A.D.E. in Britain”, which stands for Materials, Automation, Data and Energy. We wanted to tackle the key areas where, with the right approach to innovation, UK rail companies could develop competitive advantage post-Brexit.

One of the highlights of the Conference were the M.A.D.E sessions, where we allowed SMEs the opportunity to pitch their products and services under these main themes – an unmissable chance to get in front of decisionmakers from Transport for London, Network Rail, HS2, DfT and many more.


The M.A.D.E. sessions were excellent – I would like to see these again. Michael Wilkinson, Rail Segment Director, Schneider Electric


Another important highlight was the use of technology. We recognised that, in order to truly represent our members – and because it is an Innovation Conference - we needed to innovate too. For us, this meant embracing digital technologies and launching our first mobile event app. Thanks to the support of our App provider, Results Direct, we made the deadline of delivering the full app by the Conference, impressing our members considerably.

Having the mobile app allowed us to communicate with delegates before, during and after the event. We were able to send notifications to remind attendees about session times and locations (including links to venue maps/floorplans) – increasing the number of attendees in sessions and meaning fewer delegates got lost or missing important content, as often happens at larger events. An important use of the App was the networking tool, which allowed attendees to chat and book meetings to discuss their work too.


Very good. App was brilliant, really helped to track people down. Plenty of opportunities to interact in whichever way best suited. Phillip Wells, Regional Rail Director, AECOM


Looking ahead

As we all know, Coronavirus has also changed the world of events and forced organisers to migrate to digital/hybrid platforms and re-invent the formula. It has been a challenge, for sure, but also, an opportunity to explore new ways of doing things, and offer our members creative options for them to enjoy their favourite conferences.

This year we had our first fully virtual flagship event, the RIA Annual Conference 2020. Despite the challenges presented, because of the novelty of it, it was a great success and members highly appreciated the programme, the execution, and the event as a whole.


The conference was a fantastic success – well done to you and all the team!! John Chappell, Associate Partner, CPC and RIA SME Group Chair and Board Member


Next year, the RIA Innovation Conference will be a virtual event as well. Having learned from the first experience, we feel fully prepared to offer attendees an even better virtual experience, making sure all aspects of what makes the Innovation Conference an award-winning event are covered.

A very characteristic part of the Innovation Conference’s DNA is the exhibition area, which normally hosts around 40 exhibitors who present their innovations to potential partners/buyers and industry leaders. We are going to use the technology available to create a virtual exhibition hall, and still give members the possibility of showcasing their products and services as well as book meetings and invite people into their – virtual – stand.

Sponsorship is also an important – and crucial- aspect of the event, that has changed. The big question is: How do you create valuable virtual event sponsorship packages? When deciding what to offer sponsors, it is very important to think of what they want to achieve. In most cases, the audience is your most valuable asset and sponsors choose events based on the leads they can gather, the connections they can make, and the brand recognition they can build. These are all important reasons that need to be enhanced during a virtual event and considered when you choose what platform to use, and how you put together your conference programme.


Tips to consider when doing a virtual event

  • Spend time thinking about the functionality and the purpose of the event
  • Platforms are always changing, keep on top of it
  • Have a back-up plan!
  • Test, test and test again
  • Webinar fatigue is a real thing – think how to innovate and be different
  • Networking is the greatest challenge – look for the new tools available
  • Have longer Q&A sessions to get the viewers more involved
  • Think of your sponsors and partners: what do they want to achieve and how can your event platform help with that?



Whether virtual or online, flagship conferences offer trade associations a great opportunity to bring people together, engage with members and present your views to industry leaders. Getting things right and innovating to give your conference the ‘wow’ factor is essential, and we were delighted that our Innovation Conference in 2019 did just that, winning the memcom Conference of the Year Award.


About the memcom membership excellence awards

The memcom awards celebrate success in the fields of People & Leadership, Marketing & Communications, Digital, Engagement and Print. The 2021 awards are now open for nominations and more details can be found here.