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The Economic Club of Washington DC: Explorations on the Essence of a Successful Gathering

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There are some very interesting commonalities between the concept of “events” and the concept of “clubs”. Many successful events — recurring brands that have longevity and loyalty amongst its attendees — are successful because the audience feels a sense of belonging and community within the gathering. On the flip side of that coin, many successful clubs, the ones that garner great engagement and impact towards its members, are the ones that most successfully leverage events as the tool for bringing the club together to achieve its agendas. Just as the lines between events and television can blur in many cases, so too can be said in many cases of the lines between event brands and clubs. One perfect example, would be the Economic Club of Washington DC.

The Economic Club of Washington DC is far from being the inventors of its format. The Economic Club of New York has been around since 1907 and is highly influential in its own right, and its founding was inspired by the now significantly lesser known Economic Clubs of Boston, Springfield, and other cities across New England. The Economic Club of DC was formed in 1986 by a network of lawyers operating in the nation’s capital. As operators in a field that serve critical roles to both politics and business, these lawyers were in unique positions such as being counsels within The White House, chairmen of public policy institutions, and advisors to the biggest corporations in the country. These positions gave them insight as to the need for an Economic Club to be formed in Washington DC, to explore and foster the connections between capitalism and democracy, in the capital of a nation known for both.

Membership to the Economic Club of DC is highly exclusive. There are currently about 600 members to the club, and membership is what entitles one to attend the club’s dozen or so events each year. Next to the Economic Club of Detroit, the Economic Club of DC is arguably among the strongest Economic Clubs in the country today in terms of its convening power. Speakers have ranged from Warren Buffett to Timothy Geithner, from Michael Bloomberg to Donald Trump, from George Bush to Tony Blair. The conferences of the Economic Club serve as forums of discussion, in many issues not unlike those addressed by the conferences of the World Economic Forum. In fact it is unsurprising to find many overlaps in the memberships of both these organizations, people like Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt. In terms of the speeches, interviews, and programming of both these organizations, much of it are posted in their entirety on Youtube.

I have a theory that any event in the world is made up of 4 components: its audience, its content, its sponsors, and its format. If an event is able to turn its audience into a community, leverage its content as a means to gather that community, attain sponsorship to prove the relevance of that formed community to society, and format a uniquely valuable experience, then the event is a success and has great potential for longevity. I haven’t spent any time in the past thinking specifically about how to run a club, but learning from this case study of the Economic Club of DC, I sense that much of the essence of what makes a club successful relies on those same 4 components. Perhaps with further explorations in the future, we’ll eventually find that on some level, there’s no difference between the two at all.

See you at the next exploration!

Harry

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