Dear members of the growing Conference of Defence Associations community,
Already, a year has passed since I joined the Conference of Defence Associations Institute. It has been quite a ride. In a good way. Before I dive into all the things I’m excited to share with you today, I’d like to start off by thanking everyone on the team for the outstanding work, and our board members who were so closely engaged in our recent successes. Many volunteers also chipped in and together we’re starting to envision how far we can take this organization, as we build on our accomplishments last year and leverage the community we have brought together so that we can grow the momentum into a truly national movement in the year ahead.
The feedback we’ve received from you, our community members, over the past year has been stellar. The reports we put out got excellent traction and readership. Attendance was up at every single one of our main events, and we even put on the largest gathering in the Conference of Defence Associations’ 88-year history, the All Five Eyes On 5G webinar which had 1,100 registered guests from 28 different nations.
With regard to the 2019 Vimy Gala year, our award laureate Richard Fadden’s speech created a powerful ripple effect in the news and the defence & security sector, and in the words of one of the sponsors in attendance, the Gala continued to be “the most distinguished and classy event one can attend in Ottawa.” Our other flagship event, the Ottawa Conference, on top of garnering 6x more media coverage than last year, was also a digital success long before it actually took place, generating nearly 1,000,000 impressions on Twitter in the lead-up. On site, the Ottawa Conference was highly attended (registrations were up 33% from last year), and it brought together high-profile speakers including three and four star generals & admirals, and undersecretaries of state and defense, and other senior public servants from the USA, China, UK, France, and Latvia, as well as thought leaders from three of the most highly respected international security think tanks in Washington DC.
…And wait till you see what we have lined up for your next year… our first confirmed guests are already booked and we’re working towards taking the show up to a whole new level.
Given the pandemic, we have of course begun contingency planning around our two flagship events, and can confirm that while the format and timing may vary if necessary, we do not intend to cancel them altogether. In fact, this summer our Vimy Award selection committee, which includes the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Chief of Defence Staff, and the Deputy Minister of Defence is scheduled to meet and deliberate. (Nominations are due end of July.)
METRICS, METRICS, METRICS
One of the first things i did on the job (day 2, actually) was to identify base metrics on web presence and social media for the organization. We proceeded to install a variety of tracking widgets so that we could measure our impact and reach over time. This paid off, because knowing more about the audience allowed us to generate better interactive content that both attracted many new viewers, while also garnering more engagement from existing viewers. As a result, newsletters are up 2,500 subscribers to 7,000, our Twitter community grew by 53% (from 3,600 to 5,500), our web page visits doubled to approximately 4,000 per month; our number of LinkedIn followers tripled (to nearly 1,000), and most notably, our views on Twitter skyrocketed by a factor of 8x to 112,000 monthly while direct interactions grew by a factor of 18x to over 1,000 per month at their peak. Now the bar is high for what growth will look like next year, but hey, we’ve got some great content forthcoming…
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Keep in mind though, our two flagship events are just the tip of the iceberg, with regard to what actually has been operating behind the scenes. We are rebuilding the very foundations of what it means to have a community of academics, industry, policy-makers, and practitioners engaged in our overarching goal to elevate the conversation happening in Canada about security, defence, and foreign policy, through events, media engagement, and evidence-based research & analysis.
When I wrote up some introductory remarks after only a few months on the job last year in this format, I explained that my philosophy would be to develop a higher impact / lower cost approach that is volunteer-driven (i.e. you can get involved… ask us) and strategically focused. That meant putting a lot of energy on our core programming and flagship events and trimming down the quantity of outputs so that we could put our energy on developing new research initiatives that would be a bit slower in production, but deeper in significance. Our partnerships with the Canadian Defense & Security Network, the Defence Foresight Group, University of Ottawa, and Carleton University are growing our longer-term research programming capacity, which will be focused on four key target areas in emerging technologies, procurement, recruitment & retention in the CAF, and Canada’s defence arrangements. We’ve started to accelerate these outputs and in the coming year you can expect to hear more from us, and on a more regular battle rhythm.
Last year, we brought in seven new corporate partners for a total of nine; but more importantly, we’ve developed an approach in engaging the business sector that is much more productive than merely having transactions involving logo visibility and tickets to the show… Our partners are engaged in visioning and improving the events we put on. They help us understanding industry perspectives into national security and have engaged through our events with academia and government in conversations regarding the latest tech solutions to current security gaps.
Furthermore, through their global networks they’ve helped us reach out to some great internationals speakers so that we could present them to you at the Ottawa Conference. Thanks to our partners, we’re keeping our finger on the pulse of the business community and making sure that we are relevant and timely to a wide set of stakeholders in many different economic sectors which have national security on their minds. Among our many corporate partners, there are companies in both commercial and industrial sectors including banking, finance & insurance, technology, military materiel, consulting, human resources management, engineering, and apparel. It is a demonstration that national security should be the concern of all, not just the traditional defence sector.
WHAT’S NEW, AND WHO’S NEW
We’ve hired 2 new staff in January who are taking on the research and communications aspect of the organization, which has given life and momentum to our four newly launched research clusters mentioned above. They are also playing a role in leveraging the Conference of Defence Associations’ member associations so that our events can be held from coast to coast, and so that the experts and practitioners who are affiliated to them are invited to contribute to our larger research and education mandate. Furthermore, beginning in mid-august, we will be hosting a full-time CAF liaison officer who will support or work and outreach initiatives, while also coordinating with the DND.
Beyond diversifying our revenue streams, and enhancing how we engage our base, we also diversified our audience in the past year. For example, during the Ottawa Conference, we were privileged to have many new faces in the room, from Global Affairs Canada, the Treasury Board, Public Safety, Oceans & Fisheries, the Library of Parliament, Centre for Cyber Security, ISED, NRC, DRDC, CSE, and NSIRA. We’ve also since partnered up with CSIS to expand our approach national security in a larger sense. As such, we’ve used the past year to grow our community not only in size, but also in depth.
One way we are looking at the future is with our Student Engagement Programme, through which we are offering many new opportunities for students to participate in our events, publish their work, gain work experience, and generate mentorship opportunities. For example, last year, we invested $15,000 in subsidies and travel stipends so that students could attend the Ottawa Conference and our Graduate Student Conference (in cooperation with Balsillie School & RCMI). The top presenters at the Graduate Conference were also granted the opportunity to publish their work in our peer-reviewed Vimy Papers series. And finally, we hosted paid interns and hired students to serve as rapporteurs at our events, thereby given great job opportunities for young and dynamic individuals to engage meaningfully in the defence and security sector, while also developing their networks, knowledge of the field, and practical skill sets.
To conclude, let me tell you about where we’re heading in the coming year. The vision for the organization is to build a national dialogue on defence and security that goes beyond the “insider’s circle” – through events being hosted in every region of Canada and a growing media presence set to double in the next year (having already more than doubled last year). We want the Conference of Defence Associations Institute to serve as a conduit by which security and defence professionals share a platform upon which to communicate their expertise and experience with a community of interested consumers of this information that reaches further and deeper into the Canadian population, day by day.
This, we will do thanks to new partnerships in new industries, a newly enhanced and formalized relationship with the CAF/DND that will provide us with leverage and means to engage the CDA’s 40 member associations across the country, and an international network of partners that reaches from Canberra and Auckland to Pearl Harbor and Washington DC, London, Paris, Berlin, and Brussels. We’ll be engaging internationally so that what we produce based here in Ottawa, is the coming together of something larger than ourselves and open on the world. As our recent webinars on COVID-19, Five Eyes / 5G, and Quantum Supremacy recently showed, our content is relevant not only here, but transnationally, and our audience has indeed become global in reach with thousands of viewers joining us from every corner of the globe.
We believe Canada as a nation should do more in engaging ourselves and leveraging ourselves globally towards causes and ideals that are larger than just ourselves.
So in that sense, we have been practicing what we preach.
Thanks Everyone for you support, and make sure to donate if you like what we’re up to and want us to keep at it!
Youri Cormier, Executive Director