inbound marketing

An Open Letter From A Decision-Maker Attendee To A Show Organizer

To open the New Year, I am thrilled to get Michelle Bruno’s perspective on the experience of a decision-maker attendee. She’s a good friend and straight talker, so with pleasure, here’s her open letter to all of us:


Dear Show Organizer:


You’ve convinced me to register.


When I Googled your event website, it was great that you optimized your content to make it easy for me to find you.


But I had to read a lot of irrelevant information before finding out quickly what was in it for me and there was no phone number to call to speak with a human. Nevertheless, I figured it out for myself and signed up anyway.


When I registered, you made no attempt to understand who I was and what I wanted through surveys or session choices. But since you had already hooked me, I went with the flow.


I don’t have time for serendipity.


When I go to your event, I feel as if I’ve become one of the hundreds or thousands of other attendees who took the bait and suddenly I’m on my own.


I’m really busy. Taking time away from the office is difficult for me to justify. Yet, no one reaches out to answer my obvious questions—Who should I meet? What companies should I visit? What should I learn? There are no attempts to help me get the most out of the event in the least amount of time.


You track my every move with technology, but you don’t do anything with the information other than feed it into your marketing machine with the intent to lure me back next year.


If I’m really interested in a session, you make me work for the information—take notes, snap photos of slides with my smartphone, go to a website to get a copy of the presentation. Why don’t you capture the information for me and just send it to me automatically?


After the event, show me you know me.


I understand that maybe it’s hard to meet with me during the event—there are only so many of your staff and just three days. But after the event, you’ve got a whole year to continue our relationship.


Stop sending me information for the following year as if we’ve never interacted. You have data on me now. You know what I’m interested in. Let’s start there.


Change your relationship with me from transactional to (long term) relational. Pick up the phone and/or meet with me. I’ll know that you’re truly interested in addressing my needs and I’ll likely attend your event again.


Make it really easy for me to come back the following year with my team members. A good experience for me is worth sharing.


From this point on, don’t only contact me when you want to sell me.  Remember what I want and send me good ideas and information year round.


In case I haven’t made it clear, here’s what I’m trying to say.


I’m a human, not a data point. Get to know me and deliver a personalized experience to me all year round. Put yourself in my shoes and let’s get to know each other.




Your Most Loyal Decision-Maker Attendee (maybe).




As a former supplier and conference planner/trade show manager, Michelle sees the technology and evolution of the live-event industry through a unique lens. She chronicles change through articles in event-industry publications, event-tech company blogs and at Reach Michelle at


Your Event Marketing. Is it Charming, Creepy, or Clueless?

Like many others, as a consumer I’ve come to pay attention to my email inbox in terms of what attracts me to open a message versus ignore/delete it. I’ve also begun to notice those messages that are too familiar in their tone or are too presumptuous in the way they direct me to take some action when it’s the first time I’ve ever heard from them.


After some observation and reflection, I have come to classify email messages into three categories:


  • Charming- These messages successfully identify needs, send the right message at the right time, are well targeted, and anticipate ‘move the needle’ moments in ways that are likely to prompt a positive response and ‘buying’ action;


  • Creepy- These intrusive, highly “personal” communications purport to know the score of your daughter’s soccer game and the team’s season record. They also tend to present their “sell” messages too early in the interaction[s] and are pushy and out of step in terms of their relationship with you and your organization;


  • Clueless- These messages are not personalized, or worse, they may reference actions – like a purchase – that you have never taken. They might make incorrect gender assumptions or otherwise struggle with how to address someone when gender is not known. Or they send messages with the missing/wrong job titles, send them to individuals who no longer are employed or perhaps might even be deceased. Their mistakes illustrate how little has been spent on the quality of their lists and the completeness and accuracy of their data.


Unfortunately, in our age of ‘Analyze Everything’ the availability of data and the propensity to try to leverage it does not ensure that the right actions are taken. Far too many organizations do the wrong things with the data they have, resulting in creepy pseudo-personalization or embarrassing, clueless moments. Neither result benefits the sender of those messages.


I wonder if this also applies to us in the event world.  What does this mean for you?


If your communications are ‘charming’, then you are in the top tier of organizations with messages that attract responses. You’ll have no trouble getting your prospects to volunteer information in ways that can serve both of you better. Your communications have a tone, familiarity – and timing – that invites positive response.


If your messages are creepy or clueless, you’ll also see a response. But it will be in the number of “unsubscribes” that you get. And it will be in your best interest to figure out why or end up with an unengaged database….

Why I’m So Sick of the Quick-Fix Approach to Everything!

Are you sick of hearing that technology or some silver bullet is going to turn your event around? Sure there are some tools and processes which will make your event more efficient and easier, but none will fix an event which is poorly conceived, researched and not wanted by your prospective audience.


I launched my company, three years before the stock market crashed in 2008. When I was just getting started, I was consumed with the effort to keep my business alive. I started my business knowing there were no snappy techniques or technology to help mesurvive the ‘Death Valley’ of the recession that followed. Acquiring and securing business required my adherence to the unassailable basics of how to turn around events that were suffering and launch new ones in tough conditions. Gimmicks would not get the job done.


An  article I read and quickly followed was authored by Tom Peters, an expert on business management best practices and excellence. This formed the foundation of my philosophy for making my events successful and profitable. Here are the key excerpts on how to succeed in times of adversity, with several of my own thoughts mixed in:


  1. You work harder.
  2. You dig deep, deeper, deepest – and always bring a good attitude to work.
  3. You take care of your physical, mental, and emotional state.
  4. You work the phones, keeping in touch with everyone.
  5. You simplify.
  6. You sweat the details like you never have done before.
  7. You do your homework on how to a) make the buy-sell connection, b) know what your customers want, and c) make money doing it.
  8. You don’t care about what the competition is doing.


If your philosophy about how to create a valuable event is wrong, there’s no amount of technology that is going to save you.  If it is well thought out, the above list may help you fulfill its potential.

BTW, I am not anti-technology. But I am saying that while technology may accelerate a good plan, it won’t help poorly-conceived or unwanted events.



Six Factors That Will Kill Your Event

During my time in the events business I’ve seen a fair number of successful events, as well as witnessed some failures. In my experience, there are some key factors that, in some combination, will guarantee the failure of your event. Here’s what I believe are the critical mistakes that event organizers make.


1) Taking attendees for granted

This can mean that you don’t seek their feedback or, even worse, if you do solicit it, you fail to take any action in response. If you are not paying attention to your customers you are also not likely to be paying close attention to the direction your market is heading in either. You are likely not that attentive to the attendees’ onsite experience as long as you succeed in getting them onto the exhibit floor. And you have probably never picked up the phone and spoken to an attendee with the intent of engaging with them vs. responding to a problem that they bring to your attention.

This is the ‘build it and they will come’ factor.


2) Taking exhibitors for granted

You fail to go the extra mile for exhibitors when something is needed onsite or you ignore them until it’s time to rebook. You raise prices without good supporting reasons. You have no idea what creates the ROI that will attract exhibitors to return to your event. You don’t have personal connections with any of CMO’s or VP’s of Marketing that make the decisions about coming to your event.

This is the ‘my show is more important than you’ factor.


3) Hiring the wrong people

I’ve hired many people and the best were those with a “can do”, rather than “9-5” attitude – regardless of their skill or experience level. These are the staff members who will dig in when things are hard and will find the answer when it’s not obvious. The good ones are those who allow you to sleep at night because you know they have your back. In contrast, the wrong people are ‘the throw you under the bus’, the ‘it’s not my job’, or ‘it’s not possible’ people. They will fold under pressure and disappear when their effort is needed.

This is the ‘not my problem’ factor.


4) Not doing your homework

When doing your annual forecasts, do you understand the market conditions or the state of the competition? Are you able to react when something changes or are you unaware of what is really going on?  Do you know the strengths and weakness of your show and are you in a position to do anything about them?

This is the ‘what me, worry?’ factor


5) Not building and tapping into your network

Most people only tap into their network when they need something, often then finding that the network is not extensive enough to address what’s needed. There is enough expertise in this business such that you should be able to find expertise within or outside of your network and gain assistance quickly. If this is not the case, get out of the office and meet some people not just sit behind the computer.

This is the ’Me Myself and I’ factor


6) Not taking care of your database

Do you know what the bounce rate of your attendee base is? The opt out rate? Have you segmented your database so that you can easily send out targeted messaging to your top personas? If the answer to any one of these questions is “no”, then you have some back office work to do. If you don’t understand the numbers, or the content of one of your prized assets, your event will suffer.

This is the ‘my tools don’t need cleaning’ factor.


Having any one of these factors will damage your event, but two or more in combination will eventually kill it. Beware and act so that your event does not become one of the victims….

The Four “Forks in the Road” of an Event

Recently a client asked how I would describe the lifecycle of an event. The question prompted me to ruminate that an event involves decisions that must be made at various stages, with its ongoing viability governed by those decisions.
What are those stages?


1) Do you launch the event?

You’ve got an idea and think it could make a good event, one that can make money. Do you move forward?


Yes, if you have the right database, the financial viability in terms of prospective exhibitors/sponsors, content that can fill an agenda, and support from experts whose knowledge can help ensure that your event’s theme and messaging provide the right – as in audience attracting – perspective on the topic. Additionally, you’ve done the due diligence of testing your proposition with an ‘event resume’ to determine whether attendees/visitors will come. Lastly, you’re able to assign execution to someone who can manage the many challenges involved with launching an event. You are aiming high but could afford to break even financially.

No, if you have not done your homework. It may be that you’ve skimped on the requisite testing and are unable to capture the essence of the event – and who will benefit – on a single sheet of paper. Or you have not analyzed your database such that you can distinguish the ‘buyers’ from the ‘sellers.’ In fact, you may not have figured out the buy-sell relationship of the event which means you could lose a lot of money

For more reference on launching an event, check out this past article: Launching New Events Without Losing Your Shirt



2) Do you continue the event?

You’ve launched the event and it went reasonably well. At least, you didn’t lose your shirt. Do you continue on?


Yes, if you know how to identify and repeat what went well and eliminate/improve what didn’t. You can see areas where you could expand your offering (and perhaps charging more) and improve the bottom line. You have people who’ve expressed interest in future participation and exhibitors who are enthused to sign up.

No,  if the opportunity cost (relative to other things in which you could invest your time) proved to be negative and you don’t see that changing. Or if you anticipate continued or even greater struggles, perhaps from competitors who are introducing alternatives that would threaten your event. Another signal is wavering commitment from your Top 5 sponsors/exhibitors. Lastly, if the profits weren’t there and you cannot forecast that the situation will improve so that it matches the original three-year projection that prompted you to pursue the event.

An article on competitors moving in on your space: Stop New Agile Competitors From ‘Eating Your Lunch’




3) Do you enhance it?

At this point your event has been around for some years and is earning nicely, no longer a fledgling novice in the market. Perhaps, it’s not the top show, but it’s doing well.  Should you “double down” and commit more effort or be content to let it cruise on as it has?


Yes, make the commitment if you can see the potential for the event to become the industry leader, were it supported with investments in cutting edge content or an evolution/expansion into a new area. You may find validation of that decision in expanded commitments from existing sponsors that could put you over the top.

No, if your sense is that the event is “good enough” – perhaps as good as it will be. You may choose to treat it as a ‘cash cow’ until the market changes, at which point you will likely need to start from scratch. Or your competition is upping their efforts and you lack the will or the capital to do battle. Or perhaps you believe that your will and capital are best committed to other events with better returns on your investment. This might well be the point at which a sale of the event is a wise decision, particularly if the financials are solid and the forecast is good.


Some past article with perspective on enhancing your event:

How To Make Event Profits When Creativity Is Hard To Find- The Blue Ocean Way,

How To Create Profit in Tired Events



4) Do you kill it?

It’s a hard thing to do, particularly when your event has been around awhile. But sometimes the old must make way for the new. Do you end the show?


Yes, if you’ve lost momentum and, though different tactics have been tried, your event’s excitement and profitability are declining. It’s become harder to run the show every year and your important customers are moving on to other things.

No, if something or someone can refresh your event in ways that bring you renewed optimism with new topics, sponsors, or a twist on running the event(see item 3 above)


These ‘forks in the road’ represent the four most important decisions you will have to make during the life of your events. Make the right decisions, and profitability and success are yours. But choose otherwise and misery and lost opportunities could be your fate.


Past articles on killing your event: To Cancel Or Not Cancel Your Struggling Event: That is the Question


Choose wisely…

A Neat Trick to Ensure You’re On Top of Your Market

Pick up the phone and make 10 calls monthly to your customers. Or preferably, visit them in their offices.

That’s it.

And do this consistently – every month – not just occasionally.


I am guessing that, if you are a top executive, you sometimes become so focused on the running of your team, group, or organization, that the result is an inward focus. Likely this is not your intention, but it does indeed happen.

Meeting with your customers will help change the focus from the “how” of your current activities to the “what” of future ones. Are you trying to understand the things about which the customers of your customers care?

When I worked on Macworld I found myself somewhat detached from   customers until I started to attend local Boston area user group meetings. There I found what Apple users were doing and how Macworld had helped them become more creative, to build their businesses, etc. These visits were far more eye opening than were the evenings I spent analyzing spreadsheets or project charts.


How can you achieve the same?
Speaking with 10 customers monthly is not difficult, if there’s a commitment to do so.  In-person visits may not be feasible for each, but don’t rule such visits out. If it is important to know what is going on beyond your doors and outside your event dates, you must find the time. And what’s more, you should challenge your staff to do so as well.

After approximately three months of consistently connecting with customers, your worldview may very well change. And that may well put you ahead of competitors who ignore such sage advice.


Are you up for the challenge?

The Grit That’s Needed When Things Are Unknown

The recent completion of the launch of a client’s new event has given me the opportunity to reflect a bit.  As with any new project, there was plenty of uncertainty that required educated guesses, as supported by the best possible research done prior to the launch.


The Launch
At first, there’s the excitement of the planning and scheduling, together with the sobering commitments in terms of hotel contracts, staff hires, etc. Then, you begin to execute the first parts of the plan.  At this point – before the ‘rubber hits the road’ – everyone’s on board.

The “Rubber Hits The Road”

But inevitably things begin to slow down. Perhaps there’s a missed milestone or two that prompts your staff to look to you for a smile and encouraging word that will keep the momentum going. The conference program is completed and you begin the marketing effort. In my case, that took place in the darkness of winter.
At some point, doubts emerge when it becomes clear that you’re not going to hit your stretch goal. You wonder whether you’ll even hit the key point of demarcation that distinguishes a good event from a bad one.  It’s not the first time you’ve seen how the sausage is made, but familiarity and experience do not make it a comfortable situation.


What to Do Now?

You trust yourself. After all you did the research and the research indicated that you would be successful. It projected that you could attract an audience, even in a crowded field, and make some money. You have complemented that research by hiring an experienced staff that’s better at their jobs than you.  You trust them and yourself, given your 20+ years of addressing challenges, regardless of the situation.

You have to stay the course with your plan, but also be attentive to whether things really are not working.  If so, you need to be smart enough to make the right adjustments in the right places.

As the leader, you must smile in public, although that does not prevent you from venting in private. You offer reassurance to everyone that success is achievable.  And you offer the necessary energy to ensure that everyone continues to make their best efforts in pursuit of that success.

In times of distress, I return to the famous Tom Peters blog about the recession of 2008. It’s as applicable as how to behave when things with an event as it was to surviving a major economic downturn.  I encourage you to read it.

Just remember: never give up.


The Outcome

Oh, by the way – the event went great!


5 Key Things You Must Have to Reach an Event Attendance Goal

I’ve been involved in a couple of recent projects in which acquiring attendees have been harder than usual. Instead of ruminating about the market conditions or the economy as contributing factors, I thought I might recap the main ingredients in my ‘recipe’ for a plan for hitting an attendance target. Doing so has helped me refocus my efforts, and acted as a benchmark in which to measure my activities.

It might also be of interest for you as well, so here are the things I believe you must have to hit an attendance target:


1) An Event Resume: This one pager describes the event in detail, including who should attend and why. The resume should be specific to each event as it’s the cornerstone for the content, marketing and sponsor/attendee sales. I’ve provided an example here.

2) A Budget: It may sound obvious, but you need to be able to ‘peel back the onion’ to know how much money it costs to attract a visitor and/ or a conference attendee and how much revenue they will generate, to confirm that your efforts are worth it. Knowing these details allows you to determine the approximate cost of your marketing for the event.

3) A Marketing Plan which includes:

  1. A branding statement about what the show represents;
  2. Attendee and attendee revenue milestones;
  3. A detailed production plan as to what are you going to do and when.

4) A marketing person who will manage the execution: This resource will have as many of these attributes as possible

5) An ‘engaged’ list: This means that you have some connection with a fair number of people in your database, beyond just having their contact information. Are they loyal to your event? Have you developed target personas? Do you or your marketing person know any attendees/prospects personally where they would take a phone call from you? Most companies have no relationship with their attendees/prospects. This makes their efforts MUCH harder.


Many of the above items are obvious. But identifying them and acting on them will tell you whether you have an ‘informed’ perspective – through metrics and relationships with attendees – or whether you are just following a project chart and hitting ‘send’ on millions of emails to attract your audience.


Food for thought?


11 Qualities Your Event Marketer Must Have 1

As I complete my own event projects and observe others, I often ruminate about what it takes to make a great event marketer. Given the difficulty in getting attendance for events, I find that good event marketers are becoming as rare as good event sales people. And I know this because I am frequently asked for recommendations.

Here’s what I think makes the ultimate event marketer, in no particular order:

1) Great Attitude

A good event marketer has a great attitude, even when things are not going well. This means someone who will ‘fill in the gaps’, i.e. doing things that need to be done without being explicitly asked, and doing so without complaining.

2) Hard Working

Someone who can and will work beyond the 9-to-5 when necessary to get the job done.

3) Fixated on the goal, with the ability to see the current position vis-a-vis that goal

I often see event marketers who are focused on the marketing process, rather than the goal (usually the number of attendees/visitors and/or attendee/visitor revenue). A strong event marketer can also accurately forecast where the numbers are heading and can take new or corrective actions, as necessary.

4) Creative

This is someone who can start a new marketing plan from scratch, or, given an existing plan, can introduce new creative elements to accentuate what has worked before.

5) A “Translator”

One of the new terms I am ‘playing with’ is the concept of a “translator.” This is someone who can make something where nothing previously existed – much like an interpreter can take an incomprehensible sentence from another language and express it in ways you can understand. In terms of event marketing this could include:

  • Pulling together disparate resources that might be incomplete or not functioning properly –such as ‘dirty’ databases, ‘difficult’ websites, or an incomplete social media presence – and getting them to function properly.
  • Convert strategy into tactics – Rarely have I found marketing people who are both strategic and tactical. It’s usually one or the other.  What I mean here is the ability to take the strategy and correctly build a series of ‘micro-actions’ that get the desired results in terms of attendance and attendee revenue.


6) Smart enough to know when to change the plan and when to stay the course

This is where event marketing can be transformed from science to art. When a marketer is not hitting the milestones, this means knowing what actions to stop and what to add. Should he/she stay the course, confident that the strategy and tactics will pan out eventually? And what about convincing the boss that the course recommended is the right one?


7) Knowledgeable about what technology to try and what to avoid

We all are bombarded by the latest technology solution. How does the marketer know which ones to integrate into the plan and at what point?  They should be well versed in event technology and what can contribute to success.  They are wary of “shiny new toys” whose appeal is only that they are shiny and new.


8) Budget-conscious

In addition to being focused on attendee and attendee revenue, our event marketer is aware of – and able to manage to – a marketing budget.


9) Understands the target audience, as derived from attendee personas

Our marketer knows the perfect attendee, with ideas about the prospective attendee interests and behavior that can be built into a marketing plan that targets attendee wants and needs. If not, a marketer of the right caliber can develop the data needed to do so.


10) Does not give up

This kind of marketer does not surrender when the going gets tough. In those circumstances, they’re ready with – or hard at work developing – a plan B/C/D, etc. This a person you want in your ‘foxhole’.


11) Keeps everything on time

The marketing person is like a drummer in a band who keeps the beat – someone who maintains the pace of activities as outlined in the original plan. Does your marketer do this or are you frequently asking for a status on items that you know should be done?


In the 20+ years that I have been in the business, I have developed a huge amount of respect for those who perform the marketing function. This is partially because the marketing role (the execution of tactical plans, pulling of lists, designing brochures, setting up websites, etc.) is the only part of the event business that I haven’t done personally. Fortunately, I’ve been lucky to work with and observe some of the best in the business, so I have seen the signs of success and failure in drawing and maintaining an audience.


The difference between a marketer who has most of these qualities and one who has only a few can mean the failure or success of your event, so choose (train) wisely.


Good luck with your efforts…..


The 5 Easiest Attendee Marketing Mistakes You Can Make Today

Michael Hart, the industry renowned journalist and thought leader is back! I asked him to provide  his views on what attendee marketing mistakes he is seeing, and here’s what he had to say, enjoy!


Look at the latest tradeshow industry news reports and you’d get the impression problems are officially solved for all the show organizers who told me a year ago they were worried about attendance. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research’s report on fourth-quarter performance, overall attendance at shows was up 4.9 percent over the same period the previous year, the greatest jump since before the recession.

The news only gets better as we work our way through the first quarter of this year. According to press releases from organizers of shows held in February, NY Now at Javits had a 6-percent increase in attendance over last year, World of Concrete in Las Vegas 8 to 10 percent, and the North American Intl. Toy Fair a whopping 16-percent attendance increase!

And yet, as recently as this week, I’ve talked to organizers who tell me the No. 1 complaint they continue to hear from exhibitors concerns the dearth of qualified attendees on the showfloor. Despite all the rosy news emanating from a handful of large, well-established events, don’t assume all is well in every corner of the industry. There is still time to screw things up.

Attendance remains fragile at many events, with many ways for organizers to go astray. Here are a few of the easiest mistakes to be made right now:


  • Believe that what worked so well last year will work again. Attendees are a fickle bunch and they have every right to be. Annual event organizers cannot sit back and assume companies have no other way to introduce new products to the market other than on their showfloors. They cannot expect that last year’s wildly popular keynote speaker will draw the same crowd this year.

There are too many sources of quality education and too many channels marketers can use to reach your attendees. People will not show up if your pre-event marketing materials elicit a sallow “But they did that last year” reaction.

  • Go too far in the other direction too. If the old-school poolside networking reception with an a capella choral group from the local college is a big hit with your crowd year in and year out, don’t dump it for a late-night electronic dance music extravaganza. Find the two or three elements that have become event traditions, the ones people say, “I always come for,” and stick with them.
  • Don’t ask attendees what they want immediately. If the e-mailed post-event survey a few days after the show closes with a 10-percent response rate sounds good to you, get over yourself. Keep in mind how much impact a canceled flight on the trip home or a piece of bad news when the attendee gets back to the office can have on those surveys.

Ask attendees what they like while they’re at the show, constantly but in small bites. Invest in some Second Screen technology (and if you don’t know what that is yet, find out) that allows you to poll people halfway through the keynote session, the second each conference session wraps up, before the last desserts are served during the networking break, while they’re on the showfloor.

Then watch those response rates go up.

  • Consider the conference program an added value. I don’t really have to be the one to tell you that information is the most valuable commodity in a modern economy, do I? Every industry is changing at breakneck speed, everybody feels their job could be in jeopardy any minute – and they want to know what to do.

So stay current on what your community needs to know (actually, stay more than current), don’t depend on the same popular speakers every year and invest in some innovative programming – before your attendees start sniffing out other, more convenient and affordable, ways to get the information and education they need.

  • Finally, think nobody will notice a $10 increase in the room rate. Don’t worry, they will. A dozen or two factors go into the thought process when the average person is trying to decide whether to go to your event. Some you can control, some you can’t. Maybe the room rate is one of those you think you can’t control, but you’d better try.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at