Yearly Archives: 2022


How Finding Your Addressable Audience is the Difference for Success and Failure in Events: An Interview with Marketing Guru Shauna Peters

Since my March interview with Shauna Peters, vice president and marketing strategist for mdg, a Freeman Company, I’ve heard a lot about the ‘addressable audience,’ which I believe is a key concept that every event marketer needs to embrace to maximize their event attendance. Since a lot of the ‘buzz’ on this topic is coming from mdg, I decided to invite her to expound on the idea. Here’s what she had to say:

Warwick Davies (WD): Shauna, I heard the term ‘addressable audience’ in one of Sam Lippman’s Attendee Acquisition Roundtable from someone at MDG. Then Vinnie Polito mentioned it in a forum at SISO in August. Could you define what it is?

Shauna Peters (SP): To get you an accurate definition, I consulted with our senior director, insights and data marketing strategy, Safa Khairy. She shared that addressable audience is usually referring to the target audience that can be reached either online or through third party acquisition. This means, the total potential attendee audience you want to target outside your existing in-house database. We have found that a significant portion of audience acquisition happens through paid media. These addressable audiences are the target audiences we know we can acquire through campaigns on online platforms (think search engine marketing, paid social, etc.) and through email list purchases.

WD: Sounds like a concept that every organizer should understand and do something about. How hard and expensive is it to do?

SP: We agree with you! Given the massive reshuffle of our audiences – from the great resignation to the great retirement – we know that house lists have been decimated. This means we need a better understanding of the total addressable audience and the appropriate channels to reach that audience. Understanding time and expense as factors to undertaking projects like this, we approach the work through a tiering system that ranges from fast turnaround/low cost, which is informative but provides a more surface-level view of the audience, to more extensive work that also requires a closer partnership and deeper investment with the client to develop complete segmentation. The approach we recommend comes down to objectives, timing and goals.

WD: Now that you know what (who) your addressable audience is, what do you do next?

SP: For us, understanding the audience informs our agile marketing strategy. This helps us recommend an appropriate channel mix and budget allocation that aligns with audience segmentation and content creation and distribution channels to reach those audiences. Ultimately the work informs us of the best way to reach and convert the target audiences.

WD: What results have you seen from organizers who have done this well?

SP: This has been really exciting for us. We have used the outcome of addressable market work to develop paid media campaigns that introduce new channels and created tailored messages – even where segmentation is limited – which has improved our return on paid media advertising spend and the performance of email campaigns using purchased lists. Ultimately, it has helped us deliver the right message to the right audience via the right channel, which in our experience has been directly correlated to increased registration conversions (ex. Critical buyer groups). And that is a real win for our client’s audience acquisition campaigns.

WD: Since recently the industry has been crowing ‘about quality over quantity’ (until the attendee numbers exceed the pre-2020 numbers), how can you ensure that you have the quality AND quantity while executing an ‘addressable audience’ strategy?

SP: That’s where the value of an addressable audience study comes in. We first identify the total prospect pool using both industry averages for conversion rates and any historical event conversion rates, then we project the prospect pool necessary to reach the 2020 target. Our process factors in audience segmentation and targeting, while taking the quality of the prospective attendee into account. This means that the study outcome provides organizers with not only total numbers to target but also a clear understanding of how to prioritize marketing budget based on the critical audiences they need to attend. Now you have clarity on the tools and process to rebuild your database with the right prospects, and thus increasing both the quality of attendance and the quantity.
 
Great stuff Shauna! Hopefully we’ll see more people doing this as events return to their previous heights. Thanks again for agreeing to share your thoughts!

Is the Future All About Going Back to The Past for Events? Interview with Industry Veteran Rob Weissman

Rob Weissman has had a long and varied career since he started in the tradeshow business in the eighties. He’s produced shows for National Expositions, Blenheim, and Tribune Schwab Fox/Atwood New Media, consulted on dozens of major exhibitions, and run two of his own firms, Century Exposition Management, and, Alliance Media Strategies. He has produced shows in the US, Japan, and Mexico. Rob is well known for his outspoken views on all things tradeshow, so I wanted to get his take on what lessons the tradeshow industry has learned from the pandemic, and the future of our industry. I was thrilled that he took the time to chat with me.

 

Warwick Davies (WD): You had a long career in the trade show industry is there anything particular that stands out?

Rob Weissman (RW): It has to be the extraordinary strength and resiliency of the live tradeshow model; especially the main components: exhibition, conference, networking, special events, award programs…although the importance of those elements of this has been somewhat clarified due to the COVID experience.  Tradeshows have weathered, and in fact withstood digital disruption far better than many other media and advertising vehicles. In fact, while not producing significant additional revenues, technology has made show production far more cost efficient, and thereby profitable. We both have computer tradeshow experience…I’m sure you remember the days of print/mailing a few million 4/C, 32-page attendee brochures.  Hell, you probably remember 10$ long distance phone calls and badge typists. I’d be remiss if I did not mention the virtual tradeshow. While its absolute failure was predictable and avoidable (for more detail see:  
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-b2b-virtual-tradeshow-failyet-again-part-1-robert-weissman)

It did serve one purpose, albeit unintended, by revealing the unique attributes of live shows that continue to make them viable, and impossible to replicate digitally in a financially sustainable model. While COVID hit every business segment dramatically, the pain in tradeshows, in addition to the interruption of the “live” model itself, was amplified by the fact that the industry itself had shown essentially uninterrupted growth over the last 30 + years. By the way: regrettably, but predictably, the “metaverse tradeshow” is now being touted by the usual suspects. The good news it won’t be as bad as the virtual tradeshow, the bad news, it will be worse…and for precisely the same reasons. The technology does not matter…the professional and personal motivations and agendas of participants in live shows are the key…as is my suggested use of the term “participants.” The perennial straw man arguments of conflating live and remote viewing of the Super Bowl…or World Cup for my millions of international fans…with potential remote viewing of tradeshows has been proven false because people don’t “view” tradeshows…they “participate” in tradeshows.  In a sense, they are the “players.” They have a number they wear on their uniform; their statistics are listed in the program, etc.  In fact, in addition to the product expo, attendees actually represent a ‘stealth’ parallel exhibition. They are displaying themselves to the industry at large.  They attend for both personal and professional reasons.

WD: What grade would you give event organizers for surviving the pandemic?

RW: Incomplete. Actually, I’d probably give a B+. As mentioned, the industry as a whole had a period of clear sailing longer than most people’s current employment in the field. Consequently, staffing and projections were based on continued growth. Other than insurance and staff reduction, there were no options for loss mitigation, other than the virtual attempts. The industry was truly in uncharted territory.

I don’t want to dwell on virtual too much…nobody else did…but had they produced digital events without the bloatware and absurd pricing and expectations…basically to maintain brand awareness and some revenue, they probably could have achieved the same results. Clearly, they had to try something. For those new to the industry, virtual may have seemed logical; the unrelenting noise coming from pundits and suppliers strengthened that incorrect assumption. But for experienced organizers who experienced the virtual flame-out of a decade ago, perhaps scaled back attempts should have been appropriate. That’s the reason for the B+, as opposed to ‘A’.

Obviously, the reopening came none too soon, as the virtual model was unfeasible typically after one iteration (once virtual, twice shy). One positive that I’ve observed over the years is that exhibitors are quite forgiving of one mistake. EG: If you make a mistake on timing or location (or virtual tradeshow) and own up to it and rectify it, exhibitors will stay with you, for the most part. Organizers are not being blamed for trying virtual once. From both the inside and out, I’ve seen major shows disappear and truly it took several years of aggressive mis-management to ultimately destroy them. Again, properly managed established tradeshows are very resilient. 

WD: What would you say they learned?


RW: Certainly, the value of insurance…as well having, or at least starting to think about, back-up plans for major disruptions. Additionally, the need to recognize that even without major disruptions, the fact that there could be more frequent cyclical ups and downs should be factored into internal planning, no matter how attractive “x %” growth predictions may be to analysts. This holds doubly true for associations and private firms relying on essentially one or two annual events. For multi-management firms, I think the risk-reward aspects of the past decade of global expansion have recently become highlighted.  Clearly, China is the 800-pound panda in that equation. While the term “deglobalization” has become common, I’ve used the term “re-globalization” in the sense that relatively geo-politically stable markets (US, Western Europe) will be the main focus of new shows and M&A activity. In fact, despite somewhat lesser revenues, these shows could see their M&A valuation actually rise, based on the “stability” premium. I suspect the holy grail of possible acquisition, or at least JV activity, with US association shows has been (re) added to the radar of multi-management firms.

On a more granular level, the role and intrinsic value of the major components of tradeshows has been clarified. In the absence of live events, the individual main components of shows could be examined according to the scientific method of isolating and examining variables. One thing that became clear is that, absent the “whole” of the live show experience, the conference content has minimal intrinsic value. Simply put, in the overwhelming majority of cases, when offered digitally, people would not pay to view conference presentations, and in fact, not even view them free of charge in numbers that would produce significant ad revenue. This was actually proven years ago with the failure of BOB.TV, but the fact that this behavior was replicated when there was no live alternative really hammered home the fact. I believe show organizers are adjusting both the logistics and budgets of their conference programs as a result.

WD: What have event organizers done well over the last three years?


RW: Bottom line: Survived; and come back in a better position to meet upcoming challenges.

WD: What have they failed to do?

RW: I’ve been saying that the new normal will look quite similar to the old normal (and in fact already does); for better and for worse. The “better” is that ‘live’ is getting stronger with each show. The ‘worse’ is the return to attendee head-counting. Long before COVID there were voices saying “let’s get away from the numbers game and focus on quality, buying-power, or even more precisely “results”. However, rather than seizing the opportunity to change the focus, numbers still seem to dominate the conversation. To be fair, a large amount of the numbers-counting does come from suppliers with an alternate agenda; often damning extraordinary results for the first iteration of re-opened shows with faint praise by comparing the numbers to all time…and perhaps unsustainable under any circumstances…highs. That said, I submit that focusing on the number of different firms attending the show; and the purchasing power represented by these firms, are far more important metrics than head counting and that organizers should make that a universal talking-point.

Speaking of talking-points, the subject of sustainability, while far from new, has become ubiquitous…in fact, I believe there is currently a live event in Egypt addressing that issue. Regarding sustainability and show location, “One coast to coast flight in the U.S. produces at a minimum 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide. If all climate-change causing emissions are included, one flight from the United States to Asia or from Asia to Europe can produce as much as 5 metric tons of carbon equivalent emissions, which includes both carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. To put that in perspective, 5 metric tons is the average amount of carbon dioxide produced by every human each year on the planet.” In the spirit of brevity. Purchasing carbon credits is akin to a weight-loss program of over-eating and then vomiting (I think there’s a medical term for that; and it’s not a long-term solution). I’m just spit-balling here to maintain the alimentary metaphor, but another alternative is not overeating in the first place.

Finally, one of the most astute observers of the industry, Phil Soar, has often commented on the lack of awareness and understanding of exhibitions by the general and financial press. This is due to the continuing lack of a tradeshow press writing ‘about’ the industry; instead of just ‘for’ the industry. The kind of coverage common in all other industries, from the Wall St. Journal to Variety…where organizations, management, and events are examined and critiqued in detail…including predictions and debates about the prospects for success of newly announced products and initiatives, independent analysis of performance, comparison of competing products etc.  However, I’m not sure if this is a failure to create a real industry press, or a success in suppressing one.


WD: Many companies say that that many things are different post COVID and events have to change but secretly hope that things can be exactly as they were pre-COVID. What’s your view on this?

RW: I think it’s highly probable that their wishes will come true. Most changes will be evolutionary, and actually a continuation of items and features that began long before COVID.

Mega shows may shrink or disappear, but they will be replaced by other events with the same traditional format and features; perhaps based on geographical mandates, or industry-specific focus, for example. Anecdotally from watching my LinkedIn feed, I get the sense that overall participation figures may actually increase over the years, albeit spread over a larger number of events. To return to a previously stated theme, many of the “things must change comments” are coming from pundits and vendors who are attempting to sell something that theoretically “changes” current show formats. If you review the chatter from 5 or 10 years ago, you’ll actually see many of the same buzzwords; E.g.: more personalization…as opposed to less?   When did “event technology start? The fax machine? The IBM Selectric…yes, I produced an Event Technology Expo in 2008.

If actions speak louder than words, show organizers clearly recognize now, more than ever, what makes a show truly work, and are spending their time doubling down on those traditional features. The key elements for tradeshow success remain unchanged. I suggest checking out the photos posted on LinkedIn from the recent slate of “events about events;” Eat, drink, and be merry…Cheers!

Please note: there is nothing wrong with the underlying rationales for why established tradeshow model work so well…other vehicles should in fact be envious of the longevity of what is essentially the same basic model since its inception; as well as the profit margins that result. When I say “tradeshows work” I typically add, “though not necessarily as advertised.” To that I would add that tradeshows, while very hard and intensive work, are not complicated.  People love going to tradeshows. One main obstacle is that there is a limit to how many shows an average attendee can visit in one year. The goal is to get them to put your show on their schedule.

WD: One of the main weaknesses that events have is that they have little idea of who their attendees are beyond spreadsheets and analytics? What’s your view on this?

RW: Actually, I think that has to be judged on a case-by-case basis. While that may be true in some instances, I believe the majority of the “in the trenches” organizers/managers consider themselves, in word AND deed, to be part of the industry their show addresses, as opposed to being in the tradeshow industry.  And that entails being knowledgeable about all aspects of the industry they serve. That said, it sometimes appears that their knowledge of the industries and people within it, is under-utilized or ignored, based on decisions made by people above them in the organization, who have a different background and focus.

Obviously, the potential attendee universe for a given show is far larger than the potential exhibitor universe, so, other than surveys, and visual examination of behavior at shows, intensive individual contact is not feasible. Show advisory boards provide some utility, but I’ve found that folks who want to participate on those boards don’t always represent the rank and file; plus, people are less forthcoming with real opinions when speaking in front of a group. One-on-one, “off the record” conversations with board members can be far more productive.  And while Sun Tzu is often used for business strategy, in this case, I prefer Napoleon, who despite significant committees and spies, would dress up in commoner’s disguise and go to taverns to hear firsthand what was being said about him.

In my experience, some of the most pressing “disconnects” are actually between show organizers and the rank and file “exhibitor experience” at a show. I’ve had the experience of working a booth at a three-day event; it was quite enlightening. Do that on multiple occasions and you’ll get a quick understanding why exhibitors don’t follow up on certain leads. (BTW-are these the same exhibitors who are demanding more info re the attendees?). While staffing a booth may not be possible for everyone, simply standing on a loading dock during installation, as well as at the official contractor desk could be useful. Doing a mock exercise of interpreting and completing the forms in the exhibitor manual would also be helpful; or observing a focus group doing the same. A related disconnect is between various departments within show management firms.  I’ve seen cases where advertising, marketing, and PR departments did not communicate with the sales department, or each other in more extreme cases.  I suspect I would not shock anyone by saying sometimes these relationships are borderline adversarial. Actually, this syndrome is correlated with the many of the shows that I’ve seen disappear, as I mentioned above.

WD: What will events look like in 5 years?

RW: I’m going to substitute the term tradeshows for events…and say, not surprisingly, remarkably similar with respect to the previously mentioned foundational elements; barring any sudden change in the DNA of attendees and the reaction of the exhibitors to that DNA change.

Some potential changes:

While ‘attendees’ love visiting tradeshows; certainly, on the company time and the company dime, exhibitors, especially booth personnel, can be ambivalent. I think forward-looking exhibitors may participate in live shows in a quasi-virtual manner.  Large screen video technology… 8-foot-high video wall panels… will allow booth personnel to show entire product lines on demand.  And based on the comfort levels achieved with Zoom, etc., in addition to live booth personnel, the panels could be fully interactive so that company reps could participate remotely on an on-demand basis…I don’t mean just a zoom size interaction, but full-body, actual scale, audio/video interaction. The goal being that no attendee leaves a booth without personal contact. Obviously, this would allow any number of headquarter offices to monitor the booth activity, both in real time, and for post-show review. Larger firms could have remote bull-pens of reps ready to engage attendees during peak periods, while still being able to perform day to day tasks during lulls. CEOs would be able to engage with VIP’s…and private full scale video rooms would also be an option.

In a related point, astute show managers could eliminate tracking devices such as RFID, and simply mount video cameras around the show. One ceiling mounted fish-eye could probably handle total coverage of most halls with respect to traffic flow, and certainly provide more meaningful information than a heat map. Other cameras could be mounted in more specialized areas. Of course, in addition to operating as an on-site mission control center, this video could be sent to the home office(s) in real time, steamed live via YouTube, and recorded for post-show analysis; with modern zooming options allowing very granular observation.

In the big picture, based on cost and sustainability issues, we may see more regional events in a return to the model of a small number of sellers traveling to meet a large number of buyers.

And as far as seismic changes, there is always the possibility that exhibitors will realize how powerful they are in the current financial model of shows, and take their destiny into their own hands, so to speak. This could take the form of a Michael Dell- type disruptor to ‘open the books’ on show finances and operations and demonstrate that they could spend 50% less and actually have a product built to their exact specifications. In an alternate scenario, exhibitors could form a no-sense committee to produce shows on their own, or put management “out to bid.” Can you imagine if exhibitors, or groups of exhibitors, negotiated prices with organizers in the same fashion that organizers negotiated with contractors?

This scenario could be accelerated at some point, based on the experience gained by exhibitors continuing to produce their own, single-sponsored events; here again, the true costs and economics of show production could become apparent.  If you further factor in the show being produced to simply break even, along with the elimination of 35 % of show production costs currently allocated to exhibit booth sales, as well as any commissions being added to drayage, etc., the efficiencies become apparent. In fact, I believe some events incorporate some aspects of this model; Pittcon comes to mind.  While I give this scenario 0.01% of happening within five years, I will point out that a quick glance at the news indicates a new era of austerity in the spending in many business segments; all expenses are being examined. It should also be noted that exhibitions, for the most part, have never been subjected to show competition based on price. In fact, I can recall in the heyday of computer shows when pricing was based on raising exhibit space pricing as much as possible, as long as you were one dollar cheaper than Comdex…and Adelson was always generous in raising the bar. That said, if one major domino were to fall and the news was discussed in the financial press in the same manner as say cable-cutting, things could get very interesting.

All things considered, in the big picture the safest bet about the next five years is lather, rinse, repeat.

 
Wow, Rob, that’s a lot to think about. I appreciate you taking the time to look at the past and future. I look forward to this starting more of a robust conversation on where we all should be going and what we should be doing! Thanks again.
 
More information about Rob can be found here:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/robweissman/ 

Have Conversations with 100% of Your Sales Prospects

Most event salespeople are transactional. Their outbound phone calls and emails, whether to sell a booth or a sponsorship, tend to approach the sale as a transaction – a one-time thing. And then they wonder when these attempts don’t generate the successes they desire. Why? One key factor is that the salesperson is choosing the time, the product offered, and all the terms that govern the transaction. But many prospects aren’t ready to buy, particularly at a time chosen by the salesperson.
 
What can you do to change this dynamic? Wouldn’t it be great to have prospects calling you rather than putting them on the spot simply because YOU have a sales quota to meet?
 
The way to achieve this is to become a resource to your customers, transitioning from tactical salesperson to a consultant who offers more to customers than just “stuff” they can buy. That helps to change the context of your interactions, since success is not always defined by your ability to close a sale. As an example, a consultative salesperson should try to have at least an annual strategic conversation with at least 20% of their customers. The goal of this conversation is not only an order, but also a chance to understand your customers challenges, and to see if you can assist them in these. You might consider 20% a conservative target, but customers may well be wary of this consultative approach, considering it merely another sales tactic (which is what it shouldn’t be). The proof will be in your ability to offer value that is not tied to exhibit space or sponsorships.
 
Have I convinced you yet? Some may respond, “Warwick I already do this. I offer pre-show sales training for my customers on the event floor.” Some event managers may consider this an attractive benefit, but my own experience is that the last thing exhibitors want when prepping for a show – with all the last-minute tasks they need to complete – is to spend time with event management staff on training. And for experienced exhibitor staff, such offers might even be considered a bit presumptuous.

The key is to offer services that your customers could use WITHOUT your product. Examples are:
1) Education that helps your customer better market to their customers: perhaps a webinar or a luncheon briefing at a time and place the customer selects. If the information is valuable, it positions you as an expert and differentiates you from competitors. If you’re knowledgeable about the markets you serve and you invest some time developing compelling content, wouldn’t you want to have such an offering?

2) Industry education that helps your customers 1) better understand the characteristics of the buyers in their markets, 2) develop ‘buyer journey’ information for helps design their sales processes, and 3) tactics that help promote actions at each journey milestone to move things forward or, if appropriate, to disengage because a prospect is not ready or perhaps not right for the offer.

3) An invitation to a digital hub that fosters information exchange, which could include customers, industry experts, buyers, even competitors.
 
Your goal should be to think holistically about your customer’s long-term needs and offer a portfolio of capabilities that help them address those needs. If you can position yourself as a market expert who is a resource to your customers – rather than a sales pest – I believe your influence – and your sales – will increase.
 
Wouldn’t YOU like a leg up on your competitors? This is a way. Give it a shot.
 
The inspiration for this post is from Chet Holmes and his book The Ultimate Sales Machine, a book with a lot of good ideas. Check it out here.

The Seven Conditions for Successful Event Sales

If you are good at it, there is nothing more satisfying than being a salesperson. You have few of the mundane tasks often required in other kinds of roles and your individual performance can have a direct and immediate impact on your (potentially unlimited) income. The sales role also rewards an entrepreneurial mindset, as the most successful salespeople treat what that do within their companies as their own “business.” And if allowed to do so, they will regularly exceed expectations.

I am often asked if I were to chart the road to success in sales, what characteristics of a salesperson and the environment in which they work would I insist upon for salespeople to exceed their quotas.

  • A Commitment to Daily Activity – As an inside salesperson, you should be making 60-100 contacts a day, with the goal of 6-10 daily engagements (conversations). This is the foundational work – the unglamorous day-to-day activity – needed for any success.
  • A Clear Monthly Sales Goal – At a minimum, this target for a salesperson should be equivalent to the annual quota for each show, divided by the twelve months of the year. At any point in the year, your reference should be the number of months year to date times that monthly number. But good sales reps will strive to get ahead of that number, so that they have a cushion when they encounter the inevitable slow patch.
  • Plan B Items – What are you going to do if you find yourself short of that aggregate monthly total? You should have a number of remedies that could include quantitative actions (e.g., increasing the number of calls, sending more outbound emails) or qualitative steps (e.g., getting management assistance on key calls, leveraging or creating new marketing materials, soliciting help from other sales reps, etc.). If things are not going well, you must adjust.
  • Seamless Engagement with Exhibitor Marketing – You should have a regular sales shot to your prospects and your past exhibitors (at least one monthly per event/activity you are working on). The marketing folks who work for your exhibitors should be your best friends; so treat them well.
  • Mechanisms for Getting New Leads – This should already be happening in your company, as you should be getting leads from Google Alerts, competitive events, LinkedIn, Salesforce, etc. Are all the available tools being employed to deliver the desired ‘addressable audience’ sought by your exhibitors? If not, get help to do so.
  • Seamless Exhibit Operations – Flawless execution of your events/products is critical. Nobody notices when things run smoothly, but everyone does if things are a mess. Problems with execution create a barrier to renewals, add-on sales, etc.
  • Great Sales Colleagues – Is the atmosphere of your sales office collegial or cutthroat? You need a bit of ambition, but ensure you help your colleagues as necessary and they are willing to help you. There should be enough money to go around so share it!
 
If you adhere to all these conditions, you should soon see the results in your sales performance and your commissions. Keep disciplined and good luck!

Are You Guilty for Sending Idiot Marketing Messages? 1

Here are some [what I consider to be] idiotic marketing messages:
  • Last chance to sign up is Friday!
  • Hours left to save – register today!
  • Early bird pricing extended!
  • High-level content at ABC Conference!
  • Elite Expertise at XYZ Summit!
  • Breaking News: XYZ to keynote Acme Conferenc
 
You may ask why I characterize them as idiotic. Perhaps you’re thinking “I use that approach in my email subject lines all the time!” However, I’d argue that these messages primarily are for situations where you know that people are interested in attending your event already. In those circumstances a price reduction, some kind of promotion, or additional information on an event’s content may be what’s going to get them to register for your event, if they are already engaged with you or the event marketing. But otherwise this kind of marketing is blind and clueless.

The thing that always gets me about poor marketing tactics is when the presumed ‘buyer’s path’ is based on faulty assumptions, the biggest of which is that the recipient of your messaging actually cares about your event or already is a raving fan.

Given that most events are not considered to be indispensable – or indispensable over a sustained period – to assume a prior year’s attendee is predisposed to return, if given the right incentive – is a mistake. Was the event valuable for them or memorable in some way? Or was it just an interruption of their daily business? How do you know?

If someone hasn’t been convinced of the value of your event – or worse, doesn’t pay attention to your marketing and therefore doesn’t know what you are talking about – do you think they’ll care that the early bird discount ends on Friday or some other marketing offer? If you are not segmenting your lists and tailoring your message for your key personas, then I’d argue you are guilty of lazy marketing. You haven’t put in the time to know whether a price decrease is the right offer. You’re just guessing.

You should be able to segment your past attendees into 4-5 main categories. Then you should ensure you have a buyer path for each category, a path that is not based on assumptions but rather is grounded in data and personal knowledge.

Assuming you have the metrics to indicate that the members of a segment are at a point in the buyer’s path when they’re ready to sign up, the messages I referenced above should have an impact. If you are crafting the same message for everyone- get ready for marketing panic.
 
Prospects are getting smarter. They’ll avoid you and your messages unless you also are smart about them….

Reviewing Event Profit, Product, and Marketing Strategies to Eliminate

Building successful events has many elements, but the three most critical for sustained success are Profit, Product, and Marketing. They comprise what I would call the Event Triangle.

Here’s how I would describe them:

  • Profit – The ability to build an event for which revenues continually exceed expenses.

  • Product – The event consistently delivers benefits to participants that are not available either from other events or other market resources. The event clearly must be superior to alternatives, and its managers must continually evolve the event (both in terms of content and structure) to meet changes in the market(s) it serves. Participants must leave an event feeling they’ve received value for the time, expense, and opportunity cost. And participants should be confident that the next iteration of the event will deliver similar value.

  • Marketing – The ability to position the event in ways that emphasize the benefits it delivers to participants. It employs the best tools and methods to identify and reach out to the desired audience, executing outreach through the right modes of communication, with the right cadence at the right time. The marketing plan must minimize costs while achieving the attendee number, quality, and revenue goals. At the same time, the strategy and tactics must reflect insight into the known and unknown needs of the communities it serves.
 
Optimizing all three of the above is both an art and a science. It requires:
  • Knowing where (and where not) to spend money.

  • Knowing what to improve and what to leave alone.

  • Understanding your audience at the deepest, personal level (not just via spreadsheets and analytics).
  • Maintaining close contact with your stakeholders such that they want to help you succeed.

  • Understanding when to make midcourse changes if you are not meeting milestones (and what to change).

  • Being vigilant and agile regarding external factors that may impact success (competition, market changes, etc.).

  • Remaining humble and grateful for your customers regardless of your success (so that you don’t become greedy, disrespectful, blind sighted, etc.).

  • Being opportunistic regarding chances to expand your event.
 
Ensure that your focus on profit, product, and marketing is balanced, so no side of the triangle is overloaded. If you concentrate primarily on profit and neglect the other two, you are likely to fail. Yet, if your attention to product and marketing leads to neglect of profitability, it will leave you with an event that may lack long-term viability. Excluding extraordinary circumstances such as our experience with COVID and the periodic challenges of difficult economic conditions (impacting exhibitor/attendee budgets), almost all the success or failure of events can be attributed to whether all three elements of the event triangle are healthy, and working in synchronicity with the others. Usually, the ability to build a healthy and qualified audience means you can attract the necessary exhibitors and sponsors to make money. 
 
Everything above sounds easy to do in principle, but without attention to the three key components and keeping them in balance, it is tough to do in practice.

For more information on how to build such an event from scratch, go here.
 
Many of you are well aware of the above; so, if that’s true, I am likely to be preaching to the choir. But if you are having problems, review the key three elements and make the necessary changes.
 
Looking forward to hearing news of your events, I am here toasting your present and future success!

Launching an Event: How to Avoid Financial Disaster

In theory, launching an event should not be too difficult. The steps of a launch can be laid out much like a pilot’s nighttime view of an airport runway’s landing lights. If you are methodical in execution, analysis and do things in the proper order, you should be successful. That typically is how it happens, that is until you reach the most important step which is often ignored- testing.

Here is the sequence:

 

1)  Establish the Idea

You need an idea for your event to differentiate it from what already exists. The idea must be smarter or more exciting in ways that will attract better participants or a greater number of them. Or it offers a new format that better suits the market. Most new events merely mimic what already exists (and thus start at a disadvantage.) Invest the time needed to ensure that your event will be different in meaningful ways, that it can attract attendees and exhibitors, and that you can make money doing it!

 
2)  Develop an Event Resume
 
Once you have the idea, write up a one-pager (the Event Resume) that answers the following questions:
 

• What is the event?

• Where and when does it take place?

• How many attendees/exhibitors are expected?

• Why it is compelling?

• For whom is it intended?

• What benefits will an exhibitor get through participating?

• What benefits will event attendees receive?

• How much will it cost for an attendee or exhibitor to participate?

 

The Event Resume should be self-explanatory. If a prospect can’t determine by reading it (without your additional assistance) that they should participate, then it needs further review and refining. Without this document’s ability to sell your new event, your launch will likely fail. Building an effective Event Resume is difficult, but if you can’t (or won’t) clearly state your value proposition, your marketing outreach will be weakened.


3) Create Champions

Now that you’ve persuaded yourself and your team to move forward, you need to get 3-4 others whose judgment you respect. They must agree that the event you’ve conjured up is worth doing, offering value not already available in the market. That validation should help you justify the event costs (which could be huge) and affirm that the financial risk is worth taking.


4) Establish a Specific Venue

Once you’ve picked a prospective date, make it real with specifics about available venue options, given your event’s ‘footprint’ in terms of both content and the projected number of attendees and exhibitors. What financial commitment is required to secure that venue, including the hotel room blocks?


5) Develop a Preliminary Budget

Given the above, you should estimate expenses in terms of room rental, audio-visual requirement, food and beverage, exhibit area, staff hotel rooms, airfares, related T&E, etc. Put those costs into a spreadsheet, together with projected revenues. This will determine whether 1) you can afford to do the event, 2) what your expected profits would be, and 3) the necessary investment and cash flow assumptions associated with producing it.

 

6) Conduct True Attendee Testing

Here’s where most organizers fall short with their research. What should happen is that you test the viability of your event with prospects in your database to confirm that your attendance assumptions are correct. Despite the means available to event organizers, too often they fail to market test new event ideas using their databases. And if they do test, they have no idea about how to evaluate the results to determine whether to move forward. I recently attended an event industry conference at which a panel convened specifically about launching events all agreed that their launch decisions were based on a ‘gut feeling.’ How scary- and dangerous – is that?

If you ask, “Hey Warwick, I don’t want to be like that. How do I test market a new event idea?” Here would be my guidance:
 
• Develop a list of anyone who might have a legitimate interest in your event. The larger the list, the better.

• Send out an email blast to this list to confirm interest and gauge the strength of that interest.

• Ensure you have a great call-to-action (e.g., “to get more information when it’s available, click here” on the email) to ensure that positive responses are actionable. Note that a good result is a 20% open rate and a 15% click-to-open percentage. Anything better suggests you will attract enough attendees, while anything around those percentages or less suggests there’s insufficient interest.

7)  Do Some Exhibitor Revenue Testing
 
Can you increase the exhibitor revenue that is part of your assumptions? Pick the top 20 most relevant exhibitor prospects and have your best salesperson set up calls or meetings with each decision maker. Get feedback to confirm whether they would support the event financially. Compile the results to see whether your exhibit revenue expectations are real or merely a pipe dream.

8) Refine the Event Resume and Budget
 
Perhaps the preceding steps have suggested that you must adjust the concept for your event. Or you’ve discovered that initial revenue projections are overly optimistic. Redo the numbers and see whether they are still compelling for all the work it will take to get this going. Then look in the mirror and confirm that going forward makes sense.

9)    Launch!
 
If all the above testing has confirmed your initial confidence, then it’s clearer that you should launch. But if the results are only neutral or something less, consider delaying the initiative until you develop a better approach. Or perhaps you should consider shelving the idea altogether.
 

If all of these steps sound like a hassle, imagine how you would feel if you chose to launch without doing your homework and ended up with a turkey of an event.

Be brave! But be smart! Your unique position is your visibility into the future and your confidence in the data that supports that vision. So let that be a guide in your building something great.


Why you should replace 20% of your sales staff – NOW

I have strong opinions about sales staffs, having managed them in some shape or form since 1996.  As I’ve previously written, I believe only 20% of salespeople are more than order takers.  Given that assertion, I was asked recently, “What about the other 80% of our sales staff?  How should I manage them so that I can hit my sales targets?”
 
To answer that question and to understand the needs of your sale staff, I’d plot the entire sales organization on a bell curve.  If we look at such a standard distribution and assume that only 20% of your sales force are getting it done, as stated in the above-referenced article, then I would also suggest there are two remaining categories, both of which are underperforming.  They represent 60% and 20% of the sales staff, with the larger number those that may have potential, while the smaller number represents those who won’t ever improve sufficiently.
 
How can one manage an organization composed of these three different groups?
 
The Top 20%
 
Give them aggressive quotas and get out of their way.  Give them a sense of ownership – that what they work on is theirs.  Effectively it’s their business to make successful.  Make sure they are hitting their monthly quotas and be available with resources if and as they need them.  Otherwise, let them do their thing.  They will exceed their goals with minimal help.  These folks are your rainmakers.
 
The Middle 60%
 
The difference between this group and the one above is skills and results, while what distinguishes them from those below is attitude.  These folks need help and guidance, but they are willing to learn.  If guided properly they can be ‘fixed’.  You should ensure they have monthly goals and are doing the requisite outreach to prospects.  Perhaps include roleplay exercises, either with you or one of your top 20% performers.  When they show signs of making headway, offer rewards of formal training classes that can help fill in the gaps in their skillset.  Make the investments that can enable their growth into your top-tier category, as there always will be turnover in that group that requires replenishment.
 
The Lagging 20%
 
Unfortunately, you must get rid your organization of those who fall into this category.  Some of your best sales performers can drop into this category, becoming lazy and entitled and lacking the effort that previously drove their success.  They may try to game the system so that they can generate a solid income without having to do much.  Their negative attitude may attributable to missed promotions or the loss of juicy territories to others, but they won’t respond to encouragement or direction.  Furthermore, they will disrupt your efforts to make changes that require their effort and improvement.  That response will be negative motivation for others, who will see them resisting your efforts to make changes, which will hinder your effort to improve the middle 60% group.
 
When I have been called upon to consult with event companies with sales generation problems, the root of the issues frequently concerns staff in the last category who are trying to maintain the status quo despite the need for changes to be made.  As I said, for the sake of your own goals, you must dispense with them, as there is no ‘saving’ to be done.
 
Beyond addressing the bottom 20%, these are other steps I would take to both retain the top 20% and incent the other 60% to get there.
 
  • Pay well beyond what is available from your competitors. Your top salespeople are well aware of the options they have to make money.  Preempt their wandering elsewhere.

  • Pay for performance. You’d be surprised how many salespeople have more guaranteed income from salary than incentive from commission/bonuses.

  • Allow them to share their opinions about matters beyond what they are working on. Salespeople are on the front line and may know more of what’s going on than you do.

  • Give them guidance. Most people never have had mentors and their careers suffer as a result.  Either build this support within your own company or allow your salespeople to find mentors outside the company.

  • Hold each salesperson accountable monthly for effort and results.
 
When approaching the subject of letting poor performers go, I’ve heard comments along the lines of “I know I need to get rid of him, but I worry I find an immediate replacement who’s better.” Though making a change is difficult, when you let someone go, the vacancy hastens the effort to get a replacement. It also creates opportunity for others who remain to expand responsibilities (temporary territory assignment, increased commission). Though it’s not easy, removing underperformers is the right way to go.
 
Unfortunately, the people who have slowed my own performance are those that I didn’t replace when I knew it was needed.  I certainly have learned that lesson. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.

Have We Failed to Innovate in Our Events? An Insider’s Perspective from David Saef

I met David Saef at the recent Exhibit Sales Roundtable and was impressed both by his presentation (though not necessarily agreeing with everything) as well as his overall point of view about our industry. David is the SVP of Strategy at Freeman. In that role he helps Freeman’s many clients with their marketing strategies, including pivoting given the new business world we all now operate within. David has been in the business for more than 20 years, having held positions with Exhibitgroup/Giltspur and GES before he joined Freeman.

 

Our conversation following his presentation sparked my interest in having a further interview which drilled down on some of his thoughts. Here’s what we discussed:

 

Warwick Davies (WD): Would you agree that the industry is at a crossroads? What can we do about it?

David Saef (DS): I am not sure I would say “a crossroads.” We are at an inflection point – where people are yearning to get together and embrace meaningful engagement. We need to address our legacies – our legacy databases and emails which need a total refresh, our event design and attendee experience which need new approaches, and our selling and delivery models which need to be more agile. Most of all though, we need to understand our target participants (attendees, exhibitors, staff, etc.) in deeper and more meaningful ways to attract and engage them in our events and communities.

 

WD:  I feel that the events industry missed a great opportunity to innovate the last two years. Do you agree?

DS: A sense of fear and disruption affected many people – but not all. There were a number of organizations that invested and innovated these past 2 years, and I think their efforts paid off in many ways – new solutions, new teams, and new ways of thinking and operating. AUSA for example, launched a weekly lunch series online during COVID which was a huge success, attracted many new participants and led to new opportunities to host and engage its wider community that is having a positive effect on their ongoing in person event program.

 

WD: Why do most event organizers have nearly no engagement with their audiences? What can be done about it?

DS: Organizers always marketed to audiences, but just broadcasting “WE ARE HERE!” is no longer sufficient. Attendees need to know that the organizers really understand them – what are their business or professional priorities, what do they wish to learn, connect, or undertake to improve their businesses or practices. We also need to know where audiences want to convene and how they want to engage. And most of all – participants are time- and budget- constrained. So, the most important aspect is the WHY – why they should spend their time and money taking part in your event versus any other online or in-person gathering.

 

WD: Many event organizers were making 65%+ margins pre-COVID and have had no motivation to do much innovation other than cram their face-to-face events into virtual events and pray for the in person events to return. But Pre-COVID conditions are gone. How should event organizers react?

DS: Listen. Innovate. Be Agile. The number one investment today should be in truly and deeply understanding your audiences and updating contact databases. By a long stretch – if audiences grow more rapidly, it solves so many other challenges. Second: innovate – the participant journey needs to be digital first in order to be able to learn and capture information and share with peers back in the office and innovate the onsite experience to make it interactive, immersive and inspirational in so many ways that people have no choice but to make your event the top investment they will make in themselves in their career for the year. Take the National Broadcasters Association – during COVID the team invested in deep audience research which led to insights and the launch of a new online platform – Amplify – to enable NAB to connect with their audiences year-round. This engagement strategy led to many innovations, from launching new events based on emerging sectors to revamping the show halls and creating Experience Zones to draw and engage attendees. NAB opened a whole new show segment in West Hall based on identifying emerging sectors of their business. The listening and innovating paid off as the show as a huge success this year.

Finally, be agile – circumstances will continue to change so it’s never been more important to test and learn new ideas by using insights to inform experiences and priorities, and to tap on-demand talent to ramp up the most promising opportunities.

 

WD: Many organizers have pages of “to dos” but don’t seem effective at getting things done. How should they proceed?

DS: Two pieces of advice: first, establish no more than 2-3 major objectives for the event and organization. Those objectives should have clear measures of success. Then look at the “to do” list – prioritize only those actions that will drive these top objectives. Be brutal in prioritizing – literally ask “will this action lead to these 2-3 outcomes?” If the answer is not clear, or not compelling, then de-prioritize. Second exercise – ask staff to list “5 things we should stop doing NOW.” Review and then act. Last note – many people will say they don’t have enough time “but we have to do X, Y or Z.” If those items are truly critical, I would look at whether enough time has been freed up for folks to address those items, or hire on-demand, temporary resources to get those tasks done.

 

WD: You’ve told me that events should have a combination of Experience, Networking, Commerce and Learning. Can you explain why you think this?

DS: At Freeman we analyzed decades of surveys and research and realized that participant motivations come down to these four drivers – we call it the XLNC (pronounced “excellence”) framework. Each event type has a different degree of each of the four pillars. Our clients love how we use this tool to help tie back to participant needs and create a compelling experience design.

 

WD: Focusing on Experience seems like the lazy way to go, since it’s the easiest one to accomplish than the other three. Why is Experience important?

DS: Experience may be the most differentiated of all the pillars. It drives how you feel or perceive the overall brand and event value. It’s the WOW factor. Take a car show – we go look at and test drive lots of cars. But it’s that WOW factor – with our families and our kids that influences that next visit for an online quote or to a dealership. Another example is Sirona’s Dentsply World event for dentists. They create a dynamic experience in Las Vegas with a big wow factor and entertainers in addition to the other elements of learning, networking, and talking about their products. The price to attend is multiples of other dental meetings – and it continues to grow because of that X-perience factor. One other note – Xperience can be achieved myriad ways from delivering an immersive experience like Visa’s powerful interactive to support United Nations’ efforts around climate change to sparking new meaning and joy in our country’s love of baseball by recreating a real-life Field of Dreams ballgame in Iowa.

 

WD: One of the biggest failures of trade show organizers is engaging their audiences. Now it’s a necessity. How do you engage with the audiences of the future?

DS: Listen and understand. I cannot emphasize this enough – and it’s not about just conducting surveys. Our clients love the ethnographic studies we have done – when we have someone go to the conference and adopt a persona so they can have authentic conversations with other attendees. Also test and learn – try new environments or experiences that enable attendees to undertake the journey that is most meaningful to them. Final note – build in budget and time to listen and talk to audiences at your event (and contact non-attendees afterwards!) to help inform future efforts.

 

WD: The new competition of for attendees is not other events, but time, opportunity cost, workload and convenience. Given that how do we continue to earn our attendees’ business?

DS: Our clients focus on one simple question: what keeps you up at night professionally? Answer that question and you will have a loyal following for life.

 

WD: What is wrong with post-event surveys?

DS: Aside from Net Promoter Score, we are asking many of the wrong questions. We need to obsess on a couple of critical questions, such as whether we address their priorities, whether we provided relevant and meaningful tools to impact their work and life, and whether our gatherings are their top 1 or 2 priorities for the year. Our clients also love to benchmark against critical metrics like density, buyer influence, and audience quality. But current surveys focus way too much on satisfaction – which is a nice metric internally but doesn’t get to the heart of the participant mindset. One last note – we often survey about items that we either cannot control or don’t plan to change, which is a total waste of time and effort.

 

WD: Is there a need for event organizers to invest in more product development? Where should the research for new “products” start?

DS: New product development starts with and should always include participant insights – it should be at the heart of everything we do. This should include many of the strategies I have shared in earlier questions – understanding what keeps participants up at night, what their professional priorities are, what they are seeking to learn and how, and how they want to learn and interact. Then use an agile process to develop concepts that can be tested. The most important part of this is having a team dedicated to understanding and exceeding participant expectations – and developing products suited to those audience needs. That team should have a combination of industry, analytical, and insights skills. New product developers should be entrepreneurial and willing to take risks.

 

WD: Where do you predict we’ll be in the next five years?

DS: The events sector will be strong and focused. Participants will feel we understand them better, that experiences are designed to their needs, and that companies can demonstrate ROI because organizers are providing better intelligence and evidence of the payoff. Also, we will see new experiences in spaces and places we have overlooked – pulling like-minded people together and utilizing the full campus as an integrated journey and experience versus the separation today between “keynote, exhibit hall, and classrooms.” Last note – today is the time to disrupt and innovate – and those innovators will be accelerating the pace of change for the better.

 

Thanks David! You have made some great points. I appreciate your sharing them.


Will your lack of respect for your customers come back to bite you?

A colleague advised me when I started in the business that I should “do as little as possible while trying to get the maximum out of others.” Left unsaid, but understood, was the presumption that as long as I got mine, making the minimum effort was OK.
Fortunately for my bosses and my clients, I rejected that advice.
 
But it got me thinking about how much we actually do for our customers. Often the rationale that underlies the operation of many events is that if you just put up a tent, “they” (the sponsors/exhibitors, speakers, and attendees) will come. Much of the time that works – at least for the short term. But without an insider’s understanding of the interests of our customers, we’re just guessing – and successful guessing is a matter of luck. Perhaps you believe that hitting the repeat button and, as long as you get yours and what you deliver is ‘good enough,’ who cares? Eventually, luck runs out.
 
The good news is that with all the digital marketing and analytics now available, the behavior of our customers can now be tracked and analyzed. That makes it easier to push a button and ‘know’ who our customers are and what they want. Sort of. The nature of most analytics is that it captures the past far better than it offers guidance for the future and gives you no visceral idea of what the actual minute by minute experience is.
 
Throughout my career, I have often found that show organizers have an aversion to meeting with attendees and visitors to really get to know them. Instead, they choose to make decisions based solely on generalized archetypes/personas and spreadsheet analytics. That only takes you so far.
 
When you go to a restaurant, you expect courtesy and service from the staff that’s grounded in respect for you as the customer. What do you do when you don’t feel that you’ve not been accorded that respect? You walk out. It’s the response to be expected from a person who’s real and not an archetype.
 
Are we getting too complacent about how we put our events together? Would your attendees and visitors say that you respected them individually? Or have you become too big or too successful to care what the individual thinks because you’re confident that someone else will fill the seat or walk the floor?
 
The colleague’s guidance that I cited at the beginning of this piece did not serve him well. Though he went independent and initially was successful, the opportunities dried up and he ended up retiring. Remember, the market always decides who wins or loses. And that’s often determined by what people choose to do and, correspondingly, what they opt not to do.
 
Perhaps you are fortunate right now to be on a hot streak and if you can keep it going, my hat’s off to you. Hopefully, you are well aware of what’s driving your success and you’re still willing and able to provide it. For most, that’s a matter of understanding what provides value to your customers and working to deliver that value on an ongoing basis, not just doing it once because you found a way to maximize results through minimum effort. In this business, success is not a matter of “rinse and repeat.”
 
The bottom line is that you will get “yours” if you can walk the path that your customers walk and bring that insight into your planning and execution. It means you’ll have to work harder, change faster, and produce events that people actively want to attend.
 
Do you really respect your customers?