Become an Outsider (Again)

L.L. Bean advocates a “Be an Outsider” lifestyle, a marketing theme that reminds me that we all were once outsiders in terms of the events business. None of us intended to end up in this industry and all of us have had experience elsewhere before landing here.

Those different points of origin are important, as it seems clear to me that true innovation and creativity do not come naturally to this business from within. Most of the impetus for new ideas seems to come from outside. In a previous post, I cited Paddy Cosgrave and his Web Summit as one among the many examples of this phenomenon. In many cases, the new ideas come from people who are working in specific industries and see the opportunity to create a new event, even if the field might be considered already well-populated with events. In fact, before COVID-19, my business largely supported these kinds of new event launches.

The bad news for current insiders is that future events will continue to be driven by outsiders. They often are more creative and innovative than we are. They listen more attentively to their audiences, given these audiences are likely to have a shared experience that reflects a common industry background. And they lack the legacy – either in terms of costs or commitments – that tend to encumber incumbent event organizers. Thus, they are more open-minded than we are.

The good news for current event insiders is that we once were outsiders ourselves. When we first came to the events business, we were full of fresh new ideas and eager to try them out. Perhaps we embraced an approach that “a new broom sweeps clean.” We ‘learned’ the ways of the events business (as they existed at the time) and created products that worked – and proved profitable – for a long time.

We need to regain the outsider’s fresh approach that we once had, as it will be a requirement for all event producers to prosper. You may be saying that it sounds good, but how do I get there from here? Here’s my prescription for rediscovering ‘outsider-ness’ again.

1) Read a lot to get new ideas.

2) Don’t dismiss those with event ideas who come from outside the industry.

3) Consider hiring consultants who can offer a fresh look at what you are doing.

4) Ensure you include your intended audiences within this process, including your biggest critics.

5) Focus on the core of what you do that provides customer value; eliminate or minimize everything else.

6) Find a way to become a member of the constituency for whom you intend your show.

7) Fight the temptation to return to the way things used to be.

8) Ensure your new course of action can eventually make money and you can survive until then.

9) Enjoy the journey.

I expect the events business will look quite different within 12 months, and the money to be made will come via fresh ideas from outside. It’s time to become that outsider again.

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