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Downturn Strategies from an Event Industry Sales Expert 

One of my long-term industry friends is Dan Cole, whom I first met in 2007 at a Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) event. Then serving as the Vice President of Sales for the Consumer Electronics Show, Dan moderated a SISO panel about exhibit sales strategies and tactics that wowed me with its insights and recommendations. To this day I believe he is one of the best exhibit sales trainers in the business. Since sales will be one of the primary mechanisms by which events improve profitability as we emerge from the COVID downturn, I was very interested in getting his take on the past 24 months and his recommendations for how sales teams should respond.

Here’s what he had to say:

Warwick Davies (WD): How have you reacted to COVID in the past 24 months? What’s worked? What hasn’t?

Dan Cole (DC): I have made the best of it. It’s a tragic situation, but also a time when industry colleagues have pulled together and exercised a high degree of empathy. This is how I’ve tried to comport myself as well.

WD: How have your strategies in advising clients how to sell their events?

DC: Keep on keeping on. Now is NOT the time to let go of or shirk away from potential or current relationships. “Within every adversity lay a seed of opportunity.” By no means am I advising to exploit the pandemic, but by all means, it’s an important time to continue reaching out to potential and current clients to convince them of the importance of their participation in our events. They’re human beings too, facing the same fight.

WD: Why are pre-COVID sales techniques not working for most event companies these days? 

DC: We’ve said this for a long time and, frankly, I think it applies to both before and now as we come out of the pandemic: Don’t expect to be successful with a transactional mentality There’s still a tendency to promote a “smile and dial” approach. You might be smiling, but the person on the other end of the phone (if they even answer) is not. Build a relationship, exude trust and earn your way into a successful sale.

WD: What’s been your success with incorporating digital, other revenue generators?

DC: I cannot speak to this personally, but I have found it to be mixed. I will say that while I understand that it’s a risk to go virtual and that financially it might not be viable at all, big and small shows alike that employed various platforms stayed relevant. Doing so was not easy. Those who had the financial wherewithal to do so made a courageous decision. They found success with digital properties and related assets that sponsors could take advantage of.

WD: What is your view to launching new events in this environment?

DC: Go for it. Our clients need us. The industry has been awakened to identify and utilize best practices and new ideas. I think we can overdeliver on expectations more than ever. Trade Shows and events are important bellwethers for our country and the world. They help jumpstart all industries, and thus make a very important contribution to revenues. Besides this noble cause, there’s no time like now to offer potential exhibitors and attendees a unique, serendipitous, and unique experience.


WD: Has your view on innovation changed?

DC: I think my previous answers might have shed some light on this. Innovative technology is no longer a “nice to have” when it comes to fostering client (both exhibitors and attendees) engagement. It’s a must-have. It’s a differentiator. It’s the difference between long and short-term loyalty. You can’t make clients “work for it” when participating in your event—You have got to make it easy and seamless. They have other choices now (and COVID has proven this). The deadliest choice for us is for them to give up on investing in exhibiting and or attending a show. In some cases, attendees and exhibitors have already made this conclusion, and that puts us behind the 8 ball. It’s going to take a herculean effort to regain their business. Innovation– in whatever form we employ can help us do that.

WD: What are the top 5 things which today’s person needs to have in their satchel? 

DC: They are, in no apparent order:

  • Incurable optimism
  • Constant improvement in one’s selling skills
  • A firm, deep grasp of the industry in which one is involved, buyer and attendee personas.
  • An understanding of the KPIs that are necessary for personal performance.
  • A mentor who can share their perspective on Sales and Business Development success.

Hmm. Dan, it seems to me that many of your tips are things that a well-organized and successful sales rep should already have in his or her arsenal.

Appreciate your input!


Does Your Event Have a Reason for Being?

Does this sound like a quesion with an obvious answer? It’s not, and I can prove it. One clue to possible problems is the core messaging. Is the tagline for your event something along the lines of:
 
  • “It’s all about networking”
  • “It’s all about action!”
  • “Be ingenious!”
  • Some other similarly trite, vacuous slogan?
 
If so, then it’s clear that you don’t understand the essence of your event (what the French would term its “raison d’etre” – the reason for being.) Or perhaps you do know the essential quality – or at least have an idea – but you’re just a poor marketer and cannot communicate it effectively. Regardless of the reason, the results will be the same: a poorly performing event that is not long for this world.
 
How can you fix the problem? Don’t rely on the past. An event’s previous history does not assure current or future success. Just because you’ve run your event for many years doesn’t mean it remains relevant without review and innovation. The markets we serve are too fluid. There are too many examples of what were once large, vibrant gatherings that no longer exist. Remember COMDEX and Macworld, anyone?
 
The challenges have only grown. Because of COVID’s impact on in-person gatherings of any kind since 2020, our customers now have experienced life without the assumption that they would be attending traditional events. Events can no longer assume to be an automatic budget allocation in the sales and marketing strategies (of exhibitors) or industry research (of attendees).
 
Are event managers responding appropriately? There have been far too many events that I’ve attended where the essence of them were once relevant but is no longer. Those events are on life support, simply awaiting their inevitable demise. For each event cycle, you must honestly reaffirm that your event’s existence has substantive value for all the relevant constituencies. Otherwise, you do both yourself and your supporting ecosystem a disservice. The results will be waning interest and declining participation.
 
And you must think beyond short-term results. Though revenue and profitability remain key references for viability, just making money can’t be the only reason to run an event. Without addressing the core business value being offered, any success should be considered transitory – even illusory – as is evident from the many “cash cow” events that once were prominent, but since have disappeared.
 
The bottom line is this: If you don’t provide value, the audience and sponsorships for your events eventually will disappear. Rather than resign yourself to that fate, it’s best to pre-empt the risk, taking action now to prevent that from happening.

Only 20% of Sales Staff are Truly Salespeople.
The Rest? Order-Takers

At SuperNiche in Washington DC last week, I attended a session by Ryan Dohrn during which he asserted that prospects that contact you are already 2/3 of the way through the buying process. They’ve already researched who you are, have looked at the prospectus for your event, and know what they want to buy. Given that scenario, do you really need salespeople to close these deals, or could you just hire staff that can finalize the details and get the order, doing so without any other “specialized sales skills”?

My contention is that true salespeople can do things that order-takers cannot. Among them are:

  • Turn around a failing situation (e.g., recover from a bad show).
  • Convince customers not to buy the ‘wrong’ things (that don’t fit their needs).
  • Get exhibitors for a new event for which there are no previous customers.
  • Prospect and successfully get new business from ‘suspects’.
  • Organize their time and activities without supervision.
  • Upsell as necessary.
  • Consistently exceed their numbers.

In my opinion, only 20% of event salespeople can successfully do the above. That certainly shrinks the pool of prospects for your sales team.

At a different SuperNiche session, a panelist lamented the inability to find decent sales candidates after placing job descriptions on various job boards. No wonder, given that only one-fifth of the prospective targets are true salespeople, and they are not looking for new jobs on such boards! Everyone in your industry knows who the best salespeople are and trust me, these salespeople have already found the most lucrative opportunities for themselves. Any new job must be pretty damn special to pry them away from their current position.

For the record, I would rarely hire a sales rep via a job board. I’d much prefer to get a referral and recommendation from someone that I trust. That gets me some ‘skin in the game’, both from the recommender and the candidate, providing some degree of confidence in the selection. When I’m putting together an event team on behalf of a client, the sales staff are always the hardest roles to fill. The best candidates are likely to already be working on good opportunities and it takes all my skills to recruit one for the event that I am supporting.

So, given the smaller pool of true sales staff, what is to be done with the other 80% that we are now calling order-takers? Can they be transformed into true salespeople? The answer is yes, if they have the attitude and determination to get to this higher level. You’ll need to offer them some level of training and mentoring, and then see what happens. If they don’t raise their performance, you’ll need to cut them.

For the moment though, if you have one of the 20%, make sure you are paying them well, and they have work they are proud to do.


A Ride on the Roller Coaster with Someone Who’s Seen It All: Jason McGraw

Jason McGraw, a Group Vice President at Emerald, is a good guy and a friend within the industry. From his roles with such well-known shows as InfoComm, the Trade Show Executive Gold 100, and, more recently, CEDIA Expo, and KBIS, Jason has seen it all. I met with him recently at an industry event and, given that he had a story to top all of that, I took advantage of the opportunity to interview him.


Warwick
 Davies (WD): How has your company been doing in the past 20 months? What’s worked? What hasn’t?

Jason McGraw (JM): I can’t speak for Emerald as a whole; but for the events I manage, CEDIA Expo and KBIS, we have certainly experienced the highs and lows of producing events during the pandemic. In 2020, like so many other organizers, we had to cancel our in-person shows and pivot to online virtual events. In 2021, we continued with virtual events in the first half of the year and saw a return to in-person shows in the second half of the year.  Virtual events seemed to take almost as much work as producing in-person shows, but with less revenue, exhibitor participation, and attendance. And frankly, virtual events did not provide an equal experience compared to live events. Virtual events served their purpose for the time of the pandemic when in-person events were not possible; but in my experience, attendees have grown wary of virtual events and crave the return of the face-to-face experiences that trade shows provide.  Seeing and touching new products first-hand, meeting with exhibitors, colleagues, and peers in person is difficult or impossible to replicate online.
 
We held our CEDIA Expo 2021 show in-person last September in Indianapolis, but we were hit with a wave of exhibitor and attendee cancellations just as the Delta variant was peaking and yet we persevered and still put on a small show. The feedback from the exhibitors who participated was good all things considered.  They valued the opportunity to connect in person with highly qualified attendees who made the effort to be at the show.  They spent quality time and made meaningful connections.
 
And then we were faced with the Omicron variant last fall and we struggled again with exhibitor cancellations for our KBIS show.  However, the demand to return to events was so great that we saw over 70,000 attendees turn out for KBIS 2022 and the NAHB’s International Builders’ Show (IBS) at our combined Design & Construction Week show in Orlando last month. What an amazing experience! In-person shows are back!
 
 
WD: You told me the decision to run KBIS this year was nail biting, especially how the attendance came in at the last minute. Could you describe how that went down? 
 
JM: We had made the decision to proceed with doing this year’s event a year in advance following the cancellation of our ’21 show due to the pandemic.  With the additional health and safety measures we put in place, we felt confident that we could safely operate a successful event this year.  Our decision was boosted by the success we had with many other Emerald events held in the second half of ’21.  However, with the rise of the Omicron variant cases through the fall of ’21 leading up to this February’s show, we did experience exhibitor cancellations and attendee registrations were pacing below where we had planned to be. 
 
However, as we got closer to the event, the COVID cases had already peaked and were declining rapidly; registrations really increased in the last few weeks prior to the event and we actually had over 10,000 registrations come in over the final week including the show days.  The demand to get back to the in-person show was incredible and exceeded expectations.
 
WD: What’s your opinion about not telling stakeholders the expected attendance on upcoming shows and how has that panned out during COVID? 
 
JM: We actually were transparent with our exhibitors leading up to the show communicating how we were pacing in registrations as compared to our previous in-person events.  We projected that we would be 33% down in attendance with 60,000 total in ‘22 vs. the 90,000 we had at DCW ‘20.  As it turned out, we ended up with 70,000, off just 23%. 
 
Another key factor in the show’s success after a long delay in having an in-person event is that we ended up with 48% first time attendees – that surprised us and our exhibitors.  Many of the exhibitors who had withdrawn from this year’s show cited an expected lower ROI based on polling their dealers who said they weren’t going to the show; they did not account for the first time attendees that they hadn’t seen before. Many of the exhibitors who had cancelled have since rebooked for next year’s show and expressed regret that they pulled out of this year’s event.
 
I’d also like to add that our post show survey results showed that exhibitors had an amazing experience at KBIS ’22 with our exhibitor net promoter score significantly increasing vs. our previous pre-pandemic in-person event.
Even with fewer attendees vs. our ’20 show, satisfaction with the ’22 show increased.  It goes to show, that focusing on producing a quality event delivers value for your event’s stakeholders.
 
WD: How have your strategies changed in marketing face-to-face events?
 
JM: We have increased our digital marketing efforts as most attendees and exhibitor personnel have been working from home during the pandemic.  We’ve increased our use of targeted emails, videos, and webinars to engage our audiences as well as partnerships with industry associations and trade publication partners with online content, e-newsletters, and sponsored new product e-blasts.
 
 
WD: What’s been your success with digital, other revenue models?
 
JM: We have seen an increase in exhibitor spending in digital advertising, online sponsored content, and webinar opportunities.  To enhance the value of the show experience, we have launched AI-powered online matchmaking platforms to facilitate attendee to attendee and attendee to exhibitor connections at the events.  These matchmaking platforms allow users and exhibitors to make “smart matches” to help them connect with other show participants they wish to meet and network with.  The platforms also provide exhibitors with an added marketing vehicle to promote their new products and show promotions. We look forward to increasing audience adoption and exhibitor investment in these platforms moving forward.
 
WD: What is your view on launching new events in this environment?
 
JM: As confidence returns with increasing participation in live events, I’m confident that there will be opportunities for targeted event launches throughout the events industry in various markets.  Do the homework and look for underserved markets, regional opportunities, and curated content events for vertical market segments.
 
WD: Has your view on innovation changed?
 
JM: Communications technology tools and services certainly helped to keep businesses and markets moving during the pandemic. Can you imagine the past two years without Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Webex, etc.? Event technologies and virtual event platforms exploded to meet the online demand to fill the void of in-person events during the pandemic.  These tools will remain essential to how we do business post-pandemic in hybrid work environments.  Event technology solutions will continue to enhance the in-person show experience and help extend events’ reach with 365 digital extensions.  AI-driven solutions, online service platforms, and self-service solutions will continue to facilitate in-person event innovation and increased ROI and value for all event stakeholders.
 
WD: What would your advice be to the rest of the industry be?
 
JM: Be flexible and adapt your plans as necessary to provide the best show experiences.  Involve your event’s stakeholders and proceed with policies that serve the majority of your attendees and exhibitors.  Stand by your convictions and do what you believe to be in the best interests of your events.  DCW 2022 proved that it’s time to get back to business with live events.  Put in the work, promote the power and value of returning to face-to-face shows – attendees and exhibitors will return and have a great time!
 
Great stuff. I’m glad to see you and Emerald returning with some industry-leading events.
 
Thanks again!

Are You a Leader or a ‘Knob Twiddler’?

The definition of a knob-twiddler (according to the online dictionary, Wiktionary) is “a technician whose job entails adjusting electronic devices via knobs.” More broadly, the term characterizes someone who operates the ‘machine’, i.e., someone who has a part in running things, but does not contribute to establishing the strategic direction nor is a leader in any way. This person is reactive, not proactive.
 
If you consider yourself proud to be a knob-twiddler, am I telling you to change? Yes, I am. Having endured two years of battering from COVID requires each of us to be a leader who can weather the remainder of this storm and those of the future. Furthermore, I believe it makes great sense to broaden the appeal, skillset, and value that you can provide to an organization. If you lack the perspective to understand the big picture, it’s incumbent that you 1) devise a way to understand that picture, 2) determine where you currently fit, and 3) figure out how you can expand your role and make substantive contributions. Knowing how, and ensuring that others know, is now crucial.

 

TIMES ARE TOUGH NOW

As an example, consider the experience of event companies whose success can rise and fall due to circumstances beyond their control. I remember working for a company whose fortunes turned downward after 9/11. When cuts had to be made, some of the operations and IT staff were the first to be let go. In time, they were followed by those in marketing, the content staff, and mid-level management. Last in this succession of departures were members of the sales team. More recently, of course, many of us have seen how COVID’s impact has decimated the industry. Given that, I’ve no doubt that you have stories that match mine.
 
Does the sequence of departures that I cited mean that operations and marketing people were the least valuable? No, but the common trait of everyone laid off, regardless of the role, was the perception that their skills were limited to the department within which they worked. Those who remained were considered able to perform multiple tasks, both within their specific department and in others. For example, there were those who, though not in sales, had sales skills that could be leveraged. One operations person, having worked previously in marketing, could contribute to that effort. There are other examples, as well.
 

ARE YOU PREPARED TO SURVIVE, TO THRIVE?

The value of possessing a variety of skills is not merely survival during a business downturn. Advancement of one’s career is enhanced by breadth of ability. You are far more promotable if your background reflects experience performing multiple functions. And, when that experience is within your current company, it’s gold.
 
If you are a good knob-twiddler, I commend you for doing a job that needs to be done and for doing it well. But you should consider broadening your appeal beyond just doing what’s asked of your current role. That way, you can prove your value when times again get tough – as they most assuredly will.
 
For companies to survive, all of us will need to find ways to lead.

Strategic and Tactical: Chat with an Event Marketing Agency Star: Shauna Peters

I’ve gotten so much positive response from my recent interview articles that I’ve decided to continue them for a while.
 
Next up is Shauna Peters, vice president and marketing strategist for mdg, a Freeman Company. I’ve known Shauna for many years, and I’ve watched her excel at a variety of roles within the industry. Given that she’s experienced both the attendee and strategic management sides of the business, I was curious to understand what insights she could share from her recent years of managing in a COVID-altered world:
 
 
Warwick Davies (WD): How has your company been doing in the past 20 months? What’s worked? What hasn’t?
 
Shauna Peters (SP): mdg adapted in a matter of weeks to support our clients as they went from in-person events to virtual events, even forming a virtual event marketing division within the agency. Our event strategists, together with our paid media team, began collecting data that helped us understand the nuances of virtual events, including registration timelines, cost thresholds, audience profiles, effective marketing channels and more. In full transparency, we had varying degrees of success around virtual events, with some of our clients experiencing higher attendance than they had seen for physical events and others falling well short of expectations. We, along with just about everyone in our space, learned that some aspects of physical events are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to replicate in a virtual space.
 
Another challenge we’ve experienced is with our clients’ databases getting decimated – mainly because of the industry disruption caused by the pandemic but also because of the great resignation, great retirement, office closures and even the number of people voluntarily opting out or disengaging. Because databases aren’t as reliable as they once were, many clients are now putting a huge emphasis on finding new audiences outside of their “house lists”. As such, our digital marketing team, in particular those focusing on paid media, has been very much in demand.
 
 
WD: How have your strategies changed in marketing face-to-face events?
 
SP: We’re moving away from marketing that focuses on detailed statistics demonstrating the size of the event in an attempt to draw a parallel between magnitude and value. Instead, we’re going back to clear value propositions and trying to capitalize on the pent-up demand for commerce and community. It’s not about seeing 500 vendors. It’s about finding the latest innovation that matters to you. It’s not about being among 20,000 other people. It’s about making quality connections with individuals that will inspire or inform you. And to that end, we are shifting promotional copy from one-way conversations—telling audiences all the facts and features of our events—to instead working with our audiences, speakers, exhibitors, key influencers in the space—to cultivate trust and add creditability to an event’s voice, ultimately driving attendance.
 
 
WD: How do you square that with until now, all shows have bragged about huge square footage and attendance numbers (in fact big awards are given to the largest events), and exhibitors want to know what the numbers are as a comparison to pre-covid numbers? Now that smaller attendances are the rule not the exception, is it fair to customers for event organizers to change the rules of the game and hide attendance numbers?
 
SP: When it comes to the messages that resonate with attendees, size no longer cuts it. And frankly, size didn’t convey an event’s value in the past either. People are, however, responding to value-based reasons to attend. And right now, those who are attending events are motivated buyers, so even exhibitors who may want to see as many people at events as possible, are very satisfied with the attendees they are seeing. According to recent Freemen research, exhibitor NPS scores are almost 20 points higher than they were pre-COVID.
 
 
WD: Should event organizers run events at any costs even if the attendance numbers aren’t where they need to be? How should poor attendance be communicated to exhibitors?
 
SP: Every organizer must look at their financials and make the call that makes the most sense for their event. We are encouraging exhibitors to think about Return on Exposure, Return on Engagement, Return on Impressions and overall, a Return on Objectives. This essentially requires accepting that not all goals are measurable with hard financial data. Exhibiting may be part of telling a brand story or sharing how the organization is evolving, serving a new segment of the industry, launching innovations aimed at solving a particular challenge, etc. It’s moving exhibitors closer to their long-term branding building objectives in a way that is more comprehensive and integrated than just tying direct revenue back to a trade show lead.
 
 
WD: What’s been your success with digital, other revenue models?
 
SP: We’ve seen digital platforms work well for some forms of educational content. For many clients, their digital events have brought in entirely new audiences, many younger and more international than their previous in-person events. This has opened many opportunities to engage with segments they previously didn’t reach and who are not likely to be attending their in-person events in the near future. This has led to more year-round content engagement strategies with things like webinars, online vendor demos or videos and small networking opportunities for audience subsegments—all of which pose new revenue stream opportunities.
 
 
WD: What is your view on launching new events in this environment?
 
SP: Now is an excellent time to launch a new event. This environment has required everyone, even established events, to step back and reevaluate much of their events. As part of the behavioral shift we’ve experienced, people value their time more, which means they are more discerning in how they spend it, where they go, which companies and brands they support and trust, etc. This means that we need to ensure our events have a strong compelling value proposition driving the need for our audience to continue to attend. This has really opened up the market for new events to emerge. There is opportunity to think differently and build an event from an audience-centric viewpoint to meet needs that aren’t currently being met. It’s leveled the playing field in many ways.
 
 
WD: Has your view on innovation changed?
 
SP: Absolutely. Innovation has become a lot less about the technology itself and innovating for the sake of change but more about the impact that change has on the end user or industry. It’s less about demonstrating something cool because we can, but seeking out ways that we can build better events, more efficient uses of our audiences’ time, ways to better connect people, help them do their jobs better, build a better world, give back, etc.
 
 
WD: What would your advice be to the rest of the industry?
 
SP: Embrace the opportunity to create a new future for events. Now is the time to reevaluate everything from the audiences we’re targeting and the value proposition of our events, to the ways we integrate technology and the experiences we create for exhibitors and sponsors onsite. Community and experience have become so much more important to us as a society, and these are big opportunities for us to embrace as an industry.
 
Thanks for your thoughts, Shauna! I look forward to hearing you speak at the upcoming Lippman Connects’ Attendee Acquisition Roundtable in the next few weeks.
 
 
Information on Shauna is here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shaunabpeters/
 
Information on mdg is here: https://www.mdg.agency/
 
Information on the Attendee Acquisition Roundtable is here: https://www.lippmanconnects.com/events/roundtables/attendee-acquisition-roundtable
 

Resilience Under Fire: An Event Organizer Chat with Sean Guerre

Recently I’ve had the chance to re-connect with a number of people who I’ve known and respected for many years. Among them is Sean Guerre, who I first met at the 2008 SISO (Society of Independent Show Organizers) CEO Summit where he took me under his wing and introduced me to C-Suite life in the tradeshow business. At the time a senior executive at Access Intelligence, Sean later started his own company, Stone Fort Media, a manager of events and communities for energy technologies and associated industries. I asked Sean if he’d be willing to give me his thoughts as to how he had weathered the last two years. Here’s what he shared:
 
Warwick Davies (WD): How has your company been doing in the past 20 months? What’s worked? What hasn’t?
 
Sean Guerre (SG): It has been an interesting time…to say the very least. I think we really embraced the idea of “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!”  As an events company our first step was to pivot to being a digital media AND events company, still focused on energy technology.  We kept close to our communities and based on their feedback launched a series of newsletters, sector reports and digital events (shorter webinars and multi-day virtual conferences.)  We learned what works- Content, and what doesn’t- Virtual Booths- and then started doing more of what worked well.  Revenue was about 50% of our live events, but it kept us moving forward until we could bring back live events. Doing this made us have stronger communities since we now served them digitally as well. Starting in Q2 2021 we brought back smaller events and then did 4 larger events in Q4, we were lucky to get them in post-Delta and pre-Omicron.  Helps to be lucky!
 
WD:  How have your strategies changed running face to face events? Are you signing new venue contracts at this time?
 
SG: We are fully back with our live events side of the business and running 8 events in 2022.  Biggest difference is now we co-locate several of them so we only have to run the risk of a COVID wave 3 times this year versus 8 times.  This also works well economically since we aren’t having to negotiate so many venue contracts, and lastly it fits with our communities so they can attend multiple events with one trip as their travel budgets are still coming back.  I feel like the name of the game now is how to grow and serve your communities while lowering risks.
 
WD: What’s success have you had with digital, other revenue models?
 
SG: Newsletters and sector reports have worked really well.  They both fit perfectly into the flywheel of promoting and repurposing event content (either digital or live events).  We are still doing sponsored webinars in 2022 and that trend seems to be more long term for digital revenue.  For other revenue models on the live event side, we have added sponsored boardroom events and meetups and those are high margin and lower risk.  We are looking forward to adding membership channels to our communities in 2023 as another revenue stream that is monthly recurring and is a good fit between digital and live event sides of our business.
 
WD: How has your marketing strategies and tactics changed?
 
SG: We have made VIP programs a real focus to ensure the quality of attendees is VERY STRONG at our events.  It seems like there is a real opportunity to make sure that our events are THE must attend for our sector, and that will be critical to success moving forward as everyone rebuilds.  Also, we have shortened our marketing cycles significantly since heavy marketing during COVID is a waste, so you have to ride the waves.  Lastly, with our digital media and social channels we have really embraced content marketing to drive interest and engagement for our events.
 
WD: What is your view to launching new events?
 
SG: Anyone who knows me, knows I love to launch!  We took advantage of the digital and lower cost event environment to launch several new events focused on technology for the energy transition.  They did quite well overall and we are now running them for their second year live.  We think this gives us a head start by already building awareness and the community prior to adding the risks and costs of a live event. We are also launching one brand new event for Q4 as a live event, a community we stated serving with our digital channels with newsletters and reports last year.
 
WD:   Has your view on innovation changed?
 
SG: Our company, Stone Fort Media is fortunate to serve the cutting edge of innovation in energy technology, so we get excited about innovation for our communities and work to apply that drive to our media and events business.  The opportunities seem to only have grown as we have all gone through the past 2 years, if you are willing to seize opportunities, can manage risks, and be innovative.
 
WD:   What would your advice be to the rest of the industry be?
 
SG: It’s been a tough time for everyone in the events business, with some wins and a lot of losses, especially for the small owner/operators of event firms and the vendor partners we work with.  I think it is important to bring kindness to our dealings with one another, help each other with ideas and tactics, so that we can all get back to business and be stronger, together.  The best is yet to come!
 

Thanks, Sean! You are indeed a star in the business and a mentor to me. Keep up the good stuff!

More information about Sean and Stone Fort Media can be found
here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/seanguerre/
and here: https://innovateenergynow.com/about-stone-fort-group
 

Eight Characteristics of a Successful COVID-era Event

As event organizers, we’ve had nearly two years of experience dealing with COVID. We’ve dealt with the postponements, cancellations, and (with mixed results) the re-opening of face-to-face events. This hard-earned experience can be applied to our upcoming COVID-era events.
 
I have been asked to develop a list of the essential qualities needed to overcome the current challenges and thrive in the future. In no particular order they are:
 
1.   Closeness with attendee audience
The best events anticipate attendee needs in terms of content, format, speakers, and networking opportunities. How have they achieved this? The organizers are either part of the community they serve or they have invested in understanding that community and remaining current. These events have recaptured the excitement associated with learning and meeting with others with similar interests and offerings. Another test is whether your attendees know you are and whether they like you.
 
2.   Great negotiation skills
The COVID era requires you to go to the mat with hotels and convention centers regarding current and future event contracts. If you have existing pre-COVID agreements, you have some leverage. If not, you’ll need to determine the loyalty of your hotel and convention center partners. You will need to assess the long game for your company and ensure your business and legal teams can deliver the flexibility necessary to manage your future risk.
 
3.   Digital options for exhibitors
Do you have a digital strategy for your face-to-face exhibitors that complements your events, enabling you to offer leads to key customers as your in-person events return to full health? For event companies to thrive, they must not put all their eggs in one basket.
 
4.   Resilient event team
You and your team have gone through hell in the last two years. Ensure that everyone at your company cares enough to do the work needed to regain success and, if necessary, either reassign or jettison those who are just along for the ride. Nurture those relationships that may have gone without attention. Re-engage with people outside the company to spark excitement about the promise of re-energized shows.
 
5.   Great salespeople
Do your exhibitors trust your sales staff? Will they take sales calls? How well can your sales team position bad news and do the best for your event and your customers? The key to surviving COVID is having competent salespeople who can drive revenue both in good times and bad, rather than order takers who fold when times get tough.
 
6.   Great product
What are the nature and goal of your events? If you don’t know, you’re in trouble. Start by refreshing your mission statement to ensure it matches the show you are producing. Does your event team know what’s new and exciting in the market? Is that information incorporated in the event and its messaging? Are you trying anything new with the event format? Is your event worth 10x the amount that attendees are being asked to pay? Aspire to make your event a ‘must attend,’ a club to which only 5% of all events belong.
 
7.   Great marketing
You segment your lists and know the characteristics of your best attendee/visitors. You have the analytics to see the trends, supported by databases that are frequently cleaned, updated, and expanded. More importantly, you know your attendees personally.
 
Your messaging is engaging, tailored to the audience, and exciting, rather than trite. You offer valuable content that adds to your targets’ understanding of the market. Thus, you attract event attendees vs. engaging in marketing that pesters prospects. Your pricing policies further guide them to act in their best interest.
 
Your marketing staff is trained on the latest tools and supporting tactics – both analytic and communications – that can deliver the kind of scalable marketing necessary to capture attention and motivate prospects to respond and register for your event.
 
8.   A watchful eye on ROI when making decisions.
With costs increasing, make sure that every expense has a connection to revenue. Can you afford to hire the $8K cartoonist for your event? Look at how much you are charging to exhibit or attend and evaluate whether it’s too much or too little. Create new revenue streams by adding programs that are worthy of additional fees: workshops, certification programs, golf outings, etc. Sharpen your pencil regarding costs and get creative regarding programs.
 
You may have other attributes of success that I have not mentioned here. If so, feel free to let me know. Use this list as a guide and you’ll find it becomes easier to create and execute successful events.
 
As always, I wish you good luck as we all navigate 2022.

Can Your Event Marketing Team Avert COVID-Driven Attendance Disasters?

For most event marketers, the answer is no. Having been trained ’by the book,’ they tend to struggle with responding to negative results in a timely, proper way. Too often, they persist with plans that are not working or, as the event looms ever closer, they become paralyzed with fear.

 

Then what happens? Senior staff must get involved and muster the resources needed to salvage the situation. Given the surging and receding of the different COVID variants, your professional reputation and the value of your brand depend on your marketing staff’s ability to attract a crowd to your events. That remains true irrespective of the outside factors that make it difficult to do. 

 

How can you equip your staff to be successful? Here are my six keys:

1.  Ensure that you hire people who can pivot or are capable of learning how to do so. If it’s the latter, make sure there’s a plan to train them.

2.  Have at least one marketing staff member who has got the creativity – and the dispensation – to change course as needed.

3.  Require that your entire marketing staff is plugged into the market your event serves. They need to have the right connections with whom they can brainstorm new approaches or adjust tactics as needed. The “right” connections include your prospective attendees, as they can provide a true sense of their needs and how those needs could be addressed by your event.

4. Insist that the entire marketing staff is up to date on the latest tools and techniques, making the necessary investment in the training needed to achieve this. That is, when you are not fighting fires.

5. Have a marketing plan with milestones and metrics so you can analyze results and take appropriate action if the established targets (e.g., attendee registrations, page views, email opens, and click-throughs, etc.) are not being hit.

6. Ensure that every event marketing budget has a ‘Plan B’ allocation, representing the money that only gets spent if things are going wrong. 

 

The New Normal for successful event marketers requires the agility, boldness, and absence of fear that can handle the turbulence that COVID has thrown at us. And there’s no end in sight to that turbulence. 

 

Given that, will you do what’s needed to prepare and provision your marketing staff to succeed?



Are “Bad” Events a Necessary Evil, Given the Times We’re In?

Hotels and convention centers are getting smarter. During 2020 and 2021, the terms of pre-COVID agreements governed most event operations, allowing organizers to cancel events with few repercussions. The event venues had little recourse to recover their financial losses, given the force majeure provisions that were part of most agreements. But having been burnt by those pre-COVID provisions, the venues have adjusted to the new reality. Though they once bore the risk, now we do.
 
We can’t entirely control attendee wariness about traveling to our events. The best we can do is make operations as safe as possible with masking and vaccination policies, message that, and then hope that previous attendees now will generate a level of registrations that is acceptable to exhibitors. But what if attendees are slow to return to our upcoming events? Should we be running poorly attended shows? Can we afford to? Can we afford not to?
 
Can we afford the prospective impact of badly attended events on our reputations? Can we absorb the financial losses should cancellations incur large hotel/convention center penalties? Can we live to fight another day, or will we go out of business?
 
Part of the situation is self-inflicted. Show organizers rarely pay much attention to attendees as we do with our exhibitors, an irony given our dependence upon attendees. We have no show without attendees. Knowing how our attendees think and act, given the everchanging unknowns of today’s environment, is central to staging an event with some degree of confidence as we await a return to normality vs. dealing with the angst and worry of wondering whether an event will have passable attendance until things get better. Of course, understanding exhibitors is a big help, too.
 
Can we afford not to have the pulse of our attendees’ plans, needs, and behavior in these very unsettled times? Our shows are now depending on it.