Ask the Expert


A Tiger Unleashed: An Event Marketing Expert Devours the Challenge 

Nicole Peck is one of my favorite industry friends. She’s a tough negotiator who’s both smart and driven, and her career has gone from strength to strength. Nicole is the vice president of marketing for global events at Foundry (formerly IDG – a company for whom I previously worked) and she’s already in the thick of the action there. I asked whether she’d share her perspectives on what I call ‘the new marketing’ of the events industry.

Here’s what she had to offer:

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

Nicole Peck (NP): We’ve been doing great. The events division has modified our product offerings to reflect the needs of the market and the medium available for us to safely do so. Foundry as a whole has made smart acquisitions and our software and Martech solutions include a best-in-class Account-Based Marketing (ABM) platform, intent data platform, Data-as-a-Service and an email marketing platform built for B2B. These tools provide technology companies with buyer insight and intelligent foresight. They fuel demand generation, fill pipelines, and drive return on investment, helping technology marketers all over the world achieve their ambitions. Our events are an ideal bottom of the funnel opportunity, and in 2021, we produced more than 700 digital summits and round tables around the globe and connected buyers and sellers of technology.

 WD: How have your strategies changed in marketing face to face events?  

NP: In the past, I would have approached a group ticket order as a group buy, perhaps at a discount and not thought too much about it. Now, we are shifting tactics and building a strategy and program that appeals to groups and teams to attend events together. Our face-to-face events provide a perfect environment for disparate and geographically isolated teams to coalesce as a unit. At our events, they will learn about what is new, renew (hopefully) their passions for their profession and have an opportunity to share much-needed social time together. Additionally, we are creating spaces within our events that can be reserved by teams to meet and gather, and allowing them to sit together during meals. We understand that a shared experience is a memorable one. That benefits all constituents of an event, attendee and sponsor.

We have added education to our events that cover leadership and wellness. We recognize that the last couple of years have been tumultuous, to say the least, and we want to support our community and expand on the types of education and experience we deliver. We are transparent with those offerings at the get-go.

WD: Do you think the event marketer of the future will be someone who sits behind a computer looking at spreadsheets and analytics? If not, what are the other critical skillsets these marketers need?

NP: The event marketer of the future will be a jack of all trades and master of many. They must be an experience curator, an expert in their community and use the data of their marketing campaigns to refine and optimize. Marketing teams will have sub-specialists or experts in data analytics. Key to the event marketer of the future remains an ability to write copy, understand how to communicate value proposition and excitement. I have said for many years, that your strongest marketers should be easily able to switch places with your best salespeople. They also must have a sense of humor and adventure. You never can fully know what will be thrown your way and must be able to flex where and when needed.

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

NP: We have had a ton of success with the digital model. The format has been embraced by tech executives and they value the ease of use, non-travel time and ability to connect with others in the same way they are connecting with their internal teams. As long as the right people are in attendance, sponsors will enjoy and benefit from the pipeline intent and intelligence that can be gleaned. We achieve this through our successful virtual round-table discussions. Our expertise in moderation of these talks ensures a beneficial use of time for all persons involved. Our digital summits have allowed for a greater diversity in speaker roster and, as such, our sponsors have embraced the opportunity to get best-in class educators speaking about their products and initiatives.

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

NP: Same as it always was. Ensure that you have a solid value proposition for all parties involved. People will be more judicious of their time and unless the new launch offers something novel and is of real value, it won’t stick. How is it that there are still events and festivals that sell out in hours and sometimes minutes?  We can learn a lot from the consumer brands who can sell out a sneaker in seconds.  If your audience trusts you to deliver an event that will be worth their time and memorable, they will attend. If your track record includes events with the participants that sponsors wish to reach, sponsors will support you.

 WD: Has your view on innovation changed?

NP: I am not sure if I’d say my view on innovation has changed, but what has evolved for me through the years is my desire to build teams with better diversity of thought and experience. I recognize the value that all team members can bring to a brainstorm session. Those with decades of experience offer a wisdom that people new to the industry will not have. Conversely, newbies provide unjaded ways of thinking and problem solving so that when a team with diverse perspectives works together, greater buy-in can be achieved and the team will be quicker to innovate and feel comfortable doing so. I for sure, have a way of doing things. However, I am quick to recognize that I am not the smartest in the room and challenge others to solve issues and improve on processes to make us more efficient.  

 WD: What would your advice be to the rest of the industry be? 

 NP: Embrace technology and make data-driven decisions.

 Thanks Nicole and good luck meeting the challenges!


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!


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!

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
 

How To Exceed Attendee Projections During COVID: A Case Study

Since September, I have been touting an event that has managed to do the impossible in these times of COVID: exceed attendee number projections. The event, focused on small magazine publishers, is Super Niche. In existence for more than 15 years, Super Niche was purchased a few years ago by a friend of mine, Ryan Dohrn. A number of people have requested that I write about Super Niche, so I reached out to Ryan and he graciously agreed to share the ‘secret sauce’. Here’s what he had to say:
 
Warwick Davies (WD): What were the principal reasons you decided to purchase Super Niche?
Ryan Dohrn (RD):I did not want to see this event go away after seeing two other national events fold. The post-event feedback was always so good that I knew I could keep it rolling forward. Also, the virtual event during COVID had over 900 in attendance. I could just tell that people wanted to attend really bad. As a speaker at the event for 15 years, I knew that the event had a loyal following. In addition, I knew that the event email database was clean and engaged.
 
WD: Why did you decide to re-launch Super Niche and put it in a location where most of the attendees would have fly to it to get there?
RD: I took all of the past event attendee data and created a heat map to determine where most of the past attendees lived. Then I looked back at past attendance to determine which areas of the country tended to draw a pretty good crowd. Then, I looked in detail at where these attendees will potentially be flying from and which city would be easiest for most past attendees to fly out of. All data led to Denver and Chicago. The Windy City was out due to COVID restrictions. Denver was open for business and the psychological idea of the mountains, fresh air, and wide-open spaces was a marketing theme I could sell.
 
WD: What were the key reasons you exceeded your targeted attendance and sponsor participation in 2021 when on average most events are seeing a 65% decrease in attendance?
RD: I was very careful about the promotions, the location, the content, and the pricing. All the promotions had to be specific to reducing the cost of travel to get people there. The location had to feature wide-open spaces and a marketable idea around not being trapped inside of a hotel. Then, on the pricing, I had to avoid the typical model of the later you register the more you pay. We did a flat-rate pricing that never changed. In addition to that, and probably one of the most important pieces of the puzzle, was excellent content and wonderful experiences. To continue to play off the idea of wide-open spaces, we rented the Denver Broncos stadium for our attendees. There is absolutely no way that our crowd could’ve felt cramped inside the stadium built for 75,000. They had a blast. We also set a standard of excellence for creating experiences at the event.
 
WD: What is your opinion of being part of the community you serve?
RD: I find that one of the secrets of success is not to be an event producer but to be a participant in the community that you serve. That is really the only true way that you can give people what they want. It is very evident to me when someone is just an event producer and not a part of the community they serve. There is a significant mismatch in the alignment of content, events, and other details that I need to make an event a success. If time does not allow you to be a producer that’s also involved in the community, you really need to do your research. I would highly recommend an attendee advisory board that can guide you. Without them, the event could potentially be a mismatch or even worse a failure.
 
WD: What are the characteristics of your audience?
RD: Our audience for the Super Niche Media event tends to span all age groups from 30 to 65. They share a common passion for the media business. They also share a common passion for wanting to have a good time and also wanting to learn. When you can combine fun and learning, you have a winning scenario.
  
WD: What is your advice to event organizers struggling to get attendance?
RD:I find my attendee advisory board and my sponsorship advisory boards are two critical components to my success. In addition to that, I do a ton of surveys! When I say a ton, I mean a ton! I also look very carefully at the feedback I received from the event. This feedback is critical to our operations moving forward. To really get the most out of the feedback from an event you need to do the feedback in real-time and get information while it’s fresh in your attendee’s minds. Then, you have to have a thick skin and understand that you can’t please everyone.
 
WD: What have you learned in 2021 which will help you make your events stronger?
RD: My biggest learning moment was to see the true benefit of adding diversity to my speaker lineups at the event. One of the biggest compliments I received from an attendee was that they truly noticed that there were more women and minorities speaking at the conference this year than ever before. The other learning moment was to locate my event show office in the center of all the action. All too often I see event producers hide the show office in the back hallway away from everything that’s going on. Our goal was to create a place where every attendee knew they could come at any moment of time and ask for help or get a question answered. The final thing I learned in 2021 was that marketing is everything. Creating a robust marketing program using programmatic advertising to target people wherever they are online was a very important part of our success.
 

As you can tell from my interview and the success of Super Niche, Ryan has become an instant industry leader by knowing, anticipating, and becoming an authentic part of his industry. Hats off to him. Hopefully, the rest of us can adopt a similar approach, one that will bring our own events out of the dark.

Good luck with your own!


What’s the best marketing tool to attract event attendees?

Q:“What’s the best marketing tool to attract attendees”

-Karen, Boston

A:

Frequently the best tool to get attendees, both delegates and sponsors, is the attendees list itself. People like to know who and what level colleagues will be at an event . We’ve found publishing at least the title and company or company logos of your registered list of attendees is a great idea. If you can, the actual names of the attendees could be listed if you can, so people can identify who they might want to network with. Also use testimonials from past attendees.


How to target and retain attendees

Q:“How do I figure out how to best target future attendees and keep them coming back?”

-Kevin, Chicago

A:

Get to know them better by creating Target Personas. Being able to serve up relevant content as a lead generator in the manner and timing which suits your prospective attendee will give you competitive advantage!