Ask the Expert


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 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.


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.