Conference Development


In What are the Characteristics of a Top 5% Event

I’ve had the fortune to run a world-renowned event – Macworld – and have managed several others that have come close to ranking amongst the upper echelon (the top 5%) of events. They are the types of events whose presence commanded attention – and attendance.
 

We are now experiencing significant pent-up demand for in-person events, regardless of the history or prestige of a particular event, that follows the Covid-induced dormancy of the past couple of years. But at some point, we’ll return to a pre-Covid norm where there are few events considered so well-regarded that their success is not dependent on a strong marketing and management effort. Of course, the reality is that no event is a success on its own. The best events are so well engineered and operated by top personnel that they are assured of the quality, both in strategy and tactical execution, needed to remain amongst the best and most successful.

But if your event is amongst the remaining 95% – let’s call them the “good, the bad, and the ugly” – are you resigned to that status or is there a formula that can get you to the top? I think there is. 

The goal is for your event to be a magnet within its particular industry, such that it’s easy to market and easy to sell both to sponsors/exhibitors and attendees. The industry press for the market your event serves is uniformly positive and considers the event an important venue for industry news, for interacting with market participants, and for discovering new trends or validating existing ones. 

Among the characteristics of this Top 5% event are:
 
1) The event strongly represents the market segment it serves. It covers the reality and challenges of today and provides education for tomorrow.
 
2) All the right people are there. And because they are, everyone else wants to be there, as well. The market’s heavy hitters, biggest customers, and industry experts consider your event as the place to be.
 
3) The FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) level is a 10. If you’re not there, you’re missing out on making a key business contact, closing a sale, and finding out what’s happening next. Miss the event and you’re a step behind everyone else.
 
4) Marketing the event is easy– little more than announcing the details of the event. No arm twisting is needed. Prospective attendees are seeking information and standing by to register. You just need to provide them with the information at the right time, medium which suits them.
 
5) The sales pitch to your targets is “you want a piece of this.” The Exhibit and Sponsorship staff only have to state, ‘this is the place to be’ and ‘inventory and best opportunities are going quickly. Sign up before you get what’s left or, worse, miss the opportunity entirely!”
 
6) The Execution (Operations) of the event is first-rate. As an attendee or an exhibitor, things seem to run like clockwork in advance, during, and after the event. Of course, the reality is that problems rise, but any issues aren’t visible to customers. And even if they are, they are dealt with quickly, honestly, and fairly.
 
7) Attendees look forward to attending the event. They are counting the days, setting their schedules, and can’t wait to be there.
 
Sounds like a dream, right? It’s not. You can probably think of events that fit the scenario I’ve described. But most of us don’t have direct experience. Would you like to know how to make it happen?
 
Getting into the top 5% requires relentless and resilient behavior, and the ability to keep a lot of plates spinning. You have to really want it – and take the necessary steps to get there.
 
Here is my guide for how to make it happen.

1) Make sure you have well-paid, hardworking, smart, and qualified staff who love what they do, and – perhaps more importantly – love people. Perhaps you are inclined to go ‘cheap’ with staff with little experience. But the effort you will require from the staff means you should want the best employees. Getting them may cost you, and it will be worth it.
 
2) Make sure you understand the audience you want to attract and cater to its needs. Everyone says they are doing this, but very few are successful at it. Each of your customer-facing staff needs to have a visceral feel for their audiences. That means not just sitting behind a computer screen doing analytics, and certainly not hiding in the staff office.
 
3) Make sure you have secured industry support. Do you represent the top association(s) in your market? Do you have the present and future “movers and shakers” involved? Do you listen to their input? Can you get the top buyers to show up?
 
4) Apply the lessons learned in understanding your audience to write a marketing plan that has the means, messaging, and timing captured correctly. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for staff to be unable to write a marketing plan that includes the resources to be used, the milestones that trigger certain actions, and the budget that allows for pivots if the plan’s expectations are not being met.
 
5) Make sure you can reach your addressable audience. I had this covered this in a previous interview. But if you are not messaging to your entire potential audience, you are going to have audience gaps that your competitors can conquer.
 
6) Be realistic about what you can and can’t afford to do at each stage of the building of your event (i.e., make this part of your annual planning). Building the best events is not accomplished with one try, your achievement will be based upon a constant, consistent plan that obeys budgetary and other restrictions. So be conservative – or perhaps better stated “pragmatic” – as to how you move forward, while still seizing opportunities.
 
7) Get salespeople who can paint the picture for exhibitors and sponsors at the start of this quest to get to the top and where you are heading. You might have the foundation for a 5% event already, so you need talented staff who can get exhibitors to see the future and fund what’s needed to invest in the items (and the people) that will get you there. Make sure they are convincing and riveting in their presentations.
 
8) Have an operations team that doesn’t give up when things are hard. Getting to the top will be challenging. Make sure your operations folks are smart with budgets, can negotiate with suppliers in an environment of rising costs, and, at the same time, can organize themselves to get all of the necessary items done, without burning themselves out.
 
9) Create content for the event that helps your market successfully get to the next level. Make sure the content of the event leads the way for the industry. Hire the smartest consultants to envision what that is, and bring it to the event with the rest of the team.
 
10) Continue to do these year after year. It’s all about spinning plates, but also knowing what to do and, conversely, what not to do. You have to commit to being consistent, relentless, and resilient.
 
11) Be nice to your customers and give them the benefit of the doubt. Without customers, you have no event. Show a smile, and be good to them, even if you have a business to run.
 

I was fortunate to run to Macworld when it was already well-run and extremely successful, so my job was more keeping it successful as one of the world’s most esteemed events. I recognized the elements that made the show successful and ensured they continued to happen (much as I’d like to take credit for its success).

That experience – and others – made clear to me how hard getting to the top is and I tip my hat to those who are currently doing it. It can be done if you have the willpower. Good luck!
 

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!

Have Conversations with 100% of Your Sales Prospects

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

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

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

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

The Seven Conditions for Successful Event Sales

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

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

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

Reviewing Event Profit, Product, and Marketing Strategies to Eliminate

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

Here’s how I would describe them:

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

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

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

  • Knowing what to improve and what to leave alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Launching an Event: How to Avoid Financial Disaster

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

Here is the sequence:

 

1)  Establish the Idea

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

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

• What is the event?

• Where and when does it take place?

• How many attendees/exhibitors are expected?

• Why it is compelling?

• For whom is it intended?

• What benefits will an exhibitor get through participating?

• What benefits will event attendees receive?

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

 

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


3) Create Champions

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


4) Establish a Specific Venue

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


5) Develop a Preliminary Budget

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

 

6) Conduct True Attendee Testing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Does Your Event Have a Reason for Being?

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

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