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
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