innovation


Six things that you must do between shows

The show is over, and you can breathe a sigh of relief. If you are smart, you’ll also do these things before taking too long of a pause.

 

1. Clean your database

You’d be shocked how many event companies don’t ‘sanitize’ their contact lists on a regular basis. Cleaning out the bounced emails and returned mail (if you do direct mail) is critical, particularly if you want to improve the open and click-through rates in your next campaign. If GDPR is a concern(and you should have a plan here), you also should consider removing the contacts in your database from whom you’ve had no activity in the last five years. You also may be considering plans to add new contacts that can be implemented later.

 

 2. Finish your rebook for the following event

If you know in advance that you are going to repeat an event, you should have prepared and implemented a rebook or resign process for the following year’s event. At the very least, try to get feedback on how you are doing, as well as information on your client’s budget cycles, any changes of decision makers, etc. Successful rebooks can save you hundreds of sales hours since you will have already taken care of the low-hanging fruit and can focus on newer companies.

 

 3. Survey your attendees, including making outbound calls for feedback

Most companies conduct on-site and/or post-show surveys. What I am suggesting   is that you make a shortlist of the changes/improvements you already are committed to make for the next event. That list can be part of your marketing effort to this year’s attendees   and it also signals your continuing effort to improve your program.

 

 4. Check in with your suppliers for event feedback

We event organizers tend to treat suppliers like ‘red-headed stepchildren’, failing to pay as much attention to their opinions. That’s a big mistake. Many have worked on hundreds of events and can offer valuable feedback on an event, both independently, as well as in comparison with others. Thanks to Nicole Peck for this one.


5.  Find 10 more influencers and figure out what to do now

Though buzzing from a recent show, you may know a number of key people who didn’t attend. They might be influencers who could have helped attract more exhibitors or attendees. Make a list of these people and start working on getting them involved – sooner rather than later.

 

 6. Write up and implement strategic and tactical changes to make for the next show

In addition to the above-referenced feedback from attendees and exhibitors, you likely have also compiled structured feedback from your on-site team regarding what went well, what didn’t, and what you can change for the next one. Make a list of these ideas, with a deadline regarding when you will decide on the actions to take.

 

 

Although what I suggest might be wearying to contemplate so soon after the conclusion to a [hopefully] successful event, all the above recommendations will save you hours and money when you begin planning the next one. Wouldn’t it be great to start things off and find that you are way in front of the starting line?


Is There an Attendee Acquisition Disaster in Your Future?

Having just read an article on GDPR that suggests a silver lining for the events business can be found in that new EU regulation, I’ve concluded that the author is right for the most part, if you have a solid data strategy. But if you don’t, welcome to the nightmare.

Why?  If you follow good marketing practices, then everyone to whom you are actively marketing is either a past customer or those who’ve opted in to receive your messages. That means, presuming that if you have multiple events and/or multiple modes of communication, you are only sending outreaches to your prospects in ways to which they’ve explicitly agreed and about matters for which they’ve agreed to be contacted. For example, you would not be sending emails promoting an event to those who have only opted in for a newsletter.

Bad Practices Will Cost You

This means there should be no unauthorized adding of names to a database, nor the harvesting or scraping of names from different web sources to populate lists. It also means there’s no sharing of names between partners (without explicit permission of the prospect) nor the adding of names obtained via business cards or LinkedIn profiles, etc. More proactively, how diligent are you about cleaning your database (at least twice a year?) to remove those who have changed companies, retired, or otherwise are no longer where they once were? What about the practice of ensuring that you have full contact data for each person in your database, rather than just the email address?

Being Smart About Following Best Practices

Who actually follows such guidelines? My guess is very few since it is quite hard, time-consuming, and expensive to do so. But if that’s true, your marketing department might well be in trouble. Many people are sick of the onslaught of emails and other modes of harassment they must endure without having provided permission to be contacted. If you have European prospects, GDPR now means they can react to such activities with complaints to the authorities that might result in the levy of huge fines that can total as 4% of your annual revenues or $24M, whichever is larger. And though the US is less rigorous in its protections, the State of California has recently passed legislation that mimics GDPR in significant ways.

Consider one company I heard of which has a prospect database that numbers 40-50K names, 80% of which have only an email address as the mode of contact. Their marketing strategy is to send everyone in their database an email about the latest webinar, event, or white paper – doing so as many as five-to-seven times a week. With an annual opt-out rate of 30% per year, what’s their future likely to be?

How can a smart event organizer launch a new event if the pool of existing clients, together with opt-ins, is not substantial enough to support the new venture? You’ll have to ‘cheat’ to get started.

The Future Could Be Bright

it’s imperative to start thinking about how to navigate the challenges that are ahead. The future of the event business will depend on those who invest in sound marketing strategies vs. isolated marketing tactics.  Who wants to react to this week’s poor attendee numbers in panic and cross into the ‘gray’ area? Without a long term and market endorsed strategy you are heading for trouble as year after year it’s only going to get tougher.

If GDPR helps event organizers at all, it will force you to come up with long term data acquisition strategies, with smart enabled staff to implement them. You’ll use your tools and the available content in ways that attract attendees based on what they want to experience at an event and how it will contribute to their business success. This approach is the antithesis of trying to extract money through the bombardment of unknowing prospects with a frequency more determined by weekly registration goals than customer needs.

Welcome To The Winners Circle

Who will be the winners? They will:

  • Have a current opt-in database that is segmented by product line.
  • Have a staff responsible for devising and executing the marketing strategy and who can change and pivot as needed, using the tools that are available.
  • Have content that is worth the investment of time and money of the paying attendees.
  • Be able to crystallize the right message to send to the right person by the right means at the right time.
  • Have a frequent, two-way dialogue with the audience so that client needs are identified and addressed on an ongoing basis.
  • Have the ability to monetize all of the above by attracting the right audiences, which in turn attracts the right sponsors (doing so without foolishly spending.)
  • Use analytics to identify opportunities and exploit market gaps.
  • Have a passion to serve a market that will get you through the tough bits.

The companies that do this are few and far between, particularly in terms of doing it at scale. But given the iceberg that is approaching, it’s time to get your house in order or face the disaster….


Are You Running a Reactive Event?

Unfortunately, the answer is likely to be ‘yes.’ If so, it’s likely that your event will be entirely forgettable for your attendees as soon as they leave. They’ll have learned nothing new and will be dreading the meeting with their boss when they must explain why they’ve spent $2 – 3K of the company’s money to attend.

 

Consider an attendee’s perspective:

You’ve committed both the time and money to attend. The event might be part of a circuit in which one show is fairly indistinguishable from others or it might be a top industry show. Or perhaps it’s a new show with some potential, but also a risk that it will disappoint. Experience suggests that these kinds of events fail to meet expectations and you wish you’d never left the office. After all, it will take two weeks to catch up on the work that you’ve missed. And that does not consider the hotel’s terrible mattress, the delayed flight, the lost bag, etc. As everyone knows, business travel has lost much of its luster.

But you begin, perhaps with a bad night’s sleep that precedes the 8:30 AM keynote, followed by a walk to a first session – at which you learn nothing new. Then there’s a trek down the hallway and up the stairs to another session at which you again are told nothing you have not heard previously. Next, you stand in line to grab a bun and some coffee. And the day continues: rinse and repeat.

When the exhibit floor opens, you walk the floor with hundreds of others. Untrained vendor staff either try to cajole you into their booth or exhibit a posture of disdain that makes clear their disinterest. It’s not clear who has the products and services you want. And, despite the lanyard that displays your name and company, nobody seems to know anything about you.

The late afternoon/evening reception is full of cliques. People from the same company or who have history from past events seem content to speak with each other. If you are not part of one of the cliques you grab a beer and end up speaking with someone trying quite hard to sell you something. The beer is free, but is your time?

Then you leave for the evening, but with an expectation that the same sequence of events will be repeated the following day.

 

Why is it like this? Because event organizer profits are good. And events can’t possibly cater to every attendee and their unique needs. The job of an event organizer is to create the same comprehensive experience for everyone. So, you copy what has worked for you previously or you mimic someone else.
What do I mean by “reactive”? It means your event copies the formula of thousands of others. All the principals – advisory board, speakers, sponsors, media partners – have an agenda and want what’s best for themselves. Given that mindset, are you strong enough (or smart enough) to do what’s best for everyone given all these others trying to drive your event?

 

It’s easy to do what has been done before and/or copy what’s been done by a major player. But ultimately, you must decide: are you a market leader or a market follower?

 

Some questions to ask yourself:

What are the takeaways you expect for your attendees? Do you know why they are of value? Who is in charge of assuring that they are delivered and is there alignment amongst all parties? And I really hope that you are not marketing deliverables without actually having any.

Can you incorporate industry events within your conference agenda, even if the conference program was established many months earlier? Have you allocated open spots, so you have the flexibility to plug in last-minute things?

Is there something unique that you are doing with your event that you HAVEN’T copied from another?

Are you courageous enough to change major elements of your event the week before it happens – if the situation warrants doing so?

 

It’s easy to do what has been done before and/or copy what’s been done by a major player. But ultimately, you must decide: are you a market leader or a market follower?


Do You Live by Your Word?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been bombarded with lots of marketing offers, many of which make the wildest of claims. Possibly it’s something to help you lose 20 lbs in just two weeks or a promise to brighten your teeth in only two days. Or maybe there’s someone promoting a system that can magically solve your marketing problems, generate lots of leads, and fix your website’s SEO performance. And so on.
 
Riffing off a recent LinkedIn post by Michael Hart, it seems clear that keeping one’s word can now be a competitive advantage. Too many organizations will say anything they think is needed to drive sales, without any expectation of following through on their promises. Given that environment, my suggestion is to take a contrarian approach and ensure that you follow through and do whatever you’ve said you will – no matter how small that obligation might be.
 
This effort will build trust in your commitment, although getting to that trust may take time. In the prevailing environment, people are wary about what they’re told – and there’s often good reason to be skeptical. There’s ample evidence that many people feel no need to follow through on what they promise, whether it’s an outright effort to cheat or just the lack of sense of obligation to deliver. Perhaps it’s always been that way, but now there’s just more visibility to the gap between words and deeds.
 

My suggestion is to start small and be consistent. And deliver! It will be the best decision you’ve ever made.

In the end, your word and your reputation are the only things you’ve really got.

Given that situation, it’s best to use them wisely.


Should You Follow Directions or Choose a New Course?

As you move forward in your career, knowing when to take a chance and try something new and different can be difficult; particularly when it might be the proverbial “road less traveled.” It’s more comfortable to repeat what’s been done before. Following the crowd and doing exactly what you’re told – and nothing more – is certainly the safe way.

 

To take a different approach takes courage. And courage you’ll need in your career is a muscle that does not get exercised enough. It must be developed.

 

How do you know when to try something new?

  • When what you’re currently doing isn’t working.
  • When you’re tired of the same thing, year over year, and need a new challenge.
  • When you can’t look ahead two years and imagine doing the same thing.

 

What are the conditions that would be favorable to a successful endeavor?

  • When your boss is not a command and control person, so there’s freedom to try new things.
  • When trying a different approach will not negatively affect your current results.
  • When you hunger for something more.

 

Why bother? Survey after survey of workplace managers indicates that one of the most critical skills for future jobs will be the ability to execute critical and creative thinking. There will be less demand for drones and 9-to-5’ers, particularly for those who seek the roles that generate higher pay. What will be valued is the ability to analyze situations and act accordingly. If circumstances suggest that the proper course of action is a “road less traveled”, the confidence and courage to act on that thinking will be needed.

 

If you choose to branch out and try a different approach, it’s best to ensure that your decision is grounded in a solid foundation of how things were done in the past. Doing something new is not an excuse to ignore the basics. It’s an opportunity to apply those fundamentals in a new and hopefully successful way.

 

My advice? Try something new. Don’t be afraid.


Are Event Marketers About to Become Extinct?

 

Imagine that you’ve missed another attendee goal for an event. Or, possibly worse, your attendee revenue number is short of the target. Why?

Some questions to ask are:

  • Did you do the same things that you did the previous year?
  • Was that because your marketing staff chose the familiar route rather than changing things up?
  • Are they skilled enough to know how and when to change strategies or can they only work to the original plan?
  • Were they wary of new strategies because they were afraid to fail?
  • Are they attuned enough to what’s happening in marketing to explore the latest tactics?

 

I know many marketing people who were cutting edge ten years ago, but no longer are. Why? They’ve not done what’s needed to update their knowledge and skills or they’ve not worked at companies that offered such training and they have drifted.

Is it their fault?

 

I would estimate that 90% of all event marketing professionals have learned “by doing”, rather than having undergone specific training. In truth, there is no “formal” marketing training that is designed for event professionals. Nor is there the higher-level skills training for those who have some industry experience but need to update their capabilities as new tools and techniques and market trends have emerged. That means that over time your event staff is likely to become less and less proficient in executing the marketing tasks in ways that can deliver results. There’s a skills atrophy. This in a time where getting attendance is proving harder and harder every year.

 

Are our Trainers up to Scratch?

And, given the inverse correlation between “time in the industry” and “familiarity with the latest in marketing,” those with the most experience, who might be considered the likely source for knowledge and expertise – and could serve as trainers – are likely to be the least able to do it well for what’s needed now….

 

Given the importance of marketing – it’s the foundation to getting attendees to an event, and the gateway to attracting exhibitors – I find it difficult to reconcile myself to this situation people less well equipped to handle tougher circumstances. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that marketing staff has the most up-to-date skills?

 

In principle, I’d argue that it’s the individual who must take personal ownership of keeping their skills current rather than rely on the company for whom they work. But, if event marketers learn primarily by doing, then they need the opportunity to “do.” However, going to training or a learning experience ‘to learn’ is frequently seen as a reward and not considered something that all staff should have the chance to do.

 

Should you Outsource your Strategy to Technology?

Much of the marketing training that is available focuses on developing skills with specific marketing software packages that can, if you believe the claims, do everything for you. Readers can probably identify many examples of sales pitches that urge attendance at webinars or classes with suggestions that mastery of a certain product will make things right. The reality is that software can help execute decisions once they are made but less suited as a tool for determining what those decisions should be.

 

I would argue that we, as an industry, need to start figuring out how to train (and retrain) our marketing people so that they are self-sufficient, strategic assets within our companies, rather than just the staff we need to operate software programs. Otherwise, we will regress to the point where we hand decision-making and execution of critical attendance acquisition plans to technicians who operate analytics programs rather rely on smart, multi-resourced marketing teams.

 

If we proceed in the direction that ‘technology solves all marketing problems’, the question to ask is whether these marketing jobs will become extinct since you will just need to be an ‘operator’ to do the work…..

 

I see a business opportunity for someone….


Is Your Event Leaving Money On the Table?

When I launch an event, one of my goals is to ensure that, from the very beginning, we are doing everything possible to maximize profitability. Given that goal, I’ve become pretty savvy about identifying opportunities where an event could generate a greater gross margin. The trick, of course, is to go beyond that step and take the necessary actions that avoid leaving any money on the table.

There are a number of signs that an event’s not operating to its full profit potential. Often, it’s a matter of being attuned to situations where things might be going “fine”, but your experience and expertise suggest that there are opportunities to do better. Here are five scenarios:

 

1) You lack a crisp value proposition

If you can’t explain in a concise and compelling manner why exhibitors or attendees should come to your event, then you’re really operating with the hope that your prospects can figure it out for themselves and then act. And, as the saying goes: “hope is not a strategy.” Garbled, unclear messaging will leave some of your prospects confused and uncertain. Uncertainty is not a pathway to maximizing sponsorship and attendance fees. It’s the road to lost revenue.

 

2) Exhibitors and attendees are wildly enthusiastic

This might seem counter-intuitive. When your target prospects are clamoring to sign up for booth space and conference registrations – and not balking at the fees – that’s obviously a good sign. Consider it as validation of your value proposition in terms of why your event is worthy of the investment and different from – and better than – others.

But also consider whether it’s a signal that your fees might not be priced appropriately for the demand. Is there an opportunity to raise prices (how much is up to you) the next time? Consider this year’s event as an investment in knowledge that should inform next year’s plan. Otherwise, the money you don’t make is just lost forever.

 

3) There’s a lack of urgency in actions or communications

It’s difficult to imagine anyone who would take on the risk of running an event, but not figure out how to instill the necessary sense of urgency about getting the money needed to pay all those incoming bills. But that cavalier attitude about cash flow often exists! The maxim I followed at my first events job was that you wanted 80% of the exhibitor money collected at the time you announced the conference program. Admittedly, that is a high bar to meet but doable if it’s your discipline.

More typically, for an existing event, you should try to rebook as many previous exhibitors as possible and attempt to get attendees to commit to the next year (If you can). And the ideal time is while the event is happening or shortly thereafter. From this, it follows that you want to have incentives (e.g. money-back guarantees for attendees, free stuff they can’t get otherwise) that make it worthwhile for exhibitors/attendees to commit early.

 

4) You don’t reach out, either in person or on the phone, to your attendees

This indicates an ‘I don’t care to know my audience’ attitude and it’s an unforgivable flaw to be found in any event professional who doesn’t personally know at least 10 attendees. Engaging personally with your customers is the best way – the only way – to know what they care about. And what they care about is what drives where they will spend their money.

Perhaps this is illustrated by a recent argument I had with someone at an industry event where concerns were raised about where her industry was going. Yet, at the same time, she argued that she had no time to speak with 10 attendees a month. To me, that kind of time spent is an investment that will pay off in the future. Ask the right questions and you’ll know where your industry is going. And you’ll be well positioned with the right offer to take advantage.

 

5) Your event isn’t making enough money

This is the toughest situation because it’s real, tangible, and has an urgency that requires prompt action, especially when you have other choices to make money. It could be attributed to a variety of reasons, some of which I have already listed above. If this is your scenario, you should probably hire someone from outside who can give you a fresh perspective on the likely causes and the prospective remedies that may not be obvious to someone inside who works on the event daily.

 

Whatever the situation, leaving money on the table is a bad strategy. It leaves opportunities both for new and old competitors. So why would you do that?

 


What Drives You to Succeed?

What drives people to succeed?  What prompts people to do what they do – and try to do it better over time? And to compete and do it better than others? Try searching online and you’ll find that it’s the kind of question that prompts a lot of inquiries; depending on how you look, it could be in the tens of millions. Clearly, trying to understand what motivates people is one of those elemental questions. Some people look at successful people and try to figure it out that way. There are thousands of books to help.

 

Back in the middle of the last century, Abraham Maslow looked at things more fundamentally and proposed a “hierarchy of needs” – the things that motivate behavior. He suggested that people start with certain basic “physiological” motivations (basics like food, shelter, clothing, etc.) and they then proceed up the ladder to finally reach what he called “self-actualization” (spiritual/emotional motivations like values, faith, helping others, etc.) In the years that followed there’s been a lot of debate and criticism about the model. The reality is that it’s hard to find something that fits everyone.

 

Rather than try to establish some set of universal truths, perhaps it’s best to look inward. I am sure that each of you can point to things that keep you focused. For me, the types of projects in which I’m involved provide a clue. Event ‘firefighting’, launching events, and sales are all high pressure, time-sensitive, mentally taxing, and extremely stressful. There are times when circumstances reach the point at which I’d just like to give up.

 

Despite any difficulties I encounter, I never quit. Why not?

* Is it the challenge of pulling through when things are difficult? Yes.

* Is it the need to make money? Yes.

* Is it the need to expand my horizons and test myself? Yes.

 

But while all those incentives are true, they are not the biggest reason. The biggest reason is right next to me as I write this piece. It’s my daughter Annabelle.

 

I find that even when I find myself in the toughest situations, super stressed and beset with despair as to whether things can be worked out, picking up my daughter can make those difficulties fade away.

 

Who or what does it for you? As I have gotten older, it’s the people, not the things that make the tough things worth doing.

 

Is it the same for you?

 

 


The Era of Pushback

People would prefer to engage in activity that preserves the status quo rather than pursue something new because the status quo is safer and proven. One can expend as little effort as is needed, and try to extract the biggest benefit from what’s been done previously, taking comfort and security in knowing there’s an established precedent for achieving success. Often people will do what’s been done and hope that no-one notices it’s the same. They prefer a proven path rather than blaze a new trail. The result is often an old product, packaged in a new box, with lots of time and effort spent on promotion.

 

Why is this considered the way to go? Because we’re in an “era of pushback.”

 

What’s that? It’s the scenario where your boss wants to maintain profits and do so without risking anything. That boss will push back on anything new that you might want to try because their focus is on next quarter’s and year’s numbers.

What explanations are given?

  • The opportunity cost of investing time and money on something new means you’re not investing in what’s already proven to work.
  • There’s a possibility that whatever new endeavor is being contemplated just won’t work.
  • You won’t make your numbers and anything that jeopardizes the numbers must be avoided.
  • This new idea that you’re proposing? Nobody but you, gets it.

Far worse than any of the above, is if you feel the company culture dictates that if you fail you’ll be punished somehow.

 

Attempting anything new is hard. Many will falter at the first obstacle. But the good news is that if you’re not stymied by the ‘barriers of no’ you will reap the rewards. Why? Because you’ll be exploring new opportunities when others won’t dare. Even if you ‘fail’, you’ll have developed the habits associated with creation, overcoming obstacles, and innovation. That predisposition is the prerequisite for exploiting new opportunities or, better yet, actually creating those opportunities.

 

Unlike your competition, who are selling last year’s product, perhaps with a new name….

 

Go get ‘em, Tiger!


Success Requires Getting Burned

Although my business is now successful, in December of 2005 I was at a crossroads. After six months of R&R that had followed the end of a difficult events job, it was time to get back to work. I chose to open my own event consulting company, a perilous decision given that 8 of every 10 new businesses will fail within 18 months of their founding.
 
Yet I survived and am now thriving. Why? Am I significantly smarter than the 80% of entrepreneurs that do not? Probably not. To what do I attribute the difference? Because I have been burned.
 
That’s “burned” as in having failed, as in having had to grind for years, hustling and scrounging to get to where I now am. But mostly I was burned. In what ways?
 
  • I got my start in sales, but within months I was put on probation for having missed my sales quota – even though I had the worst territory amongst 18 sales reps. Think Glengarry Glen Ross. That burned!

  • At Lufthansa, I was told I’d never succeed as a sales rep. That burned!
 
  • For an assignment in the Netherlands, I was told that the project for which I had flown 3000 miles would be a failure because I lacked direct experience and was only 22 years old. It burned!
 
  • While working in Boston, the major sponsor of my biggest event commanded that I produce a solution to a problem that they had created, and do so by 6 AM the following morning. I remember feeling my scalp get scorched that time.
 
There are countless other occasions – personal and professional – when I have tried things and not succeeded. There were jobs I wanted, dates I sought, grades in school for which I worked, etc. And not getting them left me feeling burned.
 
If you have failed at something, yet got back up and tried again and again until you succeeded, then you know what I mean.
 
You can’t truly savor victory until you have been burned by failure. That experience is the best fuel to becoming better than the next guy, making your quota, or launching an event and hitting a home run with it.
 
Currently, I carry a part-time sales quota of $1 Million – and I’m launching successful events every year. Neither situation would be possible without the failures I’ve listed. And I anticipate – even welcome – possible future failures, recognizing that they will similarly propel me forward.
 
Burn, baby, burn! Keep it going and try new things. For those that do so, I salute you!