event development


How to Master Attendee Acquisition When Launching a New Event

I have a few event launches under my belt, having been in the business for the past 28 years. Many elements of a launch are the same, regardless of the event, and there’s a proven formula for success. But first-time events are a different story. What is unique there is the need to get enough knowledge and ‘control’ over the prospective attendance. Oddly enough, the plan to get these future, first-time attendees is often the weakest part of a launch, with decisions based on gut feelings rather than a systematic approach. The irony is that quality attendance is one of the most important outcomes of an event, but actions often bely that importance. Frequently the philosophy is ‘if we build it, people will come.’

 

For me, that’s not good enough. So, I sought out one of the best event-marketing minds in Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes of mdg for comment on how the marketing of a launch should be done. She and her mdg Partner, Vinnie Polito, recently spent some time with me to discuss event launches in general, and their event marketing strategies more specifically.

 

Warwick Davies (WD): What’s your strategy in launching an event and what steps on the marketing side are necessary?

Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes (KHG): The first step in launching a new event is writing a detailed, comprehensive strategic marketing plan. And I’m not talking about how many emails will go out or when your website will go live. That’s the tactical execution. I’m talking about identifying and quantifying the market opportunity that you perceive and how you plan to seize it. This is where you take a deep dive into the competition to see what needs aren’t being met. It’s where you’ll define and segment the target market. It’s where you’ll study the industry in terms of its size, growth, makeup, as well as the trends driving it, etc. You’ll talk to key suppliers, buyers, media, influencers, and ask a lot of questions. If you end up uncovering a solid opportunity, this plan will then serve as the foundation upon which the event will be built.

 

WD: How do you go about creating the attendee revenue and volume goals that will be necessary to have a successful launch?

KHG: We will usually get this from the clients with whom we work. They are usually familiar enough with the budgetary limits and revenue necessities to be able to calculate those. Actually, Warwick, that’s an area you are pretty well versed in. What would you say?

WD: You’re right about the budget and revenue side. I would say that giving a thumbs up on the quantity metric would depend on doing some testing of your database to see whether the concept you developed, at the date and time you picked, is compelling enough to calculate educated guesses on the number of paid/non-paid attendees and, therefore, your revenue and likely attendance numbers. There are various ways of doing that, and until you ‘know’ and feel confident about these numbers, it’s hard to get sufficient confidence to know whether the event will be well received. Best to do this before you spend lots of time, effort, and non-cancellable contracts with facilities, hotels, etc.

 

WD: What constitutes ‘research’ from other perspectives that can give the team a ‘thumbs up’ that the stated revenue and attendance goals will be met?

KHG: Let me bring in Vinnie to answer that.

WD: OK Vinnie, what do you think?

Vinnie Polito (VP): I think, as you well know, you can answer this a variety of ways.

For me, the key drivers are an ability to clearly answer ‘who is this for’? And what are the options for your target audience to garner this elusive “x”, whatever it might be, that represents the show’s focus? There obviously can’t be an easy alternative.

We counsel those managing these projects to achieve certain milestones prior to launching. These would be in the area of exhibitor participation, partners (media/association) willing to ‘actively’ support, and influencers/speakers demonstrating a desire to speak/actively promote to their networks. For each of those groups, a willingness to have their name attached to an event in some fashion is as strong or stronger indication than would be financial commitment during the pre-launch Although I wouldn’t refuse any pre-launch financial commitments either. Depending on the risk tolerance and size of the proposed event, the level of necessary commitment will vary.

Personally, I like a mildly crowded and fragmented marketplace. That tells me that the interest is there on both the attendee and exhibitor/sponsor side, but that no one has yet sorted out how to address the opportunity successfully.

 

VP: Other questions I’d like to know:

Why hasn’t someone else seized this opportunity – what’s the competitive landscape?

Does this event have a life span worthy of the risk? I’d say if you don’t comfortably feel this has at least a 5-year run to it, other opportunities might be better.What likelihood is there that a category killer might change the game in ways that are to your disadvantage? Examples are plenty if you need them.What’s the likelihood of an economic incident changing the landscape? For example, cheap natural gas cost me $$$ when I was in the energy space.

 

WD: Great stuff, Vinnie. Now Kimberly, once the plan is set and you’ve made a decision to move forward, what’s next when launching an event?

KHG: Next comes the development of the brand or identity of the event – including the name, the event logo, the creative platform on which the campaign will be based, the messaging planks, etc. This step is essential in ensuring that attendee and exhibitor prospects receive the right messages, those that create the perceived value needed to drive their decision to participate. The importance of this step is often underestimated by event organizers, but it’s not easy building a compelling case to attend a brand-new event. Why take a chance on a new event when it’s so much easier not to? It’s easier to stay home, not travel, and not book a room, not leave the office that day, or not drive into the city, etc. Despite these hurdles, many organizers still don’t allocate enough budget and effort on attendee acquisition as compared with speaker acquisition, picking the right venue, and managing every other detail. And those details are HUGELY important, don’t get me wrong, because if the experience isn’t right, then we won’t get attendees to come back. But if we haven’t made the necessary investment in marketing, it’s unlikely we’re going to get them there in the first place.

 

WD: What do you believe are the required deliverables from the non-marketing team members to assure a successful launch?

KHG: Clearly, the roles of sales, content, operations, etc. are all vitally important to a launch. What’s even more important, though, is that the launch team takes a truly holistic approach to event planning and promotion. This means that if the sales team is selling a lot of space to exhibitors that want to see a certain kind of attendee, the marketing team should ensure they are making a concerted effort to attract those buyers. And the content team should be developing educational programming that will attract them. Teams need to be communicative, collaborative, and agile – as plans may change and several pivots may be required based on actual versus perceived performance.

 

WD: Are there any other tips to get outside support?

KHG: In addition to your internal team, it’s important to look to industry partners, too. We’ve learned that you can’t go it alone when launching new events. The more that groups out there – associations, industry suppliers, media brands, etc. – feel some sense of ownership in the new event, the more success you’re going to have in achieving critical mass. That’s why identifying strategic partners is an essential step in launching an event.

 

WD: I mentioned earlier about testing your database. In your opinion, how big should your database be for success?

KHG: It depends. mdg launched a successful conference aimed at brand marketers a few years ago with a tiny database. Instead of working to build a comprehensive network of prospects, we instead identified influencers who would be willing to serve as event evangelists. Once identified, we offered non-paid admission to the top 10% and variable admission rates based on influencer scores to the next 30%. We also used sophisticated digital tools that allowed us to provide the influencers with financial incentives for signing up members of their networks. The event was small (about 1,000 attendees) and the admission price was high, so this strategy ended up working well. For other events, I would assume a .5 to 1% rate of return on your database. So, you should expect one attendee for every two hundred in your database to show up, provided your list is of high quality.

 

WD: What is the optimal time frame from launch to the event?

KHG: In our history of marketing new events, I can assure you that we’ve never complained about having too much time to launch. Ideally, planning will start at least 18 months out. An awareness-generating campaign should begin about 12 months out, with a strong conversion campaign starting at about 4 months out.

 

WD: Any other items that I have missed?

KHG: I would just add that event launches aren’t for the faint of heart, the unimaginative, or the ‘traditional’ direct marketer. Launches require teams with special skills who can make fast-on-their-feet course corrections, who can craft messages that overcome objections and convince prospects to take a chance on attending an unproven, unknown entity. Being able to pivot when things need changing make all the difference.

 

WD: Great stuff! Thanks, Kimberly and Vinnie!

KHG: You are welcome. Good luck to those would-be launchers out there!

 

————————-

https://www.mdg.agency/people/kimberly-hardcastle-geddes/

https://www.mdg.agency/people/vincent-polito/

 


Whose Attention is the New Currency?

The more attention you can commit to things, the more value you will derive. Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of awareness; attention spans are now shorter than ever and paying attention is a challenge. With the many information inputs available, people are easily distracted in ways that interfere with the focus needed to understand what they are seeing.

 

What’s the impact? You are making decisions with ‘shallower’ information than before. Thus, the chance of making a bad decision is proportionately greater.

 

Let’s look at this “attention economy” differently: as a way to create competitive advantage. How about this? I challenge you to find ways to devote more attention to the things that are important, assuming you can distinguish between what’s important and what’s not. That means avoiding the often guilty pleasure of distractions. A complementary skill would be to train yourself to focus on a fewer number of things. That could mean you are spending less time overall, but a getting the bonus of making better decisions.

 

How do you put yourself in such a ‘resource-rich’ position?

 

Put away the phone, turn off internet access, and do something in disconnected mode. Change things up by finding opportunities to do things in completely different ways. Maybe it’s having a business meeting outside while walking around the block or your office campus. Or perhaps it’s reading a book that has nothing to do with your day to day work activities, but gives you a perspective that extends beyond the here and now. Meditate. Find ways to force yourself to pay attention to (or think about) something without distractions for 5, 10, or 15 minutes.

 

Try it for a week and see if your attention span is longer and, as a result, your understanding is deeper. Having done some of these things myself, I’ve certainly seen huge improvement…..

 

Extra Credit articles on the Attention Economy:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/attention-is-the-new-currency_us_58ef947ee4b04cae050dc526

https://www.cuinsight.com/attention-is-our-new-currency-pay-attention-to-what-matters-most.html

https://www.hrchitects.net/attention-new-currency/


Gratitude is one of your biggest sales tools

Most of the sales people who I know have lots of confidence. With some, it might even border on arrogance. Confidence is a critical attribute for successful sales, as believing you can get a result is vital to making it happen. But another attribute is almost as important: the often-underappreciated trait of gratitude.

Ridiculous, you might think. Why would someone in sales need to be grateful? How is humility helpful?

Consider this. How many of you find overconfidence to be a turnoff, particularly when the offender is trying to sell you something? The feeling conveyed is that the seller is smarter, knows more, and overall is just better than you are. Of course, nobody likes that feeling. But so many in sales behave that way and never change.

What about gratitude makes it a great quality in a salesperson?

A grateful sales person is grounded in reality and can see things for what they are.

A grateful sales person does the necessary homework on an opportunity, doesn’t try to wing it in a presentation, and doesn’t assume that personality will overcome objections.

A grateful sales person can walk in the shoes of others, recognizing that while they may represent a different perspective, they are a peer with respect to any transaction or relationship.

A grateful sales person doesn’t push ideas too hard, recognizing that a sale should come more naturally, and the case made that it’s obvious that the prospect should buy, rather than be forced.

Who wants to feel that they are being forced to buy something? Don’t get me wrong, gratitude without confidence is a non-starter. But having the right balance can be the difference in a well-rounded sales approach.

In sales, as with many things, being grateful for what you have is the right foundation for getting what you want and perhaps what your prospect needs.


Take Responsibility for Your Actions

Recently I have started to notice a trend where people will blame others for situations that are truly their own responsibility. You probably know what – or who – I’m talking about.

 

Can you sell or what?

Typically, as a sales manager, I am fairly cautious when setting sales goals. Some would say that I am too conservative. If I were managing someone like me, I’d certainly want a larger commitment. But, as a sales person, I’d also want to be known as someone who always exceeds my goals and who will agree to a ‘stretch’ goal where the push for higher results makes sense.

Regardless of whether the target is aggressive or conservative, accountability is the important thing. I remember a time when I fell short of selling the desired number of sponsors for an online event. In a conversation with my boss, I started to roll out all the reasons why I had missed the number – until I stopped myself. Not hitting the goal was my fault, despite all the factors that I could name. My responsibility! Fortunately, it was a small piece of the $1 million that I was due to produce and I had already made up the deficit by overachieving in other areas.

 

Yet the episode was instructive in several ways:

Taking responsibility, now a rare act, can be a competitive advantage if you do it consistently.

It’s liberating to know that, because an outcome is within your control (regardless of circumstances), you can and will make it happen.

Acknowledging a “failure” is almost never as painful as you fear it will be.

 

Do you have the character?

A willingness to take responsibility is a character trait that I seek out in those with whom I work or considering to hire. It signifies power, leadership and independent thinking. Of course, when you are the CEO, the buck should naturally stop with you but most of us typically report to someone, so indications of accountability at any level are positive signals necessary to be a star, no matter what role you perform.

I’m not going to descend into the messy pool of today’s politics for less affirming examples of the trend to blame others.  Make sure however that you frequently conduct your own objective self-review and acceptance of your responsibilities if you plan to succeed in the long run.

 

See you soon?

On a separate note, I’ll be in New Orleans for Expo! Expo! in December. If you’d like to discuss this or other newsletters that I’ve written, I’d be thrilled to get your perspective. And I love to meet event people as passionate as I am about our business.

 

Until the next time, consider how you can make ‘the buck stop’ at your own desk….

 


The Power of the Increment

When I reflect upon the success I’ve achieved to date and consider the details, I’m always amazed to consider the origins and my journey so far.  Given different accomplishments, it’s instructive to consider how things got started. Everything that’s happened has done so in a series of increments, some of which have been positive and others less so. Even the big achievements have come as a progression of small steps.

 

A Lesson from the Owner of COMDEX

My experience is not unique. A good example comes from Masayoshi Son, the founder of Softbank and someone I consider a living legend even though one of his events was a well-known competitor at a past company: COMDEX.

 

While Son was a full-time student at UC Berkeley, he sought a way to earn $10,000 a month. It was perhaps too challenging a goal for most of us, but not for Son. How did he do it? By investing a mere five minutes daily in thinking about new business ideas. With no support from fellow students (who thought he was wasting his time, he persevered in thinking about inventions that he could patent – but for just five minutes a day.

 

Now you and I would probably consider five minutes daily as trivial. Why not go away for a week or so, if you were really committed to getting something accomplished. But Son’s efforts were grounded in the belief in the “Power of the Increment”.

 

And what were the results? Son conceived and created an electronic dictionary that could translate words from English into Japanese, eventually selling it to Sharp for $1.7 million. Another business idea involving the importing of video games generated $1.5M. By the age of 19, he was a millionaire.

 

 

The Concept of “Kaizen” vs. Sudden Big Changes

The Japanese word “kaizen” captures the concept of making big life changes through small, incremental steps. It translates as “continual improvement” and has been implemented everywhere. With kaizen, you can tackle projects through daily routines. Rather than completely overhaul and reorganize things in the hopes of achieving success, kaizen centers on how ideas can evolve over time and how small changes can have big results if they’re nurtured properly.

 

The continuing nature of a kaizen approach allows for continued measurement and analysis to ensure that things are headed in the right direction. Sudden transformations often don’t allow you to properly keep track of your goals. Good processes should always allow for measurement along the way, so make sure you measure what you are doing.

 

The Power of the Increment really is a winner. Give it a shot!

 


Am I Important to You?

While on a recent a business trip, I continued reading a book, The Magic of Thinking Big, that I had first started reading a number of years ago. The book has many great insights, but one that particularly struck me was the recommendation to “treat everyone you deal with as if they are important.” The idea is that if your interactions with others assume that each person is important, you will most likely notice major improvements in your attitude, positive impact on your success, as well as gaining insights regarding how you come across to others.

 

I thought to myself “Don’t I do that already?” But, upon some reflection the answer was “no” when you talk about everybody.. The volume of communications that I receive means that I often screen phone calls, mail, and emails. And that screening means that I am prioritizing the communications of some over that of others. In addition, face to face I may judge someone poorly if they ‘don’t look right’ or approach me in the right way. The result might be that I disregard them and lose an unknown opportunity. They could very well be important and someone I need to treat better.

 

I want to test the book’s recommendation. For one day in the future (in the next month) I will treat everyone encountered as though they were of equal importance – and I will report on what happens as a result.

 

Here’s a challenge to you. I want you to do the same and email me with what you get for results. I’ll compile the responses in a future newsletter and see if we have any breakthrough ideas…..

 

Will you join me?


The Blueprint for Launching a New Event

As it turns out, creating an event blueprint is pretty simple – at least in theory. These are the key components:

 

Idea
You need to have an idea and that idea has to be better than what already exists. It must be smarter, more exciting, have better participants, or a new model that suits the current time and/or place. Most new events mimic what already exists, so invest the time to ensure that your event will be different and that the difference is meaningful, can be marketed and you can make money doing it!

 

Event Resume
Once you have the idea, you must write up a one-pager that answers the following questions:

  • What is the event?
  • Where and when does the event take place?
  • How many attendees/exhibitors are expected?
  • Why it is compelling?
  • Who is it for?
  • What benefits an exhibitor will get by participating?
  • What are the benefits that attendees will receive?

 

You’ll also need to have an idea about the fees for attendees and exhibitors.

 

Champions
Now that you’ve persuaded yourself, you need to get 3 or 4 others (whose judgment you respect) to agree that the event you’ve conjured up is worth doing. That agreement should confirm the opportunity cost (which could be huge), the financial risk, and the amount of you are likely to make within the initial 1 to 3 years.

 

Venue Search
Once you’ve picked a prospective date, make it real by getting a sense of the venue options available, given your event’s ‘footprint’ in terms of the number of sessions and the projected number of attendees and exhibitors. What is the required financial commitment necessary to secure that venue, inclusive of the room blocks?

 

Budget Hypothesis
Given the time and effort of above, you should be able to estimate the expenses in terms of conference room rental, A/V support, food, exhibit area, staff hotel rooms, airfares, related T&E, etc. Put those costs into a spreadsheet, together with expected revenues, to determine whether 1) you can afford to do the event, 2) what your expected profits would be, and 3) the investment and cash flow assumptions in producing it.

 

Attendee Testing
With the information compiled in your Event Resume, you’ll want to test the viability of your event with prospects in your database to confirm that your assumptions. You’ll want to have a call-to-action, such as ‘to get more information when it’s available, click here.’ To ensure the responses are actionable, you should target a 15% open rate and a 2% click-through rate.

 

Revenue Testing
Can you raise the exhibitor revenue that is part of your assumptions? Pick the top 20 most relevant exhibitor prospects and have your best sales person 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 revenue expectations are real or a pipe dream.

 

Refine Event Resume and Budget, Based on Feedback
Perhaps the preceding steps have suggested that you must tweak the concept for your event or you’ve discovered that initial revenue projections are overly optimistic. Redo the numbers. Then look in the mirror and confirm that you want to do this event.

 

Launch!
If all the above testing has left you as confident as when you started, then it’s clearer that you should launch. But if the results are only neutral or something less than that, consider delaying the initiative until you come up with a better approach. Or perhaps you should shelve the idea altogether.

 

If all of the above sounds like a hassle, imagine how you would feel if you chose to launch without doing your homework. Be brave! But be smart! You have the unique position of being able to see the future, so let that be a guide in building something great.

 

Good luck!


How to Get Your Freebies to Pay

Many of my publisher clients offering events have found that one of the main hurdles they face when launching an event is the challenge of converting customers – often accustomed to free content – into paying conference attendees. You may have also have this problem as a non-publisher if you are trying to upgrade expo visitors to conference delegates.

How is it possible to get freebies to pay?

Getting people to pay for something that once was free is always a challenge. But it’s possible if you follow the right plan. My prescription for making it happen is:

 

Get to know them

When connected digitally with clients, it’s usually a one-way conversation. To earn your revenue- growing chops requires getting to know the prospective spenders. That means picking up the phone or getting on the plane and visiting. What do you have in your event that offers value for which it is worth paying? It might be an event where they can mingle with like-minded people is enough to get them to come, or it might be specific information they need to know delivered by experts. But be clear as to what problem your content is targeted to solve and focus on those for whom that is an issue.

 

Know Your Target Personas and Personalize Your Messaging

Do you know your prospective customers and what they want? How are you going to start the awareness stream that shows your event has value and motivates those people to register? Make sure that you’ve built customer archetypes (known as “target personas”) and that you are segmenting and personalizing your messaging in ways that communicate like you are having a one-to-one conversation every time consistently with an expert ‘voice’, not an intern who doesn’t know what they are talking about…

 

Have a one-page value sheet

If you’ve done all the above work, it should be easy to build a one-page value sheet, specific to each target persona, and ensure that it’s easily available to those targets. That tool is what will help them convince their bosses to attend. Make sure it’s easily found and communicated.

 

Build exclusivity

Everyone wants to feel special and believe that they are getting something that their peers cannot get. Build this into your offer and reward people for the behavior you want to encourage (e.g. registering early.) That means offering discounts, private meetings with key speakers, tchotchkes, etc. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know the likely targets and what these offers should be.

 

Getting freebies to pay requires both thought and a commitment to a make it happen. But it’s very doable. So, get it done!

 


The secret to success is……

The secret to success is the ability to stand in another person’s shoes. That’s particularly true if you are trying to do business with that person.

 

An Old Tale Still Rings True

Remember the story of the two brothers who had to share a piece of cake? The elder brother managed the situation in a way that ensured his younger sibling got the smaller piece. When the situation repeated itself with the same result, the younger brother complained to their mother. In her wisdom, she advised the elder brother that he could continue to divide their treats into portions, but “from now on, your little brother gets to pick the piece he wants.” From that point on, you can imagine they got equal pieces.

 

Transaction or Relationship?

It’s the same in business. If you are going to try to take advantage of every situation, then you’ll always be doing individual transactions where you try to maximize your advantage. But those transactions will rarely lead to long-lasting relationships that are mutually beneficial. Building relationships requires both sides to let down their guard and trust the other party in the long term, and to go into a transaction not expecting the other to take advantage.

 

Business is not a zero sum game where the gains of one participant must be achieved at the expense of another. If you take the long view where each transaction is part of a relationship to be developed and nurtured, then a concession is not a concession, but rather an investment in the relationship. Conversely, it’s usually a struggle if you are always engaged in transactional business.

 

Which would prefer? Are you willing to stand in the other person’s shoes?

 

For extra reading on this kind of thinking, I’d encourage you to check this out.

 


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?