event


Brace Yourself for the Analytics Nightmare

There’s considerable talk within the events industry about analytics and how it can be used to attract and convert prospects into attendees and exhibitors. Much of the discussion is quite enlightening. Creating content that is of interest to your targets can engage them in ways that can get them to register. The event becomes a logical extension of online interactions, a physical venue for learning about the topics that have been explored online. And seeing what people click on – tracking their web behavior – is a great way to identify the topics that matter to your audience. In short, it makes great sense to use analytics to attempt to build an audience and fill your exhibit hall. We’re all doing it now.

 

Beware! You Are Being Watched and Tracked

But those who seek to benefit from such analytics should recognize it in action. Your own experience should give you a sense of what it’s like to be tracked and segmented. Have you ever been called while you were in the middle of something, cornered at the wrong time by people who really have no idea who you are, but speak to you as if they do know you?

I recently attended a digital revenue conference during which I asked one of the speakers if they understood what it was like to be a ‘hunted’ prospect and whether such understanding affected how they conducted their marketing efforts. My intention was not to embarrass the speaker; I truly presumed that he would have thought this through. But all I got was a blank stare; he had no idea what I was talking about. The answer I received was pretty much equivalent to “this one goes to eleven.” (Check out this YouTube clip if you’re not a Spinal Tap fan and don’t know what I mean.) ie I never considered what you are describing and have no intention of understanding what you are talking about.

 

Technology Solves Everything?

Unfortunately, despite the technology that is available to connect with prospective customers, many event organizers still don’t get it. In their minds it’s all about transactions and getting people to hit the register button. It’s not about forming relationships at any level for the long term. It’s often a simplistic view of customers: if someone is spending big, we will pay attention. If not, then automate an email blast with the right message based on their past behavior and have someone who does this work do it without any innate understanding of the prospect.

As an event manager, are you defaulting to dashboards and spreadsheets, delegating action to technology tools and numbers? If so, consider your own behavior when, as a prospect, you are the recipient of such attacks. What actions do you take to repel the effort?

 

Build Your Wall and You Can’t Be Ensnared

If you’re like me, you erect barriers so that you can’t be reached: spam folders that are rarely checked, cold call voice mailboxes that are often ignored, and executive assistants who are trained to find and delete junk emails, filter incoming calls, and toss out direct mail. Quite often websites no longer provide phone numbers that encourage inbound calls; they offer forms to be completed as a mechanism to vet the contact requests(and ignore them).

 

Should There Be a Marketing Code of Conduct?

Why has this happened? Because we, as an industry, have abused email. Analytics is not a silver bullet unless you have sound customer practices behind it that reflect that you really care about – and know – your customer. Trying to use analytics to automate a company philosophy that’s poorly conceived or outdated will not succeed. Automating poor practices just means you are doing the wrong things more quickly and more often. And that’s a proven way to annoy those who you are trying to attract.

 

Do you like to be hunted? If not, don’t do it to your prospects….

 


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?

 


Controlling the Tone = You Being Leader

A colleague from my past was a bit of a con man. By that, I mean he frequently pitched new schemes with little-to-no thought about what was needed to deliver on the promises he was making. The story was good, but the details on achieving the goal were lacking. Making promises that he couldn’t keep eventually proved to be his downfall in the business.

 

Besides being an excellent pitchman, this former colleague also had the great facility to be able to control the tone of whatever was going on. What do I mean? I’d describe him as someone who could be sitting in an office beset by flame and smoke, but you’d never know it from his attitude. His tone and mannerisms would lead you to conclude that all was serene and headed in the right direction. Additionally, he could transform the mood of a room from darkness to light, engaging with people in ways that got them excited about moving forward no matter the circumstances.

 

Enter the Firefighter

My memories of that colleague got me thinking about the ability of some to define the tone of a situation- even one which is potentially catastrophic. For leaders operating in challenging times, controlling the tone of a situation enables them to transcend the details – often obstacles – of the moment with a style that serves as a cue to your staff not to be worried. It’s a signal that the team should not surrender to the moment, but rather should muster the will to handle whatever challenges need to be faced.


Enter the Flight Attendant

You know what I mean. Most of us have seen this in action. We’ve all been on a plane that’s experienced unexpected turbulence. In that moment, what do we do? Look to the flight attendants and, from their expressions and actions, gauge whether the situation is serious or not. I actually believe that the airline’s onboard staff is trained to smile  and behave confidently when things are bad, thus helping to alleviate the sense of panic that passengers would otherwise have. Personally, I recall a flight from Boston to New Orleans that was forced to land at JFK in New York. In that situation, all the flight attendants were strapped in and somber, a clue to me that we might have been in for trouble-indeed I was right as they stopped all flights and had firetrucks at the end of the runway. I wonder if any stress would have been avoided if they had been instructed to act differently.

 

Enter the Leader = You

The ability to control the tone of a situation has huge benefits and I believe that it’s a litmus test for both identifying new leaders and affirming existing ones. If you can master this skill, you will engender loyalty and perseverance from your staff when the going gets tough, something that will pay for itself many times over.

Are you with me?


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!


An Open Letter From A Decision-Maker Attendee To A Show Organizer

To open the New Year, I am thrilled to get Michelle Bruno’s perspective on the experience of a decision-maker attendee. She’s a good friend and straight talker, so with pleasure, here’s her open letter to all of us:

 

Dear Show Organizer:

 

You’ve convinced me to register.

 

When I Googled your event website, it was great that you optimized your content to make it easy for me to find you.

 

But I had to read a lot of irrelevant information before finding out quickly what was in it for me and there was no phone number to call to speak with a human. Nevertheless, I figured it out for myself and signed up anyway.

 

When I registered, you made no attempt to understand who I was and what I wanted through surveys or session choices. But since you had already hooked me, I went with the flow.

 

I don’t have time for serendipity.

 

When I go to your event, I feel as if I’ve become one of the hundreds or thousands of other attendees who took the bait and suddenly I’m on my own.

 

I’m really busy. Taking time away from the office is difficult for me to justify. Yet, no one reaches out to answer my obvious questions—Who should I meet? What companies should I visit? What should I learn? There are no attempts to help me get the most out of the event in the least amount of time.

 

You track my every move with technology, but you don’t do anything with the information other than feed it into your marketing machine with the intent to lure me back next year.

 

If I’m really interested in a session, you make me work for the information—take notes, snap photos of slides with my smartphone, go to a website to get a copy of the presentation. Why don’t you capture the information for me and just send it to me automatically?

 

After the event, show me you know me.

 

I understand that maybe it’s hard to meet with me during the event—there are only so many of your staff and just three days. But after the event, you’ve got a whole year to continue our relationship.

 

Stop sending me information for the following year as if we’ve never interacted. You have data on me now. You know what I’m interested in. Let’s start there.

 

Change your relationship with me from transactional to (long term) relational. Pick up the phone and/or meet with me. I’ll know that you’re truly interested in addressing my needs and I’ll likely attend your event again.

 

Make it really easy for me to come back the following year with my team members. A good experience for me is worth sharing.

 

From this point on, don’t only contact me when you want to sell me.  Remember what I want and send me good ideas and information year round.

 

In case I haven’t made it clear, here’s what I’m trying to say.

 

I’m a human, not a data point. Get to know me and deliver a personalized experience to me all year round. Put yourself in my shoes and let’s get to know each other.

 

Sincerely,

 

Your Most Loyal Decision-Maker Attendee (maybe).

 

 

 

As a former supplier and conference planner/trade show manager, Michelle sees the technology and evolution of the live-event industry through a unique lens. She chronicles change through articles in event-industry publications, event-tech company blogs and at EventTechBrief.com. Reach Michelle at michelle@brunogroup.com

 


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!

Transcending the “Culture of No”

Recently, I was thinking about two different types of change that I’ve observed in the world: progress and innovation. Both forms of change represent advancement, but in very different ways. Progress typically happens in a linear fashion, where the new is often an extension of what already exists. It represents advancement, but advancement that is measured in increments. Progress represents doing something better than the current way, but generally not doing something fundamentally different.

 

Innovation is disruptive and, thus, non-linear. It is the exception and it’s why those cited as being market disruptors (Airbnb, Uber, Netflix, Apple) stand out. The disruption of innovation is scarcer and, in most cases, not predictable from what has already happened – or already exists – in the current environment. It approaches an existing situation with a totally new approach or sees new opportunities and acts on the possibilities.

 

Dealing with the ‘Culture of No’

What is the source of friction that makes change, whether it be progress or innovation, difficult if not impossible? I would argue it’s attributable to the ‘Culture of No.’ The incumbents, those who have achieved some degree of decision-making power, don’t want to absorb the risks of changing how things are done. There’s little to no incentive to change and incumbents would rather keep doing what they are doing until it doesn’t work anymore. After all, they benefit from the status quo; with the status quo, they are in charge.

 

Evidence of this kind of philosophy can be found in statements like:

  • “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
  • “Keep your head down, after all we (the bosses) know best.”
  • And my favorite, from a past boss, “Your goal is to always to do the least and make the most.”

 

Note that I’m not the first to consider the ‘Culture of No’ and its impact. If you search online, you can find reference to it here.

 

The Drivers of Innovation

Innovation requires a different motivation, an impetus to change the “what” or the “how” of things in ways that are profound. It comes from an innate motivation to do things differently and more importantly, better. There must be an incentive to make a change and a willingness to try when there is no assurance of success. In most cases, the motivation won’t come from entrenched incumbents. It will come from those who are not predisposed to the current ways of doing things, but rather are open to trying new things. In some cases, they are compelled to try them.

 

Let’s flip the model on its head, much like Netflix and others have done. If no one is doing anything new in your market, consider that as an opportunity for someone else (a disruptive entity, perhaps like yourself) to try a new way. The result might be incremental progress (doing something better, faster, cheaper, more profitably) or something truly transformative in its innovation, perhaps with a new community developing around it. But neither result will happen unless there is an impetus to try new things and a willingness to accept that they might not work. After all, there is little significant reward without an appetite for risk.

 

I’d like to provide a brief shout out to Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose for their interesting book, Killing Marketing. It offers a nice blueprint for how to seize the opportunity for disruptive approaches in the marketing space.

 

Consider your own situation. Are you entangled in a ‘Culture of No’ or do you represent Those Who Will?


Warning: Event Launch Disaster Ahead 1

 

I recently read an article in Convene which captured the mistakes that were made during a two-year effort to launch a content marketing event in Europe.  For those who have not read the story, the conference manager of LavaCon – a successful, though relatively niche, US-based event – had been urged by a number of his exhibitors to try to replicate that success in Europe, where it was assumed that it could attract a new set of attendees.

 

In 2016, the conference manager tried to do so in Dublin, but failed. Undaunted, but presumably having learned from that first year’s experiences, he ran the event again this past May (again in Dublin, but in a different venue) only to falter a second time. Why did two successive efforts fall short of expectations? Simply put, he had some bad luck with an unexpected competitive event, but compounded the problem with some rookie mistakes.

 

Despite the lack of success, I still take my hat off to him. First, he had the courage to launch something new. Second, though it didn’t work, he still agreed to share his experiences in ways that could benefit others. How many of you would be willing to do that?

 

What factors contributed to the poor results?

  1. A lack of local market knowledge, such as an understanding that “bank” holidays in that region are not exclusive to banks, so should be avoided when scheduling a conference.
  2. The fact that a significant presence of target companies situated close to a conference location does not ensure that the right level of employee – senior decision-makers – work at those offices and are likely to attend.
  3. A misjudgment about the price potential attendees in Dublin would be willing to pay.

 

Why did those factors hurt his event?  In his own words, “because of the market research I didn’t do, and still haven’t done yet.” I believe that he’s correctly identified most of the problems and he has my congratulations for finally getting it – after two white knuckle rides. There is nothing worse than suffering the stress of a launch, then failing, and then suffering the same fate the following year.

 

Are there lessons you can learn from this?

  1. Hire someone from the target market area (or who knows it) for initial and ongoing advice about the feasibility of launching and sustaining an event. For example, Ireland is not Europe. Effectively there is no “Europe” as far as events are concerned; events are, if not local, then certainly regional.  That should guide decisions about location – and expectations about attendance.
  2. Ensure you do market testing and P&L analysis to understand the financial risk involved and the likely outcomes, given the many contributing factors. Approach any opportunity with a model that includes an understanding of what “success” is.

 

In addition, other questions I would ask to qualify an event opportunity are:

  1. In terms of attendee research, has any testing been done to see whether you can draw an audience to make the numbers work?
  2. What is the size of the target email audience on the attendee side and can it be expected to support the paid attendee number in your model? For example, I believe you need 100 names for each expected paid attendee, all other variables being accounted for.
  3. Were speakers and exhibitors engaged early on to help get attendees?
  4. Was there a budget with best- and worst-case P&L’s scenarios established prior to the decision to launch?

 

As I mentioned, this particular event manager is courageous and honest; I salute him for that.  But the things that I reference above seem common sense guidelines to me and reflect the advice I give my clients prior to a launch.

 

Are you equipped on your next launch or are you heading down a potentially rocky road?


Does Your Event Have a Dark Side?

The recent revelations of misbehavior by different individuals and organizations has got me thinking about human nature more broadly. For each of us there’s a public side that we want others to see. It reflects our positive attributes and generates favorable responses from those around us, both personally and professionally. But there’s also another side – a darker side – which we hide from others. This dark side often is the home of those naked ‘drivers’ of behavior that we prefer to hide or disguise. It is that dark side behavior that the press craves to uncover amongst the famous and powerful.

Within the events market there’s a less nefarious form of this behavior. Event managers promote their conferences and trade shows as venues that will engage buyers, deliver wonderful experiences, and generate return-on-investment (ROI) for both sponsors and attendees. The assumption is that you’ll want to return year after year because the events offer value.
 

Do You Deliver to Expectations?

More often than not, however, event organizers promote a vision that the reality does not deliver. Many events fail to fulfill the promises made by their organizers, leaving both attendees and exhibitors disappointed. Why is this?

Because meeting the needs of every attendee and exhibitor is a difficult task and it may not be in the organizer’s control. Or even in their interest, given that events must find an economical “middle ground” that delivers value while making a profit. But another, less defensible reason is that some organizers will do whatever is needed to promote a particular vision for an event, with little intention of meeting the needs of the ‘buyers’, as long as the vision allows the organizer to make money. In effect, they’re cheating the very people who make running an event possible, and profitable in the long run.

Some examples of this are:

  • A well-known event grew so large that it compromised the experience of attendees who struggled to get from one hall to another, were jostled by the crowds, and were required to wait in line for everything.
  • An organizer saved money by eliminating a convenient exhibitor lounge with proximity to the show floor that allowed staff to rest and have lunch (on the organizer).
  • Organizers who cancel conference tracks because prospective attendance is down, but disappoint those attendees who’ve registered and booked flights based on the original – marketed – agenda.
  • Shows that cram extra booths into low traffic areas that will deliver poor results to the exhibitors.

 

Clearly, event organizers must hit their numbers. And that can mean cutting expenses. But too often the motivation comes from the dark side of the business – greed. It’s truly short-sighted thinking that compromises the future in deference to exploiting the present.

The bad news for these types of organizers is that event attendees have become more sophisticated than ever in judging value. Those organizers who fail to recognize that sophistication and fall short of delivering that value will pay the price.

 

Are you in danger of going to the Dark Side?

 


Your Event Marketing. Is it Charming, Creepy, or Clueless?

Like many others, as a consumer I’ve come to pay attention to my email inbox in terms of what attracts me to open a message versus ignore/delete it. I’ve also begun to notice those messages that are too familiar in their tone or are too presumptuous in the way they direct me to take some action when it’s the first time I’ve ever heard from them.

 

After some observation and reflection, I have come to classify email messages into three categories:

 

  • Charming- These messages successfully identify needs, send the right message at the right time, are well targeted, and anticipate ‘move the needle’ moments in ways that are likely to prompt a positive response and ‘buying’ action;

 

  • Creepy- These intrusive, highly “personal” communications purport to know the score of your daughter’s soccer game and the team’s season record. They also tend to present their “sell” messages too early in the interaction[s] and are pushy and out of step in terms of their relationship with you and your organization;

 

  • Clueless- These messages are not personalized, or worse, they may reference actions – like a purchase – that you have never taken. They might make incorrect gender assumptions or otherwise struggle with how to address someone when gender is not known. Or they send messages with the missing/wrong job titles, send them to individuals who no longer are employed or perhaps might even be deceased. Their mistakes illustrate how little has been spent on the quality of their lists and the completeness and accuracy of their data.

 

Unfortunately, in our age of ‘Analyze Everything’ the availability of data and the propensity to try to leverage it does not ensure that the right actions are taken. Far too many organizations do the wrong things with the data they have, resulting in creepy pseudo-personalization or embarrassing, clueless moments. Neither result benefits the sender of those messages.

 

I wonder if this also applies to us in the event world.  What does this mean for you?

 

If your communications are ‘charming’, then you are in the top tier of organizations with messages that attract responses. You’ll have no trouble getting your prospects to volunteer information in ways that can serve both of you better. Your communications have a tone, familiarity – and timing – that invites positive response.

 

If your messages are creepy or clueless, you’ll also see a response. But it will be in the number of “unsubscribes” that you get. And it will be in your best interest to figure out why or end up with an unengaged database….