trade show


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?

 


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!

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?

 


Why I’m So Sick of the Quick-Fix Approach to Everything!

Are you sick of hearing that technology or some silver bullet is going to turn your event around? Sure there are some tools and processes which will make your event more efficient and easier, but none will fix an event which is poorly conceived, researched and not wanted by your prospective audience.

 

I launched my company, three years before the stock market crashed in 2008. When I was just getting started, I was consumed with the effort to keep my business alive. I started my business knowing there were no snappy techniques or technology to help mesurvive the ‘Death Valley’ of the recession that followed. Acquiring and securing business required my adherence to the unassailable basics of how to turn around events that were suffering and launch new ones in tough conditions. Gimmicks would not get the job done.

 

An  article I read and quickly followed was authored by Tom Peters, an expert on business management best practices and excellence. This formed the foundation of my philosophy for making my events successful and profitable. Here are the key excerpts on how to succeed in times of adversity, with several of my own thoughts mixed in:

 

  1. You work harder.
  2. You dig deep, deeper, deepest – and always bring a good attitude to work.
  3. You take care of your physical, mental, and emotional state.
  4. You work the phones, keeping in touch with everyone.
  5. You simplify.
  6. You sweat the details like you never have done before.
  7. You do your homework on how to a) make the buy-sell connection, b) know what your customers want, and c) make money doing it.
  8. You don’t care about what the competition is doing.

 

If your philosophy about how to create a valuable event is wrong, there’s no amount of technology that is going to save you.  If it is well thought out, the above list may help you fulfill its potential.

BTW, I am not anti-technology. But I am saying that while technology may accelerate a good plan, it won’t help poorly-conceived or unwanted events.

 

 


Ready to Jump on the Customer Grenade?

I recently came across an article about a long-time exhibitor, Mile High Comics, and their decision to drop out of the San Diego Comic-Con event, ending a 44-year run as a customer. I mention the situation, not necessarily to beat up on San Diego Comic-Con, but rather to ask a question of all my readers. Do you run from customer disasters? Or, like first responders, do you head toward the problems and at least attempt to fix a potential disaster?

 

In terms of the Comic-Con organizers, I found no articles that addressed the issue from their perspective, nor did I attempt to contact them to get their perspective . But the withdrawal did generate a lot of publicity(and all one-sided):

http://www.cbr.com/mile-high-comics-no-san-diego-comic-con-exhibit/

https://www.bleedingcool.com/2017/07/06/mile-high-comics-breaks-san-diego-comic-con/

http://www.comicsbeat.com/sdcc-17-shocker-mile-high-comics-pulls-out-of-san-diego-comic-con-2017/

 

On a more personal note, I remember a situation   twenty years ago involving an event in Rosemont that competed with one that I managed. Together with two of my sales team, I attended the event, seeking to talk to the 50 or so companies who were exhibiting. Unfortunately for the show organizer, there was no floor traffic during the actual conference sessions, leaving the exhibit hall empty for 90% of the time the expo was open.

 

And where was the event’s sales staff? They were hiding in the show office with the doors locked. At least, they were in hiding until the exhibitors ganged up on the organizers and forced them to adjust the conference/exhibit hall schedule to try to stir up some floor traffic…Chalk another one up for the “Ostrich Gang”.

The results? My team was able to generate more than $300K of sponsorship/exhibit revenue for our show, while the competitive show, with its cowering sales staff, never took place again.

 

No one likes having to deal with customer problems at their show. But are you the type who hides and hopes the problems go away or do you do everything possible to help resolve the issues, even if it means getting yelled at when you do? I have to admit that I probably started off as the former. But I now take the bull by the horns as much as possible, even though having to do so still makes me shudder in extreme circumstances.

 

When you run a massive, world-renowned event like a Comic-Con (or Macworld, as another example) you can absorb the loss of an exhibitor like Mile High Comics. One of the linked stories indicates that there was a waiting list of potential exhibitors, suggesting that space was probably filled quickly. It also sounds like Comic-Con is making a lot of money. So, who cares if someone is upset?

 

Someone should care. Each issue, resolved positively or otherwise, contributes to a reputation, and if these sorts of situations keep happening, who knows what the impact will be? There have been bigger shows than Comic-Con that have been cancelled, when enough sponsors abandoned a previously successful event because their concerns were not addressed.

 

Are you going to be next? Or will you steady your nerve, steel your resolve, and run toward the challenge when others are running away? Your event’s future may depend on what you decide…..


Copying Your Competition − The First Step on the Road to Event Failure

An interesting column in last month’s Convene advocated working with your competition or co-opting them as competitors so that everyone can benefit. The piece included a link to a Harvard Business Review article that has a great quote:

‘It’s not who your competition is, but what it is.’

This means that you need to consider your competition as encompassing any alternative ways your prospect might follow to solve their problems instead of attending your event. If those competitors can succeed in persuading your prospects that they are indeed a better alternative to you, then they will persist as a threat and your event may suffer.

 

What is Competition?

This led me to think about the meaning of “competition” in terms of an event. In my mind, competition validates the presence of demand for events in a particular market segment and such demand represents an opportunity to make money. However, there are many events (including some big industry ones) that merely convey the idea that they are valuable (like an Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome) than actually are delivering. Eventually their customers wise up and we’ve all seen examples of this if we’ve been around.

If you are spending considerable time focused on your competition, consider that as time that you are not spending trying to figure out the needs of your customers. And without a focus on your customers, you are unlikely to anticipate the future needs of the market or the competitors that await you in that future.  Without a forward-looking perspective, even if you are a dynamite promoter, your time will eventually come. Or perhaps better said, the end of your time will eventually come.

 

Do you know what influences your Customers? 

I believe that few event owners truly know what drives their customers, often because it’s both difficult and time consuming to find out. Chasing the competition is far easier than charting your own course. But it risks leaving the fate of these events at the mercy of decisions that competitors make, rather than pursuing a path of their own choosing.The quest for value an how to spend your limited time continues and the bar is higher than ever, given the demands of everyone’s time.

 

Be Proactive with Building Customer Relationships

My simple prescription to combating [what I call] a “me, too” event is:

  1. Care about meeting the demands of the attendees, visitors, exhibitors and partners of your events;
  2. Come to know people in each category. And know them in person, not just as a voice on the telephone or a digital message on a computer screen;
  3. Get creative about new ways to meet the demands of your customers and don’t be afraid to try those new approaches;
  4. Build a community of people outside of your company who can help you achieve the above tasks.

 

Follow these steps and, rather than following your competition, you’ll be able to see everyone else in your rear-view mirror, struggling to keep up….

 

 


Launch, Acquire – Or Die….

Before I started The Event Mechanic! there were two types of companies for which I worked: 1) an event generator and 2) an event buyer. In both situations, the owners of those companies realized that revenue growth and profitability required a pipeline of new products. Such offerings could be added to the ‘cash cow’ events upon which they relied, as well as stem the revenue loss from those events that showed signs of declining.

 

My experience in this business has found that event generators are rare and far more valuable over the long term. The assessment of value is attributable to the fact that these generators are in complete control of the events they choose to launch, rather than having to wait for a property owned by someone else to become available to purchase. Of course I certainly acknowledge that an event buyer has some options available to them to initiate events: they can choose to clone existing events and execute them in new markets or do niche events that are marginally different from those that they already operate.

 

I believe the failure to frequently launch or acquire events is a recipe for failure for event companies.

 

For those interested in avoiding that failure, you should attempt to invest in a number of creative people who can conceptualize new events and help build the business case needed to support their launches as part of your organization’s strategic plan. In a recent article, Eventbrite provided guidance on the way to correctly launch an event. Their instructions include advice on how to:

  1. Find your audience,
  2. Develop a unique and effective value proposition,
  3. Get your pricing right,
  4. Set a realistic budget,
  5. Build momentum by creating an early support network,
  6. Set up your web page for success,
  7. Promote your event with great online marketing,
  8. Deliver a world-class onsite experience for your attendees,
  9. Go from strength to strength after your first event.

 

Obviously, the toughest steps are the first two. For further insight about the need for creativity in the process, check out some of my previous postings, including one about the “3 Guys” needed for events and another on the importance of the “creative” role.

 

The challenge you’ll face is the scarcity of creative types (which is why you should cultivate your own). If only 5% within the event industry qualify as ‘creative’ and that person is not on your current staff and you can’t seem to hire any, what can you do?

 

I’d suggest:

  1. Look at your current event portfolio and investigating whether you can hire or contract with someone who can conceive a new event.
  2. Challenge someone on your current staff (likely someone younger whose experience will not hinder their creativity) to develop your next concept.
  3. Continually network outside your comfort zone to meet and engage people who may have a new twist on an idea that can be developed into something that could make you money and hire or engage them.

 

Pick one of the above, or find your own way. But remember “failure to launch” is an assurance that your company’s final days will be sooner, rather than later.