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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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:
- In terms of attendee research, has any testing been done to see whether you can draw an audience to make the numbers work?
- 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.
- Were speakers and exhibitors engaged early on to help get attendees?
- 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?