Tag Archives: event marketing

Industry Conferences and Seminars: How to Extract their Real Business Value

dog-and-ponyRegardless of industry, conferences and seminars can be a significant waste of time, money and opportunity. But the conference sponsor is typically not at fault for the lack of return on this marketing investment. It’s often the result of poor planning, lack of creativity, outright laziness or unrealistic expectations by the companies that participate in them.

Here are three issues marketers should address, in advance of investing in a conference of any kind:

Do I understand the inherent marketing value of conferences? Before it became a “pay to play” world, there was some brand stature and inherent 3rd party endorsement associated with participation as a keynote speaker or panelist on a conference agenda. Nowadays, however, even if you’re invited to speak, attendees will likely assume that you’ve paid for the privilege, so the brand cachet is diminished.

The real marketing value of participation in any conference agenda is not based on what you say to the 100 attendees during your 15 minutes on the podium. Instead, it’s based on what you do, both before and after the conference, to reach, influence and engage the 1,000+ or 2,000+ decision-makers who were either too busy or too important to attend the event. In many respects, a conference simply provides a legitimate reason to communicate with those individuals who are most important you.

Do I have the internal discipline to make conferences a worthwhile investment? Because conferences are expensive, inefficient, haphazard and often difficult to evaluate, you must establish an internal discipline and specific strategies to harness their marketing value. For starters, you need access to a robust, accurate database of your clients, prospects and referral sources. Possessing a list of conference attendees, either before or after the conference, is helpful, but of lesser importance.

You also need to create a detailed communications strategy – tailored for each event – that addresses how you intend to:

  • Share intellectual capital associated with the event (either generated by you or someone else), and how to…
  • Leverage that intellectual capital to drive engagement with your target audiences either before and / or after the conference.

For example, if you’ve given a conference presentation, you can send highlights of your remarks to your database shortly after the event, and offer to send them your complete remarks or PowerPoint slides. Or you can convert your presentation into a bylined article for publication in an appropriate business or trade journal, and then send target audiences the published piece along with a personalized cover note.

If you’re not on the podium, you’ll need to be more creative. For example, you might send your target audiences a “Sorry I missed you…” communication that provides your insights on the conference’s highlights, or expresses a contrarian viewpoint related to its underlying theme. Or you might even consider hi-jacking the conference agenda, by inviting high-value targets to a roundtable discussion / reception at a very exclusive venue near the event. (Conference sponsors do their best to prevent this type of guerilla marketing.)

In all cases, the strategic goal is to amortize the time and money you’ve invested in the conference, in order to reach a wider and often times more appropriate audience. By using the conference credibility (or its related topic / theme) to showcase your intellectual capital, drive top-of-mind awareness and foster direct engagement, you’ll have a much greater likelihood of yielding a connection between the event and tangible business metrics, including new client engagements and revenue growth.

Are my expectations for this conference realistic? Sometimes lightning actually does strike: you’ll make a connection at a conference that eventually leads to new business. But most of the time, putting your company’s logo on a lanyard, participating in a panel discussion, or sponsoring a mid-morning coffee break will lead to absolutely nothing. If there were a consistent direct connection between conference participation and business growth, there would be a very long waiting list for sponsorships.

If you understand that conferences will always be a low percentage marketing strategy, then you have a clear choice. You can either:

  1. Avoid conferences altogether, by hosting your own private events or programs.
  2. Leverage your participation to showcase intellectual capital with a wider audience.
  3. Simply enjoy the camaraderie, the golf / tennis / beach, and the nightlife…and hope for the best.

In short, conference participation is similar to all other marketing-related tactics. Smart, focused and strategic behavior will always produce better outcomes than “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

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Augusta National Throws Women a Bone. Should Condi and Darla Return the Favor?

Darla and Condi Have No Reason to Celebrate

Augusta National Golf Club, long revered by the golfing world as the Sistine Chapel of their sport, announced with great pride (a “joyous occasion,” according to Augusta Chairman Billy Payne) that it had invited bureaucrat Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore to join the club as its first female members.

For decades, Augusta National has defiantly withstood public criticism and pressure to admit female members on the basis that as a private institution the club is under no obligation to accept anyone – regardless of sex, race, religion or sexual preference – who does not pass muster with the boys who hold the keys to the front door.

Ever since golfing legend and bona fide Southern gentleman Bobby Jones co-founded Augusta National some 80 years ago, the club has served as the stage for the Masters Tournament, considered by many as golf’s most important international competition, perhaps with exception of the Ryder Cup. And it’s Augusta National’s association with the history and tradition of the Masters that provides the club with a level of prestige (and arrogance) that exceeds St. Andrews and Pebble Beach combined.

During his days as Microsoft’s CEO, Bill Gates faced Augusta National’s arrogance first-hand when denied club membership for publicly stating that he wanted to be a member. As punishment, Augusta forced Gates to eat crow for several years before he was allowed to wear a member’s green jacket.

But Augusta National’s bullying isn’t limited to their admission process. A little known fact is that once admitted to the club, a member is not assured of continued membership and may be dropped at any time for any reason with no explanation. In fact, the only way Augusta National members know if they are still members is by the arrival of their annual dues invoice in Spring. No invoice means your invitation has been withdrawn.

Augusta National is not about golf; it’s about power. It features a golf course that’s closed for a good part of the year to protect the pristine fairways and sacred greens that its well-heeled members rarely play on.  Augusta National is not about golf; it’s about prestige. The club bestows membership to America’s corporate royalty the same way the Queen of England awards knighthoods and MBE titles…but with far less intelligence and transparency than the British monarchy.

The sad truth is that women have nothing to cheer over the “joyous occasion” at Augusta. This publicity stunt does not represent a meaningful change in the club’s policy of exclusion, and provides Augusta National with convenient and high profile validation that it will continue to exercise its right, as a private club, to do whatever it wants whenever it wants.

If Condi and Darla are serious about playing golf, there are scores of world-class private clubs that have been accepting women as members for many decades. And if Condi and Darla are serious about advancing the cause of women’s rights, they should decline Augusta National’s invitation. And they should make a lot of noise in the process.

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BMW’s Storm Cooper: A Mini-Coup Rather than a PR Blunder?

Stormy Weather for BMW?

For a fee, Germany allows people or companies to sponsor the names of weather fronts. So last month, to promote the “wind and weatherproof” capabilities of its Mini Cooper line, BMW’s marketing agency purchased naming rights to a high pressure system that originated in Siberia.

But the Cooper storm turned out to be far more than weather forecasters and BMW expected. As the storm made its way through Eastern Europe, its sustained sub-zero temperatures were attributed to the deaths of more than 250 people.

PR industry pundits and critics have been quick to jump on BMW for its decision to associate its brand with what has turned out to be one of Europe’s most deadly winter storms on record. A headline in the Wall Street Journal announced: “Weather Deal Backfires for BMW’s Mini.”

But did it really?

Although BMW quickly and properly issued a statement saying that it regretted the weather front’s severity, and distancing itself from the deadly consequences of weather, the car company’s $400 investment in Storm Cooper may have been a PR bonanza rather than a black eye.

The Wall Street Journal’s position notwithstanding, few people are likely to blame BMW for the storm’s impact, or to associate the Mini Cooper brand with the casualties. However, if top-of-mind awareness is a beneficial marketing objective for a car company, then the exponentially greater, world-wide storm-related coverage for BMW’s Mini Cooper marque certainly won’t hurt showroom traffic or the company’s balance sheet.

In this case, the old saw, “All publicity is good publicity” may well be true. I’m confident that BMW’s marketing agency considers this a solid win, rather than a blunder.


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One Way Smart B2B Marketers Work Backwards

B2B Marketing Needs Impressive Stuff Like This

Companies invest considerable time and effort in securing and preparing for public events, industry seminars, keynote addresses, webinars and roundtable discussions. But contrary to The B2B Marketer’s Bible, and regardless of the upfront investment, the intrinsic value and opportunities related to participation in in-person and virtual public forums do not lie within the event itself.

Consider this:

  • A public platform represents an implied endorsement from the sponsoring organization because of its vested interest in showcasing knowledgeable speakers. No organization will knowingly showcase a speaker who has no credibility or expertise in his or her respective field.
  • The audience attending the event represents a small fraction of those you are attempting to influence, and key decision makers often are not present at public events.
  • What’s done to promote the firm’s endorsement from the sponsoring organization—in advance of and following the event—can be more important than what occurs at the event itself. Simply issuing a press release, or posting the event’s slide presentation on a website, will not adequately address the opportunity.

Here’s how one professional services firm gained a tangible ROI from a single speaking opportunity:

The managing partner of a New York-based, eight-person CPA firm—following his presentation at a regional bar association’s seminar on law-practice-related tax, compliance and compensation issues—sent highlights of his remarks, with a brief cover note, to all the members of that regional bar association, whether they had attended the seminar or not.

This CPA firm’s follow-up marketing effort, which combined the bar association’s implied third-party endorsement with its managing partner’s thought leadership in practice management, resulted in new relationships with three law firms that had not attended the seminar.

Smart marketers work backwards. They have a specific plan to merchandise the credibility and thought leadership related to the marketplace exposure directly to target audiences in advance of seeking the speaking opportunity. That way, their ability to convert a public platform into bona fide business results is significantly enhanced.

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Survey of 550 Ferrari-Driving Marketers

Would you please re-paint mine to match my tartan?

According to research released by Unisfair, which calls itself a “leading global provider of virtual events and business environments,” 60 percent of the 550 US marketers who participated in its online survey “plan to increase spending on virtual events and environments this year… and if budgets were not an issue, 67 percent would host 10 or more virtual events in the next 12 months.”

If “budgets were not an issue,” I suspect those 550 marketers would likely all be driving Ferrari Testatrossas. Whatever.

The survey also noted that “42 percent of marketers plan to decrease spending on physical conferences and trade shows over the next year.” Although I don’t dispute the veracity of Unisfair’s survey results, this does not square with the first-hand reports from folks at World Congress and other sponsors of live events, who claim companies are increasing spending on conferences, seminars and trade shows.

Survey results notwithstanding, whether it’s conducted live or virtually, the most significant shortcoming of event sponsorship is the failure of companies to conduct adequate pre- and post-event merchandising of the related content. An event is an opportunity to communicate with target audiences for a legitimate purpose; a way to showcase thought leadership; and (if the forum is prestigious) to leverage the inherent 3rd party endorsement of the program sponsor.

Most importantly, pre- and post-event merchandising is a great way to reach a significantly larger audience than those sitting in seats or listening in over their laptops. In fact, many events can be viewed simply as a necessary excuse to communicate with important decision makers who don’t waste time attending events of any kind.

If you’re looking for business results-driven ROI on event sponsorship, you’ll need to focus more on the content and less on the venue.

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