The future delegate

Perhaps not embedded microchips, but who knows, wearable technology is becoming more and more commonplace…

9718595843_5bb246913a_bInspired by a tech article on the BBC (, it got me thinking about our event tech future.

Forget badges.

Forget iBeacons.

Forget anything you thought was a great way of tracking your visitors around the event.


Because you can now offer your delegates implants (in the form of a microchip) so you can see where they go and what they do at your event.

Microchips have been around for a long time already and you’d be surprised by how many people already use them. To give you an idea; I  know that my cat feels safe when she comes flying through her cat flap and the neighbour’s cat gets stuck at the door…

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Using social media to market events

Once upon a time it was all so simple…

Providing you owned, could access or buy, good data and had the budget to hit your target universe five times on average with your message you could more or less guarantee an audience for your event.  For exhibition marketers, preregistration was a very clear indicator of footfall on the day, with conversion rates of between 60 and 75 per cent.  In the conference market a twelve week cycle of marketing would, possibly with the input of some telemarketing, produce enough registrations to cover costs and deliver that all important margin.

And then life got a whole lot more complicated…

The advent of online and email marketing brought with it a more instantateous way to talk to audiences. Unfortunately though, like a child gorging on the pick-and-mix, many marketers have abused the latter, flooding their database’s inboxes with messages on a far too regular basis. Others have treated their web presence as an online brochure, asking visitors to sign up for updates and news when in reality there would be none because noone factored in the time or resource for either the marketing or the main event team to curate such things.

Into this already crowded, and rowdy, room marches social media…

It’s like a toddlers tea-party.  You want to make yourself heard above the cacophony: so you shout louder; you run hither and thither until it seems you are everywhere at once; you wear the gaudiest outfit because you think it will make you stand out; and you try everything, briefly. But when you leave you are hoarse, tired and, if the truth be told, you didn’t actually get very much done or make much of an impression because you were just one of a group of over-excited, slightly out of control children in inappropriate clothing.

For event marketers, the biggest problem is that the promotional cycle for an exhibition, conference, awards etc. is actually very short; very rarely does the campaign last for more than four months. This really doesn’t lend itself very well to social media because relationships in places such as LinkedIn and Facebook, and long lists of followers in Twitter aren’t built overnight, and if you want to establish a well-read blog then there is no point starting it ten weeks out from your show. And if you stop talking to your audience, they lose interest and go somewhere else.

Let’s look at two examples, both expos with conferences and seminar programmes attached and a technology bias, though not IT events as such, and with similar attendance figures at their live days:

Our first event takes place annually in February.  They have a LinkedIn group which was established in January 2008 – a month before that year’s event.  It’s growth profile looks like this:

While the group shows a steady growth in membership over the last four years, it is interesting to note that there are identifiable spikes in the number of new memberships in February of each year., i.e. when the event happens.  Just three weeks later both increase in membership and activity, as shown in the chart below have fallen dramatically.

In contrast, the second team have created a LinkedIn group which began life based around their event (which takes place in March) but has been nurtured and developed to deliver to the expo’s existing and potential audience all year around.  The group was established in December 2007, four months before the event was scheduled and their growth and activity profiles look like this:

As with all statistics you can look at these two sets of information in a number of different ways, but at face value the contrast is clear.  One team started earlier and kept the momentum going whereas another only focusses their effort in the final push towards the event.  The groups have been around for approximately the same amount of time, yet one has nearly six times the number of members as the other and is showing a positive growth pattern.  One team is clearly putting the time and effort into creating a community that isn’t abandoned as soon as the last speaker has left the building…

Utilities like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc. aren’t just another medium into which information can be lobbed out to the target audience in the same old way.  Think about it: you strive for coverage in relevant magazines and industry journals because you want your product to appear in an environment that has kudos and stature.  This is delivered by the editorial content created by the teams that manage those media.  If you want to do the same thing via LinkedIn etc. then you have to create an editorial and community environment that makes your potential audience want to interact with you.

To deliver real ROI and marketing with impact for your event you can’t just dip in and out of social media, ignoring your audience for 11 months of the year and then shouting at them for four weeks before you want them to attend.  You need to spend time getting to know them, finding out how to work with the community you have created via your exhibition, conference or roadshow.  Remember, they sought you out and it is up to you to make them stay.

missioncontrol @purerocketscience

p.s. If you want to find out more about creating social media strategies that work for events, our colleague Hellen Beveridge will be teaching a series of courses over the next few months.  Visit for more information.

Why ‘must’ I ‘attend’ your event?

Your brochure is finished.  The design is great (though you haven’t left a lot of white space because you’ve got to keep on giving those punters reasons to attend) and you think the copy covers all the bases.

Bet I can guess what phrase you have used to describe your conference/awards/expo?

… is the Must Attend Event for … professionals/lovers of jazz music etc. etc.

Oh how I wish I had a penny for every time that phrase is used.  Why not a pound? I hear you ask.  That’s because I am so confident of the number of times it has been used that I think I will still benefit financially.  And indeed I am proved correct: a Google search on the phrase ‘must attend event’ yields no fewer than 6,580,000 results! Even if I narrow the search criteria down to the last twelve months it yields 403,000 results.

It’s a facetious point well made.  Why do marketers describe their events in such hackneyed terms?

And is it marketing’s problem, or is it something more fundamental to do with the way we create events, particularly large scale exhibitions, multi-streamed conferences and awards ceremonies?

Probably a bit of both if the truth be told.

It’s easy(ish) to market a rock concert.  You know which band is playing, you tell their fans where and when and hopefully they will buy tickets.  Simple, single stage sell.   But how do you get 5,000 people to a medical device exhibition or 100 delegates to attend a conference on social networking? You could tell them what’s on offer, but you’ll need to present the message differently to each of your audience sectors, and that causes problems because you might not be able to offer them all the same super attractive package.  And then of course you might be the only marketer trying to cover off a number of events and your creative juices are spread too thinly.

So the easy option is to describe your product as the must attend event for ‘anyone involved in the medical device industry’ or ‘anyone who wants to use social networking to leverage their business’. Phew – got all the potential audience covered – can sign off on the copy.

Stop and look again though.  Instead of trying to find phrases that fit all, remember what motivates people to come to events.  There will be a core of people who attend because they come every year; the health services that buy medical devices perhaps, and they make up 40% of your audience.  You can clearly identify another 40%. So why not create copy that talks to these people?  Because I will miss the other 20% you reply.  But what makes that other 20% come along every year… they seek you out.  And it wasn’t because you kept harping on about the fact that you are the must attend event for…  it’s because they were looking for something and they found it in your copy/online content etc. and subsequently your event.

Be brave.  Stop trying to talk to everyone at once.  Create a series of miniture marketing pieces within your main message.  Create multiple calls to action (and if you are asking someone to spend £750 on a conference place please don’t use Book Now) that drive individuals to yet more compelling and targetted content.  Tell a small business in Irving why embracing Facebook could transform their sales performance; explain to a manufacturer what installing a clean-room could do to their business; encourage an advertising agency in Coventry to enter an industry award.

Then, and only then, will your event be truly must attend.

hellen @purerocketscience

Stand up for what you believe

Jill Sheffield - Women DeliverA recent post on the very excellent BBH Labs blog* has brought me back to thinking about tigers and sheep which I wrote about in May 2010.  In that post I didn’t actually use the quote that originally came to my attention through the British mountain climber Alison Hargreaves so here it is:

Better to live one day as a tiger than your whole life as a sheep

It is this theme of sticking by your convictions and having the courage to stand out in a crowd that Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London covered in his post Who’s Ad is it Anyway? on 16th May.

Inevitably, when we discuss modern communication, we spend most of our time considering whether we are properly reflecting the truth of the brand or engaging the interest and participation of the audience.  And rightly so.  But doesn’t it help, a little at least, to be motivated by our own interest, enthusiasm and sense of pride?

While I have worked in many events organisations that have enthusiasm by the bucketload; and self-interest is after all what motivates many a sales executive with an eye on their commission cheque; I am not sure that pride in the sense that Jim uses it is often in the mix.  When staging an event, particularly one in the B2B marketplace, the team has to serve a huge number of masters: from industry bodies with committees and egos of their own; to sponsors who rightly want to extract maximum benefit for their investment; a multiplicity of media partners, exhibitors, speakers; plus the visitors themselves; while constantly reminding themselves of the need for a positive financial outcome.

How in this maelstrom of expectation do you stay true to the event and the original ideas that drove it’s inception?

It helps if you actually have a clear description of what your event actually is.  Sit your entire team in a room and ask them to define your event in a single sentence (no restriction on the number of words!).  If you have never done this I can guarantee you’ll have more than one answer.  Once you have nailed this one, decide on the personality and profile of your event. Write it down. Create your branding document, and by this I don’t just mean your look and feel, it should also define your market position and your key performance indicators. And every single one of your team needs to know that this is the hymn sheet they should sing from.

While it is essential to be embedded in your marketplace, and you should make essential changes, don’t be tempted or swayed by single voices or what other organisers are doing. Constant reactions and alterations make you look like grass swaying in the wind rather than firmly rooted and leading the way.  If your research was thoroughly executed and your key participants were eager to come on board, don’t let others tinker with or distort your original concept simply because they think they can.

Have the courage of your convictions so that when the last truck leaves the venue you can say “That was my event, and of it I am very proud.”

hellen @missioncontrol

*Well worth a read – particularly if you have been struggling with how to develop your own company blog with buy in from the entire organisation.  Admittedly they have lots of fabulous creative content to play with, but that shouldn’t be your excuse.

Success needs nothing more than great content and good data

Simplistic – maybe?

Whether you are an event company or a publisher, it is these two elements that define you.  You need content specifically aimed at an audience which has been clearly outlined both in terms of demographic profile and in their ability to attract a pool of organisations willing to pay to talk to them in the environment you are providing.

Well-kept and nurtured data is absolutely essential, even in these days of disintermediation when everyone believes they can talk to their clients direct through social networking and marketing channels.  But it seems that we have lost sight of the importance of keeping data clean, updated and useful.  So often now we see clients who consider their database to be something that can be pounded with email messages or inappropriate advertising, taking barely a moment’s notice of the attrition of individuals.

Harping on about the current economic situation no longer seems to be generating a reaction from many in the B2B sectors, it seems they are too busy holding onto whatever business they may have left to take any notice.  But the fact is that events companies who are able to produce great content and understand the power of their data will be able to use the new virtual business solutions to add a series of events to their portfolio; and similarly event companies will be able to use them to create year-round content based on the great efforts they make for a few days a year.

Together these two groups could forge secure new businesses for themselves – embracing content delivery without being reliant on another to supply it for them.  Pity the guys they leave out in the cold.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Social media has turned marketing on its head.  In every sense.

Marketing managers find themselves beleaguered by the number and complexity of media that they are expected to embrace and conquer even for what has always been the most straightforward sector – B2B.  As quickly as they understand the dynamics of one method of communication up pops another one – until the choice is both bewildering and extravagantly large.

Like children in a sweetshop, managers further up the chain, or stepped sideways from the marketing discipline, want it all.  They aren’t so worried if they are satifying a need, why just take the licorice when you can have the chocolate and the sherbert fountain, and the marshmallows and the sours, and the jelly beans…  But all this approach delivers is a stomach ache and no memory of the taste from each individual component.

Marketing for events has become a little like this.  Wanting email and direct mail and contra-deals and editorial and blogging and groups on LinkedIn…  but unless you stop to work out the strategy before you start all that happens is you have run around like a headless chicken for a few months and guess what?  You still don’t have any delegates for your event.

But this is where the smart organisations are getting their act together.  They have taken a long hard look at what email and random social marketing hasn’t got them, and they are embracing once again the old school of intelligent PR and great direct mail to form the backbone of their campaigns.  They aren’t spending as much money on these elements, but they are creating targetted shots that are really hitting home on their targets.

These same organisations are the ones who are also investing in specialist knowledge to help them build and maintain a social media campaign, managed and directed by a marketing manager who is not expected to be all things to all media.

Sounds like the way things were done 20 years ago – only better…


Yesterday I went to Ad:tech at Olympia in London. Great show. It was busy and vibrant and everything that a successful B2B expo should be.

Though I’m ashamed to admit it, it’s been a while since I’ve been to a trade show or event that I haven’t actually been working on.  Everyone in events should try it, because it is a great lesson in why people attend and what motivates them.  More importantly it helps you understand the barriers to attendance and why it is so difficult to attract visitors.

For starters – I was really motivated to go.  I’m being asked more and more about social marketing for events and when I read Marketing and other industry press there are terms I don’t understand and need to find more about.  I had also made an appointment to meet someone there for lunch, so I had a personal reason to attend.  In fact this is the 4th year I’ve been really motivated to go – and the first time I have actually made it.

I made the mistake of going into the office first, which meant that I was still there when the post came, so I opened it and of course there was something I had to deal with there and then.   This made me late leaving and I missed my intended train.

Getting into London was OK – but it was a two-change tube journey with a long wait at Earls Court – so by the time I got to the event it was already lunchtime.

The event was buzzing.  So buzzing in fact that I couldn’t get near any of the stands and the aisles were packed so browsing was difficult.  However I was really disappointed to see that even with lots of buyers and visitors working their way through the exhibition with purpose there were still exhibitors committing the sin of eating on their stands – no one want’s to be sprayed with pepperoni when they ask a question. 

I caught the end of some of the sessions which were filling every corner and had a cursory look around.  It’s tricky – a busy show is almost as unfulfilling for a visitor as an empty one – because you just can’t get near the stands and there is nothing more frustrating that having to stand two deep in an aisle for ten minutes to ask a simple question.

So I had lunch.  Then another brief look around, making a mental note of some of the services which I would look up later.  Then I left.  Why?  Because I was trying to make as much use of my time in London so I had arranged another meeting to go to that afternoon and needed time to get across town – something I suspect many tradeshow visitors do.

Was I glad I made the effort? Yes.  How much did I get from the event? Some.  What was the most beneficial thing I got from my visit? The event catalogue – because on the bus on the way to the meeting I saw a couple of adverts in the back from exhibitors that were so compelling that I am going to follow them up.

Hellen @missioncontrol