Making a call on event sponsorship – can you stand out from the crowd?

16 03 2011

Clients ask me all the time if they should sponsor conferences or exhibitions.  Like most PRs and marketers, they are lured by the prospect of engaging with hundreds or even thousands of their target audience at the same time, all in the same place.  A great opportunity, and I get it, I can see the value in that – but is it really ‘engaging’?

Can you spot your brand?....didn't think so.

I read a great example of what I’m talking about today on AdAge Digital in reference to the ever popular SXSW event in Austin, taking place this week.  Here’s an event that has been around for a long time and has always been under the radar, more of a music festival than a business event and for those who know it well – they would like to keep it that way. But aaah the curse of popularity. As the AdAge piece points out, the big brand corporate world has taken over and in the opinion of some, taken the shine off the event, with smaller start ups and brands getting lost in the frenzy – the competition for attendees attention is just too fierce that nothing gets through to them except the down-your-throat big bucks marketing stunts that very few can afford.

And that leads me to my point. What I tell clients when they ask me if they should sponsor an event is, it depends on the event. If you will be the sole sponsor or one of only a handful, you stand a reasonable chance of awareness and engagement among the audience. By contrast, if you’re competing against over 50 brands and their logos, stands, free food, drinks, laptop bags, etc – unless you have the marketing budget to compete with the big boys, you’re not going to get much value.

Evaluate each opportunity as it comes and think about how this is going to help meet your PR/Marketing goals.

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Virtual Conferences: Here to Stay?

18 05 2010

Like us you’ve probably noticed more and more ‘virtual events’ and online conferences cropping up, particularly in the web 2.0, social media and cloud sectors. Perhaps you’ve spoken at or attended one of these events or were wondering whether to include it amongst your targets for next year. Either way we’d like to share our two cents and hear your thoughts in the comments.

From a purely financial standpoint it’s clear why these events have evolved; production costs are vastly reduced, there’s no limit on delegate numbers and there’s a significant long tail effect following the conference as materials remain hosted online and social networking tools remain active. Virtual events also place fewer constraints on your time, as a speaker you can record your session when it’s convenient for you and delegates can view the sessions that interest them most in their preferred order; revisiting those they found most useful.

Many virtual events now have virtual networking lounges and various social media tools which stay active year long allowing you to chase long tail leads; in essence it’s the online version of a one-to-one event, or business ‘speed-dating’. Some end-users even prefer this as it’s very convenient and removes the face-to-face nature of ‘the sell’ and the pushy salesman in a cheap suit cornering you between conference sessions!

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However, the face to face nature and live networking is the primary reason many attend live events, and that of course is missing from a virtual event; they lack the live engagement and personal interaction that you get with a ‘real’ event. There is also a tendency to trade ‘attendance for attention’; while it’s a cost-effective way to reach a large number of your target audience, delegates are often distracted by things going on in their office so there is far less meaningful engagement. There is also no guarantee that the level of delegate that signed up is the one actually ‘attending’. Often a junior member of staff will ‘attend’ and gather necessary information to condense and present back to senior executives.

Clearly virtual events are continually improving, and some certainly rival the real world events they’re replacing, but we don’t believe they’re yet ready to take the mainstream. Virtual events may be a useful medium to get the due diligence for a product or service out of the way (case studies, track record, stats, service requirements, etc), but when it comes to closing a deal or making a sale, it still takes personal selling – networking just isn’t the same without a physical handshake and a business card to take home to your sales team.

We look forward to the day we can ‘jack in’ to a conference and feel the virtual warmth of someone’s hand (and the luke warm watered down coffee!), but until the technology is such that virtual events feel real and allow for face to face interaction we don’t believe they’ll be replacing any premium real world events.

Of course if you think we’re wrong let us know in the comments – we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of virtual events.





Conference speaking as part of an integrated PR or marketing campaign

6 05 2010

A quick word about how a targeted conference speaking programme fits in with other marketing and communications activity.  It’s important not to silo speaking activity and whereever possible to link it with launches, announcements, or any other activity that is news worthy.

In essence, a speaking programme introduces a live element to an integrated PR or marketing campaign – ideally you want a campaign to live online, in the traditional media and also be live through an integrated speaker programme. The direct nature of conference speaking is simply a much more cost-effective method of personal selling – one of the most important (and expensive!) elements of the marcomms mix and one that allows you to come face to face with your target audience.

Cross-referencing your internal event and activity planner for year with a calendar of targeted external events is an easy way to see where there may be an opportunity to leverage your PR or marketing activity with a decent event.  Such an event may provide you with a pre-convened captive audience of existing customers, prospects and media.





Quality over quantity – a targeted approach to running a speaker programme

19 02 2010

It always amazes us when we start a new year and look ahead to the expanse of conferences on our radar; every year without fail many well known organisations blindly speak at or sponsor the same events again and again. Often, seemingly, without having a clear idea of what they want to get out of the event or if it will meet their business goals.

By using this blanket ‘more is better’ approach these companies lose a great deal of money and resource; their frustrated spokespeople likely come back from poorly targeted conferences wondering why they travelled for two days and spent hours working on a slide deck to speak to 12 people who are not even in their target audience – worse if they suffered the same slog the previous year!

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This is why we believe it’s essential to re-assess your speaking goals constantly and to seek feedback from your spokespeople – how many people did they speak to, did they get any sales leads and was the event well run? The organisations that get this right start with a proper brief, do the necessary research and map out all the events they would like to speak at for the year, evaluating them against a set of criteria based on business goals and ROI.

If you don’t know the conference landscape well and haven’t got the experience with organisers to be able to map out the entire year in advance you should consider looking to an external specialist agency. The ability to pre-plan your strategy and ensure you focus on only the most relevant events will help target your message and decrease your costs.