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.





Maximising conference speaking with social media

9 11 2010

All too often we see speakers turn up five minutes before their presentation, deliver a well polished speech and disappear before the applause has even stopped. We appreciate that many senior level speakers are simply too busy to hang around, but there are other ways to maximise their event exposure that wont keep them out of the office.

Most events these days have some form of social media presence, by engaging with this you can let delegates know in advance what you’ll be covering, point them to your own resources and generally make yourself more accessible. Whether this be a guest blog post or a short video drumming up interest in your session or even a question asked in the conference’s LinkedIn group – “what do you want to hear from us at superuberhightech show 2011?”

Once you’ve finished speaking, follow up with potential leads at the event. Make sure your conference materials are available online and provide a way for the delegates to follow up with you or ask the question they never got to in person. If you’re on Twitter, follow the event, look out for comments around your session and reply, start a conversation and point them towards more information.

As always, it’s all about tying everything together, making yourself accessible, following up on leads and using every channel available to reach and influence your audience.






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.





Measurement – an open call for your thoughts on measuring speaking programmes!

11 05 2010

We’ve been thinking a lot about measurement recently, the various things our clients want to know about their speaking campaigns and the things that we track internally. In our experience, just counting bums on seats is not really a decent measurement tool – there’s a plethora of useful information to collect from an events programme, but everyone is looking for something different and measurement is hard to enforce.

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Most people simply don’t have the time or the resource to collect and analyse the wealth of data potentially available in a speaking campaign, and this is where a specialist agency can help. Whether you’re trying to demonstrate the value of your conference speaking programme – or just deciding whether to speak at the same events next year, it’s necessary to be able to call on data outlining the value of your activity. Of course, depending on your goals, there are different aspects of your speaking campaigns you can track, such as sales leads from conference networking or how many decision-makers from your target group that you met; so this is our open call to you, our readers: what do you measure in your speaking campaigns? What do you wish you could measure?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the value you get from conference speaking and what’s important to you in terms of measurement and how you go about it.





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.





How to network

16 04 2010

So you’ve chosen your target conference, secured a speaking slot and delivered a stellar, perfectly prepared presentation. Mission accomplished, right?

Not quite. Your speaking engagement is just the start, don’t be one of those speakers that flies in, delivers their presentation and then flies out. Half of the value for the delegates and indeed you as a speaker is the networking opportunities and the ability to generate solid leads. In fact for many, networking is the primary reason they attend events.

Generally when people try to network at conferences, it involves wandering around aimlessly, reading a few nametags, drinking lots of bad coffee and then giving up, only to later claim that there was no one worth speaking to and the networking potential was poor. This is because they had no networking plan, and like most everything else in life and business – even networking works better with a plan.

Work out in advance what you would like to achieve in terms of networking with the help of your marketing, PR and sales teams. Setting yourself clear and measurable objectives, whether you’re speaking or attending as a delegate will help you take advantage of the great networking potential conferences provide and get the full benefit from a speaking platform.

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We’ve come up with a list of suggested networking goals and their respective actions to help you make the best of your time at an event:

Sales leads
Get a list of confirmed delegates and speakers from the organiser and identify potential sales targets. Seek out these targets at the event, or see if it’s possible to get a free delegate pass for a member of the sales team to accompany you. Set yourself a realistic target (meeting between 3 and 5 targets) and ask the marketing team for case study material that’s relevant to each of these targets so you have something to talk about (and remember to take it with you!).

Making useful contacts
Use the same delegate and speaker list to find identify anyone else that might be worth meeting, such as influencers, key industry figures, useful suppliers or existing customers. Get input from your own teams (PR, sales, public affairs etc.) for guidance on which contacts would be useful to make.

Meet the media
Ask the organiser for a confirmed press list and have your PR or media relations team contact relevant journalists to set up media briefings for you. Make the media relations team responsible for following up and reporting on any resulting coverage.

By following a simple and manageable plan such as this, you have a much greater chance of getting real value and ROI from a speaking enagement.





The truth about keynotes: is it THE slot to have?

11 04 2010

Good question.  We often have clients come to us and tell us that they only want a keynote when the speak at a conference.  Fair enough.  A keynote is traditionally the premier slot at any event and for the most part I would agree that this is an excellent slot to have as it sets you apart from competitors and the rest of the speaker list.  But this shouldn’t be used a benchmark for what value you get out of speaking at a conference, or whether you should bother speaking at an event or not.

There are few observations I’d like to share with regard to keynotes….

Audiences are expecting a lot more from conferences these days.  Long gone are the days when delegates were happy to pay full price just to be talked at – they want interactivity, they want to ask questions, they want networking.  In short, they want value for money.   In this respect, keynotes are not also the showpiece of every event and in fact if the conference organisers do a good job at putting them together, panel discussions are much more engaging and exciting for audiences.  A panel full of competitors for example or even representatives of different parts of the industry value chain can really get sparks flying and you often learn more from these sessions then you ever would from the one-way pulpit preaching that a keynote can sometimes be.

Secondly, some conference organisers can be a bit sneaky and many now call any old stand-alone slot a keynote in order to attract higher-level execs to speak at their event.  This can lead to speakers being misled as when most people think of a keynote, they imagine themselves being the first speaker or having a slot that is somehow exclusive.  There can often be disappointment when they arrive and find that they are one of 20 ‘keynote’ speakers throughout the day. Do your research and ask penetrating questions of the organiser about the format and structure of the sessions.

Finally, a keynote slot won’t hide poor presentation skills or a poorly prepared presentation and in fact, with the great expectation that a keynote brings from the audience, it can be detrimental to your communications goals and brand image.  If you are fortunate enough to have secured an opening keynote slot at a great event – PREPARE!  Treat the whole thing like a Broadway musical and practice, practice, practice.  Invest the time and effort in making the content great and the speaker the best he or she can be. It’s a show folks, the audience wants to learn but also be entertained. Many companies that we work with do this exceptionally well and even have a whole internal team dedicated to the task. As a result their presentations are outstanding and they are constantly asked back to present or asked to new events on the back of others.

So step back and have a think about what you want to get out of a conference (sales leads, networking, raise brand profile, etc).  Granted, you don’t want to be stuck in a back room session on the afternoon of the last day of the event, but if the people you want to meet or influence are at the event, chances are you can still be memorable, achieve your objective and gain value from paticipation, regardless of whether you have a keynote slot or not.