"What are you doing to create an experience that makes them feel a part of something bigger than themselves?" Brian Cuthbert, group vice president, Diversified Communications, asked during his session at SIPA 2019 titled Launching a New Event and Reinvigorating Existing Ones.
"At the end of the day, it's about the attendees," Cuthbert said about succeeding at events. "What are you doing for engagement? [If they're] spending $1500 a head, you have to provide the right experience. You empower them. People will forgive a bad session or two. [But] they'll remember the fun and networking. We see it all the time. Then if you have a good conference, they start to come back every year, and then bring their peers and colleagues."
Cuthbert will also deliver his message in a SIPA webinar on July 24. Here were some of his key points at the annual conference.
Consider who's underserved? "When you're thinking about asking questions for an [event] launch, what's the segment of your audience that's underserved?" Cuthbert asked. "New competitors are coming up every day. There are more people coming in to this market all the time. The vendors are becoming competitors. They're running a user conference. Our accounts payable event had its best year ever—it was great. And at the end of it, SAP announced their dates for SAPPHIRE NOW and it's over the same dates in the same exact city as ours. SAPPHIRE closed last year with Lady Gaga. We closed with me."
Keep "price integrity." The first rule is price integrity, Cuthbert said. "Your deadline ends, so does that price. You can't train an audience to honor your pricing if they know that there's going to be Throwback Tuesday every time a deal ends. You have to stick with it."
Build in the networking. "We don't run a conference today that doesn't have peer roundtables twice," he said. "We make sure [our attendees] get a chance to network with each other. They love to engage with themselves. They love to have conversations. We tend to run 8-10 different topics [for the roundtables, similar to what SIPA Annual does]. That part of it is a non-starter. You're talking about reinvigorating, it's building that community. You're encouraging them to connect with each other, long after the event is over. Learning can't stop when the conference does."
Show floor tours. "Walking tours [on the show floor] have been another piece that has been great for us," Cuthbert said. "We pick the topics that some vendors fall into. A guy walks around with a Bob Barker mic, and vendors pay us to be on the walking tour. Attendees sign up via email, and we say we'll be visiting these seven vendors. Then each gets two minutes to talk about themselves in a non-threatening way. It's for the attendees who don't like to engage with vendors, who don't want to get into that one-on-one discussion. This has turned into a real good money-maker for us, and the attendees appreciate it. So it's been a win for everybody.
Leverage your mobile event app. How are you leveraging the mobile app to allow your attendees to network with each other? Are they setting up dinners?
Look at your webinar pricing. "Don't be afraid to test," Cuthbert said. "We do increases annually on almost all of our pricing. See how they react. Get a sense based on that reaction." Sometimes he might hear, "What do you mean you're raising the price? What's the value?" "There are times that we've pulled back. Your audience will tell you when you've pushed it too far." They also look to bundle whenever possible—and test that as well.
Make membership matter. "We have member and non-member pricing. We've made the difference $300—used to be $100 but we want to increase membership. We want you to exhibit. We want to make it a no-brainer to exhibit and we will charge you for it. There are some companies that will not exhibit—our running events for example. Nike doesn't want to exhibit but they will sponsor." So you charge a premium if you have to.
It's okay to fail. Fail cheap, quickly and move forward.