At BIMS 2024 Day One, an Upbeat Opening CEO Panel Talks Attendance Surges and Revenue Gains 

“The real surge we’re seeing is on the attendee side,” Heather Farley, CEO of Access Intelligence, said, starting off what would be a very positive opening CEO panel. “Maybe they sat on the sidelines last year—budget, economics, post Covid. “People want quantifiable leads and new formats, banners, there’s just been a comeback across the board.”

“We saw an incredible surge [in our events] in the fall that started slow and kept building,” said Andy Clurman, CEO of the mostly B2C Active Interest Media. “The news about the economy kept getting better, and we saw this explosions of people coming out. We had record attendance for a show in Las Vegas.

“I should’ve been coming to this event much earlier. It’s way more relevant to what we do.” Referring to his audience, Clurman added, “We focus on the avocations, not the vocations; it’s not what they do but what they want to do.”

National Journal President Kevin Turpin spoke about launching new verticals last year that he expects to see continued growth on this year. One in particular focuses on reaching communications officers of Fortune 500 companies. “They’re hard to get to. We finally had success reaching them with webinars and white papers; they responded to our content and insight, and had meetings with us.

“We’re fully membership now,” Turpin continued. This gives us a really reliable revenue source. One of our businesses has a 97% revenue renewal rate, so most of our growth is baked in already. Another program we launched two years ago is at 90% renewal. There’s a strength in building memberships around our expertise.”

“We also saw a lift in attendance in our events,” said Jennifer Litterick, CEO of EnsembleIQ. “We had a lot of innovation that came out of Covid—tested a lot of new ideas virtually. We saw growth in that innovation and in our virtual events. Our audience had an appetite for new content. It is getting more competitive, however. Instead of sending 20 people, companies are sending five. We’re trying a very targeted strategy.

There was also some nice breaks in tone. When Farley spoke about being in some tough markets last year due to the TV actors and writers strikes, Clurman said they’re also in the “media and entertainment industry. We have the number one woodworking show on Iowa Public Television.”

The need for new ideas also came up. Litterick said helping their audience find new talent allowed those customers to use some of their budget from the HR department. “We also see growth coming from our  consultative area. There’s a tech bubble out there and people are scaling back staffing. If we can help bridge those gaps and give them marketing solutions… There’s analytics from data that we can provide them so they can make that case internally.”

The type of talent companies are bringing in also resonated for the panel. The National Journal is now a data-oriented company. When Turpin took over as president eight years ago, “we had 125 journalists on staff. Now we have 25 journalists. We had 2 or 3 research analysts then; now we have over 70. Our last couple hires included an ex-CIA field agent in a consulting role. We also hired a head of thought leadership to work on one of our brands.”

“We’re not recruiting from the CIA,” Farley said with a smile. “In the last couple of years, we’ve created centers of excellence. We’ve also brought different people in—a marketing person into our sales group, a salesperson into our content group. We’re looking to develop internal talent in those kinds of ways.

“Every year we bring in some very bright people this way. One young woman running a brand for us now came up through this path.”

Of course, AI came up. “We try to get everyone on the team thinking about it,” Farley said. “We use it to write a subject line or content headlines, rewrite things and see what gets better traction. [Sometimes the AI line wins.] It can give us more efficiency. AI is getting smarter.”

“We’re using AI in HR,” Litterick said. “It helps with job descriptions, can give us more targeted volume and accelerate improvement. It also expedites research for editors. It doesn’t replace what we’re doing now, but it can jumpstart the research process, or give us some prompts. From an efficiency and workload standpoint, it’s a nice tool.”

Overall, the panel sounded notes of optimism. “People come to brands that they trust,” Litterick said. “We want to be the number one or two brand in that space, so we have that community trust and then double down and try to leverage that.”

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