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‘Understanding the Needs as the World Is Changing’; Events Need to Keep Adapting

“This is the time to make changes, to come back and do things differently,” Kelly Helfman, commercial president, Informa Markets Fashion, told us last week. It’s a common refrain, especially with events. Virtual events have greatly expanded our audiences but also can bring fatigue, technology problems and a lack of networking. So as organizations look to revamp and recharge, here are areas to look at in your events world.

Going forward, there will be a need for “constant communicating in different channels, personal calls, consultative, more surveying, understanding the needs as the world is changing,” said Helfman in a discussion last week in an AM&P Network CEO Council meeting. “And we will forever have a hybrid [event] strategy moving forward.”

Desiree Hanson, EVP, Clarion Events, said that they had just acquired a business in the one-to-one meeting space. She wondered when the best time to return to in-person events will be. While it may be safe to do it soon, “is it worth it for us to run this in the fall when everyone else is doing it too? Or should we just do it in March?” They both said if you are planning for the fall or winter of 2021, get space now!

In the past year, “we’ve developed new products that are here to stay; content we run as a series in our energy sector has done very well for us,” Hanson added. It’s brought Clarion “a new audience. Eighty percent of the people have never been to our [in-person] events. It’s keeping our audiences engaged throughout the year. The advantage there is it’s always evolving. You can see the immediate signs of audience engagement. You don’t have to wait a year to make changes” as you would for an annual event.”

Here are more factors in how events may change going forward:

More preparation and instruction. In their Part 2 report issued this month, CEIR lists a number of recommendations for virtual events. Many have to do with preparation and communication. “Recognize the importance of training and communication with speakers, exhibitors and attendees to assure sessions go well and that participants understand how to maximize the value of participating and overcome technology issues to have a seamless experience. Planning efforts need to start early, and elements of a program must be completed earlier than for in-person events. [And] the sales cycle needs to be longer to convert prospects to customers.”

Make it more of an ongoing event. The idea of a series of content as opposed to a 2-3 day event has certainly taken hold, as organizations—big, small and everything else—try to figure out when and where to return to in-person events. By doing a spread-out series, one event planner in our webinar said that by the third month this year, “the audience had become larger. And by the time you get to June, the next event is only six months away and not a year.” “Keep the brand alive 365 days” was a common sentiment expressed to CEIR. Networking continues to be a struggle virtually, but one planner in the CEIR survey did write that, “The interactive elements of a virtual meeting such as live video chats, exhibitor appointments, etc. have been extremely popular among our attendees.”

Global reach. Virtual events have allowed people from across the world to access our events, so it would be foolish not to continue to cater to that audience. One respondent wrote this to the CEIR survey: “Global outreach to new target groups was increased. Event community experience and cohesion was kept ‘alive’ during times of social distancing. Quality of conference/education content sessions was improved due to higher access to more top-quality content providers” worldwide.

Should vaccinations be required? This is going to be a difficult decision for organizations. Helfman from Informa said they have decided not to require that. Others have said they will require vaccinations for their in-person events. Things may change. The president of the European Commission said Sunday that for the summer “all 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved” by the European Medicines Agency. A study from Ricochet titled The Conference Road to Recovery found that “the vast majority will not attend an in-person conference until they are vaccinated. Only 30% might or would attend an in-person conference before being vaccinated.”

Climate change. Helfman was not specifically talking about carbon footprints in calling for change, but she could’ve been. Almost 3/4 (74%) of the Condé Nast audience told them that companies behaving more sustainably took on more importance because of coronavirus. Young people especially have indicated in surveys that it affects their decision-making. “Live events take a lot and have a big carbon footprint,” John Capano, SVP of Impact XM, said. “And so doing an event where maybe it’s a smaller live portion, but a much larger online portion, you can get the same benefit and the same engagement for a much smaller carbon footprint. And obviously, that is important and should be important to many of the folks that we work with.”

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‘A Deep Connection’; Publishers Using Podcasts to Bring in New Vibe, and People

Podcasts are nothing new by now, but media companies are using them in more creative ways. Vox poured resources into “Unexplainable” and will now build around it. Crain’s Detroit Business is giving their Small Business Spotlight podcast good visibility and a lead-in to premium content. And with Access Beauty, Questex has brought in a sponsor and new, diverse voices.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the maiden voyage of the Small Business Spotlight podcast. I’m Jason Davis, small and emerging business reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business. Thank you very much for listening. This podcast will run once a month alongside a feature with the same name.”

That February podcast featured Ja’Nye Hampton (pictured here in a photo by Nic Antaya), who “fashions herself a typical 22-year-old, but her schedule isn’t like most people her age. The owner of Detroit Flower Co. gets up at 5:30 a.m. and works until 8 p.m. at her new shop in northwest Detroit. When she gets home, she catches up on orders, messages and social media.”

This content works in many ways:

monetization – it links to a story on Hampton that’s just for premium members and a free,  sponsored Small Business Workshop series in May;

diversity – it spotlights a younger entrepreneur in an interesting field;

trendiness – it’s in a form that just keeps getting more popular. (Podcasts, did not, as some predicted, lose popularity without our commutes—quite the opposite has been true as we found more time to listen.)

Given that popularity, there’s been a growing trend to start new brands with a podcast and branch out from there. A recent Digiday story by Sara Guaglione highlighted Vox’s newest podcast, Unexplainable—just introduced last month.

“Vox Media’s strategy is to launch a podcast show, make it a hit and translate it into a sustainable revenue stream through brand sponsors and advertising, Liz Nelson, [VP of audio at Vox,] said. The company’s podcast sales pitch spans ads that could run during a podcast episode as well as alongside related articles on its site, such as Vox.com’s science and health vertical for ‘Unexplainable’ advertisers.”

Advertisers for the five episodes of Unexplainable have included Comcast, Lenovo and Facebook. One of the advantages of Unexplainable—and Crain’s Small Business Podcast—is that it is not dependent on the news cycle. Another is that it is in the science realm, “by no means a saturated category in the podcast ecosystem,” said Hilary Ross, VP of podcast media at audio ad agency Veritone One.

Most importantly, both Crain’s Detroit and Vox are creating more good content. Vox came up with an idea, tested it in the fall, received positive feedback and then developed it further. Crain’s Detroit already had the Small Business section but needed more ways to connect. Small Business Spotlight will go “beyond typical profiles to offer insights and tips on issues common to emerging and mid-stage business,” wrote executive editor Kelly Root in a 2021 preview.

“Podcasts are interesting for publishers,” says Nic Newman, senior research associate, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “Because they are much more likely to attract younger audiences, since they can be accessed conveniently through smartphones and they offer a diversity of perspectives and voices… The deep connection that many podcasts seem to create could be opening up opportunities for paid podcasts, alongside public-service and advertising-driven models.”

Here are two examples of what Newman mentions:

The deep connection” – The Telegraph in London offers podcast listeners subscription deals with trackable links. “We see podcasts as a way to bring journalism to life in new ways, often for a new audience a little younger than our print readers,” says Telegraph Podcast Editor Theodora Louloudis. “And for a growing number of people, our podcasts are their first involvement with the Telegraph brand.”

“A diversity of perspectives and voices”  Questex brand American Salon and Ulta Beauty launched a podcast called Access Beauty! Each episode features Ulta’s creative leaders, and sometimes a special guest, who will discuss all things beauty, from salon life to trends and products to what’s impacting the industry.” Guests are diverse and topics current—The Impact of Social Distancing on Stylists and Inclusive Beauty: A Conversation With David Lopez. This is also a great way to involve a sponsor and keep the content excellent.

Finally, I like NPR’s mantra to podcast advertisers: “Be heard where it matters.” “Media companies are uniquely positioned to capitalize on podcasts as they have everything a successful podcast requires: compelling stories and information, professional storytellers, and an audience at the ready,” said said INMA report author Paula Felps. “Where audiences flock, advertisers will follow.”

‘They Mean More Than a Date on the Calendar’; Federal Bar Association Uses Anniversary to Celebrate and Grow

 

In discussing why the Federal Bar Association decided to put together a most impressive, coffee-table book to be the centerpiece of their centennial anniversary last year, executive director Stacy King flashed a 2021, better-days-are-ahead smile.

“Attorneys love books. They really do. Since we’ve been doing all these Zoom calls, I never realized how many of my leadership has just books on books behind them. Everyone has that prestigious bookcase with all of their books.

“The other [reason] was that when the party was over”—the FBA put on a big virtual 100-year celebration in September to replace the canceled March festivities that would have included welcoming remarks by Chief Justice John Roberts—“we really wanted to make sure we had something to celebrate, something about the bar for years to come. We also wanted it as a marketing tool to raise our profile. So we are actually in the process right now where we’re sending the book to all three branches of government, all the chief federal judges, so that every federal courthouse has a copy.”

This informative and entertaining AM&P 2020 session—we even saw a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt speaking at a war-time FBA luncheon with their first female president!—was titled 100 Years of Content: Anniversary, Event, and Experience. Chris Durso, associate vice president of content, MCI USA, joined King for the session. He collaborated with her and FBA on the project, actually becoming, in her words, the “FBA historian.”

“Every association has anniversaries, and they mean more than a date on the calendar,” King said. “Use them to boost membership and raise a little money.”

Here are more key takeaways from this session:

Start early. Things take time. And stay in charge. I just heard that a new Denzel Washington movie coming out was written in 1993. King said that they started talking internally about the centennial eight years ago. After a few years of not much getting done, she learned that doing it by committee wasn’t going to work here. “We started from the get-go about the book with feedback [from the committee],” she said. “We took that and decided to do certain things. We kept officers apprised and made volunteers feel heard, but then we went and did the right things for the organization.”

Celebrate your history. “Every association has anniversaries, 25th, 50th, some are up to 100,” King said, “so the idea is to really honor where you came from and celebrate. Honor past members. For us, so many are still engaged. We get a lot of turnover—chapter leaders change every year. We wanted to inspire current leaders and show how prestigious an organization they’re a part of. We also got the engagement of the federal community and brought them together.”

Think about outsourcing. The FBA has a “tiny staff” so King knew they had to outsource the work. “Look to have a good partner; it’s important to have someone you feel comfortable with [because you’re] trusting a vendor with your organization’s history. And you’re going to spend a lot of time together.”

Use it to build community—and membership. “We wanted to bring everyone back together,” King said. “Treat it like a reunion. Community is super important to us. We also used it to drive membership.” They started a campaign to drive past 20,000 members. “As an association anticipating change, we also started to talk about the future. In 2019 we adopted a strategic plan. What better way to get people excited about change than to celebrate where we came from. It was a way to set up changes and toast our 100th anniversary.”

Decide on a centerpiece. The first thing he discussed with King was, “How do we tell this story?” Durso said. “These are attorneys and judges who work for the federal government. We were really telling the story of the American century. So we took a mosaic approach. It’s a very handsome hardcover book.” There are listings of every national FBA president and where they worked, showing the prestige of the organization and giving a sense of impact.

Highlight your diversity. Prominently displayed in the book is the FBA’s first African American president, J. Clay Smith Jr., in 1980. There’s also that Eleanor Roosevelt photo and one of Elena Kagan at an FBA meeting. Durso and King did not speak about how to deal with a history that does not include any diversity. In that case, it would make sense to highlight the diversity that you have hopefully transitioned to now and your commitment in the future.

Think about your website. The FBA was in the midst of an overall website redo, and we all know how that can go. So King made the decision to launch a standalone site: www.fedbar100.org. “It became the hub for the centennial,” she said, “and gave us breathing room for the new [overall] site, which we actually launched on the exact 100-year anniversary date.” The fedbar100 site includes material from the book formatted as interactive timeline, profiles of FBA legends, and memories from past and current leaders. “They love to reminisce about the past,” she said.

Don’t be bashful. FBA used the new website for sponsorship and giving, approaching it in two ways. They set up a centennial fund within the foundation and then for the party focused on sponsorship. They asked for $100 donations for the 100th anniversary, and the past president issued a challenge for $1,000 donations. We were able to raise the funds to cover the book,” King said. “And we used sponsorship outreach to cover the events we planned. I’m so glad we did the website as a standalone. Now it’s really a legacy site [and] another way to try to reach your members where they are. Some like the book, some like the website. We tried to capture all the voices and share with as many people as possible.” Added Durso: “The book was our stone tablet; the website gave us breathing room. We put voices there that we couldn’t put in the book.”

Be ready to pivot. This was everyone’s mantra for 2020, but it’s probably a good lesson for any time. “We had a whole weekend planned in March including a gala Saturday evening,” King said. They had not booked a Saturday night speaker deciding to “focus on the bar and who we are. Let the bar be the keynote.” That allowed them to come up with a plan b that actually transitioned well to the virtual world: a centennial video. “What better way to take the book and make it come to life than a video,” King said. “So that’s how the book became a movie, and the focus was on the association itself and not the speaker at the party.” Durso said that, for him, it felt like they “were producing a trailer for the book.” It allowed them “to take advantage of all the information and photos we found.” The video lasts about 17 minutes. “It’s kind of in the Ken Burns PBS model,” he said, with slow pans over documents and photos. “Every association has a story that can be told in more than one way,” King said.

Consider sending swag. I have read numerous success stories about sending swag in lieu of in-person event swag since the pandemic. The FBA adds another one to that. They mailed attendees to their September event swag bags that included the book, of course, plus centennial pins, chocolate, and movie popcorn with a sticker on it that told them when the movie premiere would be. Part of that Friday night virtual celebration also included a Q&A between King and Durso. “Did you know that the first FBA president was born before the Civil War?” Durso asked, flashing his new historian credentials. “And the first African American member, Louis Mehlinger in 1944-45, was the son of a freed slave from Mississippi.”

Ronn Levine is the editorial director of SIIA and can be reached at rlevine@siia.net

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Know the Results You Want, Then Script Your Virtual Event, BIMS Panel Advises

“I write the last line [of the novel], and then I write the line before that… You have to know what your voice sounds like at the end of the story, because it tells you how to sound when you begin,” author John Irving told The Economist in 2012. I once heard Irving talk in person about this—writing your ending first and then working out how to get there. A Power Panel at BIMS 2020 last week said something similar about virtual events: Script the results you want to see first and then work accordingly to make it happen.

After 30 minutes of listening to five very smart people talk about the future of events on that panel, I thought back to this idea: What do you want your event to accomplish? What should your ending be? If you’re the Financial Times, you want more subscribers. If you’re Winsight, you want to bring buyers and sellers together. If you’re an events company like Emerald, you probably want to do both—or just deliver the most overall value possible.

 

“Can I give you some numbers?” Orson Francescone (pictured right in photo), head of FT Live, said. “FT is a newspaper, and we reached a million subscribers a year ago. Our strategy is to drive subscriptions and we’re doing that very successfully. Events were always a big part of that strategy because subscribers who attend events tend to be better engaged [and bring] longer lifetime value…

 

“Last year we had 24,000 delegates at our conferences. This year with 220 online events”—and counting with three more December events scheduled—“that’s webinars, conferences and award shows, we’ve had 160,000 ‘digital delegates.’ So suddenly those numbers are kind of blowing our model out of the water in the sense that we are bringing in a huge funnel of new subscribers into the FT machinery. That’s a very attractive proposition to someone who owns an integrated media platform like us.”

 

While Francescone set the very substantive tone, he did not define it. Chris Keating, EVP, conferences for Winsight, scripted a positive ending for his company, where connections mostly trump content. Kudos also go to moderator Robyn Duda, co-founder, Change the Stage, for keeping the conversation pinpointed and flowing.

 

“Where we’re shifting our thinking a bit is that content is still usually important and getting the best speakers is great, but… making sure that people really connect in this virtual environment is really critical,” Keating said. “Sitting home alone staring at the computer screen is not a very immersive experience. So for us [what’s crucial is] putting together peer group meetings so you can spend time connecting with them, putting together meetings with exhibitors and attendees, not in a selling situation but in a sharing knowledge situation.

 

“That’s always been there, but for us that becomes more important. Just having speakers, virtual booths, hoping they’ll connect, I don’t think that is going to help anyone out. But creating these environments, these opportunities to make the human connection—because lets’ face it, there’s not many things that someone will learn here that they can’t read somewhere or talk to someone. You have to create that human connection and to us that will really become a key part of our strategy.”

 

With those differing views, it took Jessica Blue, EVP, Emerald Expositions, and John McGovern, CEO and owner, Grimes, McGovern & Associates, to round the topic out.

 

“The best model I’ve done is the one that integrates media, content, in-person, matchmaking and live experience,” Blue said. “I’ve run a lot of events with associated media and honestly that’s the most attractive model and sees the most brand loyalty no matter what market you have—[it creates] that year-round community engagement. [During my time] at UBM, [our] events-first strategy was misunderstood. To be only about events is far from the reality of it and what we were really encouraged to do is view our media assets in a different way. To integrate them fully into the events business to build the brand strategy and to drive the cross-portfolio growth. That strategy when well executed really paid off.”

 

The discussion of media assets led right into McGovern, who represented the M&A world. He believes that long-term, being able to successfully put on virtual events will have many advantages.

 

“Think about how valuations are set—the buyer builds a pro-forma model that shows that one plus one will be more than two once they do the acquisition,” he said. “Pre-COVID, very few of those models had significant revenue or gross profits tied to online events. Now you’ve got all these event companies doing online events which are doing well and, depending on the market, they can support 12 months a year. [So when] live comes back, you end up with ultimately higher margin businesses with the combination.”

 

Duda, who like Keating and Blue, spent time at events giant UBM, agreed about the “super importance” of creating connections but also emphasized user experience. “Part of that is navigation,” she said. “You can have the best content in the world, you can personalize things, you could create the best connections. But if people don’t have a seamless, UX user experience,” it won’t matter.”

 

While Financial Times has jumped fully in the virtual waters, Blue said that although Emerald has put on “31 virtual events across our portfolios… it’s [also] given us an opportunity to step back to look at what we do and how we do it—exploring research about trusting trade show organizers.”

 

Keating concurred about making good use of this in-person events break. “One thing we have to get better as an industry is proving ROI, something digital media is very good at. We’re using this downtime to figure out how to become a much more active connector between buyers and sellers… Hopefully, we can be active connectors and this gives us an opportunity to be good at that.”

 

Francescone believes that the result you’re looking may be reliant on which type of event you run. “It depends how you define events,” he said. “That word has been blown up. Are we publishers, television producers, trade show organizers, online magazines? So how you define events is really the key here. If you’re a trade show organizer then trying to go digital is tough. If you’re a conference organizer trying to go digital, it’s easier. We’re really good at delivering content. We know it’s hard to deliver those connections in a digital format. I think it will get better as the technology improves. What is an event really? That definition will keep evolving.”

 

Keating says that Winsight does not want their events division to be siloed. “I grew up in media and moved to events. We don’t want them to exist on their own anymore. There’s a so much more powerful way that you can connect. Our main restaurant website has over 1 million unique visitors a month. That’s an enormous audience to tap into and connect with for live events.”

 

When Will In-Person Events Come Back?

 

“I don’t know,” said Francescone. “I’m comfortable with that because we’ve built a very successful digital model. When the physical model comes back we’ll be able to switch back very quickly. But, just to try to help our audience with the way that we’re thinking about this, there are a few steps.”

 

The first three steps he named were vaccine rollout, the slashing of travel budgets and staff safety. The fourth was more complex. “Behaviors have changed, and I think they’ve changed forever,” he said. “The reality is the days when you used to get on a plane to go to a conference in New York or Singapore are either long gone or will take a long time to come back. So I think the big international shows are the ones that will be hit hardest.”

 

Francescone said the likeliest scenario is that in-person events will return in the fall of 2021 “slow, gradual and localized. It will start with roundtables, dinners, breakfast briefings, small conferences and then when people feel more comfortable it will keep going from there. But the main trend will be localized and hybrid, connective.

 

“All events will be digital forever, so I say to my team, digital-first forever is our strategy right, regardless of when the live comes back.”

 

Blue said that Emerald just put on its first in-person event since March—the International Gift Show of the Smokies in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. “Exhibitors were down 60%, buyer attendance down 30% but there were 12 attendees per exhibitor. And the serious buyers were there. We also got to test the rollout of our health and safety plan. Masks, temperature checks, waivers, 6 foot queuing, one entrance in, one entrance out. It’s a good thing for the industry, but [events are] dependent state by state.”

 

“People have been gathering in groups longer than flying in airplanes, so people are going to get comfortable doing that again,” Keating said. “[But] business travel will be depressed for a long time. The day trip to Dallas or the three-day trip to see clients who may not work in an office anymore. That’s going to take longer to get back so what we do, our events are going to have to be an extremely efficient and powerful way to see a lot of customers in a short period of time. That need is not going to go away.”

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Connectiv Awards 2020 McAllister Top Management Fellowship to Thomas CEO Tony Uphoff

Editor’s Note: Hear Tony Uphoff and other leading B2B media executives including Industry Dive’s Sean Griffey, Arizent’s Gemma Postlethwaite and Government Executive Media’s Tim Hartman in a live stream on Thursday, April 30 at 1pm ET called “CEO Power Panel: How Industry Leaders Are Planning for Their Companies to Not Just Survive but Thrive.” The event is free for all Connectiv members and more information is available here.   

Tony Uphoff, president and CEO of Thomas, a leader in product sourcing, supplier selection and marketing solutions for the manufacturing industry, will serve as the 2020 McAllister Top Management Fellow.

One of the highest executive honors in B2B media and information, the fellowship is awarded annually by Connectiv to help promote the study of business media, with McAllister Fellows acting as teachers and advisors at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications.

Uphoff, who joined Thomas in 2017, has helped lead the 102-year-old former print directory publisher in a radical leap to becoming a “data platform company that runs like a software business focused on user experience.” Thomasnet.com today serves more than 1.5 million buyers per month across 70,000 different categories containing over 500,000 North American suppliers and 7.8 million product listings.

Previously, Uphoff served as CEO of Business.com and held a variety of executive roles at B2B media and information companies such as UBM and CMP, where he helped transform CMP’s $125 million legacy print operation into UBM TechWeb, a $275 million media, events and marketing services business.

“I’m thrilled to receive the 2020 McAllister Top Management Fellowship,” says Uphoff. “I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had great mentors, coaches and role models throughout my career. Quite literally I continue to stand on the shoulders of giants and I look forward to helping the next generation of business information and media leaders. I’d like to thank the McAllister Foundation and Connectiv for this incredible honor. I look forward to participating at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.”

The fellowships are endowed by Mr. and Mrs. Donald McAllister, Jr. and Ms. Liane E. McAllister, in honor of the late Donald McAllister, Sr., who was an active figure in specialized business media for over 70 years and a chairman of Connectiv’s predecessor, American Business Media. McAllister was chairman of the executive committee at Geyer-McAllister, one of the country’s oldest family-owned publishing firms, until its sale to Reed Business Information in 1998.

Marion Minor, owner and CEO of EPG Specialty Media, was the most recent McAllister Top Fellow and spent her three-day residency at Medill earlier this year discussing “How B2B Media Continues to Evolve and the Business and Career Opportunities It Presents.”

“The McAllister Top Management Fellow plays a key role in imparting B2B/information services wisdom at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications,” says Abe Peck, the school’s Director of Business to Business Communications. “Today, the Fellow interacts with students and faculty across the curricula, conveying key B2B trends and strategies and sharing the alignment of content creation to business goals. Increasingly, this involves digital, data and events, all of which are integral to the school’s continued transformation—and to Tony Uphoff’s own vision.”