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‘It’s Up to Us to Foster This New Reality’; Events Are Back on With Audiences Top of Mind

KC Crain, president and CEO of Crain Communications, told my colleague Matt Kinsman last week that “we will have our first in-person event in July, and this fall we will have in-person events all over the world. There will be different aspects to our events such as live streaming, and we will see a hybrid model for a while yet.” Co-location, series of content, more creative virtual offerings, and, of course, hybrid are all in the air, as many people—though still not all—appear ready to return.

There are still many variables to consider as we all decide when, where and how to plan our in-person events. In a survey we conducted in May, 60% of our AM&P Network respondents said they would be comfortable attending in-person events this fall—with the proper safety protocols in place. Of the 40% who said either “no” or “it’s too early to say,” 65% of those said 2022 sounds more realistic to them.

As for when their own organization has scheduled an in-person event, 31% said this summer and 33% said this fall. The two biggest factors driving their own attendance of an in-person event—by a fairly wide margin—are “content mix” and “travel budget” with “networking” and “not having to travel” next. Just over 40% said they would prefer a smaller regional event to a larger one, but the same percentage said it didn’t matter. And 44% said their organizations have not yet issued a policy on attending in-person events.

Here are some other event trends I’ve seen:

Virtual has its virtues. “If people didn’t figure out a way to enhance their digital business during the pandemic, then shame on them,” said Crain. “The pandemic 100% accelerated our digital strategy, namely in the data and analytics around our audiences, which we will continue to push in 2021.” While the company plans to do only a fraction of the 900 virtual events they hosted in 2020, Crain did say that “we will continue to see virtual events where the topic and the market make sense.” Added Peter O’Neil, CEO of ASIS International: “The pandemic made the world an even smaller place and global engagement has increased. Now it’s up to us to continue to foster this new reality through our programming and international engagement strategies, and focus on what truly makes us more successful.”

Co-locating. Associations Now reported that the Audio Engineering Society (AES) and National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) will co-locate for a conference in October in Las Vegas, something they also did in 2017. Previously, it “enabled us to exponentially increase attendance and expand the show floor—a win-win for our attendees and exhibitors,” said Chris Brown, NAB EVP of conventions and business operations. Now it’s a show in strength. Adds Graham Kirk, director of sales and marketing at AES: “…we made the decision that it was vital that we be present again in some form.” Adds Jeff Calore, portfolio director, event services, at SmithBucklin: “There’s certainly more activity around co-location, particularly groups that bring synergies and are additive to one another in terms of content, audience reach, and buyer segments that one single event was delivering before.”

Communicate often with your venues. “Hotels are in the middle of trying to align their service levels correctly, and planners have every right to dive deeply into that during contract negotiations,” said Kaaren Hamilton, VP of global sales for Red Lion Hotels, in a recent virtual session run by Meeting Professionals International. Added Teresa White, senior director of global sales for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts: “Planners should not assume anything—ask questions that you might never have asked before about how staff levels, social-distancing rules, and other factors will affect the room-set changeover process, the food-and-beverage delivery process, and other meeting elements.”

Plan now. You can see from our survey that a majority of organizations are returning to in-person events soon. That means a mass run on event venues. In our recent webinar, both Kelly Helfman, commercial president, Informa Markets Fashion, and Desiree Hanson, EVP, Clarion Events, said that if you are planning events for the fall or winter of 2021—or even 2022—get space now!

Hybrid takes center stage. While the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening will still have its in-person event in Vienna this month, attendance from outside Europe will, of course, be down. Organizations will have to start experimenting with hybrid events—for this, maybe add a 5-minute Vienna travel video or a raffle for a trip next year or special dialogues with in-person exhibitors. If content mix is still the biggest draw for people and travel is not in everyone’s comfort zone or budgets yet, then a creative virtual option to your in-person event should be included. In a new survey, “2021 and Beyond,” by Factum Global, an international consultancy, a majority (55%) of C-suite leaders say they experienced increased participation in their activities internationally. Can’t let that slip away.

Create ongoing events. The idea of a series of content as opposed to a 2-3 day event has taken hold. 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 in a CEIR survey. 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,” said Hanson. 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.”

KCCrain

Crain Communications Emerges from the Pandemic Focused on Subscriptions and On the Hunt for M&A

KC Crain

Last November, KC Crain became president and CEO of Crain Communications, representing the third generation of leadership at the 105-year-old, family-owned publisher, whose brands include Advertising Age, Crain’s Chicago Business and Modern Healthcare.

AMPLIFY caught up with KC to talk about his vision for the company, such as changing revenue streams (including digital and print subscriptions, which for the first time will exceed print advertising revenue for Crain this year) and a desire to expand into new markets through acquisition.

AMPLIFY: KC, how has Crain responded to the crisis over the past year and how has that positioned the company as we start to come out of the pandemic?

KC Crain: Like everybody else, the biggest fire was our events business. In a typical year we do about 200 events across all our brands and as it became a reality that we would be canceling all our events for the year, we made a massive pivot. We did over 900 virtual events over the last year and kept about half of our overall events revenue but the margins increased significantly. On the digital side, we had to get smarter about the analytics around our audiences and we paid a lot of attention to our audience strategy. We saw some nice increases in paid digital audience.

AMPLIFY: You’ve mentioned that audience strategy is the key to Crain’s future—can you expand?

KC: When we look at this business, it’s always been based on audience—your events audience, your digital audience, your print audience. We’re trying to get as smart as we can about who is engaging with our brands and on what platforms. We doubled down on our journalism. After 105 years, journalism is integral to our strategy, but now more than ever, it’s fundamental. If you have good journalism that people can’t get anywhere else, then they’re going to have to subscribe.  We’ve put in place a great team, we got smart about the analytics around our audience and their consumption habits and we’ve seen a huge lift.

AMPLIFY: As part of Crain’s prioritization on audience, you made a major hire in Veebha Mehta, who ran audience and marketing at Financial Times, Pearson and Cengage. What is her role with Crain?

KC: We had to look at how we were marketing to consumers and for the first time we have a global CMO in Veebha, whose main focus is our audiences. She’s a great hire and put together job functions we haven’t had in the company before.

AMPLIFY: What’s the revenue mix today for Crain?

KC: For the first time, our audience revenue—print and digital subscriptions—in 2021 will be greater than our print advertising revenue. Our revenue mix really changed from trade print advertising and event revenue to digital and audience revenue and the margins were significantly better. We saw a huge improvement in our first quarter numbers and I think we’ll see that trend continue. We’re up 50 percent year-over-year in our digital business coming out of the pandemic. As we’re focused on audience, digital, data, and custom, those business lines will continue to grow.

AMPLIFY: How does Crain look at the relationship between media and events as events start to come back?

KC: If people didn’t figure out a way to enhance their digital business during the pandemic, then shame on them. The pandemic 100 percent accelerated our digital strategy, namely in the data and analytics around our audiences, which we will continue to push in 2021. Coming out of 2020, nobody knew what 2021 would be like. We originally budgeted for zero in-person events but we will have our first in-person event in July and this fall we will have in-person events all over the world. There will be different aspects to our events such as live streaming and I think we will see a hybrid model for a while yet. We have no interest in running 900 virtual events again; it’s not sustainable. But as we move forward, we will continue to see virtual events where the topic and the market make sense.

AMPLIFY: KC, you are the third generation of leadership for Crain. What’s your vision for the company?

KC: We’ve got the business to where we are 100 percent focused on growth and we’re looking at verticals outside our traditional businesses. When you think about Crain, you might think about healthcare, automotive, marketing and manufacturing, our city brands. We made an acquisition in 2019 in the genomics space—life sciences are a new market for us. You’re going to see us make acquisitions that are adjacencies to our current business but then we will also get pretty focused on growth markets as well. We are in the market and looking at deals weekly. This is an exciting time; there’s a ton of opportunity in our space.

AMPLIFY: What are you excited about?

KC: Our audience strategy. I’m so fired up. We’re a 105-year-old company and we’ve never been so analytical. We’ve got great team members doing things to grow the business and for the first time in a while, we’re having fun. We’ve put ourselves in position to take advantage of these market opportunities out there. We’ve got wonderful traditional brands, great legacy markets and we’re looking to grow into new markets.

Vector of a businessman with a hammer resetting economy after COVID-19 lockdown

‘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.”

Informa Markets

3 Ways B2B Giant Informa is Reinventing Lead Gen

With more than 500 trade shows and exhibitions that in a typical year generate more than 60 percent of its total revenue, few companies have borne the brunt of COVID-19’s impact on events more than Informa.

But the way forward is turning crisis into opportunity and Informa is aggressively creating new businesses out of its existing events model and the enormous cache of audience data those events create.

At our recent Business Information and Media Summit, Informa Markets chief digital officer Jason Brown, who leads a newly created group called Informa Markets DNA, showed how the company is finding new revenue by leveraging event audience data into a new take on lead gen that not only creates revenue in the interim but promises to elevate the value of Informa’s live events when they return (replays of that session are available in the BIMS archive and AM&P Network members can reach out to me at mkinsman@siia.net for a link).

“We were hit hard with corona, but on the back of that, we’re working hard to look at alternative ways we can generate revenue from a similar mix of audience,” says Brown. “We’re not seeking to replicate what a show would do but instead offer year-round engagement with buyers and sellers which will mold itself to physical trade shows when they come back over the next 12 months.”

Three-Part Combo: Online Marketplaces, Authenticated Data and Audience Extension

Informa’s new approach leverages three components—Online Marketplaces, Authenticated Data and Audience Extension—that work together to generate data, convert that data into highly detailed and actionable intelligence and ultimately leverage that intelligence and Informa’s scale in connecting buyers and sellers across its own properties and beyond.

Online Marketplaces are enhanced versions of the show directories that Informa produces for its live events. Customers can use the online marketplaces to search products and suppliers, discover new products via a recommendation engine, make connections, create a virtual “walking” or favorites list and register for other Informa physical and virtual events.

“We let attendees figure out what they want to do,” says Brown. “It’s not about driving traffic to physical shows but creating engagement for 52 weeks a year. We’re allowing buyers and sellers to connect now without the ultimate destination of a physical trade show.”

The online marketplaces also provide Informa with “zero party data” where users offer direct insight into their interests through their use of the marketplaces, which helps Informa create the next component—Authenticated Data.

Identity and Buying Intent

If the top of the buyer funnel is about generating awareness, the bottom of the funnel is about decision and action. Informa is offering its customers authenticated data that shows not only who a lead is but also their buying intent.

“We take our first party data, the third-party data that we can buy or borrow and the zero-party data given to us by visitors and our audience when they are specifically after something and combine that information together to create something called authenticated data,” says Brown.

Getting the data right is the most important part. Informa aggregates its full spectrum of audience data into a data lake, including event registrations, online behavior and third-party data from services such as Bombora. Informa then uses that information to build a picture of a user and create an intent score.

“If we do all of that correctly, our gray cloud of a data lake becomes a green cloud of known buyer status,” says Brown. “That’s where we can say who our buyer is and where they are in the funnel.”

“Right Person, Right Time, Right Message”

Audience extension—reaching customers not only on your own branded properties but beyond—is something Informa and other publishers have been doing for years (and it’s why social platforms have become such an existential threat to publishers). But the addition of highly targeted, highly accurate data makes Informa’s audience extension efforts even more powerful.

“We ask our clients what kind of customer they are looking for, then we work with several third-party companies to find that lookalike audience and present a marketing message,” says Brown.

This is something Informa has seen success with particularly in the ag vertical, where it runs events such as the Farm Progress Show. “We can take a farmer, find hundreds of thousands of other farmers just like them, find whatever device they are on and target them with a message,” says Brown. “Right person, right time, right message.”

“Giving You the Needle, Not the Haystack”

And while audience extension is about scale and Informa still sells many traditional lead gen projects (including CRM feeds, webinar series, email promotion, programmatic remarketing, geo fencing and market intelligence reports), providing access to qualified buyers is the ultimate goal.

“We don’t want to give you access to 9,000 people; we want to give you access to 12,” says Brown. “Customers say, ‘don’t give us the haystack, give us the needle inside it.’ If you do a webinar today, you might get between 200-500 attendees and that’s great, but you’re not sure how qualified they are. Here, we are talking about creating a qualified buyer and then working with clients to create a webinar for 20 people, but a very distilled audience of 20 people who have shared with us their intent.”

Changing the Ways Leads Are Sold

Traditionally, publishers sell a sponsor on a content-driven program such as a webinar, then hand over the audience list to that sponsor. That’s a risky and outdated approach for both publishers and sponsors, according to Brown.

“The current model in many places of giving away the crown jewels of our data is not a good business model,” says Brown. “The danger in handing over those leads is that they can be abused quickly. Files also start aging from day one—and not like fine wine but like moldy cheese. As soon as you hand it over to someone, their journey in that buyer funnel may have changed the next day.”

Informa is moving away from selling leads as part of a one-off sponsorship and instead offering an annual subscription, which includes,

  • continuous access to fresh data
  • ability to count, segment and modify criteria for best data selection
  • intent scoring
  • ability to create a sales pipeline that feeds directly into the customer’s CRM

Informa also enables subscribers to Bring You Own Data, in which customers can give the publisher their data and Informa will cleanse it, authenticate it and attach an intent score for the customer’s own audience.

“Instead of bundling and packaging programs, this is an annual program that you can subscribe to and we can present different layers and opportunities to you,” says Brown.

Not for Everyone

It’s an approach that requires a skillset and an infrastructure that not everyone—including both publishers and advertisers—can take advantage of. Informa has developed a criteria for assessing markets and clients that could benefit, which include,

  • an active digital market
  • a sophisticated digital sales team on the client side
  • market pricing
  • a client with existing audience data

“The markets need to be fairly advanced. We look at whether they are buying on social, on Google, how much are they spending with us and can we convert what they are spending elsewhere,” says Brown. “We’re not selling Webinars, we’re selling access to data. We need to work with really smart digital salespeople who we can train to cross-sell access to data.”

Data protection vector illustration. Cartoon flat database protecting concept with tiny character holding key from lock for bank account password, email, electronic wallet, document files background

Behind Questex’s New ‘Modern’ Information Model: Combining Content, Data and Events to Go to Market Faster

Editor’s Note: Join Paul Miller at our virtual Business Information & Media Summit on Dec. 2 for a look at The New Go-to-Market Strategy: How Questex Launches Products Faster, Better and More Profitably. Join the discussion as Paul shows how Questex aligned internal assets to create a more efficient structure and leverages data to drive the entire process. Register here. 

In June, Questex announced the creation of a “modern” information services model that leverages audience data to tie content and events closer together to create a year-round customer engagement framework.

And as publishers scramble to make up for lost event revenue amidst the pandemic, the new approach also gives Questex the ability to launch new products and go-to-market at accelerated rates (think virtual events being produced over the course of a few weeks, rather than a full year, as with a live event).

Questex debuted the new approach with its Fierce Life Sciences group, aligning the Fierce content business with ExL Events, a Questex division acquired in 2016 that produces events in similar markets such as life sciences, pharma and healthcare, but until recently had operated as a separate business from Fierce.

Tying events more closely to digital isn’t a new idea but one that hasn’t been well executed, according to Questex CEO Paul Miller [pictured]. “On a personal level, we’ve been talking about this for many years—how we combine different types of content and data and use learnings from that to bring together the community,” he adds. “We’ve almost gotten there a couple times in our past lives but not quite.”

 

Miller points to live events tacking on an online directory or virtual floor plan. “There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s not a real translation. Those of us coming from a digital background say, we’ve got all this data on content consumption, wouldn’t it be great if we use that to pull together conference programs around what’s trending.”

The Immediate Payoff

The new approach paid dividends almost immediately as Questex shifted to virtual events, with Fierce and ExL coming together to produce the Virtual Clinical Trials Online on April 22-23. The virtual event attracted over 2,000 registrants with 50 percent generated by the FiercePharma content websites. The sponsors saw over 600 booth visits and there were 2,800 downloads of content providing strong sales leads for the vendors.

“For the first time, we had complete collaboration between ExL and the Fierce team based on content, speaker recruitment and reporting on what’s going on at the event,” says Miller. “We’re thinking, let’s do things differently. If something is really trending, let’s change our conference program and launch it quickly, taking a couple weeks to plan rather than a full year.”

Elsewhere, Fierce is working with Arizona State U to launch a new virtual event in July for the education tech marketplace called Remote that will focus on how institutions are adapting higher education in the coronavirus era. The event already has “many thousands of registrants and high-level sponsors,” according to Miller.

With 70 percent of its revenue coming from live events prior to the pandemic, Questex hasn’t avoided a major revenue revision or the significant lay-offs that came with it.

But the Fierce group is up 20 percent year-over-year and there’s early evidence that the model can pay-off across the entire organization, including Questex increasing the overall number of webinars it produces (up from 199 in all of 2019 to 347 through May 2020), while its American Spa business capitalized on the CBD craze by launching a CBD-focused virtual event over the space of just four weeks, securing a quarter of a million dollars in sponsorships.

A Second Attempt at Reinventing B2B?

In many ways, the new Fierce approach borrows from Questex’s first attempt at reinventing the B2B media model with The Beauty Experience, a content and marketing platform that the company launched last fall for its beauty industry vertical that upended the “search and click” way of scrolling through websites by enabling users to choose specific content tags that they want to follow, which then serves up relevant content.

The idea was that the data produced by the feed and follow approach would help program events, identify prospects for sponsors and create opportunities to serve users beyond the events itself. Unfortunately, the Beauty Experience Event, scheduled for March 7, was one of the first to be canceled due to COVD-19.

“Beauty is a pro-sumer market and we learned a lot of lessons from that community, says Miller. “Social is really important there and we were able to get very good in the social world, seeing which keywords work and using artificial intelligence to personalize the journey. Unfortunately, we were not able to see that come to full fruition due to the event cancellation and some market dynamics in the beauty sector.”

Getting There: Culture is the Biggest Obstacle

While Questex needed the right tech infrastructure to get the right data into the right hands, Miller says that getting beyond perceived cultural differences between Fierce and ExL was the biggest challenge.

“We were dealing with two different cultures that hadn’t been integrated and the team didn’t do a lot together,” says Miller. “Fierce thought it did this, ExL thought it did that. But did they really? The fact of the matter was, they needed to be doing stuff together.”

While COVID-19 has been the bane of B2B publishing, it has helped Questex pushed through some of the inertia that would have held up change in the past.

“In terms of collaboration and bringing these groups together, I have to say the COVID situation helped us do this more quickly than we normally would of,” says Miller.

Miller credits Questex’s ability to break down siloes and get groups working more closely together to its Centers of Excellence, in which experts across the company come together to produce best practices in a variety of areas including audience and database, content, customer experience, and product, with topics ranging from protecting customer privacy to identifying where the customer is in the buying cycle to hosting virtual events to which headlines work best and why.

“The first thing is you need to do it to make the decision on what you want your internal core competencies to be, which is easier said than done,” says Miller. “Usually, you’re saying collaboration gives you more of a competitive advantage than really deep product knowledge. We combine the two—the markets work with the Centers of Excellence by saying ‘Our audience wants this, our advertisers wants that’, and the Centers of Excellence say, ‘OK, we have that over here, which parts work for you and what do we have to create as new?’”

Having that expertise on hand has enabled Questex to move quickly. “Someone asked, how have you pivoted so quickly to virtual events?” says Miller. “We just did it, but in essence we didn’t just do it because we have six people on our team in our Centers of Excellence who were part of creating the first scalable virtual events about a decade ago.”