I'm sitting here at Denver International Airport (using its free WiFi, by the way) a bit bleary-eyed after a long U.S. Election Day. I'm headed to Baltimore to run a conference and I'm thinking about what effect, if any, this election has on the events, meetings, and conferences industry.
A suffering economy, an energy crisis (despite recently low oil prices), and a comedy of errors (otherwise known as the airline industry), all tell us there will be an effect, but I am quite certain the differences of opinion about what the effect will be are as divided as the differences of opinion on the candidates, so I'll sidestep the political punditry and talk instead about some lessons we can take from Barack Obama's candidacy.
It's not about you. It's about them. Obama framed this as an election about the people. His supporters therefore took ownership of the campaign.
What if your attendees took ownership of your events? What if they believed in your event so much that you received emails and calls from them throughout the year about ways to improve it? And what if they actually believed that you cared enough to listen?
Word-of-mouth is like gold. Those supporters who took ownership also talked about Obama. They put in countless hours (formally as volunteers and informally) talking to everyone who would listen about Obama and why they support him. Their enthusiasm proved contagious.
Are your attendees talking about you? If not, you're doing something wrong and you're missing out on a huge chunk of powerful (and free) marketing potential. Find out what makes them tick and get them talking.
Don't settle for the status quo. Wherever you stand on the results yesterday, you cannot deny that history was made. In fact, this entire election season has been historic. We saw our first serious female candidate in Hillary Clinton, our first Republican Vice Presidential candidate in Sarah Palin, and, now, our first black President in Barack Obama. None of this would have been possible if these individuals had not been willing to buck convention, as hard as that fight can sometimes be.
I've been thinking a lot about bucking convention in the events industry lately. I think complacency is comfortable. It's easy to blame falling attendance on the economy. I don't deny that slashed budgets are an obstacle, but a faltering economy does not reduce the desire to connect with others. In fact, I would argue that the urge to network is bolstered by the weak economy. Connections are a security blanket for the uneasy. Maybe their companies won't cover all expenses, but could you get prospective attendees to reach into their own pockets to participate? Could your event be that good? Or can it be unique enough to convince a company to expand its budget? I think it can, but you have to be bold and take risks. The payoff might just be worth it.
What do you think? Any other lessons I'm missing?
Image by swamibu
Are you feeling the crunch of the current economic climate? If not, you're either very lucky or you're not paying attention. Most businesses are looking for ways to cut costs and many are quick to cut corners they should leave intact.
Last week, I listened to a recent episode of Startup Nation, which included an interview with Scott Aughtman, author of How Your Business Can Survive and Prosper in a Recession.
I thought much of the advice Aughtman gave was also great advice for organizations in the events industry.
I captured a snapshot below, but if you want to hear more you should take a listen.
1. You're sitting on an "acre of diamonds" and those diamonds are your customers. Don't go looking elsewhere if you don't have to.
2. Stopping marketing to save money is like stopping your wristwatch to save time. (this was my favorite)
3. Focus on what your customers need and you won't go wrong.
4. Cultivate your relationship with your clients during this rough patch by giving them information and tools that will help them.
5. Consider joint ventures with other companies you respect.
6. Give away free samples and trials. If your product is worthwhile, they'll remember you when things pick up.
It is amazing to me how many ways people are using Twitter, which is at its heart the very simplest of tools. Have you used Twitter in a creative way? Let me know about it.
Click here for more information on using Twitter at your events.
I recently wrote about using Twitter at your event and I bet some readers loved it and some skimmed right over it. This assumption may be wrong--I am basing it on the purely anecdotal evidence that when I mention Twitter to people in person, some think it's great and most give me a look that says, "kids these days..."--but just in case, I wanted to pass this along from Every Dot Connects.
In the days leading up to the 4th of July, an online community launched the inaugural Austin Blood Drive Tweetup, promoted by blogs and, of course, Twitter. Within three days, 100 people had signed up online. According to Every Dot Connects, the center had never seen so many first time donors.
Why do you want people to blog about your conference?
Because you put on good conferences and word-of-mouth is one of the best marketing tools out there. If a blogger brings attention to your event, you are reaching an audience you would not have otherwise reached. And if your conference sounds good, they'll be more likely to attend next year.
What if the blogger hated the event? Chances are, other attendees did, too. Be glad you have someone speaking up about it and use it as an opportunity to publicly address the shortcomings of the event and to discuss how you will reformat it the next time around. Take the opportunity to engage the attendees who were there, as well as potential attendees next time around, to build the next event for them (do this even if the bloggers loved you event).
How do you get people to blog at your conference?
Some attendees are more likely to blog than others. I suspect BlogHer has more live-blogging attendees than, say, the National Association of REALTORS Convention, but you can still get bloggers to your conference. If those real estate professionals have blogs related to their work, why wouldn't they want to take a learning and networking opportunity and turn it into a marketing opportunity by blogging to their clients and potential clients about it?
1. Make it easy for them. Give them free wireless internet access and advertise it. As Mashable points out, this can be a costly add-on for event planners, so leverage it if you have it. (Hint to attendees wanting to live blog: if you want wireless, ask for it. Event planners might not be getting it because they don't think the demand is there. If it becomes a factor in whether people attend or not, they'll add it.)
2. Identify bloggers among your potential attendee pool and invite them. Give them a discount on tuition. Get them in the seats. Just make sure that if a discount is given, they acknowledge it in the blog and that they know they are free to blog whatever they want--even the negative. Transparency is important to you and will be to them, as well.
3. Your speakers know bloggers in their field. Have them reach out to individuals they know.
4. Live blog your conference on an event blog. I hesitated to add this because I don't think it is anywhere near as powerful as having true bloggers in the room, but I think it can serve a purpose. If you have a blog set up for your event, keep it going throughout the event. Highlight sessions and networking events as they happen. Take pictures and get interviews with attendees.
5. Next time you're at a conference (as an attendee), live blog it. This will help you identify the pitfalls and issues so you can better relate and cater to bloggers. If you don't already have a blog, you may want to try an easy service like posterous to get something up quickly and easily.
Greenwashing stresses me out. As it should, I suppose. It stresses me out as a consumer because there is so much to be aware of. It stresses me out in my professional life because there is so much to be aware of. Making the right decisions is a moving target--everything just changes so quickly now.
Robert Carey, writing at the Meetings Industry Megasite, talks more about greenwashing in the meetings industry:
Planners, organizations, and suppliers that fail to "walk their talk" risk damaging their reputations in a way that won't soon go away, noted Mark Glickman, director of resort marketing and sales for Mauna Lani Resort in Hawaii.
The meeting industry sources Mr. Carey spoke with agreed that there are three things that can save the planner: education, research and constraint.
"Most planners are still learning what it takes to be green and are not as informed as they need to be," said Eisenstodt. But according to Michelle White, director of environmental affairs for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, planners are taking steps in the right direction.
Education and research for planners should be a given--this is really unchartered territory for many and the only way to make it is through knowledge and informed choices. I would also add that collaboration is key. Thankfully, the internet makes finding others to collaborate with easier. I recently came across this group for green meetings and events, housed at Google Groups, which is based in the Bay Area but open to others. It's still a little slow, but I see promise, especially as people start bringing their experiences with green events to the table.
In the highly critical environment of eco-friendly events, practicing constraint in environmental claims can go a long way toward protecting an organization's reputation—and the planner's reputation within the company, too.
As tempting as it is for marketers to join the green chorus, they should honestly evaluate their efforts and market accordingly.
The article also asks planners to consider whether the event must be in person. This is something I have been struggling with a lot. I still believe the in-person connections are important, but events that allow for in-person connections are not always practical (environmentally or financially) and more and more technologies are emerging to help us cope with this. Just check out HP's Halo telepresence and video conferencing solution. And maybe social networking services, like the new EventVue, will take on a larger networking role for conferences as they move from live to digital. Their networking platforms may be the new reception room.
I recently talked about this, so when I saw this post on the importance of authenticity in green marketing from No Impact Man, I want to pass it along. Like I said--only promise what you're planning to deliver (and what you actually can deliver). Anything else will expose you (or those you are planning the event for) as a fraud and strip you (AND your clients) of credibility. Don't think you won't be found out and don't think others won't spread the word.
Here is a another great post on greenwashing from Joel Makower. The results of the study he discusses are unfortunate (though not surprising) and the first commenter mentions the famed "snake oil salesman." I don't sell products (at least not the type you buy in a big box store), but if I did, I would see opportunity here and that translates to what we do as event planners, too. If someone else is cheating (even the slightest cheat opens the door to suspicion), and found out they will be--by an outstanding group of bloggers growing in numbers almost by the day), your honest practices--even if you can't promise everything the greenwashers did--will shine. The "snake oil" tactics only worked in an "informationless" world. Today, those salesmen would be hard-pressed to make a second sale.
P.S. I am kicking myself because sometime this week I read about a study that showed that green blogs are growing at a rapid rate and a significant percentage of those blogs are focused on exposing green shams. Of course, I cannot seem to find it. If I do, I will post it.