Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Social Media in Event Marketing – A Lesson Learned

I came across a bit of a flare-up around the upcoming ad:tech New York, one that resulted in Mike Flynn, the Event Director for ad:tech North America, issuing an apology on the company’s blog.

The blog was a mea culpa for an email sent out essentially incentivizing past attendees to post tweets, blog posts, and/or info on Facebook in exchange for a discount to attend the show. The email made its way to (at least) a couple of bloggers, hence the appearance of a “pay for play,” scenario ultimately leading to the apology.

I can imagine the storm that brewed, leading to this post. At the same time, I’ll go out on a ledge and ask: was an apology really necessary? My take:

  • The ‘offer’ itself was an offer for a discount to attend or a free exhibit hall pass (ostensibly a $35 value). In other words, this incentive, conceptually is the same as the legacy “register four attendees and a fifth attends for free” or “bring a colleague for ½ price” offer. It wasn’t offering to pay cash for an endorsement.
  • Anybody responding to the incentive had interest/intention of attending prior to this email. This communication was ostensibly sent to ‘hot‘ leads (past attendees). To that end, the person receiving this email and accepting its terms would not be fabricating by tweeting/posting; if they were to take action to gain a discount to attend the event, they must have gotten value from their prior attendance … why else re-register?
  • I’d take a guess that the strategy behind this was as much to re-engage past attendees to attend as it was to build buzz around the event.
  • Unless I’m missing something, typically qualified press & bloggers are be able to attain some sort of press access – again raising the question of whether this was a barter for editorial coverage.
If this effort was an incentive to have past attendees use Social Media to engage followers, friends, etc. about their past experience at the ad:tech show, this was nothing more than ad:tech using the medium for traditional tactics, adopting them to Social Media. [Note: The one aspect I would call into question is that the incentive/email was a strict in the requirements that a person posted “no less than three times;” this is old-school thinking that should have been avoided.] It seems (given bloggers and writers got a copy of the email) there may have been imperfections concerning the data; conceptually this incentive should have only gone to paid attendees. And if the data was an issue, its underpinnings of the issue are in an all together different vein.

If, on the other hand, this email did go out to bloggers and writers specifically to gain coverage – well, as a journalism major – I certainly do see where the issue lies; in that case the apology is certainly warranted.

But again this does not seem to be the case. The underlying issue seems to be the use of Social Media – that there is still sensitivity regarding the channel. So the real lesson is an old one: in new uses of Social Media, event marketing professionals need to take the time to ensure they think through strategies and tactics – especially from an external perspective – given the concerns concerning its use.

And whatever the scenario, I’d also like to offer kudos to ad:tech for quickly and decisively reacting to the situation as they saw fit.

Good luck!


Thursday, October 15, 2009

What's the (Price) Point?

I don’t usually ask questions that I don’t know the answer to but in this I case will. Because, frankly, I would argue that the events industry as a whole does not have a firm sense of what the optimal price to attend an event is. As discussed in the last post, part of this is the variety of events in the mix. But not defining (or understanding) what price would maximize an event’s profit margin (as a function of price and attendee volume) is leaving money on the table.

Historically, a point at which a typical event price emerged. For a two-to-three day event organizations charged approximately $1,195 to attend a 2.5 event in 1995. I don’t have any visibility as to how this came about, and can’t comment on it. The issue, and the point of this post, is that from that point, there has not been a slew analysis placed on pricing strategy across the industry. I’ve seen and heard of many organizations, in the course of planning events, base pricing on:
  • A need to deliver margin (“We need to generate $XYZ more revenue – let’s increase prices $100!”).
  • Comparative/competitive landscape (“ABC Conferences upped prices – so let’s do the same”).
  • Just because-ism (“We didn’t increase prices last year – let’s increase them this year”).
None of which comes anywhere close to promising that you are maximizing the profit margin attainable.

Calculating the optimal price – and/or price increase – is inarguably challenging due to the variables in play. Specifically, the number of attendees you draw also impacts sponsor satisfaction. So if you do some serious number crunching and determine that increasing prices $300 increases your profit margins BUT decreases your attendance by 10% (the decrease in volume offset by the increase in revenue) is all well and good … but asking your sales manager to explain that to their exhibitors is a different story.

I’m not going to detail price point calculations here – Google lists many options for free calculators. A key element these calculators require, however, is the price elasticity of your event/product – or, knowing the answer to the question “if I raise my price by X it will impact attendance by Y.” There are free tools available to calculate this as a “what if” scenario as well, but to truly answer this question, pricing needs to be tested on a continued basis - even and especially within one event; variations in topic, audience, and calendar are all variables which would impact analyzing two different events at two different price points.

Overall, strategic pricing holds various functions in an events organization – different prices addresses different level audiences and communicates a level of value proposition. But in the context of the overall events environment, event marketing managers need to know and guarantee that the product they are marketing is being sold at the price which delivers the highest value to the organization. And this is based on understanding the impact of price changes to overall attendance. Learning and knowing this will go a long way towards increase profitability – and adding to your value in the organization.

Good luck!


PS - Do note a "Share" button has been added to the upper left - so please feel free to share this and future/past posts among colleagues!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Getting Existential: What is an Event?

As event leaders and marketers plan into 2010 (and beyond), and given the challenges the economy continues to place on the industry, it is valuable to re-visit what we are talking about when we discuss “an event.” It is certainly a question that can get lost in the day-to-day activity of planning, marketing and executing successful events. The challenges we’ve experienced over the past year, however, should be a stark reminder for Event Marketing professionals and leaders that we need to focus on ensuring that events being planned map to and integrate with the organization’s ultimate goals and strategies.

The issue is that there is not a one-size-fit all answer to the question; I’ve seen and experienced different organizations utilize events to different ends. However, some outcomes, given today’s business environment, are stronger ends than others. While the five categories below may not be comprehensive (and I of course welcome thoughts and comments), IMHO an Event can be:
  • A revenue stream. These are events and event organizations that exist fairly exclusively as stand-alone products, events that are held as one-off, targeted, topical events. These events are high-churn, with content focused on the hot topic du jour. The downside to events in this category is they are strategically short-sighted and pay little attention to the concept of Customer Lifetime Value. From a marketing perspective there is a constant need for new attendees/customers, and little to offer surrounding retention – thus ultimately incurring more cost in new customer acquisition.
  • A Lead Generation & Engagement Tool. Virtual events and traditional Webinars are the buzzwords in today’s Events. They are certainly a customer and prospect engagement tool. And from a marketing perspective, these events certainly add value in enabling the organizer to gain data on marketing touch points, information admittedly not as easy to glean in a live event environment. As noted previously, surveys continue to show preference to live engagement, but these events inarguably add value to an organization’s overall lead and demand generation initiatives.
  • A live, client/prospect facing experience. The traditional face-to-face event format, utilized by media companies, trade groups, vendor user groups, etc. continues to hold the most utility for the organization – it is a direct client-facing opportunity for sales teams, a content-delivery platform for the organization, and, of course, a networking experience for attendees. Companies (wisely) using the live event, however, need to realize and leverage each of these facets in the event delivery to maximize efficiency. And Event Marketing Teams need to message around said elements in their attendee acquisition efforts.
  • An experiential platform. These would include small, hands-on, senior/C-level boot camps – events which typically take place over the course of a few days (or up to a week), and are small, high-ticket items. These are high-touch, learning and/or network-based events, typically for organizations with a valued, high-level audience. Properly managed (and attended), these events can yield good margins, yet because attendance is small, these events are ultimately best as part of an overall portfolio as an incremental revenue stream. From a branding perspective, these events can also provide strong advocates for other products/services your organization has to offer.
  • Training. The mirror image of the high-ticket boot-camp, training events are more a wholesale product, replicated multiple times throughout the year with the same content. Educational credits can be affiliated with these types of events, and marketing these events, much like the events themselves, are done on a wholesale basis. The price point to attend these events are low, the name of the game is volume.
Given this mix of formats, again the question should be asked: is your organization utilizing the mix of events optimal for the company overall? Put another way, what, specifically, does the event hold for the organization? Is it a way to generate prospect demand and leads which are channeled to a sales organization? Is it part of a client/membership experience? Or is it the sole revenue stream of the organization? Are there strategic holes to be filled by adding - or eliminating – events in the portfolio?

In short, as plans for 2010 and beyond are finalized, event and event marketing leaders need to evaluate and ensure the event mix matches the ultimate corporate goals.

Good luck!