Give Local, Support Local

Whenever we help plan a community event, we like to use as many local vendors as possible. Not only do we get a good feeling from supporting our home economy, local vendors usually know the facility very well, offer competitive value and help us repeal some of the impersonalness of our online worlds.

Just last week, Urban Tea Loft, located one block from our Gangplank Chandler offices, announced their sudden closing following co-owner Eric Legrand’s brain surgery. His wife Glynis, who runs Urban Tea Loft, wants to stay home to help her husband recover.

While we would have loved to plan their going-away party, their abrupt decision did not allow the time. Fortunately, Chandler Vice Mayor Jeff Weninger spearheaded an event designed to help the Legrands out and support our HQ’s community.

From the press release:

Customers of Chandler business Urban Tea Loft were shocked when owner Glynis Legrand announced their abrupt closure two weeks ago. Considering their regular customer base as extended family, Glynis disclosed personal details regarding this decision on Facebook – co-owner and husband Eric Legrand had developed a severe medical condition, requiring brain surgery. This announcement has spurred fans to action.

Chandler Vice Mayor, Jeff Weninger (co-owner of Dilly’s Deli and Floridino’s) and local businessman Tyler Hurst have organized a fundraiser to support the Legrands during their recovery.

“Urban Tea Loft and the Legrands have made a lasting contribution to Chandler. I’m confident this community will help the Legrands through this crisis and I look forward to Urban Tea Loft reopening someday.” -Jeff Weninger

“We’re overwhelmed and touched by the generosity of our customers.”
-Glynis Legrand

If you are already a fan, or want to experience Chandler’s close-knit community, join us in giving back to someone that has always paid it forward.

What: A portion of sales from each restaurant donated to the Legrands
When: All day, Thursday August 2nd
Where: Floridino’s Pizza and Pasta, Dilly’s Deli Chandler, Pittsburgh Willy’s Gourmet Hot Dogs, Coach and Willie’s, Jimmy and Joe’s, Chase’s Diner, The Living Room, Sushi Room, El Zocolo, and BLD .

SanTan Brewery (Wednesday, August 1st only)

Web: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Urban-Tea-Loft or hashtag #urbantealoft

We’re happy to help support one of our own. Best of luck to the Legrands and the future of Urban Tea Loft.

Learning From The Summer Olympics

There is nothing like the Summer Olympics. The World Cup is close, the Winter Olympics are pretty big too, but short of combining American political conventions and all the individual sporting events, we can’t think of a more watched international event that happens with such regularity.

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NBC’s American coverage of this year’s Olympic Games was soundly blasted via social networks; people online were upset about tape delays, spoilers and pretty much everything NBC did to broadcast the games in easily watchable chunks.

Yet the vast majority of viewers didn’t care. Ratings were through the roof as most Americans liked being able to watch a few hours of highly produced segments after work and dinner. What does this mean for future event planners?

Your most vocal detractors may not matter much.

While we don’t recommend ignoring social networks, remember to keep numbers in perspective. If most of your customers/attendees/clients enjoyed your work, focus on them first. They pay the bills, right?

The team over at BusyEvent Blog had some great thoughts on what we can learn from the Olympics. The following is our take on a few points.

Social Can’t Be Ignored
Whether it’s complaints from the viewers, athletes being suspended for racist comments or spoilers hitting the web at all hours, it’s important that event planners ride the wave of social commenting.

While social can’t be controlled, it often doesn’t need to be. Interact, listen and treat people digitally just like you would in person. It works.

Hashtag Everything #notreally
Hashtags have been used to denote sarcasm, meta commentary and to make searching for results concerning a particular event easier, but a little hashtagging goes a long way. If you’re an event planner, ask yourself if each session needs a specific hashtag and if a specific hashtag is needed at all.

Yes, it’s great publicity when hashtags trend and attract viewers not at the event, but how unless they have something to add to the existing conversation, it’s just more noise.

Respect Your Celebs
While your conference may not attract internationally or even nationally famous faces, plenty of seemingly regular people are quite internet famous. Why not help them promote your event more? We’re not saying every event needs a VIP room, but doing something a little extra for influential people should help both sides.

Unless it’s money. If it’s money, be sure to compare that against your event ROI.

See you during the Winter Olympics!

Using Personas For Improved Content Marketing

Advertising and marketing firms have based campaigns and plans around fake people for decades. Every season, groups of creative people create what’s called ‘personas’ that represent different target markets. These personas are often based on real people — often friends and family — in an attempt to understand consumer buying habits.

This kind of targeting may seem lazy in today’s digitally enhanced world where we have better ways to collect data (think supermarket memberships, Amazon recommendations, online cookies), but numbers will never completely replace the power of personas. Think of it as a blend of art and science.

Ocean's 4

There’s no reason any business can’t benefit from this kind of targeted thinking using a persona method, especially those looking to improve their content marketing efforts. We bet the good salespeople in your company are already doing this, so consulting with them may help your understanding of who your company serves.

Now, there are a few things every persona must have, including the following:

Motivation
Most people want to wake up, work out, have breakfast, kiss the family, head to work, come home, have dinner, laugh and then go to sleep. Granted, their needs change daily, but most of the time people are out there looking to do the aforementioned steps. Think realistic when creating a persona.

Resources
Some people have a lot of friends, some aren’t concerned with price; others love the thrill of a deal, still more don’t care what others think. Don’t just think of resources in terms of money, there’s much that makes up a persona’s resources.

Reason
Not everything people do makes sense, but most of what people do makes sense to them. To get a feel for this, we like to hang out in coffee shops and similar places to eavesdrop on what people talk about when they’re away from their primary environments. We bet most people are more alike than they think.

Motivation, resources and reason, coupled with typical demographic data, can help you craft your next event, marketing plan, ad campaign or content creation efforts. Get to it!

Controlling Your Event – Social Media At The Olympics

Think Olympic coverage was outrageous before? Consider the uber-popular ESPN article about sex in the Olympic Village to be the pinnacle of reality or tabloid coverage of a live event?

You ain’t seen nothing yet, as social media is finally at the forefront of our Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is ready with a four-page PDF rulebook governing what athletes can and can’t do regarding their social media accounts while participating in the Olympic games.

Part of me thinks this is outrageous, that dictating how people use their personal Twitter accounts is way too far. But the pragmatic side wins out, as the Olympic sponsors, media and other moneyed parties have paid the athletes’s way into the games, so they should be able to have power in the messaging emanating from the games.

But starting July 27, we’ll see how well these regulations work, and just how many athletes feel the need to flaunt the rules. Here’s why I think they’ll be just fine:

First-Person Perspective
The IOC’s rules are pretty easy to follow.

“…any such postings, blogs or tweets must be in a first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist – i.e. they must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons, or disclose any information which is confidential or private in relation to any other person or organisation. A tweet is regarded in this respect as a short blog and the same guidelines are in effect, again, in first-person, diary-type format.
Postings, blogs and tweets should at all times conform to the Olympic spirit and fundamental principles of Olympism as contained in the Olympic Charter, be dignified and in good taste, and not contain vulgar or obscene words or images.”

This sounds pretty fair. Seems the IOC wants the participants only to share their personal experiences and not act as trusted information sources. Bet most event planners would agree.

Don’t Sell Photographs
All Olympians can take pictures, but they can’t sell them. No argument here.

Video/Audio
The rules state that any video or audio taken inside Olympic Venues recordings must be for personal use and not be uploaded or shared. We’re okay with this, too. While footage may leak out, it’s good to know that not EVERYTHING will be broadcast.

No Using Logos, No Promotion
Athletes aren’t allowed to use Olympic images, nor can they sign individual deals to promote companies through social media. Can you hear the cheering about not having to worry about promoted tweets from athletes during the games? I can, in my head. Hopefully the Kardashians follow these rules, too.

Christopher Craft, guest posting at Convince and Convert, had a few more points to share about Socialympics.

Should You Crowdsource Your Content Marketing?

watchers

Businesses can hire out for much these days. Anything that is online can be sent all over the world, manufacturing can be handled overseas, answering services across the country, social media by a boutique firm across town and your content marketing by a crowd of people on the web.

*Record scratch*

Hold up on that last one.

It’s true, we checked. While many marketers have previously been taught that content creation is something that should be done with a specific client in mind, in one singular voice (to establish brand identity) and likely by a dedicated few writers that can be called upon to adjust anything we’d like, it’s now possible to augment your flow of SEO-friendly articles to what amounts to a mechanical Turk.

While we’re sure the cost and time saving makes complete business sense, we have a hard time understanding why a business would treat their content marketing with such disregard for its quality. Not that we’re saying crowdsourcing doesn’t produce quality work, but how on point can a method like that be? Surely no one is interviewing your clients, talking to your industry experts or doing anything more than producing keyword-laden articles designed to trick Google.

But the term crowdsourcing may not mean getting articles from an army of writers in the cloud, it may mean tapping into already eager, likely willing and knowledgeable groups: colleagues and clients.

Just like social media should be spread out among all shareholders, we think content creation is a great way to keep relevant parties involved, show off customers in a new way and keep the interest of employees who’d appreciate seeing their name in a byline.

Writing for Google is smart, but engaging people already fans of your product/service is far smarter.

Who knows, maybe it will work so well you’ll be able to spend budget allotted for content creation somewhere else.

Proper Twitter Usage For Event Planners

Using Twitter to promote events seems so easy. Take a picture, think of an interesting perspective and tweet it out to the world. If you’re good and a little bit lucky, people will notice. And then more people will notice.

But if you want specific people to notice — say, your event attendees — sponsors and potential clients, Twitter should be used a real-time stream of news, not an online bulletin board that everyone walks by on their way to the lunchroom.

Twitter

The staff over at BusyEvent came up with nine good ways to use Twitter for events, and we agree with most of their points. Read on to see what we think.

Twitter Lists
Robert Scoble is big on this one and for good reason: it helps to focus your content. Twitter lists can be made for one-time events, industry experts or whatever combination of people you’d like to follow. Be sure to identify heavy volume tweeters so you know to look past their stream to see everyone’s (hopefully) brilliant replies.

Lots Of RTs
Ugh, be careful with this one. While activity on Twitter is helpful to getting noticed, a stream filled with nothing but what other people say gets annoying fast, especially if you constantly RT accounts with thousands of followers.

Post Content
We definitely agree here, but urge you to tweet the same link multiple times over the day. Because not all of us have Twitter open 24/7, plenty can get missed. By spacing out links every few hours, you’re likely to reach more people.

Post From Pinterest/Any Other Social Network
Be very careful with this one. While sharing relevant content is important, it’s plenty annoying to have to click through a Twitter link to get to another social media site link in order to click through a link to a website. It’s not Inception-level confusing, but it’s close.

Live Stream/Tweet
Yep.

Make A Hashtag
Yep. How else can you make it easy for anyone to follow the conversation?

Ask Questions
Definitely a good idea, but be sure to ask direct questions, too. Including someone’s @username anywhere BUT the beginning of your tweet ensures everyone following you will see it and the person you REALLY want to read it will be notified.

Create A Background
Yes. Would you send a letter without letterhead?

Update Often And Keep It Relevant
Be sure not to get too bogged down with event-related relevance. Jokes are always good, as are educated thoughts about important topics. Be sure to talk about more than just you.

Now go get your tweeting on.

Okay Conferences For Fun And Profit

Windows Phone 7 during Lunchtime Demo at TechDays Toronto 2010

If you’re the type of event planner always looking for the biggest, newest, most advanced and shiniest new product, service or brag-worthy information, you’re not going to last unless you’ve managed to tap into an unending revenue stream.

Most of us know exactly what kind of conference this kind of event planner would run: big, expensive TVs everywhere, lasers and mood lighting, high-priced entertainment and swag worthy of a Hollywood party. While none of these things are inherently bad, they usually exist to cover up a poor conference experience.

Here’s a secret: it’s okay to be mediocre. Okay, well, it’s not okay to be mediocre at everything, but it’s okay for your conference NOT to have the latest technology, NOT to have expensive lighting, and NOT to have last week’s American Idol winner at the after party.

What should NOT be mediocre is the conference experience. Like Jeff Hurt says, “It’s about your attendees’ experience with the content. With each other. With exhibitors and sponsors. With the conference host organization. With the venue. With the local city.”

By focusing on what attendees can and should expect from the time they’re giving you, event planners can put their resources into making a few often overlooked things a whole lot better.

WiFi
Wireless connectivity isn’t just for nerds anymore. With so many smartphones and tethered data plans (corporate road warriors for that last one) available, some event planners may think WiFi doesn’t much matter. They are sorely wrong, as 3G connectivity has been poor in most big venues we’ve seen. Spend the extra money for greater bandwidth and better WiFi in your venue.

Outlets
Electronic devices need power, and there never seems to be enough outlets. Thankfully, the power requirements for laptops, smartphones and tablets are low enough for outlet extenders or surge protectors. Buy a few and leave them on public tables, giving people a chance to talk and charge simultaneously.

Buy Better Food
Bagels, donuts and other starches are easy to buy and serve, but putting your attendees into a carb coma at 10am is likely not going to help the energy level. Coffee is great, but try fruit, oatmeal and other non-processed items.

Now we’re hungry. See you next time.

Tradeshow Marketing Done Better

Before the web ruined changed everything, reaching a lot of people required a lot of money. TV time, print advertising and billboards don’t come cheap, putting them out of reach for all but event planners with huge corporate budgets.

Ambion auf der Best of Events 2011

Marketing used to be the same way, especially if event planners wanted to showcase images, products and people from previous events. Photographers must be hired, prints must be made and checks must be written. There was no way for a normal person with no budget to share what they think would interest others without a lot of walking.

Times have changed. Now one person with a smartphone can reach thousands of people. While this opens up event marketing opportunities to anyone, it has brought about a glut of half-ass marketing attempts by people just going through the motions.

Tradeshow Guy wrote a great post on the 7 Ways Your Social Media Tradeshow Marketing Sucks and we’re going to add a few of our own thoughts. Ready?

Not Taking And Sharing Photos
First of all, WHY AREN’T YOU? Even if you’re not a photographer, surely one of every five pics you take could be usable for future or even current marketing purposes. Shoot, edit, publish. 20 minutes, maybe?

Posting Consistently
Twitter’s stream moves pretty fast. Unless your market stares at their feed all day, it’s a good bet it may take a mention or five to get their attention. Tweet more, no one is going to arrest you.

No Video
Video is hard! Lighting is never right! Audio is terrible! All of those things are true, yet most people don’t care (don’t believe me? Check out the popular YouTube videos). People like to see themselves and their friends, so focus on shooting faces and you’ll do great.

No Blog Mention
Seriously? Do we even need to explain why you should be promoting yourself via your own URL?

Not Enough Good Content
Share more stories. People like reading stories, even short ones.

Thinking That Each Tweet/Update Equals A Sale
Social media is just like any other conversation, it takes more than once to establish a relationship. These weak connections will need more than just a ‘buy it now’ link.

You’re Not Involved At All
In that case, you’re probably not reading this. Hope you’re still around next year!

Nice work, Tradeshow Guy. Looking forward to more spontaneous…collaboration. 🙂

A Memorable Conference

It’s not a trivial request to ask for someone’s time, but event planners do it all the time. We ask people to take time to plan for our events, travel to our events, attend our events and hopefully talk about our events. Sometimes we take hours, sometimes we take days or weeks, and with this comes a responsibility to make sure that time was spent well.

We want to make a memorable conference. Maybe we want that because we want to sell you things or tell your friends or other selfish reasons, but all that requires the time we ask of you to be worth remembering.

ears and light

After reading The best interface is no interface, and a Conferences That Work article about movies, we think conferences need three things to be memorable: a reason to show up, an action to perform while there and something to take away.

Why Are You Here?
While the subhead may also be mankind’s biggest question, in our context we’re looking for how a memorable conference attracts an audience. Most of the community events we throw feature technology industry leaders, but we know they aren’t really the attraction, it’s the interaction attendees crave. Knowing this reminds us how important audience participation and even interaction to our event, which leads us to think about the next step in making a memorable conference.

Perform An Action.
We have you here, you’ve paid your money, brought resources and that’s a schedule in your hand/on your smartphone, so what happens next? At a memorable conference, we’d have a series of small demonstrations throughout the registration area to encourage attendees to walk around and talk to each other. There’s often coffee or something to grab, but never any tables for eating or working.

There’s enough sitting at unmemorable conferences, and sitting usually means at least analog inaction, so we like to keep registration areas as active as possible. Ice breaker activities do sometimes work, as long as you don’t expect a huge turn out.

Take Something Away!
Whether it’s something physical like a packet full of information about product and services they’ll like, plans to get together with potential clients or colleagues or even just a general feeling of “wow! Now I can finally finish _______”, be sure to incorporate a call to action for the entire memorable conference.

In story terms, this is what the hero learns, or releases, or gains from. In advertising terms, it’s the hook. In our terms, it’s what made our conference memorable.

What’s making your conference memorable?

How To Make Sure Your Audience Doesn’t Turn Into A Mob

There’s nothing worse than a large crowd of people with no clear direction. From unorganized lines to long waits to get into session rooms, audiences packed closely together for long periods of time can get restless, irritated and, eventually, destructive.

This kind of powder keg possibility in your audience usually happens in a few specific places, most notably the registration area, in areas outside popular presentations, and during networking events (often for drinks). While eliminating long lines will likely never happen for most events, read on for a few tips on how we’d handle the aforementioned situations before they overwhelm your staff and facilities.

Long Lines At Registration
Pre-printed badges, pre-made brochures and registration giveaways seem like a great value add for conference attendees. While some large events have the space to accommodate 5-25 lines, your audience likely won’t act as you hope. Last year’s SXSW again featured long waits for everything (though cholera didn’t break out) because of outdate organization techniques that required every registrant to wait in line for a badge.

Now, if everything went as planned and people showed up at staggered times, this idea is brilliant, but we all know that seldom happens. Because of this, we like to use mobile-based check ins to alleviate the long shuffle. This also works for small conferences with limited space, as staff can walk the lines scanning QR or bar codes instead of waiting for each person to make it to the desk.

Outside Popular Presentations
We’ve heard stories galore about the HOURS of waiting many attendees endure before popular Comic-Con panels. While organizers seem unwilling to set aside passes for each panel, perhaps a check-in system would be a better choice for these type of presentations.

Disneyland uses a Fast Pass system that allows riders to come back when the lines are lesser, which could work if organizers were willing to stage panels more than once throughout the day.

Lines For The Bar
Simplify your alcohol offerings. One clear liquor, one dark, one light beer, one not as light, red and white wine plus one fruit juice and one soda mixer should speed up turnover considerably. Drink tickets help too, but don’t do much to alleviate initial lines. Perhaps free liquor should be on its way out?

If all else fails, bring cash. It certainly works for restaurants and clubs!