The Reason People Magazine Is Popular…

dockheads

Magazines sold at grocery store check outs have always amazed me. Every year it’s the same 90%, with a few new ones lucky to last the year. They’re dominated by tabloids, and everyone at least stares at something from the rack.

While you’d think that ethnicity, age, race, socioeconomic status or even gender would make a difference in seeing people either pick up a copy to buy and just peruse while waiting in line, but it doesn’t.

But one magazine stands above all. You’ve seen it in doctor’s offices and grocery store lines, you’ve heard about it on TV and you’ve likely read an issue or ten. It’s been around for what’s felt like forever, with imperceptible changes in its editorial policy or design. People magazine is darn popular, and most of us can’t figure out why.

Is it because women like to read about celebrities?
Sure, some women do, but nowhere near all of them and doubtful the majority does.

Is it because the editorial content is of such high quality?
While the writing is good, the stories are short, simple and not too deep, so it can’t be the editorial content that carries it.

Is it cheap?
No more so than other other magazine on the rack.

So why is People still a household name?
It’s the pictures. Well, it’s not just the pictures, it’s the pictures of people’s faces. We’re not looking for fancy cars, cool dresses or swanky hotel rooms, it’s the no-makeup-wearing, just-rolled-out-of-bed, ‘they’re just like us’ images of celebrities that we’re all drawn to.

It’s not just celebrities, either. People like pictures of their friends and themselves plenty, too. Give someone a yearbook or similar and see whose picture they look up first. Want to bet it’s going to be their own?

You’d think People’s success would be emulated by every event photographer ever. Sure, there’s often a nice backdrop at the entrance to parties where people can pose, but what about pictures of the conference itself, the sessions or the after events?

Time after time — we’re guilty of this too — we settle for images of walls, floors, tables, favors, gift bags and logos, forgetting that most people don’t want to look at those again.

They want to see people.

People just like them.

Marketing Stats For Event Planners

damn lies

In the Cluetrain Manifesto, markets are conversations. For far too many corporate marketers, marketing is nothing more than stats and budgets. While we’ll leave you to discover the amazingness that is Cluetrain Manifesto, it’s time to discuss, debunk and laud some of the 33 marketing stats Hubspot has provided.

“Failure to respond via social channels can lead to up to a 15% increase in churn rate for existing customers.”

15%!? While too many marketing professionals question the validity of social media complaints, surely they can accept that engaging with customers can lessen the rate at which they lose customers. With customer acquisition spending always more than retaining existing customers, such a money-savings opportunity should not be missed.

“75% of B2B companies do not measure or quantify social media engagement.”

If you’re not measuring your results, how do you know what to fix and how to get better? While not everything you do will translate directly to sales (money acquisition), it should benefit the company in a measurable way.

60.2% of marketers are looking for analysis options, as well as other analytics options, in their social media management tools.

There’s no question analysis options are still in their infancy, but with so many free options available to preview, using 2-5 every month until you hit on the right one for you company shouldn’t be out of the question.

On a scale of 1-7, only 6.8% of respondents believe that social media is “very integrated” into their strategy (the highest rank for the question), while 16.7% believe that it’s not integrated at all (the lowest rank for the question).

Information silos retard innovation, lengthen the time it takes to solve customer problems and isolates employees from the customers paying their salaries. While the answer isn’t yet clear, the question should always be “how would a normal person do this?” when setting up any kind of integration of analog process and digital tools.

For more of these great analyses, check out HubSpot’s blog.

How Human Is Your Company?

saviano continua... a lecce / salento / italia / italy

There are few things worse than being late when doing something for the first time. Whether it’s your first day on the job, first meeting with a client, first event in a new city or your debut as a BBQ judge, there’s no doubt we all feel terrible if we don’t show up on time.

In the case of Jay Baer’s recent story about being replaced as a BBQ judge because he misunderstood confusing directions about when he was supposed to show up, he admits it was his own fault. But, like Jay wrote, the reaction to his mistake and the instructions that led up to it could have been handled far better.

It’s been said multiple times that social media can help humanize companies, but just as often, people have warned companies that if their social media efforts are stunted by a lack of human understanding in how they operate, they’re wasting their time.

While we can’t fix your company, we can tell you what we’ve seen that works for event planners.

Type Like You’re Talking To One Person, Not Several
Like good copywriting, communication via social media is best when it’s directed at one person, though hundreds and thousands may be listening. Try looking at yourself in a mirror when you type, or ask a colleague to read what you’ve written. Does it sound awkward? Edit until it doesn’t.

Give More Information Than Necessary
While cliffhangers and big reveals are exciting, anticipation is highly underrated as a way to increase interest in a new product or service. Statements like “check back in a week to see what we’ve been working on” fall flat to most people, while “in a week we’ll be revealing our new way of doing business” gives listeners something to look forward to.

Market Inclusively, Execute Exclusively
There’s no question exclusivity feels special, but exclusivity for the sake of being exclusive seems arbitrary and boring. We’ve seen event planners require codes to register for events, with those codes being good for multiple uses. This gives attendees a special feeling without locking out those willing to make an effort to attend.

Business, sales, events and marketing will always be about people. It’s far past time we all started communication like actual people do.

Help New Attendees By Assigning Conference Buddies

Co-op Katie

Adrian Segar of Conferences That Work recently shared a fantastic tip: use a buddy system to welcome conference newbies. While the terminology could use a bit of work, we love the idea of rewarding our most vocal attendees by helping them mentor and show around those who’re attending for the very first time.

Segar states that 25% of all conference attendees are newbies, which is a sizable enough chunk to make this a worthwhile effort. Done right, it could also save money on staff.

Similar to how many spring training facilities are run by volunteers, programs like this need to be set up and buddies/mentors must be vetted correctly for this to work as intended. No one wants to be paired with a guy that can’t stop talking about himself or his company.

Here’s what we would do:

Identify Your Most Vocal Supporters
If you don’t know who they are, start paying attention to those that frequently post online about your event, and the ones that seem to show up to every session at every conference. These people are likely interested in your event for far more than simply finding it a good value for their money, they hopefully believe in the overall cause.

Ask A Favor
While some event planners may find it useful to list the benefits of being a mentor, there’s one that stands out above the rest: to be respected by their peers. Yes, mentoring can help drive business, and yes, the buddy system can help attendees learn more about their industry, but looking at it solely in business terms won’t do much good to convince those qualified to lead others.

Set Expectations
Try a checklist of recommended activities, points to cover, questions to ask and where to find more information instead of simply saying “show them around and answer their questions”. While mentors should be free to wander off script, having a script to bounce from will ease the anxiety they may have.

Reward Your Mentors
Publicly. Adorn their badge. Call them on stage. Give them free food. Have a special dinner. Don’t settle for a thank you and a gift certificate from a sponsor.

Actively Recruit
Third-time attendees who have previously been mentored are prime candidates for mentoring, as they’ve taught, they’ve experienced and now they should be brimming with knowledge to share.

By involving as many qualified attendees as possible, event planners are able to cultivate a higher degree of interaction among attendees. Nothing like taking ownership to convince attendees that they are part of your event, too.

How Do You Handle Unforeseen Delays?

Australian iPad 2 Launch 2011-03-25-07-03-17_1000000429

Many popular events are all about delays. Lines to check in at registration, lines for big-name speakers, delays for labs, lines for food and lines for drinks. If you’re at a big conference, you’ll also likely have lines for cabs and/or busses and lines for dinner at nearby restaurants.

While we strive daily to lessen delays for everything — especially registration — we know delays will happen no matter how much planning is involved. While many event planners don’t like to speak of delays, here are a few tips we’ve found helpful when dealing with frustrated attendees.

Be Honest
Don’t know what’s wrong? Say that and then try to find out. Can’t find out what’s wrong? Say that, too. People are forgiving of annoyances when they’re kept in the loop, but not if they’re constantly being told to wait patiently without more information.

Solve Problems
Perhaps a line waiter needs to head to the restroom. Would you ask their spot in line be saved? You should. We’ve also seen staff give out water, help with recharging mobile devices or passed out relevant information so attendees can make the time a bit more useful. Don’t think that just because they can’t check in/sit down/plate up that they can’t be doing something they like.

Listen
Sometimes attendees made to wait just want to air their grievances to on-site staff. They may know full well complaining won’t help, but it may make them feel better, so why not indulge them? We’re not saying your staff should put up with abuse, but some small or industry talk could go a long way in getting people’s minds back on why they’re actually there.

Take Notes
Plenty of attendees will be more than willing to let staff know exactly what they think could be done better. While that may not help the current situation, there’s no reason your staff can’t take quick notes for your later debriefing. All it takes is one good idea for this to be worth the minutes it will take.

Let us know if you can think of anything more in the comments.

Microsoft Visual Studio Launch

It’s always fun working with Microsoft at their events. Their locations are always well located, decorations and other considerations are pleasantly arranged and the food for both staff and attendees is always off the charts. In this past year, we’ve coordinated our own AZ (Microsoft users) Group, traveled to San Francisco to help introduce the world to Windows Azure and most recently flew up to the Seattle pier to run the registration desk for the Visual Studio Launch on September 12.

But day-of tasks are not all we’ve done for each of these events. Before the event, we built registration microsites, worked with Microsoft staff on badge design and lanyards and acted as ‘I need to get this done but I don’t have the time to figure it out’ type of helpers that every good event has on hand.

While the Visual Studio Launch was easily the smallest of our most recent Microsoft events, it may have been the most important — it was for enterprise customers, high-ranking Microsoft employees and the press. Our tasks, once we arrived on site, were to check in 300ish people (giving them badges and lanyards, a gift bag and direct them to coat check) without using any sort of stanchions for line control and pre-printed badges.

While we typically prefer to print badges on site, this invite-only event prompted the event planners to order all the badges with names on them in hopes of eliminating possible bottlenecks. It worked. Our staff met attendees at the door, showed them to the proper badge pick-up line, distributed their materials and guided them where they needed to go with nary a delay.

The registration desk is usually the first thing any attendee sees when attending a conference, and the swanky-ness of this set up made it even more important that we establish a proper mood and tone for those walking through the door.

Did I mention the goodies? Have you ever had ahi tuna, shrimp and scallops mixed in a Mediterranean sauce and emptied into a martini glass? How about a real leather satchel bag — that’s cool and practical enough to be usable — as a giveaway item? Or plush seating surrounded by purple drape? Microsoft and their Visual Studio Launch attendees sure did.

See you next time!

Check out the EventDay Facebook page for our collection of pictures.

Planning Female-Only Events

Amanda Blum of HowlingZoe recently co-organized a RailGirls PDX event.

For event organizers, attendees present new opportunities, challenges and room for innovation. The better you understand your attendees, the better the innovation.

This weekend, I co-lead a RailsGirls event in Portland, Oregon. Compared to my usual events, this was quite small — just 60 attendees — but I realized halfway through that many decisions my partner and I made were shaded by the fact that all the attendees and coaches made this a female-only event.

Event t-shirts
I have a stack of unwearable tech event t shirts: either the fit was ridiculous, the graphics misplaced or ill-designed for women. A few key points we considered in our shirts:

-Choose a woman’s fit shirt, but not a babydoll style.

-Choose a brand that accommodate a wide range of sizes, from XS to 2XL that are “true fit”.

-Stock extras on both ends of the spectrum.

-Don’t put graphics on shirt backs because they get hidden under hair — we went with a sleeve print.

-Be considerate that front-of-shirt graphics — best designs go straight across ⅔ up the shirt.

-Don’t place graphics on the stomach area.

-Consider that women are unlikely to want the same color palette.

-Don’t condescend by choosing pink, but try to avoid “sport gray”, browns, and dark greens/blues.

-We chose a long sleeve, but short sleeve v neck or scoop neck styles both flatter women.

Badges
As an organizer, I love giving the badge extra identifiers: meal types, shirt size, etc., and that’s not just for female-only events. That said, no woman wants you to print her shirt size on a badge — I developed a numbering system of 1-5 instead. “1” stood for 2XL, and “5” stood for Small. I also stocked a few 3XL, even though it didn’t appear on the entry form, and judiciously handed them out without saying anything to women who needed them. I also choose extra-long lanyards so they wouldn’t hang right at the chest line as they so often do.

Food
Normally, I am a proponent of ‘real food’ for conferences and I avoid sandwiches, pizza and buffets. At many tech conferences I serve BBQ or Mexican food — hot and substantial — and always have a delicious vegetarian/vegan/kosher option. Because this was a female-only event, the numbers for vegetarian elects was way up, to 40% of our attendees. We went lighter in our options, while making choices more detail oriented.

Breakfast

-Yogurts instead of doughnuts

-Portion everything 20% smaller

-Multiple vegetarian options instead of just one — we offered vegan pumpkin scones, vegetarian yogurt and vegan doughnuts.

Lunch
Consider pre-made salads, but substantial and interesting. Choices were Chinese salad for vegans, Greek salad for vegetarians, and Cobb salad for omnivores. Ensure all options still have protein and are low carb.

Snacks

-Smaller portions: instead of chocolate bars, go with Hershey’s kisses.

-Have a few fruit options.

-Homemade cookies (peanut butter, chocolate chunk and vegan oatmeal raisin were popular at our event)

Drinks
I knew my co-lead was out of the loop when he insisted we buy 5 Hour Energy for the drink bar (unused except for a bottle or two). For drinks we stocked up on Vitamin water, unsweetened iced teas and Snapples. We skipped soda and energy drinks — not a single person requested them. Coffee was always available. Our afterparty choices were guided as well — lighter beers: Hefeweizen, hoppy options, wine and cranberry vodkas. We stayed away from PBR, dark lagers, super strong IPAs and all other hard liquor.

Content
It should go without saying that female-only event planners should absolutely avoid a speaker or presenter who will use offensive speech or off-color remarks aimed at women. Strive to have a balance of male to female speakers, but at female only events you should be particularly considerate of this.

Attendees

-Group activities work exceptionally well at women-only events.

-Women are not as likely to speak up — you’ll see them raising hands to speak.

-Ensure that “wall clingers” are introduced to others via activities or staff.

-Ask for feedback often and have a clear path for attendees to offer it.

Sponsors
Consider the marketing materials that your sponsors will use and ensure that none are offensive, not that any sponsor would utilize booth babes at a female-only event… Keep it on your radar and be sure to approve sponsor materials.

Additional considerations

-Most women carry purses. They won’t want to carry a secondary bag, even if it contains swag.

-Stock bathrooms with niceties: aspirin, tissues, hygiene products, breath mints.

-Women tend to be notetakers. Have content like links, online resources or printed content to take home.

Thanks, Amanda!

Are Arbitrary Rules Slowing Your Events Down?

Absolutely Nothing is Allowed Here

Most startups don’t need workplace rules. This isn’t because employees don’t use the internet on company time, talk on their cellphone during work hours, want raises/promotions before they’re there six months to a year or want to wear what they find comfortable; it’s because startups don’t hire people they don’t trust.

Rules exist to compensate for lack of trust, period. While quoting lost production numbers ($1.2 kajillion lost due to Facebook use on company time!!!) may make sense to accountants, it makes little sense to the employees actually doing the work.

Because most events are essentially short-term startup companies, we like to look at rules that other event planners employ and learn from them. While our most important rule has always been ‘do the right thing’, here are a few thoughts on some other rules we think are more trouble than they’re worth.

Specific Uniforms
Unless you’re supplying the uniforms, expecting staff to dress the same way has never made sense to me. The difference between khaki, black or gray slacks is pretty arbitrary, even more so is the color of dress shirts. Instead of dictating EXACTLY what your staff should wear, give guidelines instead. You’ll end up with happier employees that are likely wearing clothes they look good and are comfortable in.

Ask A Supervisor
We know many companies value the efficiency of getting decisions correct the first time. Problem is, this often requires three levels in the chain of command, a meeting or six, a few mind maps and a memorandum to document it all. But when all the vendor wanted was an extra outlet and access to the WiFi, this process isn’t useful.

Employees that are treated as drones seldom do great work. Instead of instructing those in your employ to ask someone else whenever they come up with a question they don’t have the answer to, try empowering them to make the call themselves. This will lead to short-term mistakes, but long-term success is the goal here.

Locked Resources
Need more paper? How about badge holders? Perhaps some toner? Or maybe scissors, a few pens, some notepads or even a sharpie? To get these, please fill out a requisition form, ask for the key from the self-appointed office manager, run in the supply closet, grab what you need — don’t even think about looking for anything else — and return the key.

While we don’t blame companies for wanting to hold onto to expensive resources and make the supply chain a bit more manageable for the bean counters, overreacting to possibly employee theft or misuse of company materials is more trouble than it’s worth. Removing the barriers for supplies may mean you lose a few more pens, but the cost savings should override them.

What Rules?
Instead of implementing rules such as the above, we recommend training employees as to what ‘doing the right thing’ really means. If that’s not possible, perhaps it’s time to look at your hiring process.

Thinking like a startup can make your event, and event staff, look good, perform better and cost less. What company wouldn’t want that?

Ways To Make Event Attendees Hate You

Confused

We could go on and on about event planning best practices, we could share case studies and analyze past events or we could delve into what exactly makes a great event, well, great.

But as we gear up for an event in Seattle next week, our team started thinking not only about what we needed to get done, but also what we should absolutely avoid doing. Turns out the list of what not to do’s is a heckuva lot longer. Here are our favorites:

Hire staff, but don’t train them
There are few things worse for an attendee to hear “I don’t know” when asking an official-looking (logoed shirt, standing behind a registration table) staff member basic questions like, “where are the bathrooms?” and “is there parking nearby?”. Please, take the time to train outsourced staff on these little things.

Hire technically inept staff to run techie stuff
We save a lot of time and money by digitizing our check-in process, but to run our software requires a small amount of computing experience — like pointing and clicking. While this sounds like common knowledge, we’re always surprised when it isn’t. Take a few minutes to go over general computing usage so your staff feels comfortable.

Don’t coordinate with vendors and other stakeholders
When helping run conferences, we’re constantly field questions from vendors, sponsors, speakers and other non-attendees. While the answers may not always be on the tip of our tongue, knowing how to at least find the information others seek is integral, not optional.

Time to pack for our Seattle trip. Have a good weekend!

Is Trust Better Than Control?

perfection, brasilia april 2006

Much of what event planners do is based on precision. Not in the micro sense — unless you’re a choreographer, I suppose — but in the macro: to maximize efficiency and save costs, repeatable tasks requiring precision should be automated or outsourced.

By this we don’t mean outsourcing outside the country, but rather outside your team, department or company. You have to hire others to be where you can’t be, to do what needs to get done.

The below video discusses what managers should do when employees are using public social media sites to talk to customers, talk about your company and sharing their thoughts on your industry. This situation exists in thousands of companies worldwide, but it’s not a new thing.

Event professionals have dealt with this for years and decades. Nearly every event, these event planners train and unleash employees to deal with attendees without any real control over what they’ll say, how they’ll say it or where they’ll say it. While absolute control may be necessary for security and efficiency reasons (high-profile guests or where timing is important), trust works far better in the long term.

According to California Psychics, healthy relationships are built on trust. This trust empowers people to make better decisions, learn from their failures and eventually, earn the trust of their colleagues and bosses.

Seeing as how trust is a far better long-term solution, what are you doing to instill trust in your staff?