About Tyler Hurst

Storyteller. Inspirator. Opens bananas like a monkey. Minimalist runner. Eliticist. Have my name on my shirt. Knows all the words to Baby Got Back.

No business cards? No problem!

Business cards are a quaint reminder of how networking used to work. We’d do the meet and greet, exchange cards in hopes they will end up in the ‘special’ Rolodex, and then repeat. And repeat again. Any good salesman will tell you that this kind of approach is mostly a numbers game, so why not eliminate what you can in order to save the time and hassle of carrying around little pieces of paper with your names on them?

Don’t get me wrong, business cards are great as both a contact and branding tool. They give us a certain cachet, they often look really cool and they’ve long been standardized: making them affordable for nearly everyone in need of one. But we think that, especially at events, it can be done better.

Name badges with QR codes
We use a system that ties the QR code on your name badge with the information used during sign up or registration. This typically consists of name, company and email address, and can be edited via our registration app online. If you’d like to share social media or mailing address info, that’s as easy as adding another field.

QR code reader app on smartphones
At most of our events, our vendors can download a special smartphone app (which must be authorized through our software) that can scan badge QR codes and push that information into the database. Each vendor can add notes at the time they enter your contact information.

Double opt-in
This is the key step: each request for contact information MUST be approved by the person who owns it. We know it would feel rude to deny an interested vendor a name badge scan, so this step makes it easy for people to allow that while not authorizing the data exchange. Each person will receive a notification that links them to a list of requests to be approved. Pick what you want, ignore the rest. The vendors will then receive your contact information and be able to get in touch with you.

We know nearly everyone, especially conference attendees, carry smartphones, so why not save them extra space in their wallet with digital information exchange?

Rolodexes have always been a pain. Welcome to something easier.

What Are Your Conference Stages?

While event attendees may see conferences they attend as just a schedule of events, there’s no question a daily agenda is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to planning the flow of any good event. From speakers to booths and break-out sessions to Happy Hours, a well-run schedule is something every event planner should inspire to accomplish.

But that’s not the most important part of a conference. Nor is the venue, the speakers, or the giveaways. It’s the stages. According to Jeff Hurt over at Midcourse Corrections, the four stages of a conference experience are:

Consuming
Participating
Sharing
Reciprocating

Let’s break each of these down.

Consuming
This is the lowest level of conference attendance. In the same way that lecturing at students doesn’t do much for actual learning, slideshow presentations and product demonstrations usually have about the same retention. This is an integral stage for bringing everyone to the same level of understanding, and should not be skipped unless the group you’re inviting is handpicked.

Participating
Remember how we said the last stage was super necessary? The second stage doesn’t matter much if we’re not all playing with the same deck. Everything from speaker questions to break-out sessions depends on having the same base of knowledge. The inquiries are better, the conversations more helpful and the experience is fun.

Sharing
Now it’s time to show off, er, share what you’ve learned and done. In this stage, we take what we’ve learned in break-out sessions, product demonstrations and speaker presentations and show them to our coworkers, families, friends, social media contacts and blog readers. This stage is a redo of the first one — likely on either a smaller scale or a more intimate one — and many people stop right here.

Reciprocating
Here’s the real value stage. By consuming, participating and sharing, we’re able to create a better picture of how things can — often should — work. Want to implement a new registration system? This is where it gets done. Want to build off last year’s conference while blending techniques learned from last month’s? Here’s where that happens, too.

There are plenty of similarities between this and Bloom’s Taxonomy. Happy reading.

How Do You Promote Successful Company Culture?

There are plenty of companies that advertise themselves to potential employees by talking about perks. From flexible vacation time to catered meals and company retreats to sport courts, perks are a fantastic way to make workplaces more enjoyable. But unless your company culture embraces such amenities as perks and not the main attraction, those perks may wind up unused.

Infusionsoft takes a different route. Instead of constantly promoting their employee perks — though they have plenty worthy of bragging about — they celebrate their company culture, which includes both employees AND clients. The believe so much in this that they just had an event based solely on such, dubbed Culture Unveiled.

With the grand opening of their new Chandler location, Infusionsoft’s commitment to the people that make the company possible is commendable. While this kind of focus on culture just isn’t possible in traditional, top-down corporations, the flatness of Infusionsoft’s organization is what makes it possible.

While this approach has its occasional drawbacks, as it can be easier to have one authoritative figure making all the decisions instead of allowing employees to make the best decision for the situation, we’ve seen their organization in action at multiple InfusionCon events and know it’s absolutely the optimal approach for a company that thrives on helping small businesses succeed.

Straight from Joe Manna:

“We’re off to a great start this year! This morning, our team took a different commute to our new home in Chandler, Arizona. We’re still settling into our new offices, but here is an inside look at our new home. We’d also like to thank the numerous individuals and organizations who have helped us along the way.”

Congrats, Infusionsoft. Can’t wait to see where your company culture takes us.

Event Staff | What Do You Look For?

For some event planners out there, tonight is the penultimate gig. Seldom are New Year’s Eve parties small and intimate — if they are, we bet they’re pretty high-end — making your temp event staff just as important as the talent, the food, the venue, the theme, and only slightly below the guest(s) of honor.

Because we often travel to our events, we usually hire temp event staff on-site. Staffing agencies are usually too big for our needs, so we rely on a few quick rules to help us weed out potential poor choices. The criteria isn’t anything we wouldn’t hold ourselves to; be sure you’re willing to be a prototypical example of everything you preach to your temp event staff.

Reliability
Short timelines can get hectic when potential staff won’t commit until they make arrangements for the kids, schedule a dogsitter, ask their spouse, or turn down other possible gigs. In an effort to simplify, we always ask more people than we need and go with the first people to respond with an affirmative. No waiting a while, no calling them back — if they can’t reliably confirm their attendance, we won’t rely on them.

Techiness
It’s hard to make last-minute changes when temp event staff isn’t familiar with the same communication methods as we are. Email, phone calls and texts (usually in that order) allow us to keep track of who will be where when. If hopeful hires can’t handle all three methods with ease, we’re careful not to depend on them. (Note: this is a hard and fast rule for on-site, unfamiliar recommendations only).

Dress Code
Black pants, black shoes and a black shirt. It’s not what we wear every day, but it’s the best color combination if you’re unsure what everyone else will be wearing. While we prefer collared shirts and pressed slacks, exceptions are often made as long as the person is professionally presentable.

Answers
“I don’t know” by itself is never an acceptable answer for any of us. The one thing we absolutely drill into our temporary staff is that they MUST follow “I don’t know” with “But I’ll find out for you” and then ask one of us, or someone in charge on site. There’s nothing more frustrating than a human drone.

Oh, and pay cash. It’s easier.

Have a great 2013.

Do You Know Where Your Event Marketing Photos Come From?

Backdrop in blue and cyan

It’s easier than ever to record what happens in our lives. From camera-equipped smartphones to wearable GoPro cameras, the technology available to non-professionals makes it seem like professional videographers and photographers should be on their way out. While we all know that amateur access to high-quality equipment sure hasn’t reduced the need for talented creatives, many companies and event planners still buy photos from stock photography sites — apparently hoping we won’t notice that their advertisements look nothing like their product.

Or, as David Merman Scott once asked: “who the hell ARE these people?”

No one knows, except for the talented photographer looking to make a living. Heck, they may not know. So why are so many of us still using stock photography when a well-lit photograph of your actual customers or employees would fair far better? Hubspot has 13 hilarious examples of stock photography, but we think we can do better with tips on how to take better pictures all on your own.

Go Toward The Light
Smartphones are great for always being around when you need to take a picture, but terrible at long distances or in low light. If you’re going to use your iPhone/Windows Phone/Android to record an event, just make sure the light is on the subject and that you don’t use a flash unless absolutely necessary. We’ve been able to take quite a few usable pics this way.

Get A Little Bit Closer
Crowd shots seem great when taken, but during post processing they’re tough to use, improve or highlight anything worthwhile. The quality of lens, camera and photographer need to be pretty high to take high-quality shots from more than a few feet away, so get as close to your subjects as possible. Don’t worry about them being uncomfortable, we bet they’ll be more than happy to pose.

Edit
Editing photos is easy. Most photo programs offer automatic improvements, and more than that allow us amateurs to move sliders back and forth while we watch the photographer change colors. The seconds this takes per pic is worth it.

Crop
Cropping is good. Cropping makes your image’s subject look better. Cropping helps fool the world that you took the picture using the same smartphone everyone else has. Cropping, and editing, make it look like your images were carefully selected, not just thrown together.

If all else fails, there’s always CompFight. Be sure to read up on Creative Commons!

Does Reputation Management Matter DURING An Event?

Automotive Service to Sales...Seamlessness...Really

There’s no question reputation management is a top priority for most marketing departments. From monitored phrases to comment marketing, guiding what the market thinks of your company, service or product is an integral part of any good marketing plan.

But how far should your monitoring go? How quickly should a company be able to respond? Does everything warrant a response? Should event planners be exceptionally careful DURING events?

Answers to the above questions aren’t universal, nor should they be. Here are a few tips to make monitoring your reputation a little easier, hopefully a little cheaper and a little better.

How far should monitoring go?
Phrases like “Company X sucks” are easy to pick out from the sea of data, but if that statement is just a long-time customer letting off some steam, a non-customer ranting in public, or just someone having a bad day, does it warrant much action? One-time sentiments do not a problem make, so we suggest monitoring for patterns rather than single instances. You’ll be able to determine if problems are specific or widespread far easier this way.

How quickly should a company respond?
In a reasonable amount of time.
This immediately raises the question: what’s a reasonable amount of time? We think all problems should be acknowledged immediately, but then entered in a queue depending on severity.
Is the world about to end? Let’s get on that right away.
Has your workday grounded to a halt? Better get on that within the hour.
Is something non-essential broken? A business day or two won’t kill anyone.

Does everything warrant a response?
A response? Yes. Action? Nope. Some people just want to be heard and some issues aren’t fixable.

Should event planners worry about reputation management during events?
Of course they should, but not so much as it distracts or takes away from the event as a whole. If a client or clients are upset about long registration lines, we’d urge companies to fix the problem rather than worry about apologizing for it. Same thing goes for complaints about food, venues and other such sunk cost items. Fix what you can, acknowledge the rest, and make it work. Seldom do we see event planners blamed for problems, they’re rather blamed for poor reactions to such.

Do the right thing. You’ll save a lot.

How (Great) Events Are Like Video Games

There’s a reason adults still play video games, and it’s not just because they don’t want to grow up or they like spending time with their kids. It’s probably not because they don’t have other things to do, either. And although today’s immersive experiences are evolutionary leaps from early home consoles in the 1980s, not much has changed regarding gameplay.

The idea today is the same as it always has been:

1. Identify a goal
2. Gather supplies along the way
3. Learn how to accomplish that goal

Great events are set up the same way. Most goals involved something specific — industry knowledge, networking, business deals. The supplies we acquire are social skills, new product tips, and even shortcuts from experts. To use those supplies, there are opportunities to practice along the way — morning meetings, hallway conversations, and walkthroughs in your hotel room.

8-bit Basement

What if we started treating these obviously event similar tasks the same way we do video games? Why not create accomplishments that allow attendees to record progress, prizes/supplies from vendors as rewards, and information from colleagues and peers to show us best how to use what we’ve learned?

Add Badges To Badges On Lanyards
To event professionals, the idea of walking around with a lanyard and badge holder adorned with stickers, ribbons, and buttons may seem overkill, but if those extras are worn as pieces of pride, we can see how they’d be fun to show off. Think of scavenger hunts (question based), side-event attendance (breakout sessions, off-site meals), and vendor collaboration (say LoopLogic and Infusionsoft presenting on tracking viewer engagement over time through video).

Publish Online Leaderboards
There’s nothing better than showing off accomplishments to the world, especially if traveling the world isn’t required. Online leaderboards listing top achievers at conferences are a great way to get people asking about experiences, if they should attend, and exactly what those achievements stand for.

While treating events like video games sounds cheesy, we bet it’s a heckuva lot of fun and great advertising. What’s the ROI on that?

Marketing Automation | Are you doing it wrong?

Google marketing principles

To those outside the marketing industry, automation — when it comes to customer relationships — seems like a misguided attempt at best. Customers want personalization, they want custom solutions, and they want to pay as low of a price as possible, often no matter the hit in quality.

Marketing automation is easy to abuse, especially when software makes it easy for us to trigger emails based on singular actions, rather than a more comprehensive set of customer behavior. Now, don’t think marketing automation is somehow wrong, unethical, or not worth the time; the very opposite is true, but only as long as you’re taking the time to align your automated tactics with both your company goals and your (potential) customer interests.

Companies like HubSpot do a fantastic job of putting customer actions into larger groups, but then focusing on specific, personal steps within.

Align Channel Messages
HubSpot is very good in keeping their marketing in sync, whether it’s email, social media, or signage at an event. By sticking to a common theme across all channels, there’s a greater chance recipients will understand and act when given the opportunity.

Customize Each Outlet
If you advertise a service on your website, do you use that same copy or html in an email? Is the Twitter post just a shorter version? How about Facebook, is there anything specific there? Each touch point (website, mobile(?), social media, email) has a different style and a different interaction process. No one wants to see the same content copy and pasted across channels. We all know how annoying PDF flyers are, right?

Use A CRM
We’re always amazed to see people still using Outlook as a customer database. Sure, good options are going to cost a little bit of money, but companies like Infusionsoft pride themselves on creating great value for small businesses, so why not give them a try instead of only using MailChimp and your own email program? Both EventDay and LoopLogic integrate seamlessly with Infusionsoft, making it easy to create branded, relevant content across all your marketing channels.

Can’t wait for a world of customized, automated holiday cards that don’t read generically. How fun would that be?

What Does Free Mean To You?

Balancing The Account By Hand

Even the most seasoned event planners worry about one line item on their event budget more than any other. It’s not decorations, it’s not IT requirements, and it’s likely not giveaway bags. It’s also not facility rental, ticket surcharges or, hopefully, insurance coverage. It’s probably not even the event planning fee.

The one budget item that’s hard to predict than anything else: labor cost.

From event staff to contractors producing marketing materials and set-up and take-down crews, labor tends to be a large, and never completely predictable, event cost that’s both tough to predict and control. While most public-facing event staff budgets tend to be manageable, it’s the litany of little tasks accomplished by that one team removed from the event planner that always need to be accounted for when budgeting for this or next year.

When the popular card game Cards Against Humanity offered a special holiday expansion pack for a pay-what-you-want price, they did their best to estimate total costs over the entire promotional event. The factored in production, shipping, and promotional costs, but noted that their own costs associate with the promotional event, the web coding, movie creation, promotional activities, etc., were free, so they didn’t count.

Yes, they counted their own labor, time, materials, experience, and idea as free.

In the end, Cards Against Humanity definitely did well. They profited just over $70k (again, not counting their own labor) and received quite a bit of exposure in return. If we were to do some fancy PR math and calculate that PR/advertising boost, I bet it would have at least equaled out the “free” labor they neglected to count. We might never know, which doesn’t bode well when next year comes around and the accountants in the company start asking for tighter budget guidelines.

This is especially a problem with volunteer-run events, as much of their unpaid labor goes unaccounted for, which makes budgeting for a true cost much tougher. Thankfully, there’s a solution:

Estimate your labor hours as often as possible. Record it when you can. Ask for others to do the same.

And be sure to do some PR math. Do you have any idea what coverage is worth these days?

(Kudos to Cards Against Humanity for donating that $70k to Wikipedia.)

How’s Your Email Marketing?

Email marketing success statistics abound, so we’ll leave the “email is dead” argument for another time. But with so, so many distractions hitting us up while we check our email, it’s great to know exactly which kinds of emails make it through, which the recipients find useful, and which kind we may as well send directly to our spam file.

When we talk email marketing, we really mean three distinct types:

1) mass email sent to a list either created or bought
2) direct email sent to a specific group, with a customized call to action
3) triggered email, which is sent after the eventual recipient completes a pre-determined action.

And, according to HubSpot and Epsilon, “the average clickthrough rate for triggered emails is more than double the rate for mass emails.”

DOUBLE!

We can make a few guesses as to why this is, but surely relevance, timeliness, and specificity all play a huge role in making triggered emails so very clickable. Let’s talk about what those three things mean.

Relevance
Every holiday we’re inundated with product catalogs, special offers, and items ‘selected just for you’. Problem is, many of those selections are based on items we’ve bought ourselves, rather than gifts we’d like to buy for others. While ThinkGeek sure does a bunch of great holiday gifts for your geeky and nerdy family and friends, the almost-daily emails don’t help much if your family only uses computers when they have to.

Lesson: solve problems, don’t just advertise your products.

Timeliness
Triggered emails work well because the action or service I was doing likely just happened. Whether I signed up for something new, reached a milestone in tasks completed or made the next step in LoopLogic’s video analytic process, an email waiting in my inbox a few seconds or minutes later is likely going to be seen as helpful, not spammy. While the numbers aren’t broken down for emails sent via a time trigger, we bet an action trigger worked better.

Lesson: the less time between an action and email, the better.

Specificity
Arizona’s own Infusionsoft lists deliverability as the highest concern among email marketers, but they’re quick to point out it doesn’t stop there. Their own top 10 list has “Send Highly Relevant and Valuable Emails” as the top suggestion, which goes right along with our idea of specificity. Simply put, don’t send general info out, all you’ll get is ignored or worse, labeled as spam. Content with clear expectations, pricing, instructions, and motive make for easy interaction, so why not make that your top issue? We sure would.

Lesson: give them information they can’t find anywhere else about an issue unique to them.