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.

What Makes Group Events Successful?

Plone Conference 2007 Group Photo

Conferences like SXSW, XOXO, BlogWorld, and Comic-con all share a defining characteristic: the event is the draw. While big-name speakers and panels will often be used as marketing draws to entice possible attendees still on the fence, there’s no question group events like those previously mentioned are popular because of the synergy, rather than individual pieces.

Seth Godin believes there are two main paths to successful group events. The first, an overwhelming show of force, usually requires a large budget, large staff, large or easily scalable service/product, and a whole lot of prep time. These are the companies with the biggest booth, the biggest after party, and the exclusive breakfast in the ballroom.

The above are usually big sponsors, and without them, most events wouldn’t happen. Thank you for that.

The second path to success is, “Powerful personal interactions. Not with everyone. Just with people who want to talk with you, who will benefit from a powerful exchange,” Godin said.

The second approach requires less money, less staff, less physical set up time, and often, a less scalable product (this is why startups should REALLY go with the second option) — but it could be far more successful, especially long term. What it will take is a better understanding of who your customers are, what your industry wants, and staff that understand the difference between hearing and listening…and marketing and advertising.

Event planners, now that they know how to make their next group event successful, can often remove roadblocks for those looking to have the type of conversations we all SAY is the most important part. They can make sure the exchange of information between exhibitor and attendee is easy (we recommend a smartphone-based, QR-code system like ours), that data privacy isn’t complicated (our system requires attendees to be scanned AND approve contact requests), and there’s ample passing time between presentations to make hallway conversations happen.

Have fun at your holiday parties!

Should You Swag or Should You No?

Back in the days or yore, before we had always-on communication and video conferencing without horrific artefacts, conferences were a big deal. Without any other way to hobnob with the industry masses, conference goers put up with long flights, pricey accommodations and packed schedules.

Tradeshows, recognizing this captive audience, used giveaways as a way to entice attendees to remember their products. As this practice became more prevalent, swag (Stuff We All Get or just conference giveaways available to all) became quite a perk. We’ve seen bags made of bicycle tires, coats good enough to be worn for years, and enough iPods to fulfill a Christmas rush.

No doubt swag is a great SECONDARY benefit to event attendance, but with travel expenses going up and alternatives to in-person events becoming better and better, having swag just to give stuff away isn’t enough. And really, how many branded pens, iPod shuffles, and t-shirts made to fit no one do conference goers really need?

When it comes to providing swag at events we run or participate in, we’ve found that buying fewer, high-quality items works better than many, smaller giveaways. Think shirts you’d actually wear, pens with GREAT grip, snazzy hats or sweatshirts built to handle more than a slight breeze.

Flickr Swag

But none of that compares to the exposure opportunity presenting content can provide. We’d rather spend our money on event sponsorships that allow us stage time or networking event recognition, and have found that this kind of exposure is far more cost efficient. And if you have great content, loading it up onto USB drives or cheap cloud storage options and giving those away seems a far better deal for both parties.

The next time you’re looking to provide swag, ask yourself these two questions:
1) is it worth carrying home
2) is it worth shipping somewhere?

If yes, we’d love to see what you have to offer.

If not, we’ll hopefully see you on stage.

Event Planning Equipment

While proper planning, healthy budgets, and well-trained staff all contribute to great events, there’s an integral piece of the event experience that cannot be overlooked.

Event planning equipment can make or break your event.

While we’re not saying a business is only as good as its tools, we are saying that purchasing and using the proper tools can make your event registration and check in life a whole lot easier. Because we strive to make all of our software web/universal based, the event planning equipment necessary to create a fantastic check-in experience is widely available, not pricey, and simple to use.

Clicking anywhere on the image below will take you to our custom Amazon page, where you can buy equipment directly from Amazon. While some companies may prefer to rent you some marked-up, proprietary hardware, we think the cost savings from buying it yourself is worth it. Also, the printers are re-usable! Just remember to have a few rolls of badges and ink on hand.

We’ve used and recommend all the products above, and have full confidence they’ll work great for you, too. First, a few notes:

-Buy extra ink right away if your event is more than 100-200 people. Running out during registration isn’t fun.
-A back-up printer is always a great option.
-Don’t buy cheap labels or badges.
-Save the boxes for easy shipping.
-Be sure to have USB printer cables! Not every model comes with one.

Our software is designed to make these devices plug-and-play, but be sure to have an active internet connection when connecting them to your computer for the first time, just in case there are any updates from the manufacturer.

Happy event-ing!

(Disclosure: items purchased through the affiliate links above nets us a small percentage of the sale. Also, we can’t officially troubleshoot the above devices, but our support team will do their best to walk you through any issues you may face, as we’ve likely already experienced them.)

Do Hallway Conversations Make The Event?

More Serious Matters 1

When Josh Strebel of Pagely first thought about hosting Pressnomics, his main concern was how to transform the productive hallway conversations he’d had at other conferences from afterthought into happening. While a conference of hallway conversations only is impossible, striving for greater attendee interaction is almost never a bad thing.

As Al Pittampalli discusses in a blog post, the serendipity required to achieve indirect collaboration or spontaneous hallway conversations can’t be manufactured, but it can be fostered. While direct collaboration has a roadmap — which requires leadership — the kind of indirect, yet often often more important over the long term, interaction most conferences seek don’t happen often enough.

But if hallway conversations are an integral part of events, but can’t be directly planned or scheduled, how do event planners go about fostering them?

Start simple
If event planners want their attendees to interact, start by giving them plenty of places to do so. We don’t mean just one lounge in a room removed from the main events, but rather chairs placed to the side in the main area. Add some tables, maybe make some food available nearby, and you’ll have people chatting in no time.

Provide tools
Most deep hallway conversations usually require internet access so participants can compare notes, show developments, or share other relevant (digital or otherwise) material. Keep that WiFi fast and open in your main areas.

Give time
Five minutes between scheduled sessions is barely long enough for a few guys to hit the bathroom, and it’s even worse for most women. Try giving 15-25 minutes for passing time and see what people do with it. If most people are seated before the next session starts, shorten the time next go around.

Be an example
Too many event planners end up with staff or employees that shy away from public conversations, either about the event itself or anything industry related. Hiding out from attendees sets a bad example, and we’d like to see more event staff participate in hallway conversations not only to provide a great example, but to better be able to understand attendee needs.

See you between sessions.

Why Corporate Events Are Still King

Some will tell you that marketing, advertising, and selling are necessary evils in order to make money. Too many event professionals see those three as an afterthought to the event itself, thinking that higher quality events will automatically attract more people. Those people think about at least two of those three wrong.

John Jantsch says most event planners view marketing and selling in one of two ways:

1. Target a market, tell them what you have — work in a little solution selling — and hope they choose you.
2. Fill out RFPs from your target market and hope they pick your price.

John details a few solutions in the rest of his post, but we have a few tips on why our favorite client is still corporations. While the more progressive attendees and event planners likely bemoan the traditional stodginess of traditional corporate events, most of those concerns are from poorly-run happenings, not the tech-infused events we’ve helped create.

IMG_7429

Compared to your average free or almost-free community event (which are often backed by generous business donations), corporate events stand out for one reason above all: most of them have the budget to pull off the look they want. While restrictions, marketing rules, and brand guidelines will always apply, there’s no reason a big-budget corporate event has to be stodgy and boring. But it’s going to take a little imagination.

Microsoft In San Francisco
A few months ago, Microsoft asked us to run registration and check-in for an Azure event held in San Francisco’s MOMA district. Planned inside a part-time art gallery, Microsoft’s event planners need some serious manpower and money to transform a concrete display case into a tech funhouse. Thanks to plenty of lights, enough cables to fill a truck or two, and a host of live food, live music and live entertainment options, what would have been impossible on a small budget absolutely nailed its mark.

Microsoft In Seattle
Less than 90 days ago, Microsoft’s team again transformed an old, concrete structure (part-time cruise-ship marina) into a purple wonderland to introduce the latest Visual Studio. Thanks to a healthy budget, a large staff, and a small army of third-party contracts, the gray walls, gray floor, and baggage check stations here hidden behind an array of purple drapes, curtains, and well-placed seating and eating areas.

Because events like those above are usually customer facing, it makes sense for Microsoft to pull out all stops to impress the very people responsible for their company profits. Not only does this approach often equal a satisfying attendee experience, but staffers there to help attendees are able to do so without your typical, low-budget event problems, like a lack of basic supplies, manpower, or the need to pretend your event is under the sea when it’s really in a high school gymnasium.

Here’s to corporate events with event planners that know how to get the most out of their budgets!

Is Your Event Marketing Working?

Setup Finished
Marketing experts* like Pam Slim get asked, constantly, why other’s marketing isn’t working; Twitter hasn’t brought any sales they say, or Facebook ads ROI hasn’t been what they expected. Name a digitally-based service, and there’s a story of woe about how time and money spent with it hasn’t produced results promised.

The problem here isn’t the tools, and it may not be the product or service offered, but rather the idea that marketing is just like advertising. That marketing should have a direct, trackable impact (it certainly may, but usually not as immediately as a print or online advertisement). That marketing will solve all of your event or business woes.

Marketing is a relationship. It’s not a coupon, it’s not just a series of tweets, and it’s not a QR code that saves $10 off event registration. And it takes a heckuva lot longer than the weeks or months leading up to your event. It’s a full-time, always-on practice that often costs more time than money. So how can you check if your marketing is working?

Gather
Are you keeping tabs on who clicks on your newsletters, how many people use your landing page to register, and how many people followed check-in instructions? You should be. Check out something like MailChimp and UnBounce to get these things done.

Analyzing
Data is great, as long as you know how to interpret it. While we don’t profess to be customer data experts, tracking and recording customer behavioral information is an integral first step in understanding how your choices affect your customers’.

Implement
If your analysis revealed site visitors preferred 30 second videos over 90 second ones (LoopLogic can reveal this sort of data), are you in a position to act? Far too many content creators spend more time gather and analyzing data than acting on it, a huge mistake in a digital world that can be changed fairly easily.

HubSpot has great tutorials if you’re just getting started.

*Not certain Slim would cop to being a marketing expert, but she’s able to answer marketing industry questions well and often, so we’re comfortable labeling her as such.

Are Video Testimonials Worth It?

2012 11 03 - 298 - DC - Million Muppet March

First email was the social media frontier. Then came instant messaging, followed closely by SMS-capable apps and then social networks. While most people think of social networks as Twitter or Facebook, the 10th most popular site in the world (Facebook, Google, and Twitter) is also one of the simplest: YouTube.

Designed during a time when uploading personal media anywhere online AND having the bandwidth for more than tens of people wasn’t common, YouTube’s success after nearly a decade can be boiled down to one thing: people like seeing videos of others just like them.

Like People, there’s a certain magic in seeing faces and antics of real people doing and saying real things. Marketers did certainly didn’t miss the boat here, and have used YouTube in a variety of effective ways, perhaps none more so than the customer testimonial. We’re not talking staged testimonials here, either (though actors playing roles are better than most marketing/advertising campaigns).

The real stuff is what works. But how can your average businessperson with a decent digital camcorder, microphone and video editing software make their video testimonials worth it? Rocky Walls, guest posting on Convince & Convert, says video testimonials should be treated like a great first date.

For those of you out there that are either super bad at first dates or haven’t been on one in a while, here’s a quick refresher:

Pick The Right Moment
Walls recommends asking for a video testimonial right after you’ve nailed a client project or a similar accomplishment. Nothing better than a sparkle in someone’s eye after their expectations were exceeded.

Be Irresistible
Walls’ article mentions the need for an irresistible line, but we disagree. While lines work great for TV characters, fostering a fantastic relationship over previous hours, days, weeks, months, and/or years will help turn every reasonable request into a yes. Trusted people are hard to resist.

Go Where They’re Comfortable
This could mean their place. It could mean a park or coffee shop. It probably won’t mean a sterile sound stage in front of a green screen. The point of an honest testimonial is to be honest, and that’s much harder when the customer isn’t in their element.

Remember The Golden Rule
The above title could easily be translated into “be gentlemanly” or “act as if a lady”, but what it really boils down to is that anyone looking for great video testimonials should treat their customers as they’d like to be treated. Say please and thank you, give honest feedback, and don’t expect the moon when you’re only willing to provide a few pieces of cheese.

Good videoing.

Do You Ask Permission To Help Attendees?

No matter how well the signs are placed, no matter how many maps and schedules given out, no matter how well-marked the rooms are, every event will have attendees asking questions. Some of these inquiries may be simple — like the restroom locations — others, complicated — requests to meet with a speaker privately — but every single answer will reflect on the event and your staff as a whole.

For too many of us used to being bombarded with salesy questions at every big-box electronics store, vehicle lot or restaurant, staff and attendee interaction is perceived to be a painful experience. For one, the staff member doesn’t want to bother an attendee lost in thought, but too often we see confused attendees wandering around, wondering aloud how to find what they’re looking for.

This disconnect must be solved, but helping without annoying isn’t easy, and it must be initiated from your staff in order to work. We rely on three things to help make this process a little bit easier.

komm in die gänge VV

Eye Contact
We’re not talking eye contact when face to face with attendees, your staff should already know that. The kind of eye contact we’re referring to here is from across the room, over a table, or at the registration desk. Staff members should be looking up and scanning the room in search of troubled expressions, make eye contact with those people, and work their way over to help.

Locking eyes is a quick and easy way to determine if someone needs help; if they don’t, they’ll look or walk away. Careful not to give them a death stare.

Open Body Language
Whether it’s due to long days, little sleep, the chaos of any large event or simply laziness, we see far too many staffers talking with attendees while their arms are crossed, their eyes dart off into the crowd or their bodies turned at least partially away. While the need to keep an eye on the room is understandable, too much necessary body language is being wasted or misinterpreted when staffers don’t give attendees their full attention.

We’ve also found that staffers giving undivided attention to attendees (this shouldn’t take all that long, maybe 30 seconds) tend to answer their questions better because they’re listening more intently.

May I Help You versus What Can I Help You With
The first statement above is passive; it’s asking permission. The second is active; it’s moved beyond asking permission toward the actual problem faced.

Event staffers aren’t retail employees, they’re not there to sell stuff. Remember to instruct staffers to solve attendee problems first, worry about asking permission to do so later.

Solve attendee problems first. Ask permission to do so later.