Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Future of F2F: How to “Save” Events

Event spending is under attack. The purveyors of “inbound marketing,” SEO, and various forms of lead-generation and tracking, are advocating reallocating event marketing budgets to fuel online growth. New simulated or “virtual” events offer information seekers and marketers some of the benefits of events at lower cost.

Tech buyers are relying less on tradeshows and events for product information. According to a MarketingSherpa survey cited at marketing automation event we attended recently, 37% of the 1491 technology buyer respondents reported using tradeshows and events less often in the first half of 2009. Around 30% reported increased use of virtual events, online search, news websites, and vendor websites.

There are cyclical and secular factors to tease apart. Because the MarketingSherpa data was collected smack in the middle of a major recession, it’s not surprising that buyers said they had gone to fewer shows. (Their budgets had probably been cut.). But an internal sales and marketing coordinator we talked to during a break at the same event shared the perception: “Our leads aren’t coming from trade shows.” he asserted, “People find us on-line.”

Events aren’t facing the same grim fate as newspapers but the James Fallows piece in the June Atlantic, “How to Save the News,” is worth a read for anyone interested in “saving” the event business. Fallows looks to Google for answers - not a bad approach to any question these days.

Fallows starts with the point that newspaper subscriptions per household have been falling for sixty years as TV and other new media have gained share of mind and time. He doesn’t get into the history much, but we know that newspapers enjoyed monopoly profits that masked problems. One has to wonder if the fat margins in big events of a few years ago didn’t portend future challenges.

Of course people will end up paying in some form,” for media of value. Fallows found zero interest at Google in the free vs. paid media debate. Google’s interest is utilitarian and empirical: “What works?” Similarly, we know F2F is valuable – from here the questions are utilitarian and empirical.

The current structure of the media business is not the result of moral failings. Fallows was surprised at how little mockery and moral superiority he heard from the Gods of Google, although he did quote a Google economist referring to the flawed business model of “grinding up trees.”. (This from a guy whose business depends on electrical power generated by grinding up and burning carbon-rich rock to boil water to spin steam turbines.) In the event business, our three-dollar sodas, five-hundred-dollar-a-day data projectors, union electricians to plug in equipment, three-hundred-dollar hotel rooms, seven-hundred-dollar plane fares and two days of travel for two days of event don’t reflect moral failings, just business problems to be solved.

The problem is not demand, it’s the business models. The Google mantra for news media, “distribution, engagement and monetization” applies to events. We need events in more places and more people at events, we need to involve them in the experience in more compelling ways and we need to find more ways to turn event participation into revenue.

The three most important things a newspaper can do: “experiment, experiment and experiment,” quoted by Fallows, are also key to the future of F2F. “Nothing works but everything might,” the maxim for the future of the news oft quoted at Google, can be applied to specific underperforming events and industry problems today.

Regardless of the new options, people will keep spending time in shared live experiences and face-to-face communication. Fallows sounds a final note about the Google faith that good solutions to almost any media problem are just waiting to be discovered. Do you have faith that there are solutions that will “save” events?

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Non-profit Fund Raising: The Warm Fuzzy Formula

Keep influencers in mind, make the benefits emotionally appealing and be systematic if you want to motivate adults to come out and donate money to your cause. As a board member of a local non-profit, the Wright- Locke Farm Conservancy I saw how an event promotion on a tiny budget executed by volunteers could work like a charm.

The pitch was pure emotion. A warm and fuzzy promotion was designed for kids and for parents looking for good experiences for their kids. The copy: “Pat an alpaca, cuddle a bunny and kiss a pig…dance…search for prizes….explore this special place.” The visual: an evocative photo of the Farm barns.

As always, methodical marketing paid off. Our vice chair, Sally Quinn, an experienced community organizer, executed an integrated campaign using print, PR, email, a road sign, flyers and email all with the same benefits and visual.

The distribution of email was critical. Sally made sure she had some email lists from various sources that had a high percentage of likely prospects – the type of people who hmmm… might be active in local school issues and environmental groups. She rounded up 12 lists in total representing interests from improving playgrounds to protecting ponds. Our volunteer IT guy deduped the lists. She sent only two well timed emails so as not to annoy anybody. The text explained the events and sent people to the website for further information.

The print distribution got into the right (little) hands. Sally convinced five local pre-schools to give an attractive printed invitation card to every student. And she personally distributed the card to families attending children’s theater performances.

The PR effort focused on highly targeted outlets: Announcements were place in seven PTA Newsletters. Listings were posted on two online community calendars and two community broadcast outlets.

Signage was equally targeted. Posters with the same image and offer as the cards went up in seven schools, four preschools, several high traffic local stores and a couple of churches with big Sunday School programs. Knowing that posters that are sent out don’t always go up, Sally personally drove around with a second batch of posters which she personally posted. And the site of the event had a big sign out front.

No possible source of attendance was neglected. Every board member was exhorted to give invitations to friends and family and given an email to forward to their own contacts.

This marketing model applies to any event at any scale. Good emotional appeals to decision makers and influencers; an integrated plan; consistent copy and graphics; good lists and distribution; a multi-media campaign; and the personal touch, all combined to motivate action. And the cuddly concept definitely helped. The result was a good crowd, a lot of fun for all and a nice pile of money!

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