Boost Event Revenue: 10 Tips From the Pros
In July, following its Open Government & Innovations (OGI) Conference in Washington, D.C., Falls Church, Va.-based 1105 Government Information Group wanted to keep the event's momentum going. The event had been tweeted about 4,423 times, making the conference's hashtag, "#ogi," the No. 4 trending topic on Twitter during the event. So, 1105 decided to create a "TweetBook"—a compilation (in PDF format) of all the tweets—which conference attendees could download from the OGI Web site after the event.
The TweetBook seems to exemplify the bar now set for what live events can do to innovate and keep the momentum going as long as possible, preferably until the next event. Gone are the days of "build it and they will come." Now, event producers have to find out what their customers (attendees, exhibitors and sponsors) want, build the event to their specifications, and then deliver it to them. But that's not all. They have to build a brand around the event, and encourage returning attendees and vendors.
Adapting to Shifting Markets
1105 Government Information Group is an integrated information and media provider for the government information-technology market that dubs itself the "360-degree access to government IT" because it provides print, online, event, custom media and research products. Its events group is perhaps best known for its largest event, FOSE—an annual government technology trade show held in Washington, D.C.
Christina Condos, vice president of events at 1105, says that sometimes event producers have to adapt to a changing marketplace to make their conferences perform well.
Before, companies participating as exhibitors or sponsors in the events Condos oversees would have branding, brand awareness or dissemination of product information as their main goals, and they would have had to buy a booth on the main floor to accomplish those goals.
"But [now], we're finding that our customers are much more measurement focused," Condos says. "And they look to us to give them the package that will give them the amount of leads or the result that they're looking for."
Today, sponsors and exhibitors have a larger role as event participants. "Some of the things we've done, in the case of, say, a FOSE, is [to allow] our customers to present their programs as part of FOSE," she says. "So, for example, if a large company like Adobe or Microsoft would like to present one of their programs that they [have] presented in other venues …, we have them present it at our event as another way for them to be able to get leads."
Attendees also are quick to voice their expectations, and event producers would do well to listen. Condos says this is why Twitter, Facebook and government-centric social networks, including GovLoop (the "Facebook for Feds" that is now merged with government e-mail and Web services provider GovDelivery), are such valuable marketing tools.
In addition to shifts in what vendors are looking for from event partners, event-revenue drivers also are shifting.
"Traditionally, it's the exhibit fees" bringing in the most revenue, says David M. Rich, senior vice president of worldwide program strategy for Auburn Hills, Mich.-based event marketing agency George P. Johnson Co., "followed by the sponsorship fees and then lastly by the attendance fees. I think the difference in the volume of those three categories … is getting smaller."
Tips for Maximizing Your Success and Revenue
Here are 10 suggestions—on everything from event conception to sales and marketing—from experienced event producers to help you improve your events' profitability.
1. Build turnkey programs for sponsors. Condos notes that many businesses are shorthanded. "If you can say to them, 'Listen, we will make this happen. … We'll do everything. ... Everything will be included for this amount of money,' that's very attractive to a lot of these companies," she says.
2. Create small, tailored events. Condos says her group has produced more than 40 custom events this year. "[Sponsors] are able to meet one-on-one with very high-quality customers," she says. "A client [will] tell us a topic that they want to do an event on, and we will get them a government speaker and set up a panel, and do a half-day event. That's their event. Those leads are all theirs. And there's a higher price point for those types of things, but companies are willing to pay it."
3. Be social. Condos and her group have been active social networkers during the past year. "It's a little harder to measure sometimes, but we're finding that it's getting the word out successfully for us," she says. Direct mail was losing its effectiveness, and e-mail, while great, wasn't enough.
4. Understand the goals of the sponsor; this is a key in alignment. "If a company is looking to become a 'thought leader,' developing sponsorships that portray this objective will ensure participation," says Dan Hoffend, senior vice president of sales, corporate accounts, at events and exhibit solutions provider Freeman.
5. Combine complementary events. For instance, Condos says, her group combined a knowledge-management event that was popular among conferees with an exhibitor- and sponsor-heavy cloud-computing colloquium. "It made for a great event. And there was cross-over both ways," she says.
6. Digitize content, then monetize it in myriad ways. After the conference, sell content to readers in pieces that can be discounted if purchased in blocks, Rich says. Whether it's in the form of PowerPoint presentations, audio or video, or allows readers to search presentations down to the spoken word, those interested in the content will pay for it, he believes. Companies may be willing to sponsor the digitized content so that, for instance, their logo appears on the frame of a keynote speaker's video. Businesses may be more willing to invest in this sponsorship opportunity because it's easier to show measurable results than it would be from buying more standard branding opportunities, such as floor banners, he says.
7. Monetize the information that companies find the most valuable—data about attendees that can translate into sales leads. Readers welcome information from publishers, because they've opted-in to receive that information, Rich says. "Those readers might actually be willing to give up some information if they were to get some benefit," he says. "So readers want to know, 'Who's like me? Who's facing the same problems I'm facing? And what are they choosing as solutions to solve those problems? And how are those solutions turning out?'" To find answers to those questions, publishers can survey attendees. Then, publishers can share survey results with conference attendees and supply that opt-in data to sponsors.
"Publishers need to … [act] as a quasi-marketing agency or marketing-enablement capability, providing customer intimacy and customer contact. … Do it with data collec tion, data mining and data access for your sponsors," Rich says.
8. Make a case for the event using case studies of successful lead-generation and/ or sponsorship programs. "Without infringing on client-confidentiality agreements, I have seen publishers develop active programs designed to educate advertisers and exhibitors alike to the value of the media products they offer by using actual case histories …," says Peter LoCascio, president of Salem, Ore.-based Trade Show Consultants.
9. Provide lead-generating fringe benefits that may be unrelated to the event. LoCascio cites, as an example, offering exhibitors free webinars scheduled prior to the show.
10. Provide multichannel sponsorship opportunities. "A consumer show developed a product called 'show-Pak,' which was comprised of individual cards that were distributed at the entrances to the show … that contained discount coupons exhibitors purchased. … These cards were also available on the show's Web site," LoCascio says.
"I haven't seen an event that's doing everything right," Rich says, which suggests that publishers have lots of opportunities to improve.