Industry Innovator: Building a Better Show
How do you get employees and partners to build an entirely new series of conferences and expos, all by volunteering their skills and services in their spare time? Business-to-business media company UBM managed to do just that with its Business4Better (B4B) global initiative, first launched in 2009 and expanded into the U.S. for the first time in May.
B4B is a non-commercial, non-revenue undertaking involving UBM employees contributing their time, resources and expertise to help bring non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private companies together to launch on-the-ground charitable initiatives. The events involve speakers, educational sessions, networking and an expo where qualifying nonprofits can exhibit at no cost.
As part of UBM's larger Responsible Business initiative, B4B has produced events in Brazil, India and the United Kingdom. With producing partner Freeman, UBM's inaugural U.S. event brought nearly 1500 attendees and over 120 NGOs and non-profits to the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif.
Publishing Executive talked to Scott Vaughn, chief marketing officer at UBM Tech, about B4B's goals, methods and how it helps UBM (and event partners) "practice what they preach."
Publishing Executive: How did the B4B initiative get started?
Scott Vaughn: This concept of Business4Better started in Brazil in 2009. A group of employees saw a need to bring NGO's and businesses together because government was not able to fulfill key roles. It started from a group of UBM employees and media executives saying, 'I think there's opportunity here around our larger goal of global corporate responsibility.'
The core idea is to use your resources and skills to do better for social innovation, to impact the community and really make a difference—that's where the kernel came from. [Executives in Brazil] went to David Levin, CEO of UBM, and the Board, and … the idea was fleshed out. It started fairly small in Brazil, was successful and then started rolling through UBM.
PE: Why are you bringing it to the U.S. now?
SV: One, there was a need for it, and two, we were ready. We had a model in place. There are things about the U.S. market that are different but the timing was right. We had a tremendous amount of momentum and—here's the kicker—a tremendous amount of enthusiasm from the employee base, because this is an all-volunteer, non-commercial, non-profit [initiative]. UBM invests a decent amount of money to put this on, and while we bring our partners to bear there is still a lot of time, energy and capital that is applied to it.
PE: So UBM employees leverage their eventplanning skills to make this happen?
SV: Exactly. UBM is pretty smart at producing all kinds of conferences and expos, so the approach and thinking was to get the best speakers and best people together who know this segment and put on an event to bring those business leaders in. In the U.S. the idea is also to bring business and nonprofits together [in partnerships]—nonprofits already have their feet on the ground, they already have tentacles in the community. Businesses can teach nonprofits about a business approach and sensibility and nonprofits can see where there is a good match. So matching up is part of this conference.
PE: What message to you hope to send to the corporate attendees?
SV: It's not a political statement, but we know if we can help business executives—our core audience who consumes our content—really understand how to gather their resources, apply new ideas to community engagement, social innovation and corporate social responsibility, we can make the move from checkbook philanthropy, which is what we have today, into something that is much more aggressive about actually putting resources directly into a community issue or challenge to make a social impact.
PE: What were the challenges in building this initiative from scratch?
SV: The challenge is to get organized. When you have a new brand—and we've launched many new brands before—the first thing you really have to think about is what the brand is and what the market need is. How do you fill that need and what product and service do you offer? You go about it in classic product management and brand management style. That was the first step.
The next question was, how do we resource this? A small group of people at UBM with learnings from colleagues around the globe at Brazil, Mumbai and the U.K. helped shepherd [the effort in the U.S]. Volunteers were asked for. A team of people stepped up and said they would be on the planning committee … then we started to recruit [additional] volunteers.
There was a very methodical process, all the way down to the logo: What's the brand? What's the value proposition? We also had to rally our partners. The Freeman company, a major events company, donated their services and structure to help the nonprofits [exhibit and network].
PE: What was the timeline for your May event?
SV: Planning started 18 months [before the show]. In April 2012 we hit our stride; that's when the committee turned to recruiting people to create the show.
PE: What are your goals going forward?
SV: We think of this as a movement. One of the things UBM is centered on is the idea that you need to build a community around an event. Once you leave the event, how do you build that out, how do you build the movement?
Now that there is a brand going, we can continue that community in the digital world [in between shows] with content, blogs and different types of discussion. … It's increasingly being connected globally. We'll see how far that goes, and what I mean by that is you want it to grow naturally, but there is an umbrella that connects that social innovation, that community engagement that we are focused on.