How do you launch an event successfully, whether a large exhibition or a niche conference?
Live events have become an increasingly important new revenue stream for publishers. Despite current concerns about international travel, they are likely to continue to be a major opportunity. But how do you go about launching a new exhibition or conference, or developing a portfolio of smaller events? The events workshop session at Making Publishing Pay featured perspectives from two very experienced events professionals.
Ed Tranter, MD of 73 Media, has launched events for major publishers including Mark Allen Group, and now advises independent publishers on exhibition launches. One year ago, he started talking to a publisher, and now they are well on their way to running an event in December 2020 that should contribute £200k in profit in its launch year.
Many publishers believe that large scale events are too big and too complex to organise and underestimate the value of their community and relationships. They are often lured into media partnerships with event organisers where they offer up their database and content in return for a stand. Ed’s view is that it is far better for media brands to launch their own event. He shared some excellent tips on how to get started.
1. Do your research.
There is no substitute for a large number of conversations with the prospective audience. Better to really focus on one sector at first and understand their needs in depth. Check that they have buying power and are looking for solutions. Market sectors may look crowded, but often competing events are not serving the audience well. Identify the content that your audience want, and you have the makings of a strong event.
2. Beware of being swayed by sponsors.
Sales teams can get diverted by a number of different sponsors with deep pockets into promising an event will be whatever they are looking for. It is them impossible to deliver and all are disappointed.
3. Negotiate with venues.
These days venues are more flexible – they don’t always want to sign you into a three year fixed contract – they will let you start with a smaller space and upgrade later as the event grows.
4. Sell the event to your sales team.
It’s a big challenge to sell an event alongside other activities, so invest in explaining to the team why this will grow the business. Events often attract new customers, who can later also be converted to spending in print and on line.
5. Invest in marketing.
Have a clear brand identity for the event. Gather testimonials from audience and sponsors. Exhibitions should be profitable in year 1, and cash flow positive, as you can ask exhibitors for deposits on booking, and phase your venue payments.
Caroline Cronin is Head of Events at Burlington Media. She was formerly Head of Business at PPA and has run events at RBI and Newtrade. Caroline also believes that publishers, with their strong community, content and editorial “stars” have a real advantage in running a portfolio of conferences and other small-scale events. As well as a profitable activity in its own right, events can generate good content and build loyalty within the community.
It’s all about the feel
Events are an emotionally led experience – they are all about the “feel”. Delegates want to feel special, and in an environment with their peers. It’s important to understand why people feel like they want to come.
Dedicated events team
If a publisher wants to create a portfolio of events, then they will need a dedicated events team. The logistics and operation of events are central to making them work. A badly organised event turns off delegates. The role of producer is also crucial, ideally they need to sit with the editorial team to turn their content ideas into event sessions.
Event marketing specialists
Event marketing is a different discipline to subscription marketing – many publishers miss this distinction and simply expect their existing marketing team to add it on. But the art of persuading a prospective delegate to attend an event, with a good content led website and plenty of targeted email and social activity, is a discipline in itself.
Showcase your editorial stars
Editorial stars in your team can become event celebrities who can draw a big audience, so it is worth spotting them and nurturing their skills. The relationship between an editor and an event producer can be pivotal in building a strong event.
Design the right type of sessions
Whilst pre-launch interviews are important for conferences, sometimes audiences don’t know what they don’t know, so there is a role for producer/ editor instinct. And understanding audience behaviour is also important. They may say they want interactive sessions but actually prefer a series of keynotes.
Maintain the quality of the audience
For smaller events, the profile of the audience is everything. At Burlington, they have very strict criteria on delegates and will exclude people with the wrong profile, guiding them towards other events in the portfolio.
Coach sponsors to make the right contribution
Overly salesy sponsors are another challenge for conferences. Caroline takes a robust line, letting sponsors know if they receive poor ratings, and nudging them towards other formats for data and lead generation if they don’t have the presentation skills.
The conclusion of this workshop session was that there are multiple opportunities for publishers to make more of their communities and content and launch a range of live events. Events can make a good profit contribution, can bring in new commercial customers and generate valuable content.
If you’d like to discuss how you can launch a new event for your media brand and community, please get in touch to arrange a meeting or call.
About the author
Carolyn Morgan has bought, sold, launched and grown specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. A founder of the Specialist Media Show (sold in 2014) she now advises media businesses large and small on their digital strategy through her consultancy Speciall Media.