Nikki here. I’m attending the Event Marketer Virtual Summit today and decided to live blog to share the insights with the community.
We Want a Do-Over: 5 Ways We Made Growing INBOUND to 21,000+ Harder Than It Had To Be
Elijah Clark-Ginsberg, Event Marketing Manager at Hubspot
The first session of the day features Elijah Clark-Ginsberg, Event Marketing Manager at Hubspot. Elijah helped build the INBOUND Conference to what it is today. I’ve personally been the past two years and it was incredible.
INBOUND grew from 5,000 to 21,000+ in just six years. They started with just 2 people and an intern and now have over 20 people working on the event.
Obsess Over Expectiations
If you offer something to something once, they will go on to expect it. Think about that while your event is small. This includes free drinks and tickets. Be thoughtful on how your giving it and how you’re messaging it. It’s better to set up complimentary offers as a one time thing.
Set clear differentiation on what ticket types include and people know what to expect. They also have a clear upgrade path.
Under-promise and over deliver. While doing otherwise might help you in the short term, it destroys the trust for future events.
When do you have to adjust in the future, be clear about why you’re doing it and clearly communicate it.
Start Measuring Early
A lot of events put off collecting data until they have to. It’s better to start early so you have more data to make decisions off of. Once you actually need it, it’s often months or years too late.
Don’t just collect data just for the sake of it. If you don’t plan to use it, don’t collect it. Is it worth the effort and will you evaluate the data once you have it?
Once you decide to collect it, centralize it. It’s much harder if data lives in multiple places.
Hubspot uses Zapier to tie all their tools and data together.
Take benchmarks with a grain of salt. Events are so diverse that it’s hard to compare to something else. Pretty much — they are apples and oranges. Compare yourself to yourself. How are you improving year over year?
Build an Open Community
INBOUND was initially anti-sponsor. They changed their mind a few months before the event when they realized the budget realities. Later, they realized the sponsors actually add a ton of value and can offer additional experiences for your attendees.
Be super protective of your attendees and their data — especially with GDPR. Hold sponsors accountable to handling data properly. Don’t welcome in sponsors who promises experiences that you know they can’t execute on.
Empower your internal teams. Give your teams clear guardrails and let them go forward. Hubspot doubled their event revenue by doing this.
Let communities be a selling point. It’s better when attendees self-organize than when you try to place limits on their activity
Mind The Check Engine Light – Disaster Isn’t A Surprise
You’ve got one shot to get it right. Going into the live event, you need to make sure everything is as buttoned up as possible. Try to eliminate the uncertainties. Fix it even if it isn’t broke. In all the cases where INBOUND failed, it was predictable. In 2015, they had problems with the number of sessions and they began to see a downward decline in session ratings. They nipped it in the bud before it got out of control. Communicate that you are working on it when you find yourself in a bad situation and communicate your future plan as soon as you can.
The outcome was in 2016 was that on-site sales suffered dramatically on what was normally their biggest selling day. Once they honed in on the communication, they saw improvement in 2017.
Invest Heavily In Your Team
Don’t be a hero. Trying to put on an event by yourself is the fastest way to burnout. Bite the bullet and bring on help early. It also helps when you have people working on an event year after year because they have the institutional knowledge. If you don’t do this, you’ll be reinvent the wheel every single year and you’ll never get the momentum you need.
Make your vendors an extension of your team. They can help you catch things you might not. It’s worth the time to vet them and nurture the relationships. INBOUND does an RFP with each of their vendors every year to ensure everyone stays on top of their game.
Have fun and ensure the people on your team can lift you up in the most difficult moments. You need to know when things get rough that you’ve got people who have your back.
[Tweet “Keep the humans at the center of your event – @eclarkginsberg @inbound @hubspot #eventprofs”]
Incredible SXSW Growth: From 1k to 70k Attendees
Hugh Forrest | Chief Programming Officer, SXSW
How They Grew
South By Southwest grew through word of mouth by early days, especially Twitter and their hashtag. They haven’t spent much money on advertising and have grown through barter deals with publications. In other words, if you give us an ad in your publication, we’ll trade for tickets or on-site advertising (in Hugh’s word).
They always tried to leverage social media because they had a very forward thinking audience. They engaged people through allowing people to submit ideas and get folks to vote on the idea to get on a panel at the event. It helped them expand the audience tremendously and fueled their growth.
40-50% of their attendees are new every year. One of the factors is cost to attend. Badge prices have increased and hotel costs have also risen. This is a relatively new challenge they are facing. In previous years, they had a much higher return rate. If you’re able to get a 50% return rate, it’s a great program.
SXSW has seen an increase in brands creating memorable activations with attendees. Google recently created a house that was completely automated by their technologies. Brands want to reach the media and social media influencers who are attending the event to create lots of buzz.
Approach To Content
You have to knock on a lot of doors. Some people will say yes, but lots will say no. Be prepared to face rejection. They look for someone who has strong energy and passion. They should be able to talk about a rock and make it sound interesting. If they don’t have a strong delivery, it’s the worst thing you can do for your event to put them on stage. You want people leaving thinking “Wow. I’m inspired and I can take that thing the speaker talked about to apply it to my every day life.”
SXSW now has 1,000 sessions. They acknowledge some will go well and some won’t. They want the sessions to be a starting point for conversations among attendees. From there, it should create connections with attendees to share ideas and drive value for everyone involved.
They get 5,000+ proposals and accept around 900 – 1,000 of those ideas. The biggest challenge is that people try to cover too much in the space of a session. People don’t go deep enough and that’s what attendees want. They look for sessions that are very deep and very focused.
Diversity is also important. Panels should have both gender and ethnic diversity to be accepted. They have an internal board, advisory board and the general public who weigh in on the submissions.
Scaling An Event
Scale is the enemy of connection. It becomes harder to connect attendees as the event grows larger. The key is to break the event into smaller groups where people can realistically connect. At the end of the day, it’s about customer service. If you treat them with respect and give them a positive experience, they will likely return. The 50-70% who won’t come back are the ones who have a hard time finding what they need.
They divide the team internally according to tracks and give their people a lot of autonomy to operate. Encourage the team to work like the event is tomorrow, even if you have enough time. There’s just not enough time at the end to do it all.
[Tweet “Scale is the enemy of connection. Harder as the event grows. @Hugh_W_Forrest #EventGrowth”]
How This Event Went From 0 to 3,000 Attendees In 3 Years
Alexander Theuma | Co-Founder, SaaStock
SaaStock is in its third year. Alexander had no event background and came from a sales background. He was in early 30s and hadn’t fulfilled his entrepreneurial yearnings. He didn’t want to continue doing sales and started to pick up some hobbies. He started blogging about selling SaaS solutions because that’s what he knew. He came up with the idea of SaaScribe, a non-vendor SaaS blog. The blog took off and he evolved it into a community blog where others were contributing content. Companies like Intercom started reaching out and within a few months he had 30,000 views per month.
The next evolution was a podcast, which enabled him to connect with key folks in the industry like Mark Roberge, formerly of Chief Revenue Officer at Hubspot, and Byron Deeter of Bessemer Venture Partners . He began thinking of how to monetize the blog. Advertising and events came to mind. Ads generated a few hundred dollars, but events seemed like a viable route. There was a need for a big SaaS event in Europe.
He was concerned that he had never done an event before. He did a few SaaS meetups to get some experience. When he gained traction there, he told his partner (who was six months pregnant at the time) and his employer that he was going all in on the event.
It enabled them to get off the ground and get the first initial sponsors. The blog, podcast and meetups helped drive the initial growth of the event.
It’s really easy to bankrupt a business if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s helpful to have mentors and advisors to check pricing. You need to make sure your pricing aligns with your costs. Blindly setting prices can cause you to lose valuable dollars you need to fund your event.
Negotiate every single thing and don’t take everything at face value. You’ll be in a better place if you can negotiate deposits and pay the bulk of your expenses later when there is more revenue from ticket sales and sponsorships.
Keeping Community Engaged In Between Events
There was a ton of euphoria after the first event. They knew they could continue producing content, but that’s one way communication. They could have continued the SaaS meetups, but they didn’t want to go that route. Instead of meetups, they did “SaaStock on Tour” in London, Paris and Tel Aviv to help drive growth in key markets.
It was a snapshot of SaaStock content with three hours of content with a happy hour to follow. It gave them a chance to network with key people of the community. They only charged a small fee just to get buy-in to ensure folks show up. They donated the money to a different charity in different cities instead of keeping it to cover costs.
Sponsorships: Attracting, Building and Retaining
People initially invested in the event because they believed in the founder. It was a huge risk because many of the sponsors were bootstrapping and venture-backed. Once he got the first few sponsors, the others came much easier. Much of the sponsorships came through outbound cold outreach initially.
One mistake they made was holding out a platinum sponsorship for a big name company that never came through. A smaller company offered him the money, but he didn’t take it because the brand wasn’t big enough. By the time they went back to that company, it was too late and the budget was already reallocated.
They have now hired a full time sales person, a junior sales person who handles smaller deals, and a customer success person who can work with sponsors to help them plan the event.
They go back to sponsors straight after the conference has concluded and see around $130,000 in sponsorships. The question to answer is “Why now?” to drive urgency. Why should that prospective sponsor care about next years event six to nine months out?
[Tweet “The value you create at an event is the highest ROI you can ask for. @alextheuma #eventgrowth”]
Event Marketing Growth Stack: How To Drive High Event Attendance
Ouali Benmeziane | CEO & Founder, WebCongress
The event started 10 years ago in Barcelona. He needed to make himself known and the best way he knew how to do that was to organize a conference. They actually lost money on the first conference, so they needed to do a second conference to recoup the cost and they just kept going.
The focus on collecting data from attendees before they ask them to pay for a ticket so they can tailor the value prop to that attendee. The more you know about your attendees, the more you can serve them. Each opportunity is an opportunity to collect data from attendees.
They encourage the speakers to be on the floor and engaging with attendees during the event taking pictures and interacting with people. It appears organic, but the experience is carefully crafted. Set up these experiences to drive attendee engagement during the event.
Attendees go to the event for the content and the remember it for the recognition. They give out digital badging through Accredible, which expires each year, to keep attendees coming back each year to renew.
You can use walls.io to create social screens to display user generated content around your event to encourage people to share moments through the event. Apps like Zunos help gamify the event and encourage attendee competition.
They promote event on Facebook in both the actual event and brand awareness. The best return is using messenger to start conversations. They tell the story and get people to buy into the story around the event.
Instead of banking on press to drive attendance, they have 50 key partners to drive attendance for an average of 1,000 attendees. They do giveaways of tickets to groups like WeWork. The group promotes via a Google form and then they giveaway a ticket every Friday. People show interest by giving away their data. If they win, great. If not, you can offer a special discount. They sell to an average of 5% to 10% of the list, but it’s extra sales they weren’t counting on.
[Tweet “Certification that expires each year incentivizes repeat attendees. @ouali #eventgrowth”]
Community Building & Partnerships: How Angie Became One Of The Most Influential Women In Tech
Angie Chang | CEO & Co-Founder, Girl Geek X
The event started as a series of meetups that were very low budget with some inexpensive wine and cheese and some content. It evolved into a community of over 170 events across the country. All the events are listed on the website for people to join.
For most companies, nothing is successful the first year. It’s a slow build that takes time. You want to form long term partnerships that can grow over time. Be mindful of doing too much and spreading yourself too thin. They are moving to virtual events instead of more live events to reach more people. Virtual events allow you to meet your audience where they are. Girl Geek utilized this strategy to reach senior level executives who might not come out to a Meetup or live events.
People want to know that they aren’t wasting their time on either the content or the speaker. Publish who is coming through Eventbrite so people know who they can meet at your event.
Start you mailing list as soon as possible when starting an event. People will always use email so it’s a lasting platform. It’s reliable and the format doesn’t change, unlike social networks that change every five years or so.
Recruit diverse speakers who can draw a diverse audience that will buy tickets to your event. It’s very difficult to get bigger name speakers from large companies due to the amount of hoops they have to jump through.