Archive for January, 2014

28
Jan
14

On target and in the money

11272851-concept-success-red-dart-hitting-a-target-vector-signNow that you’ve settled into 2014 (maybe? sort of?), you’re probably planning an exciting lineup of events.

Maybe your goal is to attract as many participants, from as many demographics, as possible. After all, hundreds of attendees translate into thousands of dollars, and everyone loves a strong revenue stream. Right?

Not necessarily, according to Jeff Hurt, executive vice president, education and engagement, for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.

“When you create education sessions for everyone about everything, you can’t go deep into the issues and challenges that your audience craves,” he said. “You miss the opportunity to create programming that participants feel was prepared just for them, and ultimately, your conference programming becomes generic. It’s vague and feels like wet, soft, mushy Melba toast.”

So instead, take a lesson from successful marketers. The golden rule of marketing is to identify your target audiences, which are the groups of people who are most interested in your product or services. They’re also the most engaged in your messaging and marketing efforts.

A good example: education tracks. Segmenting sessions into audiences – administrators, planners and vendors, for instance – allows you to cater to specific needs. So when another need arises, these grateful participants may turn to you for business, membership and additional educational opportunities.

At the same time, it’s a good idea to keep vendors’ interests in mind.

Hurt said some associations with significant tradeshows make 60 to 70 percent of their revenue from exhibit booth sales, while another 10 to 20 percent of revenue comes from sponsorships and advertising. According to Hurt, usually exhibitors want: qualified leads; face-to-face time with purchasers, decision makers and budget officers; and the opportunity to bond with current clients.

Jeff Hurt

Jeff Hurt, executive vice president, education and engagement, for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hurt.

“If you see your conference audience as a homogenous, faceless clump of people, you’ll have a hard time selling them as the right audience for your exhibitors and sponsors,” he said. “Instead, think of them as a long line of individuals waiting to have a conversation with you. Do you want to talk to every one of them? Or do you want to seek out the individuals who have the authority and responsibility to purchase products and services for their organizations?”

In short, target audiences at conferences and expos should comprise those groups that are most important to your exhibitors and sponsors. Once you determine those audiences, focus on their needs when developing educational content and choosing speakers.

In other words: You’ll generate the most revenue when you determine which customers will have the greatest impact on your exhibitors and sponsors.

A little market research will go a long way when planning your conferences and events, so for starters, pick up a good marketing book to learn more about target audiences.

Make sense? How do you meet the needs of your target audiences?

21
Jan
14

What’s in store for 2014?

This week’s guest blog post is by Alexa Stanard, editor of Michigan Meetings + Events magazine. I asked her to speculate on what 2014 might bring for the meetings and events industry. Here’s what she had to say.

Alexa Stanard

Alexa Stanard, editor of Michigan Meetings + Events magazine.

In the magazine business, we generally have to think many months ahead. This is tricky; it’s a psychological leap to imagine a June wedding or a fall association meeting when it’s 14 degrees outside. It also means trying to gauge what’s going to be on everyone’s mind well before it actually is.

The meeting and event industry is much the same way. Savvy planners must be thoughtful and attuned to their environments and clients. They have to read the tea leaves, but they also have to know if their clients are black tea drinkers or prefer chamomile. In other words, just because a color is hot on the Paris runway doesn’t mean someone in Milan, Mich., is going to like it. It’s our job to predict patterns and to steer clients to those we think are the most relevant and noteworthy.

Michigan hasn’t been a trendsetting state since the heyday of the American-made automobile. Suddenly, though, that seems to be changing. Everyone’s hot to visit Detroit; Grand Rapids is topping national lists of places to live; and Traverse City keeps crushing it as a vacation destination, somehow figuring out how to lead about every trend – from craft brew making to farm-to-table cuisine – that comes down the pike.

At Michigan Meetings and Events, we’ve taken a few educated guesses at what will matter in our industry this year:

  • A little dirt is a good thing. Farm venues are hot, and Michigan has some great ones.
  • Traditional venues need to figure out how to up their game. Too many people are heading off the beaten path for the ballroom-based spaces to phone it in. Venues need to let planners get creative and should invest in photography of their spaces being used for imaginative events.
  • Self-sufficiency is in, on just about every front. We’re giving up on corporate jobs to start our own one-person businesses; we’re growing our own food and making our own booze; we’re finding ways to save money and be responsible by operating as green and lean as we can.
  • Values matter. People care about where their food comes from, how workers are treated and whether their meeting or event is leaving a giant, carbon-emanating footprint. Few clients will expect perfection on all fronts (even fewer will want to pay for it), but finding ways to integrate a greener, more-humane approach into one’s offerings and operations will pay off.
  • No one wants his or her time wasted, but people still yearn for connection. In other words, use technology thoughtfully. It aids efficiency and the dissemination of information. But effective meetings must also approach people as people. Learning occurs primarily though interaction and connection. Technology is a supplementary tool.
  • Finally, cost isn’t everything. This one is nearly always true, but especially so as Michigan rebounds and as values increasingly take center stage. Compete on cost where you can, but people will pay for value and for values.

If you think I’m missing some key items, tell me! I hope you’ve had the chance to read our Winter 2014 issue, and I hope you’ll send me your feedback on what you read (or didn’t see and would like to.)

Happy 2014!

14
Jan
14

Silence isn’t golden in the dark

?????????????????It was Dec. 21 and we were frosting homemade sugar cookies when our world went black. And it stayed that way – dark and cold – for a week.

After seven days, all our fish were dead. House plants – dead.  Pipes – frozen and burst.  It was a Christmas we’ll never forget, and while it could’ve been so much worse, when the house dropped to 38 degrees and we moved Christmas to my mom’s, it didn’t feel like it.

What we needed then was a glimmer of hope. Some sort of reassurance that power would eventually be restored and things would once again be bright, warm and fuzzy.

But instead, we got silence.

When I called to report the power outage, the recording told me there were system problems and to call back later. When I did, I got the same message – a dozen times.  At the same time, I checked Facebook and Twitter hoping for updates – nothing.

For days, our utility company, Lansing Board of Water and Light, left thousands of us in the dark. Stores ran out of generators, food spoiled and people got sick. And still nothing from BWL.

By now, many of you may have heard about the epic public relations failure of BWL in response to mid-Michigan’s days-long power outage after a major ice storm, dubbed “Icepocalypse.”

BWL pretty much broke every rule of PR 101. In fact, it’s a great case study for public relations students, and researchers and PR firms will have a field day analyzing this communications disaster.

First, media reported that BWL General Manager J. Peter Lark left town to visit family during the outage, thinking it wouldn’t really be “that bad.” At the same time, the company admitted it had no emergency plan in place.

In other words: mid-Michigan’s second largest utility company had no idea what to do and therefore nothing to communicate – which is probably why it took three days for messaging to trickle out on social media.

There have since been a couple public meetings, at which BWL employees mostly carried the floor to praise their leader. And this weekend, BWL took out a full-page ad apologizing for the situation. But most PR pros agree it’s too little, too late.

As a trained crisis communicator, I’ve learned that an organization has about 30 minutes to respond to a situation, even if it’s just with a holding statement. Someone needs to say something to let stakeholders know they’re engaged. And it’s just common sense that the leader should never leave the scene, but instead, rally the troops.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Truscott Rossman.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Truscott Rossman.

“Your reputation rides on how well you perform – especially in a crisis,” said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Truscott Rossman, a Michigan-based strategic communications firm. “Your failure to rise to the occasion will undermine your reputation, short- and probably long-term. If your customers respect and trust you now, don’t lose them because you can’t meet their expectations under difficult circumstances.”

Crisis communications isn’t hard, but it does require preparation. If your organization doesn’t have a crisis communications plan, start one now, while things are calm.

According to Rossman-McKinney, there are three basic rules to crisis communications:

1. Acknowledge the problem with honesty, integrity and credibility. Don’t sugarcoat the facts.

2. Apologize for the situation sincerely and with care, compassion and concern.

3. Actively fix the problem and explain how and when action will be taken, what steps are involved, what challenges may arise, etc.

With these rules in mind, an organization can design its plan. Here are some must-haves, according to Truscott Rossman:

1. Identify your internal crisis team. Usually it’s your executive team and includes the CEO (always!), the COO, legal, HR, PR, etc. The team may vary based on the type of crisis but these are invariably the essential players.

2. Identify all your potential audiences and tier them based on type of crisis: internal (board members, employees, retirees, volunteers, donors, etc.) and external (starting with those directly impacted by the crisis, plus other customers/clients, vendors, suppliers, law enforcement, elected officials, media, etc.)

3. Determine your communications tools and tactics – and make sure you consider access to and credibility of those tools from your audiences’ perspectives. Traditional and digital/social media are both essential but also be prepared to think out of the box. Will phone calls, door-to-door, etc. be necessary under certain circumstances?

4. Know who will be responsible for what aspect of the crisis communications plan and have those folks prepared before a crisis. For example, if you know you will need outside expertise to implement portions of the plan, identify them now.  Also, make sure your spokesperson is the best, most credible individual.  Don’t send out the top dog if he or she comes across as arrogant, defensive, angry and patronizing. Care, compassion and concern are the leading attributes for a spokesperson in a crisis. Hire out if necessary – but make sure you hire credibility as well.

5. Don’t over promise. It’s better to exceed expectations by fixing the situation earlier than people expected than to let them down by missing a deadline.

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate. A vacuum of information from you will be quickly filled by others – and it won’t be pretty. Be clear on what you know, what you don’t know and how and when you’ll provide additional information – and meet and exceed everything you promise.

CrisisCommunications_2I think it’s safe to say that BWL may never recover from its PR nightmare. And I hope you never find yourself sharing a similar fate.

Does your organization have a crisis communications or emergency communications plan? We’d love for you to share it.

07
Jan
14

Snow day productivity: Briefer, clearer, funner communications

First, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2014. Both Kristen and I, together with the Event Garde team, appreciate you following our blog, sharing your comments and post ideas and paying forward those posts that resonate with you most.

snow-day-games-425a-102909This week the combination of snowfall and bitterly cold temperatures delayed back-to-school and back-to-work activities for many in the Northeast. For some, that means a snow day (or two) home with the kids. For others, it means a roaring fire, a cup of hot chocolate and a “Judge Judy” marathon on the television.

And for still others, it means a time to catch up, organize and reflect.

It’s in these moments of reflection I’m reminded that in 2014 we must be briefer and clearer. Forget the top 10 lists and the crystal ball predictions. Forget even the larger-than-life New Year’s resolutions. This year I’m recommending in your communications with members that you simply emphasize brevity and clarity.

So what does that look like?

It means sending fewer communications (electronic and print) that are consistently branded in both look and tone. It also means scaling back those we do choose to send (e.g., limiting our conference brochures, marketing prospectuses and even our one-page letters to only the most pertinent information).

Likewise, I’m advocating for clearer communications. And by this I simply mean identifying and promoting only key messages in our communications with members. When we become too verbose or attempt to share too much information, we often muck up the waters and turn off our audience.

Every couple of months, as I write my column for Michigan Meetings + Events magazine, I have the opportunity to practice this very same exercise. I must routinely edit down a draft of 1,000 or more words to just 400. Ultimately, though, the result is briefer and clearer – and thus more useful and interesting to readers.

wiifmThink about it: As the lines between our personal and professional lives continue to blur, there’s certainly no excess of time or attention as it relates to consuming our various collateral pieces. So if we intend to be briefer and clearer this year, we must think more like a member and less like staff (i.e., What’s in it for me?).

Finally, as someone who often wears the marketing hat by default, allow me to boldly recommend being funner in 2014. Before crucifying me for my use of this non-word, I’ve used it here to illustrate the following point: Have fun, occasionally break from the style guide and use an authentic voice that’s relatable and engaging.

Used together, I’m certain the briefer-clearer-funner approach will increase open rates and readership across your various communications. And, ultimately, this will snowball into engagement, attendance, membership and other success metrics identified by your organization.

Tell us in the comments what you discovered in your moments of reflection this snow day. How might your organization employ the briefer-clearer-funner approach this year?




meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, hot yoga, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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