Event Management Reimagined

December 20, 2017 / POV
Steve Bailey

Modern marketers know that brands need to be welcomed by their audiences if they want to develop trusted relationships. Consumers now have control over that relationship and the content they will consume. But instead of creating barriers for marketers, this creates tremendous opportunities to step back and take a look at our tried-and-true channels for connecting with target audiences and determine how we can turn those methods on their heads.

Event management is an area that is being viewed as an extension of a modern content marketing approach. Events aren’t simply a vehicle for company promotion or sales, they’re a valuable way to capture your audience’s attention and build credibility for a strong, long-lasting relationship.

But what’s the proper approach to ensuring events and conferences are relevant, unique and well-received? The success factors are similar to what we find in other marketing channels today and how we develop content.

People go to conferences for all sorts of reasons: the free stuff, the networking … maybe because their boss told them to. But most often people attend because they want tools and inspiration to take back to their places of business.

In our work with Farm Credit Mid-America, whose Insights Conference is a day and a half of keynotes and breakout sessions aimed at large-scale farmers, we went all in on making the conference program the centerpiece of the event. Yes, we wanted our attendees to be entertained and well-fed, but it was crucial to include speakers who were captivating and consequential.

But what do you talk to farmers about when they’ve heard it all before? Not farming. Our goal for the program was to talk to our audience as business owners first and farmers second. Our content centered on this goal, something that is unusual in the ag space. Our speaker lineup was also unique to the industry. We invited the publisher of Forbes magazine to talk about economic trends. A global futurist talked about how technological indicators will eventually shape industries. A Stanford lecturer and former assistant to the U.S. Trade Representative discussed the essential skills of successful entrepreneurs. These speakers connected the farmer audience with CEO-oriented insights, which was an unexpected angle that gave the conference tremendous value.

We took a page out of our public relations handbook when putting the conference together and focused on establishing credibility by having third-parties tell our story for us. It’s easy to ask people within your organization to lead keynotes or breakout sessions, but those can fall flat and be seen as overly promotional. Besides the welcome address from the CEO, there were few Farm Credit presenters. That’s because we wanted attendees to focus on becoming better operators; connecting Farm Credit’s customers and prospects with perspectives and information that make them more successful today and in the future. We positioned Farm Credit as a curator of various types of business expertise that attendees would consume. When our attendees walked away with a notebook full of next steps for their businesses, they knew that Farm Credit has the ability to connect them with the people who will be beneficial their businesses. And that’s a very important understanding for a long, productive relationship.

At its core, an event or conference is an extension of an overall marketing mix, and just like other channels, it should be entertaining, informative and sticky.

However, because this is an in-person, high-touch channel, it’s crucial to know your audience. Use empathy to learn and understand what your audience is expecting. Will your content resonate with them? Will they find this valuable? While there are clear marketing goals associated with an in-person event or audience, post-event satisfaction and ongoing conversations will determine the overall success.

In our work with Land O’Lakes and WinField United, we developed the Uncharted Waters project and brought it to life at SXSW through through-provoking activities. This included a featured presentation session and guerilla activations with larger-than-life installations that highlighted how much water it takes to produce the food we consume. Uncharted Waters was a compelling conversation starter, and solidified WinField United as a thought leader in and beyond the ag industry. Even as a live event it informed, engaged and inspired consumers to advance the conversation to solving our world’s water crisis.

Event management shouldn’t live on an island in the marketing mix. It should be treated in the same way as native advertising, media relations and content creation. By maintaining a focus on being unexpected, curating the perspectives of related experts, and considering audience expectations, you bring inherent value to attendees by providing access to material they can’t find anywhere else. And that keeps them coming back.