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Likes, comments, hashtags and retweets. We love them in abundance. But amid a growing tech backlash, I am keen to speak up for the physical world of handshakes and eye contact: Events.  

Getting the face-to-face bit right matters more than ever. Here’s how you can up your event selection strategy.

Twenty-twenty vision

I look forward to Money20/20 every year. I've enjoyed attending, watching the event evolve and following the story of its founders – two serial entrepreneurs – as they continue to disrupt the B2B events industry. While not all events boast 15,000 attendees, Money20/20 has traits that top events share.

Speakers are almost everything. They are the most tangible asset and that which most closely represents a ‘product’ prior to the event –- everything else is just a concept. It is the best indicator for success – the calibre of speaker closely correlates to attendees. Be particularly mindful of the release date of speakers. Events with a full line-up three months earlier are on strong trajectories. Shows like Money20/20 operate a year-round event cycle, so expect speakers established much sooner.

Consider the buy-sell ratio. We’ve all been to conferences swamped with service providers. Review the speaker line-up. Look for those at the top of the value chain to dominate – typically government figures and senior business heads from the buyer community. Smart organisers will exercise price discrimination to incentivize the most commercially interesting part of the value chain. Money20/20 has both a retailer’s and a government rate. Beware of free passes, which can lead to unpredictable (and frequently much lower) attendee numbers than advertised.

Don’t underestimate the news cycle. Recent PSD2, MiFID II and GDPR allow agendas to resonate with their target audiences. Find events that speak to regulations that impact your customers.Watch out for the piggyback events though that use this as a false hook – the proof is in the pudding. As I recently heard from Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO speaking at Sibos, “you can’t be cool by association.”

Peripheral vision

Companies must see events as an opportunity to begin a longer campaign of engagement – before, during the after the show. Money 20/20 Europe had 26,000 social posts and 35 million impressions – an incredible opportunity for conversation.

If you’re sponsoring or speaking at a conference, often a simple way to engage ahead of the event is by partnering with the conference organisers on a content piece. It’s a win-win – the organisers get to engage their audience with content to drive leads, and you get an additional (and perhaps complimentary) platform for exposure.

Focus must not be lost on your core event objectives – whether it be lead generation, brand awareness, thought-leadership or deal making.  Defining the ideal outcome can be the best way to start. Whatever your objective, the reason that I think events are still such a key part of the marketing mix is their ability to foster face to face relationship building and deal making - the very fundamentals of business. The most successful events are often those that keep things simple, focus on doing business and have a clear buyer-seller model.

With industry event calendars bursting at the seams, the task of spotting winners, maximising your investment and anchoring to your core marketing and communications objectives might distort this apparent simplicity. As my maths teacher, Ms Kiss, used to say: Keep It Simple Stupid. There is certainly an appealing simplicity of connecting face to face with a prospect, having the right conversation and delivering the right message - at the right time and place. By defining your objectives, understanding the criteria for a strong performing event and playing the digital card at the right time, you can achieve your vision of success. If you’re participating in Money20/20 Asia next month, don’t forget to #keepitsimplestupid.

Phil Chadney runs business development for Cognito in London