I just returned from FIA Boca, an annual gathering for the futures, options and cleared swaps industry.
This year the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank during the conference meant decision-makers from clearing firms, exchanges, clearinghouses, trading firms and commodities specialists from more than 48 countries as well as technology vendors, lawyers, regulators, and other professionals serving the industry had to react to major news in real time. Reporters from the Financial Times, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and Risk had to do the same.
Here are my top takeaways from the event:
1. Start arranging interviews two months before – Media relations work needs to start early. I began reaching out to reporters about a month and a half before the event. Even then, some schedules were already completely booked out. Journalists on site said that this can be the one time in the year they have to have in-person meetings with the attendees, so schedules fill up early.
2. Bolster speaking engagements via media placements – Terry Duffy, chair and CEO of CME Group, had an op-ed in the Financial Times in the days leading up to the event. He left a print-out as a leave-behind for a panel on the same topic. He was able to give attendees a deeper dive beyond what he could accomplish in a panel with 9 other executives. This clearly was the result of weeks, if not months, of planning.
3. No launch, no problem – People falsely believe they need major news to attract press on site. They manufacture 'news' and whip up a weak press release. While real news doesn’t hurt, many journalists will take 20-30-minute meetings to make or build relationships. Make sure your executives have something interesting to say. On-the-record meetings are preferred, but there is a place for on-background and off-the-record discussions.
4. Be flexible if you get a late start – Get ready to jump on last-minute opportunities. Cancellations happen. We were able to set up some meetings simply by asking if they had 15 minutes open up for a conversation. Flexibility is key, but even a couple open slots can sometimes be filled.
5. Send reminders and stay in touch – Life is unpredictable. The convolutions in the banking sector drove down session attendance; even some panelists dropped out. I began sending out confirmation emails the night before meetings. While everything went forward, I’m not sure they would have if I hadn’t sent the reminder.
6. Understand your audience when exhibiting – Marketing teams that understood their audience best were the most successful. FIA Boca attendees tend to be senior executives at large, culturally-conservative financial institutions. The exhibitors with the best response were not the ones with flashy booths, but people ready to have conversations.
7. Deploy social media selectively – Some events are easy to follow from afar, with hashtags and frequent uploads. Not FIA Boca. Photos were rare, uploads even rarer. Organizations take note: more people on-site is better than an exhaustive social media plan.
Taylor Fenske is a vice president based in Cognito’s New York office