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As usual, January is a time financial services marketers are cranking out plans for 2020 conference participation and marketing.  AFP in Vegas, Money 20/20 in Amsterdam, Sibos in Boston and many, many more.

Companies have made progress on getting returns on their often-heavy investments, particularly in relation to sales activity, seeking to secure systematically more client and prospect meetings, and with better process about tactics to move leads up the sales funnel. 

But there are some areas where I believe many firms are missing opportunities to maximise their presence and budgets. Here are four areas for consideration:

Take your own presentations and thought leadership seriously

In large plenary sessions, those presenting tend to prepare well, though public speaking remains tougher for some.  But there’s also an increasing trend for single company presentations in less formal theatre settings on the exhibition floor, or indeed on companies’ own stands. Speakers need to prepare well, but also be adaptable in relation to size and mood of the audience (who are often drifting in and out).  If you’ve got only ten people in front of you, adapt – don’t plough on with the approach you’d take for an audience of 50. You have to try to get more engagement early.

Other things to consider: 

·      Make sure there are questions in the audience, even if planted.  Don’t make it appear as if it’s an ordeal you want to get through.

·       Make a connection between the slides you are presenting and the materials available to take away. Consider providing slide handouts.

·       If you are on the stage with other presenters from your company or others, don’t check your mobile in front of everyone while they’re speaking.  You need to look engaged.

Get your people out and about beyond your stand

Conferences should really act as a pinnacle of the “360° personal brand” you want your senior team and experts to project – in other words where their expertise, thought leadership, personal aura, influencer networks, media exposure, and social media activity all come together and mutually reinforce each other.  In practice, it’s easy for heavy commitments to client and prospect meetings to crowd out other activities.

There are many reasons for business leaders and experts to be around their own stand. But it’s all too easy, especially in bigger companies, for that to degenerate into a lot of talking to colleagues, rather than engaging outside people.  When you’ve made a big corporate investment in being at a show, your executives need to make more effort in visibility and impact. That should include things like: attending other sessions and asking questions to get extra profile beyond your speaking slots, and promoting that on social media.  Plus walking the floor and making introductions. These days, simply walking the floor can also lead to useful opportunities for vox pop video interviews with media, or other organisations.  

Driving your social media in real time

Twitterwalls may be passé, but using social media in real time has become central to conference marketing. It’s not always done well.  

Tweets saying “come visit our stand” are fine, but not sufficient. You need tweets driving messaging, along with real time flexibility to respond to what is being said at the event.  That means having competent staff or agency partners on the ground. Feeding inform back for others at home base to tweet is only effective to a point.

Make sure in tweets that you flatter clients, partners, and speakers by liberally using their twitter handles in your activity. Prep for this beforehand.

When it comes to taking photos for social media, the focus needs to be on better not more.  Group shots in front of a stand are boring, and grainy distance shots of a speaker and their slides also overdone.  Think about action close ups with your team talking to (unidentified) prospects on the stand, ideally with some branding visible.

Pay more than lip service to the conference’s agenda

Some firms exhibiting at events pay no attention at all to the overall agenda of the event itself, usually because the themes can be so generic and overused.  That’s O.K. – just tell your story.

At some large events, aligning with conference themes can help in many ways:  with the media, potentially in getting selected for speaking slots at short notice, and getting covered  in the conference’s own social media and owned media.

Conference organisers are sensitive to the criticism that conferences are tired and lack new content.  The recent words on the Money 20/20 website are rather striking: “We’ve ripped up the conference agenda. NO rehashed themes. NO sales pitches. NO “thought leadership”. Only the biggest industry questions keeping you awake at night.”  This is followed by a list of eight big questions, some of which feel rather more familiar than perhaps Money 20/20 imagines, but it’s easy to quibble.  The point is – if you can follow and indeed enhance the conference’s agenda, it can pay off short and long term.

Mankind’s urge to meet up in person for commerce seems deep rooted. These days making the most of that in event marketing requires a holistic approach that encapsulates quite a mix of more profound and mundane marketing elements.

Andrew Marshall is Cognito’s vice chairman