Unfortunately I couldn’t attend the Conference for Conference Professionals, but I did finally get around to watching the free web broadcast of the CEO panel. The panel included; Greg Hitchen from Terrapinn, Laurence Julliard from Alcatel-Lucent (courageously representing the sponsor side of the equation), Tim Weller from Incisive Media, Uday Singh form Osney Media, Neil Stewart from Neil Stewart Associates, Kim Myhre from George P Johnson and Peter Rigby from Informa via a brief video. After a slow start, a rough audience survey and then intros the panel eventually featured some great insights.
You can watch the whole thing here (I recommend skipping the first 10 minutes and the last 10):
As Drucker once said, “Managers may believe that industry structures are ordained by the good Lord, but they can – and often do change over night”, and this industry is changing rapidly. Fuelled by social media, smart phones and empowered consumers the events business is under going significant transformation. The increasingly low barriers to entry also mean a flood of new entrants, outliers, whom without the burden of standard industry processes will rapidly improve our core product and meet customers needs better than traditional B2B conference providers. Unless we adapt…
Some of the panel highlights for me included:
- Good insights on the threat and potential of technology from Peter Rigby (via a pre-recorded video) got it right when he said technology is a boost not a threat. In my opinion the key is how, where and when you implement it. Apart from the many marketing advantages – technology should be leveraged to add to the experience at the event and potentially improve pre and post event sharing, learning and networking! He also high lighted how the days of sending 50,000 brochures and getting 400 people in a room to sit through 8 presentations are long gone!
- Here’s Peter’s top 3 pieces of advice for any event business: 1) Be innovative and entrepreneurial 2) Create market leading events (and ring fence them) which incorporate multiple media formats and 3) Listen to the customer and adjust the programme and format to meet those needs.
- Greg Hitchen from Terrapinn raised TED multiple times as example of the power of conferences to engage people. He also highlighted his belief that conferences have come of age and that TED is a sign post for the future. He also mentioned how some TED speakers spend 6 months preparing for their session, which is a lot different to some of the prep for a typical B2B event. Greg also shared an interesting concept on the pre and post Laidlaw Paradigm. We have to change the way we think about conferences, what they are, how they are produced and how they are marketed
- A heated debate over sponsored speaking positions polarized some of the panel and didn’t resolve itself, but most agreed sponsors are a key part of our business and their involvement in the agenda needs scrutiny. Interestingly the session ended with a presentation from a sponsor!
- There was a lot of discussion about technology and the need for investment, but eventually there was agreement that technology is a means to an end, it has to enhance the product or experience. Ultimately the events business needs to tap the most powerful element of the medium, the physical exchange of ideas, and technology can help.
- There seemed to be general agreement that virtual events still need some work. The current format and clunky interface doesn’t enhance the event experience.
- Interesting debate on how live streamlining has the potential to cannibalize traditional incomes. But it lacked any real insight into how this ultimately opens your event to significantly broader audience who may not be able to attend that year, but could become advocates moving forward. Neil Stewart shared some insight on how women executives with family commitments may be unable to travel, or just time constraints in general can limit your audience and broadcasting your event can over come these issues, but there was no real debate on the complicated issue of pricing.
- There was general agreement that blended learning can be very powerful, all shared various concepts but the idea of pre-event, live and post event interaction is definitely resonating.
- Kim Myhre shared a great analogy during the discussion about whether face to face events are dying, on the how people thought TV wouldn’t work and its impact on radio. Of course live events will always have a role, if they add value, and we take advantage of the technology to enhance the experience. I think Tim Weller added another interesting analogy that you can’t mate through match.com, eventually you need to meet.
- Neil Stewart had a great quote, “Play with Free you play with Fire…”, he was talking more about broadcasting events but I think it’s relevant to more than just technology, post recession the whole industry is struggling with guesting strategies and trying to recover delegate revenue. If you come for free one year, its very hard to turn around pay the next.
- Some question on ROI and Margins, Greg Hitchen said it best when he said, high margins will continue for those who deliver quality. Quality being defined as quality content, quality speakers and quality audience, with a great brand that perpetuates.
- Someone in the panel summed up the change in our industry simply as, at the start of the modern conference you now say “Please turn your phone on”…
Good panel session, with about as much insight as you can expect from CEO’s whose organizations compete at many levels, there seemed to be some twitter action that it was a little boring but I enjoyed the panel from the comfort of my desk as I cleared my emails from my last trip! That says it all, maybe. A great question from the audience at the end also put the panel in perspective! She pointed out how she (and a colleague) had been unable to download the event app, and didn’t have a smart phone, and how as a result of the chairperson mainly taking questions electronically they had been frustratingly left out of the conversation despite having paid to attend!
What does all this mean for us conference marketers… well it repeats some of the things I bang on and on about on this blog including:
- Times are changing…
- We must adapt our product or outliers will eat our lunch
- We must utilize technology to enhance our market reach and enhance (not detract) from the conference experience
Thanks to all the panelists and the organizers for the free broadcast!