It was a long drive from Dorval Airport in Montreal to Chateau Mont Tremblant in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec, but well worth it for the 220 attendees (of whom half were event managers) who made it to the Ninth Annual Computer EventAssociation Summit '99, held July 27 to 29. At the one event of the year where IT event managers were the stars, face-to-face marketers got face-to-face to exchange views on their industry. Following are highlights from three popular sessions on proprietary events and webcasting:
Managing Proprietary Events Proprietary events, like CA World put on by Computer Associates International and SAP's Sapphire, are increasingly popular marketing tools. The first CEMA "Best Practices" session of the conference was a how-to seminar on hosting proprietary events, presented by Mary Gray-Craddock, former manager of corporate events for Platinum Technology Inc. (recently acquired by Computer Associates), and Mary Castellone, manager of marketing events, Cisco Systems Inc. The arguments in favor of proprietary events, said Gray-Craddock, include the ability to completely control the nature of the event and to have great--if not absolute--control over the exhibitor and attendee list. These factors combine to make proprietary events "your greatest one-to-one marketing opportunity," she said, where carefully selected attendees can have easy access to your company's executives, marketers, and technical specialists.
Gray-Craddock pointed to four key tasks to accomplish to get a proprietary event off the ground:
1) Get the support of senior executives.
2) Evaluate the resources available and the extent to whichwill be necessary.
3) Establish a revenue goal. Will this be a cost-of-sales, break-even, or profit-making venture?
4) Establish strategic goals, including marketing objectives, attendance goals, and a process for building content. "Content is the most important reason people attend," she said.
Platinum's objective for its PLATforum event was clear: From 1995 to 1998, Platinum had an aggressive acquisition strategy--buying niche companies in systems management, data warehousing, application development, and e-commerce solutions. "So our goal was to increase industry awareness of what we could offer," said Gray-Craddock. "We also wanted to build and improve relations with industry and financial analysts (which at previous events led to a boost in Platinum's stock price).
An ambitious attendance goal was set, but after the announcement last March that CA would acquire Platinum, it was agreed that to reach the goal, PLATforum would be held in conjunction with CA World in New Orleans.
Controlling Comps A major challenge for PLATforum was to enlist the help of the sales team in marketing the conference without losing control of either complimentary registrations or the customer/employee ratio at the event. "We leveraged our sales force to talk face to face with high-level executives, because they aren't going to respond to a mailer," said Gray-Craddock. She also made it easy for salespeople to download sample cover letters and extra registration forms from a company intranet site. "Every week we downloaded a report from registration company Conference Planners [Burlingame, Calif.] into a spreadsheet so sales could see who'd signed up, so they wouldn't pursue people who'd already registered," she said. "If salespeople got 10 customers registered for the conference, they could go for free. The person with the most monthly registrations got a prize, too."
Vendor Selection Platinum conducted formal RFI and RFP processes with conference management companies, including having them make presentations on how they'd handle registration, housing, all the components. They then chose vendors for different parts of the conference based on what Gray-Craddock and her team saw as their strong points. "I think everyone claims they can do it all," she said. "We were looking to see who could be a long-term partner and also to see who could take us to the next level. For example, before this conference, we didn't have online registration. It took a long time, but it was worth it. The attendees thought our conference service vendors were Platinum employees."
Case History: Microsoft Fixes a Channel Problem On CEMA's final morning, Matt Davis shared a case study of a proprietary event that he created to help solve a particularly obstinate marketing dilemma. Davis, now president of thedaviscompanies, inc., Northville, Mich., was a marketing executive at Microsoft Corp. in the mid- 1990s when the software giant began a vertical marketing push for its then unproven Windows NT sys- tem. Davis's marching orders: Increase the use of Microsoft's NT system by the accounting industry by 200 percent.
The situation wasn't pretty. Among other challenges, less then five percent of accounting software was built on the NT technology, and NT was "getting its butt kicked by Novell's Netware," said Davis. Targeting the country's 47,000 small accounting firms, Davis began his efforts with the standard marketing tactics, including "tons of CPA technology trade shows." But after a year, trade shows, he concluded, weren't the right fitfor the conservative and skeptical CPAs.
Sell Technology Consulting, Not Technology All that time on the road hadn't improved his market share, but it had deepened his understanding of the industry. Davis' research told him that consulting was the area that offered small accounting firms the greatest opportunity for growth. And with that he saw an opportunity: What if he could increase the number of small CPA firms earning a significant income from technology consulting? Rather than trying to sell them on the NT product, he would be selling them a way to grow their businesses and, at the same time, creating a Microsoft distribution channel.
With this change in thinking came the idea for a conference that would help accounting firms prepare for and profit from technology consulting. After a pre-event feasibility study by Exhibit Surveys confirmed the basic premise, The Partners Conference was born, so named because only partners and other senior CPAs were invited to attend.
Education, Not a Sales Pitch One of Davis' goals was to convene the largest meeting of CPAs in history. He advertised in the trade press, worked with accounting societies, hired a public relations agency, and talked up the meeting at trade shows. In the end, his audience of 1,200, who each paid between $700 and $900 to attend the two-and-a-half-day conference, met that objective.
Davis also wanted the meeting to be a learning event, not a sales pitch. He worked with an accounting association to offer continuing education credits for the session and invested in top speakers such as Don Tapscott, author of The Digital Economy. There were also 77 exhibitors who each paid $2,000 to attend, as well as entertainment, including a performance by Mary Chapin Carpenter.
Evaluations came in strong. So much so that what was intended as a one-time event was continued in 1998. "If there had been other effective vehicles," said Davis, "we wouldn't have tried this."
Leverage Your Meeting With Webcasting "We will always do conferences and always do trade shows," said John Santeler, president, Santeler Marketing Group, operators of SMGtv, a webcasting service. "The question is, how can you package what you did and get more out of it to reach people you couldn't otherwise reach? Webcasting lets you take the message you've already created in your introductory event and put it out immediately to a wider audience at low cost." With that, Santeler opened his Wednesday afternoon "Best Practices" session, "Webcasting: Extending Your Event."
Webcasting, according to Santeler, is the practice of presenting live marketing events either as they happen or after the fact via the Web. He began by giving examples of where webcasting could have saved money while expanding the potential audience for an event.
"After IBM held its Lotus e-Business conference, it ran a 25-city roadshow to reach other important audiences," said Santeler. "They really could have used the Web instead."
Strategic/Tactical Challenges Santeler offered four challenges to event marketers considering webcasting:
1) Content and Presentation Style: "Think about any broadcast you watch on TV. Is your webcast just as compelling? How are you packaging it? Are you using a talking head, or multiple cameras and angles and multiple presenters? Is the lighting good? You have to film webcasts differently, with slower transitions and more closeups."
2) Transmission: "You can't treat all recipients of your message the same way. So you need to create multiple transmissions based on how recipients will view it at their end. A good strategy is to use Autosense, which detects the operating system, the browser, and the modem speed, and provides content transmission accordingly."
3) Bandwidth: "Be objective about your audience. You need a good estimate of how many will log on at once and what time of day they'll do it. The Internet is a highway, and highways have traffic jams. We've seen corporations bring down their internal networks from trying to send video over them while conducting regular business."
4) Access: "How does your audience get online to receive your webcast? Are they doing it over a high-speed corporate server or via a 28.8k modem from home? Do you offer an 800- number or chatline to help solve transmission problems?"
Model for Success To meet and beat the challenges of webcasting, Santeler offered advice regarding transmission speeds and capacities and a three-step process for distribution.
1) Create a broadcast center with enough transmission muscle: "The back-end engines are important! How many servers can you use? We segment ours by modem speed, with one server handling 28.8, one for ISDN, one for T1, etc."
2) Adjust the "live-ness" of your event to the bandwidth capabilities of your audience: "You can send a live event out over the Web, but do that only if your audience can view it at T1 speeds. A less risky alternative is to tape the event, then put it on after allowing, say, six hours of time for editing. Or, you can bypass the live event entirely, and simply create an event in a studio. Finally, when the event is over and becomes an on-demand product, you can reduce the bandwidth and transmission speed requirements."
Mary Castellone, Cisco Systems, and Mary Gray-Craddock, formerly with Platinum Tech- ology, offered nuggets of marketing wisdom for those considering a proprietary event: * Brand It--and Leverage the Brand: Devise a conference logo and put it everywhere, including at the end of PowerPoint presentations made to customers. Put out a post-show CD-ROM as a thank-you, containing all the presentations. Program the disk so recipients can't exit without first seeing a promotion for next year's event.
* Exhibitors: Don't let just anyone exhibit. Control the level of presence. Don't let exhibitors sell. Instead, offer event sponsorships: lunches, primary events.
* Evaluations: Focus groups are useful. Ask previous attendees, "What do you need to justify your attendance and the attendance of others?" Use focus groups to set the level of sophistication for the presentations.
* Registration: Offer discounts at 90 days, six months, and nine months after the previous conference. Offer deep discounts to customers who register at this year's event for next year's. Invite user group presidents for free, and give discounts to user-group members.
* Smartcards: Use them to understand more about which events and booths customers are visiting at your conference. Offer points for every card swipe--and extend it to include cards swiped at your booth at other shows.
* Use the Web: Let attendees build their own schedules at the event registration Web site, and allow them to make changes to it online. Have an internal Web site where speakers can upload/download their abstracts, tell you what T-shirt size they need, etc. Offer an on-site, Web-based information kiosk service.
* President--Karen Zunkowski, Novell
* Vice President--Ed Perales, Intel
* Secretary--Sue Otten, Apple
* Treasurer--Jacque Thomas, Tektronix
* Face to Face Committee Chair--Donna Alfred, Compaq
* Face to Face Committee Co-chair--Scott Stubbs, H.B. Stubbs
* Conference Committee--Jackie Young, Intel
* Conference Committee Co-chair--Ben Nazario, Mc2
* Membership Committee--Erika Brunke, Marimba
* Membership Co-chair--Cregg Cannon, H.B. Stubbs
* Communications Chair--Marilyn Kroner, Benchmark Tape Systems
* Communications Co-chair--Virginia Cole, HB Group
CEMA president Karen Zunkowski has been to eight of the nine CEMA Summits and has seen the evolution of her association first hand. CEMA, first named Computer Exhibit Managers Association, took root a decade ago around ITmanagers trying to change the way unions and show organizers worked with the tech industry. Over the years, says Zunkowski, senior manager corporate trade shows and operations for Novell Inc., Orem, Utah, the grass-roots group has transitioned into more of an educational and networking organization for marketing professionals responsible for all shades of event management. CEMA has renamed itself the Computer Event Marketing Association and broadened its scope to respond to the challenges of proprietary events, as well as trade show management. "We would like to see companies take event management more seriously, to elevate the status of the profession," Zunkowski says.