Small, targeted events that attain the sheen of an elite, high-end experience can be highly profitable products and have the added benefit of bestowing a halo effect upon the company that produces them. A panel consisting of Patty Caron, vice president, conference brands, IDG World Expo; Robin Azar, vice president meetings and client events, Fidelity Brokerage; Phillip McKay, president and CEO, PPM Media; and Stephanie McCann, conference director, TechTarget’s CIO Decisions media group, met to discuss some of the critical components of producing a high-end conference during an ABM conference last year.

The Right Experience, the Right Audience

Just because the show is high-end doesn’t mean it should attract only C-level executives. "In some cases, it shouldn’t always be the highest-level executive," says Azar. "It should be the highest level of customer experience instead."

"I’m selling access to a select group," adds McKay. "The C-level might not be the decision makers. It could be a couple of levels down. So audience drives the event."

Should Attendees Pay?

Registration fees are not a given. Just because an attendee is paying doesn’t mean they’re the ones the sponsors want to see. However, a paying customer has skin in the game and is more likely to show. But if restrictive budgets necessitate a complimentary invite, make it a sponsor-driven show. In this case, make sure the event is weighted heavily in networking opportunities. "The pay model is a content-driven model. A free event is a networking and b-to-b model," says McKay.

Sponsor-to-Attendee Ratios

Whoever you invite, keep the ratios at a networking-friendly two attendees to one sponsor ratio.

Sponsors on Panels?

Sponsor involvement in show content is a tricky subject. Some publishers see it as crossing the church-state line, others think that with some strict coaching, vendors can contribute a valuable voice to the discourse. "I don’t allow vendors on the stage," says McCann. "But we do have special breakout sessions where vendors can bring customers for case studies."

"We coach them through case studies so it’s not too pitchy," says McKay. "They contribute to the community, they drive the market."