Advisory Boards: What Are They Good For?
One conference director shares her best practices for leveraging advisory boards to drive event attendance.
As with many media enterprises, when launching an event — whether it be a conference, educational summit, or trade show — the first step is often to assemble an advisory board. Made up of leaders from within an industry or sector, but outside the organization producing the event, advisory boards are meant as an antidote to internal echo chambers, often challenging established ways of thinking and giving event organizers confidence that their conference programming and speaker roster is relevant and valuable to the audience they seek to attract.
But advisory boards can also serve as ambassadors, lending weight and authority to an event and in some cases even recruiting speakers or attendees themselves.
"Our advisory boards represent our target attendee audience, which helps us develop conference programming which would appeal to and attract other attendees like themselves," Luba Hrynyk, conference director for the Design Bloggers Conference — an annual three-day event organized by Adam Japko's Esteem Media to serve the interior design space — tells Folio:.
Despite being nine months away, Hrynyk's advisory board for the 2018 conference (its eighth annual iteration) boasts no less than 12 designers, journalists, and executives, tasked with helping to define relevant coverage topics and keynote speakers, promoting the conference within their own professional networks, and maintaining a presence on-site, introducing speakers throughout the event.
That's no small undertaking; this year's conference, held March 5 – 7 in Los Angeles, contained more than a dozen panel sessions with multiple speakers each, plus a series of workshops, keynotes — Ken Fulk, Amber Lewis, and the Earl Spencer among them — book signings, and other activities.
To assemble a board intended to serve such a variety of purposes, Hrynyk says she leans on Esteem Media's editors for suggestions, as well as past advisory board members, membership associations, and sponsors and exhibitors.
"We recruit new board members who have attended our event, represent our target audience, are highly regarded, and are influencers in the community," she adds.
Given her more than two decades' worth of experience producing professional events — prior to joining Esteem Media, Hrynyk served as a director within PennWell's events business — Folio: asked Hrynyk to provide some best practices for leveraging advisory boards for event success.
Create an advisory board that represents your target attendee audience. Focus on assembling more attendees (buyers, decision-makers, influencers) than suppliers or vendors in your board make-up.
Define your expectations for the roles and responsibilities of your board members and specify what they will receive in return for their participation.
Be organized and conscious of not wasting their time. We typically hold two (one-hour) conference calls with the group before the event as we plan the program, so it is important to be organized with a concrete agenda. Then, we follow-up with summary notes and action items and keep them informed of key decisions in the program.
Use email whenever possible to get a consensus on a new speaker or topic. Or call individual members separately to get their input.
Send them materials and links that they can pass along to their network in order to promote the event. Make it easy for them to pass them along.
Acknowledge their participation and support on the event website, in promotion, and on-site at the event.
Ask for their feedback on a conference call after the event and share the results of the attendee conference surveys post-event.
Decide what the term will be for your members and try to add new members each year.
Learn the ins and outs of producing successful events year-round at the Folio: Show, October 9th to 11th in New York.