Updated 3/8/16 at 2:15 pm.
Events, of course, have become an integral revenue driver for all publishers, no matter which market segment they’re in. But much like the media landscape, events have evolved as audiences change the way they prefer to access information and as brands and suppliers adjust their marketing strategies. Here, we spoke with several publishers to see how their event platforms have changed to better align with audience and sponsor business interests, as well as their own balance sheets.
“You have to know your market, what makes that audience tick, and the needs of suppliers,” says Alicia Evanko, senior VP of Northstar Travel Media’s travel group. If you don’t do that, you’re in trouble.”
Evanko notes that the events market, particularly for B2B media companies, is not the same as it was 10 years ago. “It has changed drastically. In the early 2000s, tradeshows were huge. It was a spray and pray mentality. People just came. You didn’t have to be that strategic because there wasn’t that much competition. Now, all sorts of conferences are popping up.”
Following the recession, attendee and revenue numbers dropped sharply and suppliers began to emphasize strict attention to marketing ROI. Audience quality was getting renewed attention from sponsors and advertisers—and not just for magazines and websites. Exhibitors began holding publishers accountable for attracting the right kinds of buyers. “Across the board, people were seeing attendance decline and getting complaints from exhibitors about audience quality,” says Evanko.
That led Northstar to begin offering hosted-buyer events where attendees were carefully vetted and invited to attend a smaller scale, but much more targeted event. Attendee travel expenses were paid for with the expectation that they’d have a full roster of appointments with exhibitors.
Northstar is currently running two hosted-buyer events, in addition to other more traditional event models—it does about 50-60 events per year. Because of the up-front cost of hosting the attendees—about 100 are invited to attend and meet with a similar number of exhibitors—margins are much lower than traditional tradeshows, but Evanko insists the model will pay off in the long term—especially since exhibitors are guaranteed the right audience.
Northstar also runs Phocuswright, a travel research and event group that produces a conference each year that pays particularly close attention to content quality. At 1,500 attendees, it’s the largest event at the company and also charges a premium $4,000 ticket price. The attendee target is the senior executive and Evanko says the content has to be premium quality, year after year. “We’ve continued to make sure the content is cutting-edge to attract the senior executives. People want to be in that kind of company. The production quality is unbelievable and every year we continue to invest in it and improve it. There’s absolutely no paid content, ever. And we don’t discount, we maintain price integrity.”
One-day summits became another go-to model for publishers. Easier and cheaper to produce, they are quick-hit events that bring in less revenue than a tradeshow, but occur more frequently. The trick is to keep them from spreading margins too thin.
“The top priority this year is doing a lot less one-day conferences,” says Stephen Saunders, founder and CEO of communications technology media company Light Reading. “All of the money was coming from eight of these events, but we were doing 20. They were all driving rev- enue but only a few were driving profitability. They became dilutive in terms of who we were selling them to. Most of them were being pitched to the same 20 companies.”
So Saunders trimmed the number of events down to the core profitable ones. The programing content from the rest was folded into Light Reading’s main conference and expo. “Now we’re left with the cream of the crop and they’re selling out six months in advance. We don’t have that scrum where we’re promoting events two weeks out.”
From there, Saunders recommends focusing on four main areas.
Location, Location, Location
“We had one of our events in Chicago. People were loving the content, but not the location. What Chicago lacked was the appeal of a destination for reasons beyond technology. We surveyed our audience and 41 percent chose Austin, Texas. When 41 percent say they want to go somewhere, you go there.”
“A lot of people say they support our events because they’re a representation of the telecom community. But if you want to stay a community, you have to have community activities. Entertain them, take them out and put on events that treat them like a community. Some of these activities might not have a clear business case. It might be money going out and not coming in, but you should be doing nice dinners or excursions.”
“We don’t do tradeshows. We do a combination of conferences and expos. If you do that model, you have to make sure the conference is very good. With Light Reading, I can put the whole company to work. I can have the person who covers a particular topic do that part of the agenda. I have 30 people working on my conference. That provides a huge return in terms of quality. It’s very difficult for other publishers who only have two or three full-time editors to do that. Or, often if they have the staff they’re not putting them to work on the event. It should be part of people’s job descriptions. I don’t understand how a factory approach to events works—putting an event manager in charge of 20 events and the programming, too.”
Shake Up the Show Floor
“We put demos on the show floor called Interop. It’s a unique feature in the expo attendees can’t get anywhere else and it focuses on the most contentious trends in the industry.”