If you have managed an event of any size, you know that saying “it’s a lot of work” is an understatement.
From vendors and sponsors to speakers and volunteers, there’s a multitude of stakeholders involved in your event’s success. Even an eight-year-old’s birthday party requires invitations, catering, food, and decorations (not to mention, the ability to wrangle 15 children with a sugar rush).
Instead of a children’s party, imagine you are running one of the biggest marketing events in the country: Content Marketing World.
It all started in 2011 when Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi decided to host the organization’s first event. He had a starting event planning goal of 100 attendees.
As it turned out, Joe could have set his sights higher. He surpassed his goal by more than 600%, with a total of 660 attendees.
Image source: Content Garden
Now, just seven years later, that event has evolved into an annual occasion looked forward to by content marketers from around the world.
Don’t believe me?
This year, the organizers are expecting close to 4,000 attendees, and the closing keynote speaker is THE Tina Fey. (Tina Fey deserves “THE” before her name. For many of us, she is the equivalent to Madonna. Or Cher. Or any other superstar who is known by one name.)
Running an event of this size is no easy feat. It involves a team of 29 people working day in and day out year round. One of these dedicated professionals is Cathy McPhillips, Vice-President of Marketing for the Content Marketing Institute.
Here, Cathy shares 12 event management tips from herself and the CMWorld team.
No matter how big or small the event, all corporate event planning involves the same fundamentals.
Whether your event is for 100 or 100,000 people, these tips can be utilized throughout your event management process. With advice on speakers, sponsors, and more, use these tips to meet and exceed your event marketing goals.
Events are all about the details.
This is the No.1 trait Cathy recommends looking for in an event planner, and it applies to anyone involved in the event marketing management process. She explains “an event planner thinks of every experience an attendee might have. They want to make it the best it possibly could be, down to the smallest detail.”
When you’re planning an event for thousands of people with approximately 250 speakers, it is no small feat.
Image source: Lee Odden, TopRank Marketing Blog
In the lead-up to Content Marketing World 2017, CMI’s lead event planner compiled a spec book of more than 100 pages, which contained every detail you could imagine. From speakers and sponsors to speaker requirements, right down to the last specially ordered meal, it’s all there.
The lead event planner runs through this book page-by-page, hour-by-hour, to ensure every element is in place across the entire convention center.
The next time you’re planning an event, take comfort, as chances are publishing a book isn’t part of your process!
However, even without a book, you can’t forget the importance of documenting and writing down everything. Use an event planning checklist, and be sure to have a clear timeline.
For a larger event, such as a conference, consider working with an event planning company.
Remember that event goals tie into to your marketing goals. And, those marketing goals exist to further the company as a whole.
The mission of Content Marketing Institute is to advance the practice of content marketing. Given they are marketing to marketers, it makes sense the company practices what they preach with a wide range of content, including email marketing, webinars, and ebooks.
Content Marketing World furthers the company’s purpose by moving the educational experience from the digital world to a face-to-face experience.
Consider your company’s mission. What goal does your business aim to achieve? How can you use your event to further that goal in addition to your marketing KPIs?
As a marketing professional, yes, you want people to recognize your company’s name. But, more than that, you need prospects to know what your company does, too!
TIP: Integrate your marketing and event efforts and maximize your strategy with event marketing software.
While almost every job in marketing has its trying times, few marketing careers match the condensed periods of high-stress required by those managing events.
Professionals in event planning are highly organized have a love of people. They enjoy working with others, they’re experienced problem solvers, and they truly care about making their event an experience guests will love.
That’s why events are personal. Speaking from experience, every event you manage includes a tiny piece of you.
This passion applies not just to Cathy, but all 25 Content Marketing Institute employees involved in the planning and execution of Content Marketing World. In the words of Cathy, “It has to start with our team. If our team isn’t passionate and interested in our event, then we can’t expect anyone else to be.”
There’s an event marketing mantra if I’ve ever heard one!
Whether are an event marketer or event planner, event promotion (getting attendees to your event!) is a critical factor in executing an event marketing strategy.
One of the best ways to increase event attendance goes back to the marketing goal of increasing brand awareness.
So, how did the experts at Content Marketing World grow event attendance from 660 in 2011 to roughly 4,000 in 2018, reaching marketers from over 50 countries?
Image source: NewsCred
With a non-stop focus to appeal to new attendees every year.
Consider it a lesson for all of your marketing plans: Even if you already have an established community, never stop growing it.
Content Marketing Institute does this by making sure they are always in the right place to engage with their community, especially on social media platforms LinkedIn and Twitter.
This is where the passion comes into play. If employees are passionate about your company and event, they will be willing to share it on social media.
Content Marketing Institute’s Community Manager Monina Wager provides content for employees to share with their personal networks. Cathy explains “We start with our team and make sure they know everything that’s going on. Our creative and marketing teams enable them with images and pre-written tweets that they can customize for themselves.”
Not everyone who is active on social media is a marketer. Providing this content for both Twitter and LinkedIn makes it easy for all employees to share your event. In addition, you ensure your key message points remain consistent.
As Cathy puts it, “We want to do everything we can to set employees up for success. Monina also makes sure to track how our team’s marketing efforts stack up so we can adjust our strategies to make their time as effective as possible.”
Here you can see an example tweet from Lisa Dougherty, CMI’s Director of Blog Operations & Community:
Having passionate employees share your content is one of the best ways to grow brand awareness. Think of event promotion as a step-by-step process. First, people need to know about your company. Then, when they subscribe to your emails, you can market your event.
When you execute this strategy, the ability to personalize content can’t be forgotten. Otherwise, everyone sounds the same, and social media shares lose their authenticity.
And, speaking of social media marketing...
Before promoting the event, promote your speakers.
This tactic works any time you have speakers who provide real benefit to your attendees (as any speaker should!)
Monina maintains a list of event speakers. Before even mentioning the event, she first promotes the person on Twitter. Then, when it comes time to promote Content Marketing World, their audience is familiar with these influencers and appreciates the insights they have to offer.
Step two of this speaker social media strategy is enabling speakers to promote the event on social media. (It’s not only the Content Marketing Institute staff that Monina provides with customized content!)
All speakers are provided with images and pre-written content, personalized for their specific topic and presentation. Everything they need is ready and waiting.
It takes time, but it is a strategy you too can implement, and one that pays off.
In the words of Cathy, “the engagement is amazing.”
Content Marketing Institute has their event website built and launched by December, nine months before the event.
Speakers aren’t even announced until mid-January, but with Content Marketing Institute’s reputation, marketers are ready to book year after year.
Opening registration in December gives a strategic benefit. If there is any budget remaining from the year, paying for the conference in December ensures it doesn’t go to waste. Plus, the longer you promote, the higher your event turnout!
Starting early also enables you to have discounted tickets and early bird specials. Content Marketing World doesn’t just have an early bird discount; they also have super-early-bird rates
Take a look at the deadlines for discounted tickets for the 2018 event registration:
Here you can see the opening of an email sent out before early bird ticket prices ended:
Your event marketing strategy should include promotion across a variety of channels. For a large-scale event, consider following Content Marketing World’s lead and promoting across the following channels:
Did I forget to mention that Tina Fey is the closing keynote speaker this year? No? Well, can you blame me? Who doesn’t want to write about her!
Tina is Content Marketing World’s first female closing keynote speaker. When I asked Cathy about her excitement regarding Tina’s speaking, her answer was off the charts. It also immediately became apparent what Tina has to offer content marketers:
“If you look at what she’s done, she’s an amazing human being. She’s done so many different things. She’s more than an actor; she’s a writer, producer, director, and author. She is out there willing to take these broad leaps. It shows all of us in the marketing world - just take that jump. You may not always know what you’re going to come up with, and if it doesn’t work out, then try something else. But, that leap might just pay off. She can teach us so much about stepping out of our comfort zone.”
So how did they secure Tina as a speaker, and how can you apply it to your event?
It starts with your attendees: Find speakers who are relevant to them.
Conferences come with a big price tag. Finding a speaker who suits your budget and gives actionable insights to attendees takes a lot of work and plenty of research. Start by talking to your team; have a brainstorming session and ask for suggestions. Then, as you move further into researching speakers, ensure attendee relevance remains your No.1 priority.
TIP: Find speakers who inspire and engage your attendees by searching the G2 database of women speakers.
When you have made your decision, and it’s time for your company to approach a keynote speaker, Cathy advises giving speakers a reason to participate in your event. Don’t just say you’ll pay them; they can get a paycheck at any event.
When you ask a keynote speaker to work with you, think of it as a sales pitch. Give specific examples that display why that speaker should want to work with you too.
We’ve covered keynote speakers, but what about your other presenters?
Whether you are sourcing locally for a speaker presentation or panel discussion, or you are looking nationwide for conference tracks and breakout sessions, every speaker matters.
Source speakers who will give your attendees specific takeaways. Content Marketing World’s breakout sessions are all built around brand practitioners. Rather than inspirational sessions, they’re hands on.
These speakers should be able to demonstrate to your event guests, “Here’s what my problem was, here’s how I fixed it, and here’s how you can do the same.” Then, when back at the office, your event guests will have specific actions they can take. (This also provides attendees with a reason to get approval to attend your event next year!)
Image source: Content Marketing World
The motivational part comes into play with the speaker’s presence. While you do need a speaker with tactical takeaways, charisma helps too. A great speaker will get attendees excited to put learnings into action.
Plan plenty of time to book speakers. Content Marketing Institute has their call for speakers in mid-November, with it closing in mid-December.
After the event, utilize your post-event survey to measure the success of speakers. While Content Marketing World uses their survey to measure a variety of factors, the most critical event metric is speaker evaluations. If a speaker does not achieve a minimum rating of four-out-of-five, they are not invited back.
In a B2B event marketing strategy, your speakers are your event. Cathy and team are all well aware of this fact: “Speakers are critical to the event. If we can’t deliver on speakers, we’re not doing our job right.”
While your post-event survey doesn’t need to be lengthy, you do need to have questions relating to your speakers. Use a rating scale like Content Marketing Institute, and you will have a quantifiable measurement system.
Having this feedback on speakers will also give you insight as you look for new speakers at future events.
If you are running an annual event, keep it consistent. Content Marketing World is always held the days immediately following Labor Day. Doing this gives your guests plenty of notice for planning.
Personally, I know this works for Content Marketing World!
I don’t need to go to the event website to look up the event date, all I need to do is check my calendar for Labor Day weekend. And, it’s pretty much a given that will always be the first week of September.
Sometimes you can’t book the same weekend every year. Maybe your venue isn’t available, or your keynote speaker has a conflict. In that case, do your best to run your event in the same month if possible, or at least that time of year.
Hold weekly meetings with the most active members of your event management team, including marketing and operations.
Every few weeks, have a more extensive meeting involving additional stakeholders, such as the finance team, who can keep you on track with budgeting.
Ensure your event planning team has clear roles and action items. To do this, have a timeline that spells out what needs to happen when. Make sure each person is aware of the tasks they are responsible for, and keep the team informed on progress or blockers in which you need help.
For example of specific tasks consider Content Marketing Institute’s division of the work. They have a project manager who oversees the program guide and a program director who manages event signage. (Among many other tasks!) All of these documents are kept on a shared drive for anyone to access.
Consider using project management software to ensure updates and documents are accessible to all team members. The Content Marketing Institute editorial team uses Trello to manage their content production process.
When thinking about how to get event sponsors, focus on their needs first. Content Marketing Institute knows their event sponsors are B2B marketers, meaning they want leads.
As a result, Cathy and her team do everything they can to help sponsors attain them.
Make sure your sponsors are engaged, interested and invested. Provide them with specific instructions on what to do before, during, and after the event.
For example, this year’s conference theme is “Game On.” The sales team at the Content Marketing Institute provides sponsors with advice and experiential marketing ideas that give attendees more interaction than your typical trade show booth.
Content Marketing Institute also finds success by giving an incentive to commit early. Event sponsors receive a map of the expo hall. Once they sign the contract, they can choose their position from the remaining available spots.
There’s nothing like a little bit of FOMO to assist in getting that contract signed!
If you’ve ever been to Content Marketing World, you know: It’s all about the orange! And I do mean everything; even the food is orange!
Having attended the conference for the first time in 2017, when speaking to Cathy I had to find out the history behind the orange. The answer? It started with a logo and grew from there.
Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi chose an orange logo. Deciding to stay on-brand, every now and then Joe would wear an orange tie. As the orange accessories continued to accumulate, soon the team and even attendees were decked out in the vibrant color.
As Cathy describes, it was an “organic build” that has now become a central part of the event. “As ‘un-businesslike’ as the color orange is, it helps give our event and company personality.”
How can you apply this to your event?
Find what makes you unique, then look for a way to make it fun.
Think about it: Have you attended any other events where both speakers and attendees make a point of wearing the company colors?
Orange the signature of Content Marketing World, and part of the event’s anticipation. (Believe me; on the flight to Cleveland the ladies next to me were talking about buying orange sweatshirts.) Not only that, it is an element attendees love sharing on social media.
Whether it’s your company’s logo, history or values, what can you turn into your event signature? Find unexpected elements that you can continue to build on every year.
These are the elements people go home and tell their friends about. It makes you memorable and gives people a reason to come back. (I wonder what orange food will be at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland this year!)
Content Marketing World is a unique event with lessons any company can apply to their event marketing strategy. Focus on the details, and find ways to set up both your sponsors and speakers for success.
Make sure your event ties into your company’s purpose and your marketing goals; look for what makes you unique in the value you provide.
And, don’t forget to maintain an element of fun!
Make sure you check all your bases with out conference planning checklist.
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Kristen’s global marketing experience extends from Australia to Chicago with expertise in both B2B and B2C industries. Specializing in content, conversions, and events, Kristen spends her time outside of work time acting, learning nature photography, and joining in the #instadog fun with her Pug/Jack Russell, Bella. (she/her/hers)
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