Rising to the challenge as the bar rises

Philip Low says that organisers that can successfully combine the power of face-to-face with the power of digital and social media will be the ones to produce meetings alchemy

There was a time, not so long ago, when middle and senior executives attended events as a sort of social activity; a chance to bump into old friends and colleagues; a chance to have a good time.

Provided you came back with a pocketful of business cards, it was deemed a success; even if the contacts were never followed up. The event organiser’s main responsibility was to sell space to exhibitors and provide an area for lectures few attended.

This is no longer the case for serious business events. Not only do executives have to justify time out of the office, conference companies have also had to up their game. C-suite executives have to return with sales achieved or orders placed. Events are also an opportunity to explore innovations that will improve profits, and seeking them out has to be planned.

Economic pressures and changing demands resulted in the demise of many established conferences. Companies looked to more cost-effective web events and seminars. However, nothing replaces a well-run, targeted conference.

Today’s events have to be geared to networking by attendees who have the authority to make deals or facilitate them. Organisers have to know their market inside out. Serious research into the sector they serve ensures that the key players are invited: buyers, sellers, the providers of funds for deals, legal experts to bring together the contracts, deal makers who can arrange collaborations. Speakers need to be genuine specialists, thought leaders with real insights.

Quality planning is essential for all. Who needs to meet whom at the event? Whose invitation will get them there? Can appointments be set up, outcomes planned? The more everyone invests in planning, the more they can expect to achieve.

Everybody attending should arrange at least some meetings. In one day they can meet more key people at quality events than they could meet in months at any offices, at a fraction of the cost in time and travel.

The choice of venue is vitally important. It must be accessible for delegates with accommodation nearby. Numbers may be hard to forecast, so the venue needs to have a degree of flexibility. It has also to be attractive to the calibre of people involved, and equally it should not offer a distraction.

As well as the main theatre areas, there should be spaces for social network gatherings, and for meetings of individuals and teams. Other considerations include compatibility of IT equipment and branding.

The marketing of events has changed too. The website has largely replaced the ‘sales brochure’. It should be a reflection of the evolving event, and constantly updated. Adverts and editorial can drive traffic to the website. Email can reach more people at less cost, but needs to be managed carefully. Quality is always better than quantity.

Social media now plays a major role. Speakers and exhibitors can be announced, sponsors broadcast their involvement. Events need energy; lots happening during the build-up and the event, with an eye to next year’s attendance figures. Blogs can feature market news, news from sponsors and exhibitors. Video interviews with key players can be posted and linked to other social media. An app provides another channel.

If the event is all it could be, millions of pounds worth of deals can be struck, or at least initiated. The bar rises each year. There is an increasing expectation that organisers will create opportunities for buyers and sellers, but everyone involved has to contribute. The organiser has to make that happen, too.

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