With Content Marketing World just a few days away, I’ve been pondering the importance of in-person events as part of the overall content strategy. With most enterprise marketers focusing on digital content these days, sometimes the in-person aspect of our content strategy can fall by the wayside.
Here are a couple of research points to keep in mind:
- In each of the last four years, in-person events have been ranked as the most effective content marketing tactic in our content marketing benchmark research.
- More enterprises are launching events in 2013, compared to 2012 (details to come on this research in a few weeks).
If your goal as a content marketer is to become the leading informational expert in your business niche, then your content marketing strategy simply must include in-person events.
To that point, here are 11 insider tips that have helped us transform our annual Content Marketing World conference into the largest content marketing industry event in the world — and the key component of our content strategy.
- Planning: Start your production schedule for the event at least 12 months out. For our inaugural #cmworld event (which took place in September 2011), we began planning as far back as September of 2010.
- Partnering: Once we picked the location and the date, we coordinated a special lunch (free, and by invitation only) to some of the leaders in the regional community, extending invitations to potential sponsors, speakers, and influencers. Immediately after the event, we signed up a platinum financial supporter and recruited a few speakers and media partners, as well.
- Sponsorships: Identify a few key financial supporters, and pitch them on the idea before any promotion begins. Sell them on the mission of the event, and explain how their participation might best serve their own marketing goals. Having recognizable sponsors lined up before the first email promotion goes out makes a huge difference when it comes to generating interest and registrations.
- Speakers: Let’s face it: If you want your event to endure as an annual event, the content you present to your attendees has to be best-of-breed. Assign a true industry expert to handle the speaker submissions, and remain true to the mantra: No sales pitches allowed. Keynotes are great, but every speaker you recruit must be able to drive people to the event because they are that good. From 12 to 6 months out, your speaker coordinator should be attending other relevant industry events to learn who the best and brightest minds are, so you know whom to approach.
- Venue selection: Negotiate with a venue that can easily expand (or contract) based on final attendance. In our initial negotiations with our first venue, we estimated attendance at 150 delegates. When we ended up with a final tally of over 600 attendees, the venue we chose had the flexibility to easily accommodate with the additional space we needed.
- Budgeting: Remember, sometimes you gotta spend money to make money. Recruit (and pay) at least one heavy hitter for your event to create some buzz around the conference. We took a big risk by signing director and screenwriter Kevin Smith (aka “Silent Bob”) to speak at our first event. I remember when we announced this at SXSW in 2011 — from the buzz it generated, you could tell this high-profile booking put us on the map as a serious conference to consider.
- Hashtags: Most conferences flat out get this wrong. Don’t pick a hashtag that is either already in use or includes a year in it (i.e., CMW2013). What you want is a hashtag (like #cmworld) that you can own and that you don’t have to change every year. I never understand why events choose a new hashtag every year. Because we own our hashtag and don’t have to update it for every event, it can be used as an ongoing communication channel and a means to grow our audience.
- Event hospitality: We hold ongoing meetings with local hotels, taxi companies, transportation divisions, the convention and visitors bureau, and any other businesses that our team and our attendees might patronize throughout our events. Having a taxi driver who is familiar with the event you are headed to can make a huge impact on an out-of-town attendee’s perception and enjoyment of your event.
- Your content calendar: Your event can serve as a way to distribute content as well as an ongoing content creation resource. But in order for it to succeed on both fronts, you will need to create a strategic content plan. We launch our annual research at our event, plus we use the event to kick off our editorial calendar for the next year. How? We talk to our customers and find out what sessions resonate the most with them. We also record every session, so that we can repurpose that content into other formats throughout the year, including blog posts, eBooks, and infographics. I cannot stress how important recording the event is. Yet, the sad truth is that almost 90 percent of the events I keynote for do not record the content in any way. What a lost opportunity!
- Staffing: Designate a team member to take ownership of the event and be totally accountable for all the moving pieces involved. Adding these (considerable) responsibilities onto someone’s regular job description will never work as effectively as having a team member who’s fully focused on and dedicated to the success of the event. For example, our event director has a specifications handbook for our event that easily surpasses 100 pages. Part-time focus simply won’t do.
- Content niche: Does the main theme of your event content align with your organization’s content marketing mission statement? Are you going niche enough, yet still allowing opportunities to grow and expand your event’s perspective? Create content around relevant topics that you can truly own, and position your brand as the true industry thought leader in this area.
Do you have any additional recommendations that have worked for you when conducting live events as part of your content marketing strategy? What have your biggest challenges been in launching an event? Please comment below — I’d love to hear about it!
Joe Pulizzi’s latest book, “Epic Content Marketing,” will be released in September 2013. Preorder it now on Amazon.com.