For the fourth year in a row, B2B marketers rated in-person events as the most effective tactic they use in their arsenal of options. In fact, 70 percent of marketers favor in-person events over nine other top tactics, including videos, case studies and eBooks. While you’re probably already using in-person events as a resource for your overall content creation plan, a common challenge is knowing how to best promote the event through relevant content so that its value lives on.
Here are some practical tips on how to get the best ROI out of your events through strategic content marketing. By the way, while these tips are based on my experience with invitational in-person events, they can be used for online events, road shows, industry trade shows, or user conferences, as well.
1. Plan content against a dedicated editorial calendar
Just like you have an editorial calendar for your overarching content marketing strategy, create an editorial calendar that plans out what you will publish leading up to the event. Before we started doing this, it was typical for our team to write a few last-minute blog posts before an event, force-feeding press releases into a blog format and then wondering why we had poor attendance and engagement at the event. It’s much more effective to think ahead and build a month-by-month editorial calendar that maps the conversations, tactics, and channels you plan to leverage leading up to the event. Ideally, for a large event, you’ll want to plan a year out in advance to establish a consistent cadence of conversation that provides a lasting benefit.
A key starting point is checking the content you already have at your disposal that might be relevant. For example, large enterprises may already have a catalog or tracker of all the content they’ve produced, organized by topic. Now’s the time to look at that catalog with an eye toward finding relevant content that can be repurposed to promote your event, including blog posts, white papers, case studies, and videos. Your time is precious, so reinventing the wheel by creating all new content isn’t the best use of it.
Once you have some repurposed content in hand, try organizing your editorial calendar by monthly themes — each one conveying a different “chapter” or facet of your event’s story. For example, for an industry-focused trade show, you might decide to write about the industry’s top five pain points in January, the latest strategies that are currently being implemented by industry leaders in February, and give predictions on the future of the industry in March.
From there, add both your repurposed and newly created content to the calendar each month, aiming to maintain variety in the types of content you publish each month. Just remember: Each piece of content you add to your schedule should tell a coherent, progressive story that speaks to issues that are relevant to potential attendees of your live event.
2. Create a dedicated print publication to accompany your event
We’ve used our in-person publishing industry event, The Next Chapter, as a way to grow our thought leadership, connect with key prospects and customers, and spark conversation around pressing changes they face. For an event that’s focused on publishing, an event-specific print magazine (as opposed to an intangible video or a blog) was an ideal content centerpiece for our audience, serving their interests in print applications and print quality. It was also a meaningful yet appropriate way to communicate our company’s strength in printing solutions.
Even if you aren’t in the print industry, a hard-copy publication can still be a good way to capture the experience of your event in a memorable form. For example, San Diego Comic-Con’s 2014 show created a souvenir paperback book that was given to all attendees — an important and impactful piece of content for an audience that treasures collectibles. Even for an online event, sending recipients a special printed pamphlet with insightful articles related to the event’s topic is a great way to engage your audience before and/or after the event.
To get our publication started, we asked industry thought leaders (analysts, customers, partners, etc.) to write articles — we already had relationships with them through our sales and marketing departments, and many of them were speaking at the event, so this was a relatively easy ask. Session topics served as inspiration for the articles, with the experts from relevant panels penning the articles.
Through a series of meetings that began three months in advance of publication, the core content team met on a twice-weekly basis to discuss progress. Given the busy schedules of many of the contributors, we also held short calls to discuss the content for their articles and work through the editorial process. We also worked with a graphic communications team to plan the layout and the images we would use, and included them in these planning calls to ensure they were getting our full content story.
We complemented the articles from our external contributors with content that our internal subject matter experts had already created (polished into a magazine-ready format), as well as new articles they wrote specifically for the magazine. We even got our media agency in on the act, asking them to write a blog post on using social media in publishing.
All our content creation and curation came together in our print publication to serve as 1) a capsule for some of the ideas being presented at the event and 2) a takeaway item that gave attendees more insight into the sessions that they attended — and did so in a format that spoke to them, as publishing industry professionals.
In lieu of a full-blown publication, you can also consider creating a print newsletter. Whether you create this in-house or use an external solution, these direct conversations with your target audience are great for extending the value of your existing event, and driving anticipation for the next one.
3. Take the pulse of the industry by conducting a survey or research study
Research, especially if it reveals unexpected results, can bring something new to the conversation around your event. Surveys and studies serve as a great source of original content that can easily be repurposed for use across multiple owned channels. Moreover, their results can even be newsworthy, earning you the potential for added exposure on external channels.
For example, for The Next Chapter, we worked with a respected industry analyst firm and a local university to produce a report on how the evolving publishing industry is impacting book manufacturers (our customers) and the market as a whole. Beginning eight months before the event, we worked with the analyst to define the scope of the research and identify the questions and they key survey audiences.
Once the research was completed, we combed through it and transformed the key findings into an easily digestible white paper that we distributed in hard copy to attendees and made available online. We also issued a press release the week before the event on the research findings, and conducted media briefings to amplify the reach of our content. Later, the research was further enriched by commentary, questions, and analysis from our industry’s best writers. It has also lived beyond the event in the form of an infographic.
4. Create an online community
To take the event even further beyond the venue, consider creating an online community that attendees can engage with, both in advance and afterwards. For example, for prominent events — especially those that have substantial and original content to accompany them — a microsite that includes a knowledge bank with event-related content (like white papers, digital versions of articles, videos, slide decks, etc.) is a great way to give the content a fresh platform — and a longer life span.
The microsite should retain core elements of your company’s brand identity, but can also be designed to have a more personal feel. It can also be used to improve event networking by starting dialogue before the event begins. It can convey event-specific messaging, include interactive elements (e.g., quizzes or polls), and be more than just a listing of the event dates, location, and agenda.
Examples of event and topic-specific microsites include the Canadian Urban Transit Association’s Leading the Way Youth Summit and Keen’s efforts for Worldwide Recess Day, which encourage social media contributions. If you don’t have the resources to create a dedicated microsite, curating your event-related content using a tool like Bundlr, is an inexpensive alternative.
How do you take your events beyond the physical venue? Chime in below.
Looking for more guidance on using content marketing to take your event to the next level? Register to attend Content Marketing World 2014, September 8–11, 2014.
Cover image by tpsdave, via Pixabay.com