I can’t get a client meeting to save my life. I offer lunch, afternoon coffee, even dinner + premium orchestra tickets to see SF Ballet with yours truly (on my best behavior!). The response in March is usually: “So sorry, Stacy! I’m swamped preparing for [fill in the blank] conference. Can you check back with me in mid-April?”
Sales conferences, user/partner conferences, trade shows… they’re all happening right now. To better understand the pre-conference madness that our clients are experiencing right now, I called Jenny Shepherd, freelance events consultant extraordinaire—someone so good at her job, and so extremely in-demand at this time of year, that I had to interview her at 5:30 a.m.
Q: Jenny, how many hours of sleep did you get last night?
A: Not many. Maybe five.
Q: Sheesh; thanks for talking with me. I owe you a grande triple-shot latte. So why is this time of year so busy in the events world?
A: Sales kickoffs usually happen in Q1. Companies are ready to launch their new products, and this is their chance to get sales, partners, and customers all fired up.
Q: What is keeping you up all night?
A: Last-minute details. My job is to ensure that my clients’ participation at their event is flawless, but they have normal jobs to think about as well. Two weeks before a conference, clients often realize, “OMG, I’ll be in Vegas in two weeks along with my entire target audience.” My clients are under huge pressure to impress the field, as well as their customers and partners, so we work extremely hard in the final weeks before the conference to ensure logistics are in place, and meetings are scheduled and confirmed.
Q: What advice do you have for avoiding this last-minute mania?
A: Try to set earlier deadlines for scheduling customer meetings, but be flexible. Executives’ schedules can change at the last moment.
Q: You’ve been in the events business for nearly twenty years, and budgets are tighter now. What’s getting cut?
A: Frivolous, extravagant entertaining. We’re not seeing as many big-time receptions. Clients are more focused on spending quality time with attendees via briefings, customer roundtables, and other small-group formats where it’s easier to meet one-on-one and gather feedback.
Q: What trends have you seen in conference marketing materials?
A: There is a huge push to go green. We handed out a print survey after a session last year, and everyone looked at us like we were crazy. Content previously communicated in glossy brochures and other print handouts is now shown on plasmas. Almost all conference materials are distributed virtually, through the conference website. People from all over the world can download conference materials wherever and whenever they want.
Q: So one could be in the bar instead of in a session, and nobody would ever know.
A: True! In fact, is it too early for wine right now? Joking aside, my clients take their conferences extremely seriously. The team has worked really hard to prepare for their sessions. If sales, partners, and customers don’t get the right message, it could be disastrous for the company.
Q: You knew I was going to ask: What to wear?
A: Always a jacket or sweater—conference rooms are freezing! Comfortable shoes, because you’ll be walking miles, especially if you’re in Vegas. And don’t be caught for a second without your Smartphone.
Q: Any final advice to marketers jumping on a plane soon?
A: You tend to get very dry from all the circulated air. Drink lots of water, and try to get some fresh air. Walking through Caesear’s shopping center—where the sky turns blue, and then fades to a lovely sunset—doesn’t count. And remember to sleep. Although the casino may be calling you, ask yourself, “Who is my target audience?” You’ll need to be “on” the next day!