Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

January 2014

How One Journalist Created a Conference to Suit Her Needs

By Jennifer N. Dienst, Contributing Editor

four-person team, which demanded that everyone wear multiple hats. Events Director Kendall Gemmill originally was brought on to help with sales, but ended up using her experience in the liquor industry and connections with local venues and beverage brands to organize KEEN's three evening events. She also lent a hand with the actual conference, suggesting speakers, liaising with sponsors, and helping out with every other possible component. “Working on a first-year event,” Boissier said, “there are very few areas you don't get involved with.”

Luna also used her well-worn Rolodex to attract an impressive lineup of speakers and sponsors. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean kicked off the opening-night event along with Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. Four tracks — technology, family and entertainment, travel and lifestyles, and food and spirits — attracted speakers like David Spiegel, Buzzfeed's executive director of sales, and Adam Yeomans, bureau chiefforthe Associated Press. A total of 37 sponsors ranged from major companies like CMT and Fifth Third Bank to local businesses like Belle Meade Bourbon. For addi tional help and to keep operating costs down, Luna also brought in interns and asked friends and family to volunteer before and during KEEN.

THE RIGHT PRICE

To entice small businesses and freelancers like herself, Luna tried to make the cost of attending relatively low compared to other industry events. KEEN's all-access pass cost about $300, and the group's room rate at the Omni Nashville ran $179 per night. Comparatively, conferences like SXSW Interactive charge anywhere from $800 to $1,300 for an all-access pass depending on when attendees register.

“It wasn't about numbers the first year, it was about quality,” Boissier said. “For Kristin, the content is much more important. It wasn't about collecting a commission, there was a much broader expectation.”

Luna plans to cap attendance around the 600 mark next year as well as continue to keep prices low so almost anyone can afford to attend. She is also thinking about producing one-day KEEN pop-up events throughout the year as well as adding a tech-focused professional track to next year's show so attendees can earn continuing education credits. Networking again will play a prominent role, and Luna wants to add speed-dating-style networking events to the mix.

“We will be implementing those into year two as an icebreaker on the first afternoon when people are trying to find their place in the conference and get to know others right off the bat,” Luna said. “We want to be the boutique alternative that allows people access. In the early days of SXSW, it was a little more like KEEN, where you could meet the CEOs and representatives from big consumer brands or media personalities, and actually sit down and have a conversation and have a drink.”

Looking back, Luna said she walked out of KEEN on cloud nine, feeling proud of what she and her team accomplished, and amped up for what's to come. “We know now what we did wrong, what we want to improve on,” she said, “and we're almost back to having a blank slate in terms of what we can do with the conference, which is scary and exciting at the same time.” She added: “I have an extreme appreciation for what meeting planners do now. It takes a village to put on an event.”

A KEEN Success

Daniel Bear Hunley is the kind of social-media superstar who epitomizes KEEN Digital Summit's ideal demographic. Named one of Time magazine's “Top 30 Style Pinners” in 2012, the freelance social-media consultant and online influencer spoke at KEEN on how companies can use Pinterest to promote and market their brand. “He is a good illustration of who we were going after and the collaboration that is taking place all over the digital media world,” said KEEN founder Kristin Luna.

Hunley is also a KEEN success story. After speaking at the event, he walked away with a new client. “I was speaking on how brands interested in Pinterest would have more success partnering with an influencer instead of slaving away at trying to create their own following,” Hunley said. “I mentioned my experience in men's style, and little did I know that there was a man in the audience who was launching a new brand of craft denim called Grady Mac Denim Co.”

A week after KEEN ended, Hunley received a phone call from the company, and after submitting a proposal, Grady Mac Denim hired Hunley as its new brand manager. “That was very exciting for me,” Luna said. “He is a success story of what we're all about.”

Innovative Meetings is sponsored by the Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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