Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

March 2014

4 Experts On How Corporate Event Marketing Makes Meetings Better

By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor
was going on, we got a new VP, and he said, “Look, I have a lot on my plate, how about if you continue doing this, and then once that's over we'll go back to a more normal relationship.”

[Later] I went to a meeting where our president and VP of marketing told me and others from my channel sales team that they weren't going to have a partner expo the following year, so I said, “Well then, there's no reason for us to be here,” and they said, “No, you're wrong. You're staying part of this team.” Not what I expected to do, but I personally feel that our Users Conference, like I said, is the biggest marketing event we do. Our customers are our best marketing, and at our conference they share with other customers all the different things they're doing, and that definitely impacts our sales hugely. So I felt like that was a really important place to contribute and also a lot of fun. But I'm not a traditional event person by any means.

WB: I went to school at Cal Poly [California Polytechnic State University] and have a degree in marketing, and just wasn't ready to move back to the Bay Area, so I moved to San Diego with some friends and ended up working at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which really heavily recruits college grads. There was an opportunity to work in the corporate events division at the corporate office in San Diego. I got that job and helped them manage all of their corporate accounts and also got my first flavor of mini trade shows and things like that.

I kind of hit a ceiling there and looked for another job. Knowing tech is a great place to be, I applied for a job to be a trade-show coordinator at a tech company — it was actually a service-provider company in San Diego called K-Soft — and started there. It was exciting, fun, because it was still more of a startup, and then four months later, Cisco bought us. So, right place, right time. I started doing marketing communications and low-end switching, because that was the business that Cisco bought from K-Soft. And then just immediately, I really latched onto, as much as I could, learning at Cisco, taking advantage of all of their opportunities for their training on site. I spent my first year living in a hotel two weeks a month. And eventually I moved into the career I'm in now in marketing communications for events, and I've been with Cisco about 12 years now.

SL: I was working for the third-party side, for an event-management company, working on their sales meeting and customer meetings. My goal was always to work towards the client side, and an opportunity opened up here at Autodesk to manage their sales events. I ran their annual sales-kickoff meeting for six years, and then two years ago I was promoted to manage all the sales events. The attraction [of a position in corporate event marketing] is you're working closely with the executives and the management on their goals and objectives, and really trying to work closely on designing the programs.

LL: I was a journalism major at Texas A&M, and when I graduated I had the opportunity to move to either Hunts-ville, Ala., and work for a museum, or Austin, Texas, and work for a tech company. Although I was just in love with the museum — it was the Space & Rocket Center in Hunts-ville — high-tech is the place to be, so I picked the Austin route. I was at a tech company here in Austin for a couple of years, and that's where I started in corporate events. I was actually doing international marcom and media relations for that company. The way they worked is, they brought in people from all over the marketing organization to help with their user conference, so I got charged with managing their registration process and their sales enable-ment to drive registrations. I was 23 years old and thrown into that one.

When I left that company I went to associations, and was in the association world for about five, almost six years, managing education programs, annual conference, more on the convention-management side. Then I had the opportunity to come to Dell and work in the Executive Briefing Center about eight years ago. I was with the Executive Briefing Center for a year, and managed day-to-day briefings with customers as well as operations and ops reviews and metrics, and when our operations person for the event team moved into a new role, they pointed to me and said, “Hey, she knows how to pull the reports.” So I ended up on the broader events team, managing operations for the team, and picked up some trade shows here and there, and eventually ended up managing a larger portion of the team. And I tell everyone it's probably the most frustrating thing I've ever done, but I've never been happier.

What do you like best about your job?

WB: There's never a dull moment. It's always changing. Right now, I'm focused on data-center events — not just data-center third-party events but, for instance, for our proprietary show, Cisco Live, I'm focused on our data-center presence and what we're doing there at Cisco Live. I really like the people I work with; it's nice now working with the same group of people, so I'm able to learn more on the technology side and the business side versus knowing the communications side.

LL: I think Wendy's right. It's because most of our projects actually have a finite beginning and end. It begins when someone has the great idea, and it ends after you've done your post mortem and your wrap-ups, and you're onto the next one. While there maybe multiple projects going on at the same time, it's not like when you're in the marcom world and you've got campaigns going for years and years and you just feel like it’ s never going to end.

PG: I like that I can create an environment where our customers have a great experience and learn about us and we increase our business every year based on what's happening. I think I work for a great company, and I like that I'm responsible for helping people know that, because we're like one of those best-kept-secret kind of companies out there. Our Users Conference gets a lot of positive exposure for us — customers really feel like “I underestimated you,” or “Your conference really opened my eyes. I now see what you can do.” That says a lot about us creating an environment where they can find that out.

SL: I really enjoy the sales events and supporting them. It's always changing, so even if you're doing the same event year after year, it's not the same event. There's new technology out there, new ways of doing things, and you're always pushing to raise the bar from the previous year.

How is corporate event marketing different from other forms or meeting planning or event management?

PG: I have contractors who work for me who are event planners, and their focus is, how do I set the room up right, how do I feed you on time, how do I move people through the event so they're not unhappy? But as a corporate event marketer, mine is, how am I helping you? How am I setting an environment so that you have an opportunity to understand what my company and my product can offer you, and how am I creating opportunities for me to understand, no matter what I think my product does, what's it doing for you? How do you feel it's working? And creating an environment for those interactions where I hear customers tell another customer how they're using something or where they got values that they didn't expect to. I think that's how I differ from a regular event planner who is just looking to control their budget and work well in the facility and leverage what they have.

SL: Corporate event marketing, how I've seen it is, you're looking at the big picture on all of the events. You're not looking at each event as a stand-alone event. On the sales side for the events here, you're looking at it as the event architecture, the brand audience measurement, event strategy — all as a whole, and making sure that

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