Best Practices to Grow Events

Author: Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes       

“You can’t be too rich, too thin, or too good at producing events.” So said ECEF (Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum) keynote speaker John Barrett, executive director of ISSA (The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association), who went on to describe the role events can play in helping associations fulfill their missions.

Specifically, he discussed best practices for accelerating event growth through partnerships and acquisitions, stressing the importance of developing and maintaining trust throughout the process. Barrett shared conversations with prospective partners in which he emphasized the desire to help them be the best version of who they are, rather than to become everything ISSA is. He also said that event organizers should avoid a “cookie cutter” approach to deal making by allowing accountants, lawyers, or consultants to dictate the pace of change for their industry or organization.

A panel discussion led by Greg Topalian, CEO of Clarion UX, focused on what event organizers should be doing to create a dynamic culture with the purpose of attracting and retaining top talent. Topalian, alongside ASIS CEO Peter O’Neil and Access Intelligence EVP Macy Fecto, asked the audience if they place enough emphasis on culture, citing statistics that demonstrate how organizations that do so are more profitable and have employees who are happier, more engaged, and more innovative.

According to Fecto, culture has to evolve with time, to reflect the realities of the modern workforce. “Culture isn’t just nice to have,” she said. “It shapes how people are working together and getting things done. If you’re not having fun and if you don’t respect the people with whom you work, you’re not going to produce good results.” She stressed the effectiveness of employee referrals, cultivating a network of candidates throughout your career and ensuring that recruitment responsibilities are kept with the professionals who truly know your business.

“CEOs who don’t view their human resource lead as a strategic partner are making a huge mistake,” O’Neil said. “Too many business leaders keep HR off to the side, simply having them administer benefits, manage budgets, and ensure reviews are performed.” He also reminded the audience that not all turnover is bad, saying that sometimes the right thing to do is to coach people out, especially those who have stopped evolving and learning new things. “You have to look at every employee situation and ask yourself if what you would have to do to retain them is worth it.” For many employees, he explained, it’s not necessarily about giving them more money or benefits, rather work that is more intrinsically rewarding or aligned with their ambitions.

Technology was a recurring theme throughout the day, covered by Nicole Peck, EVP of BizBash Media, who discussed event chatbots; Mickey McManus of Boston Consulting Group, who incorporated artificial intelligence and machine learning into his presentation; and Michael Clapperton, chief technology officer of Informa Global Exhibitions, who discussed data capture and integration.

Clapperton advised event organizers to ensure that data and technology integration initiatives are jointly owned by business leadership and IT as a means of combining technical knowledge with business knowledge. “To get started, hire a business-process architect to map every single detail of what you do across the organization,” he said. “Agree on KPIs — what is your measure of success? Focus on the design process first, then the system for implementing it.” Pitfalls to avoid include doing too many things at once, looking for software solutions that do it all, putting integrators in charge of implementation (they have a tendency to make things too complicated), and viewing the initiative as a one-and-done process.

FMI Senior Vice President and Chief Collaboration Officer Mark Baum and Vice President of Marketing and Industry Events Margaret Core spoke about the importance of authenticity and clear communication when leading during times of uncertainty. Disruption is coming at event organizers from every angle and it’s imperative that we’re comfortable leading through ambiguity, they said. As long as we’re listening, learning, and connecting the dots, it’s okay that we don’t always know what’s coming next.

Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes is owner and president of marketing and public relations firm mdg; ECEF is a client.

View a video of 5 Data Points in 5 Minutes on YouTube at convn.org/5-ECEF.