The new administration in the White House has sent many organizations in various industries back to the drawing board — including the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA). Wanting to leverage its ability to help clarify U.S. and international policies around venture capital, emerging markets, and innovation, NVCA revamped this year’s Annual Meeting, which traditionally had focused on investing and entrepreneurship, to more explicitly address politics.
NVCA wasn’t fooling around. While the Annual Meeting typically had been held in California, this year NVCA moved it to the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on May 10–11 — right on Pennsylvania Avenue, between the White House and the U.S. Capitol. The conference agenda made the most of NVCA’s access to lawmakers and political insiders who could explain what the new administration’s policies mean for investors and startups, according to Ben Veghte, NVCA’s vice president of communications and marketing.
The speaker lineup included Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who highlighted legislation he’s introduced that would create special visas for immigrant startup founders, and Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban A airs. The expert list also featured policy insiders who discussed tax reform, entrepreneurship, and innovation under the Trump administration. “It was a complete focus on core policy issues, which was a departure from our previous programs,” Veghte said. “There’s a renewed interest and intrigue about what is going on in Washington for the country as a whole, as well as for our members.”
On the second day of NVCA 2017, the 300 or so attendees fanned out across the Capitol complex to lobby lawmakers. The morning began with a briefing, after which attendees were split into groups for meetings with senators and staff. (The U.S. House of Representatives was out of session at the time.)
The goal of the changes in both venue and agenda was simple: With so many events and conferences aimed at venture capitalists, NVCA needed to distinguish itself in the space. “Time is our members’ most precious commodity,” Veghte said. “Rather than trying to compete with all the other events and deliver the same kind of content, we want to play to our strengths and deliver on our policy information, which is unique to our organization.”
Overhauling the Annual Meeting also meant changing up marketing strategies. In the past, NVCA had paired the conference with a gala held the evening before the meeting program began. This year, the organization split up the events, holding the gala in Menlo Park, California, in March. NVCA spent a lot of time thinking about how to distinguish the two events. One of the simplest and most effective strategies was an early mailing of a paper yer that asked members to “save the date” for the two programs — highlighting their separate locations and dates. “Shockingly, this is what people cited to me as a way they kept both events on the radar,” Veghte said. “It was another data point, and people appreciated receiving it.”
In addition, NVCA created separate marketing campaigns for the gala and the Washington conference, using email and social media. Staff took the additional step of micro-targeting members’ known interests in various policies. “If we knew someone was interested in immigration,” Veghte said, “we would highlight our panel on immigration reform.”
Attendees seemed to appreciate it. Indeed, this year’s events were so successful that NVCA has committed to keeping the same breakdown — annual meeting in Washington, gala in California — for at least five years. “We’re thinking in a broader way,” Veghte said, “about how to deliver value to our members.”