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Have Meeting Planners Lost Sight of Their True Purpose?

As meeting professionals we have traditionally seen our roles either focused on logistics -- finding the right space, the appropriate set-up for a presentation, the food to be served.  At times we've had our "seat at the table" when we've been able to advocate for meetings as one of several strategic means of communication.

Unfortunately the "seat at the table" often translates into a need to produce revenue, especially for associations who so desperately depend on their annual conferences and tradeshows to support endeavours in other areas.

But in my experience, rarely have meeting planners seen themselves as the facilitators of human connections.  In the end, isn't that what we are truly being: facilitators, connectors, mediators of human relationships?

Because does the colour of the tablecloths, the taste of the food or the quality the AV presentation even matter if the people at the meeting didn't really connect -- to the material, to the presenter, to the sponsor, to each other?

I suppose the meetings industry is no different than many others in that it's easy to lose sight of our overall purpose... In the housing industry architects, contractors and real estate agents either can think of themselves as designing, building and selling housing units, or they can choose to be in the business of creating, building and finding the right home for a family to be safe, healthy and happy.

In this crazy-busy, hyper-connected and fragmented world, it's just too easy to lose sight of our true purpose.   And if the meetings industry doesn't see itself as bringing people together for the betterment of mankind, what else are we doing?

Tradeshow Follow-Up Post CASL

Even though Canada's Anti-Spam Law came into effect July 1, it appears meeting planners, exhibitors and event attendees are still very much confused about what they can and cannot do with email marketing.  I had the pleasure of answering questions at IncentiveWorks a couple of weeks ago, and I'm still getting requests to present this fall.

At Greenfield we've written extensively about what the CASL means for Canadian and even foreign organizations who are sending an email to Canadian recipients.  We get asked all the time, and yes, even non-Canadian companies are affected by this law because they can be sued by Canadians, if they don't follow the rules.

But for now, let's look at what you should or should not do if you are following-up with attendees after a tradeshow where you exhibited:
  • Unless someone signed a form (online, using a tablet, or an actual paper form) where you specifically ask them to "opt-in" to receive further electronic communication from you, you do NOT have express consent.
  • If someone gave you their business card, or just dropped it in a bowl for a draw, you have implied consent only.  This means you have 6 months from the date of that show to "convert" the prospect to an opt-in, or else you must stop email them.  If you fail to do so, and the recipient feels you have been spamming them, they could report you to the Canadian Radio Telecommunications Commission.
  • Getting an attendee "scanned" does not give you express consent; it is exactly as if the person had dropped their card in a bowl, except that you don't have to enter their contact information manually. This is because you have no "proof" that it was the recipient whose badge you scanned and there is no clear agreement as to what the person consented to.  So you still only have 6 months to market to them electronically and get opt-in.
  • If you do business with someone after the tradeshow, you should still get them to opt-in expressly.  If you don't, you have two years from the date of the transaction, to continue sending commercial electronic messages.  Unless of course, they buy from you again (every time there is a purchase, the "timer" resets).
What can you do if you don't have someone's consent?  You may:
  • call them: engage in a conversation, see if you are a fit for their needs. If they are, send them whatever information you discussed, and ask them to opt-in!  Otherwise you'll be right back to square one in 6 months.
  • call them and ask for a verbal opt-in: it is a little known or understood fact that you can call someone and get a verbal opt-in.  For this to work you must ask them a "security question" that would prove you had a conversation with them about consent.  When we do this type of work for our clients, we ask for the person's first letter of their city of birth.  If you do this, but be SURE to keep this information in your database, along with the date and time the conversation took place.
  • mail them: depending on the number of delegates and what you are selling, a smart direct mail piece with a strong call to action may present a better option.  It's even more powerful if you call after they've received the piece and you engage them in a conversation!  This will boost your lead rate and your sales.
  • see them in person again: the problem with email or traditional mail is that they don't necessarily help us forge relationships.  Personal interaction does.  Maybe a side effect of this law will be to force us to go out on sales calls again!  Then, when someone has met you in person a few times, there is less danger they will think of your next email as spam.
We often hear that 80% of tradeshow leads are never followed up on.  The CASL sure doesn't make it easy for anyone to improve that percentage, but the successful sales people will find a way!

When "Overwhelment" is Your Biggest Competitor

Apparently "overwhelment" is not a noun -- but I wish it were!  What would you call that state were someone gets so crazy-busy they cannot even do the basic things to help themselves?

Let me explain.  Earlier this year I lost a sizeable piece of business because my DMO client was so busy, so overwhelmed with work and personal commitments, that she could not spare 5 minutes to read and sign our contract.  The project was time-sensitive and by the time her to-do list became manageable, the opportunity was lost.

My colleague Meagan experienced a similar situation; because of workload, her association client took five months to approve work that should have taken place last June.  Now we're in September, the event is next month, and we have to rush to get the project done.

Sound familiar?  Executives on the planning and supply side are so crazy-busy they cannot find the time to read a contract so they can get help!

It's easy to get frustrated, but perhaps it's an opportunity to improve?

For one thing, it made me realize that our proposals and contracts were too long; we needed to find a way to make our clients' lives easier.  Our 3-4 page contract is now a one-pager, with a standard set of terms and conditions.

And thanks to my good friend Jeremy Tyrrell of the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls, I've also learned of the "5 sentences movement." I received an email from him this week and his signature:

--------------------------------------------
Q: Why is this email five sentences or less?
A: http://five.sentenc.es
--------------------------------------------

When you click through to the site, it explains:

The Problem

E-mail takes too long to respond to, resulting in continuous inbox overflow for those who receive a lot of it.

The Solution

Treat all email responses like SMS text messages, using a set number of letters per response. Since it’s too hard to count letters, we count sentences instead.

five.sentenc.es is a personal policy that all email responses regardless of recipient or subject will be five sentences or less. It’s that simple.

* See also: two.sentenc.es, three.sentenc.es, and four.sentenc.es.

Isn't that brilliant?  Now if we could only do something about the volume of emails...

What are you doing to manage the avalanche of information coming your way?  And what are you doing to make your customers' lives easier?

Blurring Lines Between Work and Leisure: What Does it Mean for Meetings?

If you are a North American reading this article today (Monday, September 1), it is probably because you are trying to catch up on email, taking a peek at what your peeps are up to on LinkedIn, or maybe you caught the headline on Twitter. Anyway you have it, you are "doing work" instead of chilling out and enjoying the Labour Day holiday.

If it's after the long weekend, hopefully you got to enjoy it, work-free!

Regardless, many of us are finding ourselves working evenings, weekends and holidays... How many of us have truly been able to "go dark" while on vacation in the last five years, or at least since "The Great Recession"?

Casual inquiry and observation of my meetings industry colleagues indicates the lines between work and personal time are decidedly blurring. And for an interesting article on the subject, please read Doug Saunder's piece in The Globe and Mail: Work? Leisure? It's all a blur these days.

What does this mean for the meetings industry? Years ago associations avoided vacation months because delegates were to set on taking time off at specific times. Now we are seeing some groups betting on cheaper meeting space and rates in the summer – and their attendance isn't necessarily suffering. Greenfield's own inaugural Engaging Associations Summit was held this year in July; we had a hunch busy executives would be more available to come to a new conference in the summer, because they had fewer competing priorities than during the rest of the year. The numbers and event evaluations told us we were correct!

Since executives seem to be willing to mix pleasure and business, many DMOs are hoping that delegates will tag on extra days to enjoy a particularly interesting or "bucket list" activity. Is this a reasonable expectation? The meetings industry might help itself by delving into this issue a little deeper; how much business does a conference generate pre or post-event?

Because, as we are seemingly getting less downtime, one interesting industry headline caught my eye: the August cover of The Meeting Professional, MPI's monthly publication, shouts "Meetings Outlook Research: Virtual Meetings are Outpacing Live Gatherings."

Could it be that, as we continue to become the hyper-connected, we're also pushing back at attending more meetings in person? Not because we don't want to be there, but because getting there is such a pain?

And speaking of wanting to be there, what is it in a meetings agenda or program that makes us truly want to go?  This easily could be the next frontier in research for the meetings industry: proving when and how bringing people together face-to-face justifies the time, money and effort.

I don't what the the future holds in this regard, but I can tell you that I for one am happy to be at home on this Labour Day Monday. And if you'll excuse me my garden beckons...

Top 10 Ways to Market Your Event

Over the years, our Greenfield team has had to "rescue" numerous programs because they had not be promoted well to begin with.  Whether you are promoting for a FAM, a client appreciation event, or even a paid conference, here is our prescription for a successful event marketing campaign:

  1. Get permission first: with the implementation of Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) July 1, 2014, make sure you get permission before you start marketing electronically.  Even if you're in the USA or anywhere else on the globe permission these days is key.  It's not easy, but you can build your list and get people to agree to receiving your information by reaching out by phone, in-person at another event, or through social media connections.  In Canada, with the new law's requirements, ensure you stay on top of your database; otherwise you may soon be running out of option for your marketing list!  
  2. Maintain your database meticulously: With the CASL, if there is a complaint, the burden will be on you to prove that permission was obtained.  Don't risk a fine by sending unwanted messages to recipients whose information you haven't updated in your database.  Keep it clean!
  3. Make it about ME: who cares if your event has a record-breaking number of exhibitors, sponsors or break-out sessions?  If your communication isn't articulating what's-in-it-for-ME, as your attendee, then you likely won't get me to register, regardless if your event is free or paid.
  4. Twitterize your message:  Don't send long emails telling me ALL there is to know about your event.  Since your message is mostly likely to be viewed on a mobile device, keep your message short and to the point.  If there's more to your story, give links where the recipient can go for more.
  5. Make it easy to share: An increasing number of business event attendees are active on social media.  Make it easy for attendees to share your event with peers by using ShareThis or other social media sharing platforms. That way they can tweet, post to Facebook or LinkedIn, or whatever social medium they prefer.
  6. Tell them who else likes you & who else will be there: When you tell your event's story, impart the experience through the voice and words of people like your prospective attendee. The testimonial of a REAL person, with a name, title, company and photo, will go a long way to convince them your event is worth their time.  And while you must respect attendees' privacy and not reveal their personal information, it's OK for you to tell the names of the organizations who will be represented at your event.  This will help your prospective attendee – and their boss, if they need approval – better decide if the event is for them.
  7. Show them too: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then video is worth a million.  Use this powerful tool to show clips of speakers, testimonials from attendees, exhibitors, sponsors.  Score double points by showcasing a video showcases of someone with similar attributes to your prospect.
  8. Vary your channels: Unless recipients have "white listed" your email address, there's a 30-40% chance that your mass-deployed email will be caught in spam filters.  So while your audience may be interested, they may never see your message; you must vary the ways you reach out!  Pay special attention to the groups where your prospects hang out on LinkedIn.  Get the influential people in your industry, those with lots of followers, to tweet about your event.  Or even send something by mail – something that'll pique recipients' curiosity, something that'll get them to check out your event online.
  9. Understand my communication preferences: While Boomers and GenXers may appreciate getting information by email, younger professionals may not be so interested.  Millennials are said to be less inclined to read email.  This, coupled with the CASL, may require you to shift resources to building a following on social media.  But make sure you know which ones first!
  10. Don't be so business-like: Learn from what gets shared online; I'm not talking about silly cat videos (unless your event is about cats), but we all enjoy funny or touching stories. Your promotion will rise about the clutter if you show emotion, humour, or an edge.  Business need not be so serious!

Do you have any other smart ways to promote your event?  Share them here!

What Two Potato Vodka Distillers Taught Me about Client Engagement

(L to R) Julie Shore, Doreen Ashton Wagner
and Arla Johnson
On a recent trip to PEI I had the pleasure of visiting the Prince Edward Distillery in the tiny hamlet of Hermanville, on the Northeastern tip of the Island.

There I met partners Julie Shore and Arla Johnson, and not only tasted their vodka (as well as their rye, whiskey, rum and gin!) but I also gleaned a few insights about what it takes to engage a client.

I had first driven to visit their tiny hotel, the Johnson Shore Inn, for a project I am working on for Meetings & Conventions PEI.  The Inn, it turns out, has now been leased to another couple to run so Julie and Arla can focus on the distillery.

It was on a whim that I decided to stop in at the distillery. After all, my site inspections focused on accommodation and meeting venues, and the distillery wasn't on my list since they don't have event space.

Before I knew it, I got a crash course in distilling, purchased a bottle of gin (which I never drink  I'm a scotch drinker!), and I was one hour behind schedule.

Lest you think I simply succumbed to their products, allow me to outline how they engaged me to the point I decided to write this post:

They have a story: I learned about Julie's North Carolina roots, where generations of Shores distilled moonshine.  Until Prohibition, that is.  Four generations later, Julie is reviving the family tradition, 2000 km North, on an island where her and Julie (who is from Florida) vacationed years ago.  They loved PEI so much they moved here..  

They are truly passionate about what they are doing:  While touring the production area, I listened intently as Arla described the six weeks during which she and Julie toured German schnapps distilleries, and met with manufacturers for the perfect still.  Julie ended up designing her own contraption, with an extra "column" because she had the hunch it would make a smoother-tasting product.

Their product is not unique but the way they are producing is:  Julie and Arla believe in partnering with local farmers.  The distillery began with potato vodka, but they soon added blueberry vodka because wild blueberries are an abundant crop on the Island.  And since farmers grow grains to let their land rest every few years, they got into the other spirits as well.  

They are having fun: Passion can turn some into fastidious, know-it-all bores.  Not the case with these ladies.  As I toured the facility, it was clear that these women know how to have fun.  I learned about how they feed the waste potato mash to the farmer's pigs next door ("There's often a bit of alcohol left in the mash... that makes for very happy pigs!").  How they joke around with male visitors who don't always think that two women should be in the distilling business (the still columns do have a phallic appearance...).  

They invited me to try their product the way host would invite a guest:  A big part of the experience of course is the tasting. The spirits are kept in the freezer, and only a tiny quantity is poured in a shot glass.  Just a little sip  really!  But I felt uniquely "pulled in," charmed, to give it a try (I had be careful, I was driving!).  Yet there absolutely was no pressure to buy.  Arla wisely asked for my drink preferences.  She correctly guessed that I would enjoy the rye (the taste resembled brandy). When she nudged me to try the gin, I thought she'd be wrong.  Not at all  I loved the light taste of juniper, and the hint of lemongrass.  I walked out with a bottle!

So there you have it!  The story of two American woman who braved the odds, moved North and are successfully running a business that attracts locals and tourists to their out-of-the-way part of PEI. Their success, in my humble opinion, is due to their outgoing, personable demeanor and they way they tell their story, one customer at a time.  

Julie and Arla's company does not have a great online presence. Their website doesn't even list their new products  rye, whiskey, rum and gin  and they do not seem to be on ANY social media. Yet their product is now available at the LCBO, available to Canada's largest provincial market.

Their philosophy is to engage, one person at a time.  Good luck Julie & Arla!

Is Your Inbound Marketing Mindset Dooming You to Fail?

There's no denying the shift the meetings industry has experienced in the last few years about the way meeting planners want to hear from, and interact with, suppliers.  Like me, you've probably seen and even participated in debate over whether "cold calling" is dead.

While the days of "dialing for dollars" are long gone, I respectfully submit that anyone who thinks the phone is an archaic means of communication is sadly mistaken.  Very rare are those for whom ONLY blogging and posting on social media will bring all the business that they need.


A successful inbound marketing strategy with some elements of outbound activity will even out the ups and downs of the sales cycle.  And yes, this may mean using the telephone.  

Except that now, using the phone looks like this:

  • With abundant information available online, you can build a list of prospects and approach them intelligently -- not "cold calling" but "warm calling";
  • With a regular lead nurturing program, where you have your prospects' permission to maintain contact via email, you can place smart follow-up calls whenever a prospect clicks on a link to download or access an educational resource you have produced;
  • Calling someone to reconfirm they will be attending your event or meeting you at an industry tradeshow (something that mitigates no-shows!).

Smart outbound activities may also sending them the odd mailing or handwritten note. If you think I'm kidding on the snail mail bit, check out this blog from my friend and meeting planner extraordinaire, Sandy Biback.

Inbound marketing without outbound activity is like expecting to meet Mr. Right with online dating, without going out on any dates!  It's possible, but likely a recipe for failure.  But your odds will be better if you are willing to maintain the relationship proactively too!