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Thinking Things


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The Best Way To Sell - Don't

Posted on 3 October, 2011 at 10:01 Comments comments ()
For all the event industry salespeople who have either heard the discussions about enhancing the attendee experience or are living on another planet, here’s a selling idea to truly enhance the attendee experience: don’t sell them.

Ok, then what? Educate them? Inform them? About something other than your product? That’s a good start – and it might be the best way to “sell” these days to an audience that does not want to be sold to. Deliver to your audience what they want and need – and in a manner in which they want to receive it. Whether the sales world likes it or not, most of your buyers want content if they are not in buying mode on a particular day. Give them what they want – it might be your best chance to get what you want.

We’ve all been to enough meetings where supplier sponsors take the podium compelled to deliver their pitch no matter how restless the audience grows. It’s called buying the right to push your message. Not what your attendees paid for. You lose them in two seconds with the wrong message. Especially in today’s universe, which preaches a pull – not push – mentality.

That brings us to thought leadership as a marketing strategy. It’s a great idea, yet remember everyone can’t be thought leaders – that would be impossible. But in striving to attain thought leadership with content marketing at the core, you likely are achieving your ultimate goal – providing a valuable service to your prospects, building trust, and generating leads. Eventually, if done properly, it will help move product and drive more people to your events.

I came from a world of concealed content marketing and didn’t realize it at the time. I was the Publisher for several meetings and events industry publications, and the information we delivered, if it was good, prompted advertisers to buy ads in our environment and latch onto our flock of readers. If the articles were hard-hitting and not promotional softballs, the readers respected us more and the advertisers bought more.

“Always Be Helping.” That was a nice phrase I heard Dave Lutz of Velvet Chainsaw use during a speech some time back, effectively replacing the Glengarry Glen Ross theme of “Always Be Closing.”  It’s a good expression to remember as you create events, programs and marketing campaigns to attract attendees and keep them interested and engaged in your brand. Give it a try and good things likely will happen.

All Is Not Lost

Posted on 29 September, 2011 at 11:21 Comments comments ()
There’s this object with a rubber cork center, wrapped in yarn (which when stretched out could span about a mile), covered in leather, and made by people I don’t know in factories like Rawlings in St. Louis. It has a circumference of about 9 inches and a diameter of about 73 mm.

A man I’ve never met who has never heard of me, doesn’t care about me, and who dresses for work in pajamas with numbers and letters throws the object. Where the object goes and what happens to it from there will rock the emotions of millions of intelligent people. A little to the left, one reaction. A little to the right, another. Sounds a bit corny. I won’t get drawn into this madness.

That was the logic I used after Red Sox pitcher Bob Stanley threw a baseball near Mookie Wilson’s feet 25 years ago and set off a chain of events with more reverberations than any 12 volcanoes. I needed that rationale back then to put my emotions in a neat little box where they wouldn’t harm anybody.

Those feelings in no way compared with my feelings last night changing channels on each pitch during what will be known as The Greatest Night in the History of Regular Season Baseball. The beauty of unscripted sports is observing and marveling at the weird and wacky that you thought was never possible no matter how many games you’ve seen. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I understood the story as it was being written over this balmy September. And make no mistake, I was rooting for it not to happen. But there was a sense of appreciation as a sports fan for the wonder of what was going on. Some might classify the results as a personal reward – assuming your team was the beneficiary -- for time spent and sleep lost clinging to the fortunes of men who don’t know you, people you idolize whether they’re nice guys or not, professionals you applaud and encourage because a career opportunity has put them on your team bus even though you hated them when they worked for another employer, say the Yankees.

“Are you alright?” I’m still waiting for the call this morning from my friend Alan, who after every excruciating loss by a Boston team puts on his funeral director’s voice and asks me that question. Alan is trying to offload how I know he feels in such moments to how he thinks I feel at this moment. Two things to know about Alan: He once had to step away from dinner to check a Syracuse basketball score and came back in slight panic to report “It’s 3-2, BC.”  The game was a minute old. Also, I had the pleasure of flying back with him from New Orleans after Syracuse lost the NCAA championship in The Keith Smart Game. Connecting flights. Delays. Now I’m an SU grad myself, but I had to spend most of the time re-channeling the Inner Alan.

My wife tolerates no fan emotions. As calm as I might appear, I’m usually one Pats defensive breakdown from throwing a trinket through the screen when she’ll catch my subtle mood shift via a condescending crack to my daughter and quickly squelch it. Yet every time she says people shouldn’t get worked up over a game, I call her over to watch 100,000 maniacal fans at, say, Michigan Stadium screaming wildly, with blue and gold paint covering various body parts, and ask her whether millions of people can be that wrong.

One might suggest this post is my latest form of therapy for another season gone awry. But it hasn’t gone awry at all. Sports is theater – I’ve had a box seat for life and relished it. It’s nice to experience the sensation of a championship – not to justify a commitment to an obsession but just because it’s fun. With the Red Sox I had two, with the Patriots three. While I continue to root hard for them, one of each was plenty and I’d like some close friends whose teams have yet to be the last ones standing to get the same high. Sorry Yankee friends, I'm really alright. Rejoice in the beauty and joy of sports – it’s amazing to watch what athletes can do within the confines of the rules of the games. And if that’s not enough justification and/or rationale, well, there’s always that wait ‘til next year.

Calculated Gamble or Educated Guess?

Posted on 23 September, 2011 at 11:22 Comments comments ()
Here’s a shock: people join industry trade groups primarily for networking and education. Meeting Professionals International, arguably the largest and best known organization in the meetings industry, is fully aware of this. So aware, in fact, that they’ve created a program at headquarters to raise the level of education at the chapter level – where the acknowledged heart and soul of their membership resides.

To do this, MPI is regulating the flow of funds typically recouped by chapters from membership dues and placing them in various buckets, for which the chapters can tap into and get rewarded – or rebated -- for educational spending. That spending primarily is for booking presenters from MPI HQ’s approved chapter speaker database. In theory, speakers in that database are excellent presenters on relevant topics; in fact, a number of them have been excellent speakers on relevant topics for 20 years or so. In theory, they have been graded highly in their past engagements, which is why MPI is encouraging their selection.

If I’ve got the numbers right, MPI chapters overall received scores from attendees of about 7.6 (out of 10.0) on the quality of their educational programs over the past year. I love the way Brad Shanklin, MPI’s Director of Chapter Business Services, explains it: “If I was being evaluated on my marriage and I received a score of 7.6, I wouldn’t be too happy about it.”

MPI’s intention is good. However, since the program was announced, it’s been explained a number of times – at least twice formally, on the agendas of MPI’s Chapter Leaders Forum in Orlando and Chapter Business Summit in Dallas. Shanklin admits he’s explained the rebate process “over a hundred times” (I interpreted him literally). And for whatever reason, people still don’t get it. In fact, in Dallas during an explanation for people who no doubt had heard it multiple times, one delegate walked up to an easel and started writing it down to help make sense (see picture).

The problem is MPI has taken the discussion away from the very subject they want to address and improve – education. Every session I’ve attended relating to MPI education has focused on managing the new rebate formula. When the Greater New York Chapter tapped me to be their VP of Education, I think it was because, based on my background, I understood how to direct industry content and activities to relevant topics in provocative formats with dynamic speakers. But that was hardly my priority. Excited to meet other chapter education leaders and debate “single speaker vs. panel,” “charismatic vs. knowledgeable,” “live vs. web-based,” “hot new topics vs. solid old ones,” my role was relegated to math student. What’s more, a lot of enthusiastic Education volunteers hoping to bring new ideas to the table have been reeled in by the confines of figuring out formulas and managing numbers – not noggins.

Association leadership is relatively new to me – which I think carries with it more plusses than minuses for a group like MPI. At our chapter, there has been a heavy emphasis on putting the right people in the right jobs. In fact, I was asked to make a transition over to VP of Marketing and Communications when a vacancy arose there. Maybe they felt they needed someone with more math and financial acumen in the educational role. If that’s the case (I don’t really think it is) and even if it isn’t, MPI has to ask itself whether it is doing more harm than good with its complex new “educational” initiative. Ironically, in the end, I’m afraid it will be the numbers that tell the story.

The "Science" Of Spotting Industry Trends

Posted on 20 September, 2011 at 9:14 Comments comments ()
What are the top five trends affecting the meetings industry in the year ahead? Attending the MPI Greater New York Chapter’s recent inaugural education event, I expected to get the perspective from speaker Shawna Suckow, founder of SPIN (Senior Planner Industry Network). That’s not exactly what happened. Here’s what did:

Shawna introduced a creative way by which we, the audience, were going to arrive at the top trends (that is, of course, if you accept our demographics, degree of experience, and random insight and intelligence). She had each attendee (about 75 or so) write on an index card what he or she believed was the industry’s top trend. Then she asked us to stand up, circulate the room, and exchange the cards with as many people as possible within about 30 seconds (think “live shuffling of the deck”). She then broke us into groups of five and asked each group to discuss and decide which of the five cards they were holding was the most relevant trend.

That got us down to 15 people each holding a card. She then repeated the live shuffling and broke the survivors into five groups of three. The groups each picked the most relevant trend among the choices and were left with the five top topics.

Isn’t that the way the experts do it? I was skeptical of the process, and even more skeptical of the results. But it turned out to be a fun exercise and an innovative way to address the subject, whether you agreed with the outcome or not.

(Oh, hybrid meetings, electronic interaction between delegates, different ways of doing presentations, marketing using social media, and green events.)

Food for Deep Thought
Catering operations tend to show off their best stuff when hosting groups of meeting planners. I'm sure planners wouldn't dispute that for most events they attend, there is ample opportunity to eat -- some would say ample obligation to gorge (but that's for another blog). 

Now I'm not one to get worked up over event cuisine, and I can pretty much promise you'll never see the word "Foodie" appear in this vehicle again, but I must tip my knife and fork to the Hyatt Regency in Richardson, Texas, which just hosted MPI's Chapter Business Summit. While all edibles from the event were simply superb, I am compelled to cite the potato pancakes with a slice of nova, offered on the final day's breakfast buffet, gamely competing with an egg taco, fried egg sandwich, something resembling an Egg McMuffin with class, and a bunch of other less heart-threatening pleasures.

Ok, so I excused myself from my roundtable discussion a couple of times to go back for more (I woofed them down right at the buffet station - like I was stealing them). It gave new meaning to the word shame. But they were fabulous - and if given the chance, I would do it again. I even googled "Potato Pancakes With Nova" when I got home (16.4 million results, not all dead on though). They were so good. I even considered naming this blog "Potato Pancakes with Nova"). But I need to move on. Or do I?