Tag Archive | conferences

How to Win Friends and Influence People [at SXSW]

This past week, I attended the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas for the first time. I had the opportunity to assist a large global company host a number of activations on the ground at SXSW which showed me a lot about how brands can break through the noise at such a large conference to leave a lasting impact on consumers. It also taught me a bit about myself and how I can attempt to stay focused on running and training even when there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.

Below, you’ll find a couple of insights I gained from my time in Austin (aside from the fact that Austin truly has amazing breakfast tacos and BBQ).

For Brands:

    1. Don’t Be Intrusive: This piece of advice is twofold. First, when meeting someone for the first time, try to establish a relationship before you begin selling. While assisting one of my clients who serves as the Director of Social Media and Digital Communications for a very large company, I often felt like a bodyguard who had to protect her from people spouting out pitches on why their app/product/agency/etc. should be used. Second, if you are a large brand who hopes to capitalize on the buzz surrounding SXSW, do not interrupt attendees’ conference experience with activations that A) don’t make sense or B) don’t tie back to your company or product.
    2. Solve a Problem: One of the best ways to leave potential customers at an event as large as SXSW with positive impressions of your brand is to find a way to solve their problems that reflects back on your product or company. Companies that do both of these things well – solve problems while allowing consumers to have experiences with their products – will come out as winners. At SXSW, I saw a lot of organizations trying to solve users’ problems (with free food or free charging stations), but I honestly can’t remember who was handing out free breakfast tacos on the corner or who had the jacket that could charge mobile devices because there was never a true connection between the company and the freebie
    3. Provide Value: A lot of companies head down to SXSW to build relationships with influential social media users. There are many ways to do this, and a lot of times they involve lots of free products. That’s fine, but try to think creatively about how you can fulfill a need in a thoughtful way. While in Austin, I overheard my clients chatting about how they’d like to meet other in-house social media managers. With their permission, I organized a dinner that brought together social media directors and community managers from several large organizations. This proved to be a big success – the conversation lasted for three hours as everyone discussed ideas, challenges, and successes they’ve seen in their roles. Both the clients and the other attendees were very happy to leave the dinner with several new connections.

For Staffers:

    1. Try to Maintain Parts of Your Normal Routine…: Traveling always throws off my routine. Add in traveling for a massive conference where I’d be working long hours and I knew the only way to maintain some sanity would be to keep some aspects of my regular habits in place. I decided to focus on two things: running in the mornings and getting in as many fruits and veggies as possible. Everything else went out the window: personal social media activities, reading, cross training, strength training, and yoga. Luckily, I made a running buddy who kept me motivated to wake up early and go running in the rain. Trying to keep up with everything I normally do would have been disastrous, but having two tasks to focus on allowed me to stay on track with my training plan and my health while still giving 100% to my work tasks.
    2. … But Be Flexible: Big conferences are notorious for crazy schedules, which can get even crazier if you are working the event. With my OCD tendencies, I often find myself stressing when my normal routine is disrupted. However, before heading to Austin, I prepared myself for this inevitability. Sure enough, last-minute meetings and events and deadlines popped up, causing me to rearrange my personal schedule. The day for my long run changed three times, I switched my rest day twice, and changed the time I woke up daily. And… I survived.
    3. Follow-up: SXSW, at its core, is a networking event. Even if you’re staffing an event and never step foot inside a panel or party, you will be connecting with lots of people from a variety of industries. If you meet anyone who you enjoyed speaking with, be sure to follow-up once the dust from Austin settles. Don’t rely on the business card exchange – I received many business cards that simply got misplaced as I ran from event to event assisting my clients. Now, I’m hoping many of those who I met will reach out via email or on social channels. I recommend following people on Twitter and sending a quick @reply to remind them of your conversation, adding them to specific Twitter lists (I immediately created two new ones), trying to connect on LinkedIn, or sending a quick email with your contact information. Also, in your introductory email, please don’t pitch the person. This is your chance to start a relationship and the fastest way to ruin it is to reach out with the sole purpose of pitching your product, service, or need for a job.

These are just a few takeaways I had after leaving Austin, but there are many others. What do you recommend for both brands, staffers, and attendees heading to large conferences and events such as SXSW? How can they make the most of their experience and leave the largest impact?


Be Memorable: How to Have an Effective Brand Presence at Industry Conferences

This weekend, quite a few of my favorite health and fitness bloggers made their way to Philadelphia for the 2011 Healthy Living Summit (#HLS). HLS features several networking opportunities as well as a full day of panels covering a variety of topics that further educate members of this extensive online community.

While I was browsing the HLS website, trying to decide if I could fit it into my budget this year, I noticed that Quaker Oats is a Gold Sponsor of the 2011 event. Several other health-focused brands are listed as sponsors – some well-known, others I’ve never heard of before.

Companies know the importance of getting their products and services in front of online influencers at conferences. In my day job, clients constantly ask for calendars of industry events where they should have an official presence. Unfortunately, the larger the conference, the more difficult it can be for brands to break through the noise.

I’ve worked with clients who have spent millions of dollars on booths, panels and marketing stunts at big conferences like CES and Comic-Con, only to see their messages get lost in the onslaught of media coverage that typically arises from these types of events. With Twitter users, bloggers and mainstream outlets producing content constantly throughout the conference, a fantastic client mention in an article or Tweet could get pushed down (and lost) within a few minutes.

At the conferences, hundreds of companies can be squeezed together into the ever-important exhibition hall – competing for the attention of attendees in the same space as their competitors.

So, how do companies ensure their efforts (especially the dollars spent) are worthwhile? Here are a few recommendations:

  1. If you’re giving away swag, make it memorable. People love free stuff so it’s not surprising to see conference attendees making their way through exhibition hall booths, grabbing up anything free left out on company tables. Unfortunately, this usually results in a bag filled with branded pens, jump drives, and notebooks that might get used but  won’t necessarily make a person go out and purchase your product (especially if the product you’re selling isn’t a pen, jump drive, or notebook…). Instead, try handing out a piece of swag that will spark memories about your company. At a fitness event, it makes more sense to hand out high-quality branded water bottles or subtly-branded yoga mats than pens and jump drives. Yes, it’s a more expensive swag, but it’s likely to be more effective since the consumer will most likely use it during an activity that relates back to your product or service.
  2. Provide an experience that is relevant to your product/service. While reading recaps of BlogHer 2011, I noticed quite a few fitness professionals offered free classes or demos that allowed attendees to fully experience what they are trying to sell. Many bloggers reviewed the classes on their websites, providing additional promotion for the companies after the conference ended. I also like the idea of food brands hosting live-cooking events at their exhibition booths, which can provide a great opportunity to connect with the conference community in a memorable, relevant way. I believe this is more effective than say, hiring male models dressed as construction workers to stand in your booth.
  3. Be strategic when planning panels. Some companies sponsor panels or have employees speak at conferences.  When executed well, this can provide great brand exposure.  Unfortunately, if poorly planned, this can also have a negative effect on corporate reputation. Though it might seem like common sense, it is imperative to put significant time into planning the panel, I’m always amazed at how many panels often seem thrown together at the last minute. To ensure attendees leave your session with a positive impression, make sure the panelist is  engaging with the audience, being open and honest about the presented topic (and not merely pushing the product!), has clearly thought about answers to tough questions, and is staying on message as much as possible (without sounding like a corporate robot).

What other recommendations do you have for brands planning to attend or sponsor a conference? If you are attending a conference, what would you like to see brands do to better engage with you?

Thoughts from Blog World 2011: The Importance of User Experience and Relevancy

Blog World & New Media Expo’s inaugural event in New York City is underway, and I was privileged enough to attend this year’s conference as a representative of my employer, Fleishman-Hillard.*

Fresh from my quick jaunt from D.C. up to the Big Apple, I spent my morning commute today reviewing the notes I took while at Blog World.  Though the topics covered in the panels ranged from mobile marketing to blogger outreach to Facebook, I found recurring themes scrawled on each of the pages:

  • user experience = driving force
  • knowing what the user wants
  • relevancy
  • understanding the community
  • who is the audience and what are they looking for

In notes from one session, I emphasized this statement (with a star and underlining so you know it’s important!):

User experience should be a guiding force; relevancy is integral to success

While this thinking seems straight-forward enough, it’s always nice to be reminded of the core concepts that should drive any communications campaign.  With so many new, shiny technologies available to marketers, it can be easy to lose focus of how these tools actually fit into the active lives of end users, or – you know – your or your client’s customers.

Yes, innovation is a good thing.  The digital era is providing seemingly limitless opportunities for PR professionals and marketers to interact with consumers in a variety of ways, but the customer experience should never be sacrificed in the name of innovation.

As industry professionals, we need to be asking the right questions before jumping in:

  1. Is this easy for the target audience to use?
  2. Is it relevant to their lives first and our campaign goals second?

Over the next few days, I’ll be highlighting how these concepts popped up in the Blog World panels I attended, which focused on mobile marketing, location-based services, Facebook News Feed optimization, blogger relations, and content creation.

(*Again, all content posted to this blog is mine and mine only.  These thoughts do not represent those of my employer, Fleishman-Hillard.)