How are you engaging your audience? Take a minute to mull it over.
Odds are, you’re thinking through tried-and-true approaches like chasing interesting subject matter and infusing it with attention-grabbing mixed media. Maybe you’re already taking advantage of newsletters, contests and giveaways—all excellent tactics. But according to the experts, these methods just can’t compare to a good ol’ fashion meet-and-greet.
That’s right. Industry professionals tell us that face-to-face time is the golden ticket to audience engagement. That means events and expos—the kind in which you’re able to connect with your readers in-person—are your chocolate factory. Aside from reader engagement, there are several other elements that make events and expos an invaluable resource for publishers:
- Networking Opportunities: Events provide a platform for you to connect with other industry professionals. You can exchange ideas, and possibly even set the stage for future collaborations.
- Industry Trends and Insights: Keynote speakers, seminars and panel discussions can give you valuable insight into a constantly evolving market. Staying informed on industry trends, market demands, and emerging technologies helps keep you competitive.
- Brand Visibility: Hosting or participating in events and expos raises your company’s profile—not only within the industry, but among your target audience. It showcases your commitment to community engagement, enhancing brand reputation and visibility.
Knowing how to make the most out of events can have you feeling like a kid in a candy shop. But if you go in unprepared … well, at least you won’t get sucked into a chocolate river. We spoke with several industry pros about what it takes to host a successful event, how to plan a profitable event schedule and how to make the most out of events—even when your company isn’t the one hosting.
5280 Publishing Inc. — Denver, CO
5280 Publishing, Inc. has been hosting events for the better part of three decades.
“I want to say we held our first event in 1996,” said Ari Ben, Ad Director for the company. “Around that time, it was really important to look at a business strategy that went beyond just magazine or magazine ad sales. That involves taking a leap into more robust digital opportunities and finding ways to monetize events, both from a ticket sales standpoint and from sponsorship revenue.”
Today, the company holds three to four signature events every year: A 5280 brunch event, 5280 Top of the Town, 5280 Dines, and a design event. They’re also introducing a new event this year, called the 5280 Thought Forum, designed to engage their editors in a business discussion about the future of Denver. In order for the new event to be successful, Ben says paid sponsors and partners will need to feel like they received value from it. That’s one of the key parameters 5280 Publishing uses to judge the impact of all events.
“There are so many ways to determine success,” Ben said. “From a marketing standpoint, it’s making sure we hit our ticket sale criteria. But we also want to make sure the vibe is right. We want our clients to be happy when attending, to get that the feeling of, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’”
Hosting events is not easy. Ben says it’s often a mad scramble to get everything in order, and the unknown elements of event planning can be challenging to work around. But as far as audience engagement goes, he says it’s one of the most powerful things a company can do.
“It’s one thing to be able to see a magazine or be engaged with content on our website,” Ben said. “But having that face-to-face, real-time engagement at a marquee event … it’s unbeatable. There’s no better way to network and really show our value.”
Advocate Media — Dallas, TX
Not every company has the resources to host events. That’s the case for Advocate Media, but company Founder and CRO Rick Wamre says they’re still able to make events work for them.
“We go and talk to people who are in the same business, but aren’t our direct competitors,” Wamre says. “Usually, we come away with a lot of ideas on what we’re doing right, as well as what we could be doing better.”
By attending events and expos hosted by other companies in the publishing industry, Advocate Media began thinking of ways to engage their audience digitally and make money doing it.
“Probably 10 to 15 years ago, I attended an Association of Community Publishers conference,” Wamre says. “There was a guy there from Connecticut who was talking about the importance of collecting email addresses. This was before email was much of a deal. The next year, he’d started to monetize those email addresses. And that’s really what got us started on building our database.”
Building the email database was a painstaking process that took quite a bit of time, according to Wamre. It was during this drawn-out process that Advocate Media realized professional events and expos weren’t the only ones they could capitalize on.
“We went to hundreds of local events, sitting there at a table, shaking people down as they walked by,” Wamre says. “Eventually, it paid off. We now have about 70,000 opt-in email addresses. We send two newsletters out to each of our five neighborhoods every week.”
He says ad sales from their e-newsletters are a major source of revenue for the company.
“It’s valuable for advertisers because they can reach directly into the neighborhoods they want to target. And the click through rates are pretty high, because this is information that people said they wanted sent to them.”
Frisco Style Magazine —Frisco, TX
Andrew Johnson, General Manager of Frisco STYLE Magazine, says it’s imperative to evolve your event planning strategy to fit the needs of your market.
“In Frisco, there is literally an event every single night that you could go to,” Johnson said. “There are so many events that eventually you become washed out.”
Before the age of COVID, Frisco STYLE held several in-person events each year, including a ‘Person of the Year’ reception and ‘Best of Business’ reception. When the pandemic struck, Johnson says the magazine pivoted away from hosting in-person gatherings.
“We focused heavily on social media,” Johnson said, though they continued with their award competitions. Recently, the magazine recognized ‘People to Watch’ instead of awarding a single person of the year. “We didn’t have a reception for the winners, but we printed it in the magazine and posted it on social media.”
Four years ago, the award ceremony would have looked very different. The first, second and third place winners would have been honored at a live event.
“There would be food and drinks and stuff like that,” Johnson said. “But we’ve found that the reach is much larger online— and it doesn’t cost as much.”
Today, Frisco STYLE is preparing to adapt again. Johnson says they’re constantly watching trends and learning how they can better engage readers, and in-person events may soon be coming back in style … pardon the pun.
“We’ve talked about starting up “Issue Launch” events,” Johnson said. “We’d invite all of our advertisers, friends and family at Frisco STYLE, and basically just have a party to say thank you. It would be a good networking opportunity and a way to thank people for supporting us.”
Experience Share Q&A: Ari Ben
Q: What lessons has 5280 Publishing, Inc. learned from hosting events over the past couple of decades?
A: There have been a lot. Early on, we weren’t great about sponsorship sales. So, we’ve learned a lot of lessons in that realm. We’ve streamlined that process and brought more value to our clients. It’s an easier pitch now, and we’ve seen a drastic increase in revenue tied to event sponsorships.
Q. Tell me more about selling sponsorships. Is it daunting for publishers?
A: It’s not that it’s daunting, it can just be a bit intimidating. There are a lot of unknowns when selling sponsorships. And clients often have a lot of questions—very technical questions—that we don’t always have answers to. For sales reps, there might be a fear of not knowing everything. But that’s just part of it, you know? Selling activations in particular, there is going to be an element that’s unknown. You don’t know exactly how the event is going to go, you don’t know exactly how many people are going to be there, exactly what the weather is going to be. You don’t know exactly what an activation is going to look like, and I think that can be intimidating for people.
Q: What else do companies need to know before hosting events or expos?
A: Make sure that the event is going to be relevant to consumers, that’s the first thing. Number two is finding a need. If there’s already a big, wonderful taco event in your city, don’t do another taco event. But if there’s a gap in the market there, maybe try it. And make sure that it’s an extension of your existing brand, that it’s in line with your content and who you want your character to be.
Experience Share Q&A: Rick Wamre
Q: How can publishers make the most out of attending events?
A: It doesn’t do a whole lot of good to go if you aren’t intending to network. You don’t get as much value out of just showing up and listening to speakers. You need to engage with other publishers. They have insight about what they’re up to that works and what doesn’t. It just saves a lot of grief on our part to spend some time talking with other people in the business.
Q: So, you don’t want to miss out on networking opportunities. Any other mistakes publishers should avoid making at these events?
A: Usually, you can walk away with ten different ideas that you could, in theory, execute. I’ve always figured that it works better if you pick one or two, and then you actually make an effort to execute those things. Everything sounds good when you’re sitting there listening. But when you get back to the office, there’s plenty of other stuff going on and it gets too busy to try to do ten new things. Forcing yourself to actually do just one or two things tends to pay off.
Q: Do you use any tools to help you find relevant events or expos?
A: Most of the stuff we go to is journalism or publishing related. There are certain groups we watch. LION is one of them. Association of Community Publications is one of them, and IMN. Those three tend to have valuable events with speakers that we’re interested in.
Experience Share Q&A: Andrew Johnson
Q: It sounds like scaling back in-person events actually benefited Frisco STYLE, to some degree?
A: Well, you know, you’re spending $8,000 to $10,000 putting on an event and maybe 40 to 50 people show up. Then you have all this leftover food and stuff because there’s another event in town. It just becomes saturated. We have a larger reach online and it doesn’t cost as much.
Q: So you cut back on hosting events. What about attending them?
A: We attend Frisco Family Services events, Boys and Girls Clubs events, charity events and any large ribbon cutting. For example, the Omni PGA just opened up two weeks ago, and the governor of Texas was there. Events are a great way to network and engage readers. Right now, we’re looking at the trends and are just kind of feeling out what events we really want to put on.