So, the professional conference season is upon us! Once you’ve decided to go to a conference and have your travel set, what do you do to get yourself ready?
A PR and content marketing team has specific objectives at each conference, but in prepping, I realize that there’s a lot of pre-planning and strategy involved. Along with lots of learning and networking, conference goals including producing quality content, and having a well thought out process will be essential for fitting everything in.
A recent report by event software company Bizzabo says 85 percent of marketers cite event production as “essential” to their marketing strategies, while 41 percent consider event marketing the most crucial channel to achieve their goals. Two-thirds surveyed say they plan to increase spending on live events in 2019.
As more organizations look to live events to boost the bottom line, they’re also looking to their PR teams to help get the word out to improve visibility and drive attendance.
Events allow face-to-face interaction with prospects, helping them establish a more personal relationship with brands. And they can get feedback in real-time – versus waiting for customers to try the product and share comments, which may never happen.
“For instance, intimate VIP events may help to win new customers, while thought leadership and networking events may help to increase brand awareness, and awards ceremonies may help to generate revenue from ticket sales and sponsors,” says Bizzabo.
Given this rise in live events, how can PR pros help brands make the most of these opportunities?
Use press releases to create buzz. These can be written in advance and pitched to relevant publications, posted on your website and social media, and issued on wire services.
“What doesn’t work is writing the same old press release for the event,” says Vannessa Wade, Founder, Connect The Dots PR. “Add flare. Talk about the event with excitement. Have a clear call to action.”
“Whenever possible I try to connect client events to a local community conversation or a trend,” says Olivia Adams, communications strategist, Byrum & Fisk. “This makes media advisories, press releases, pitches, and social media content all that more relevant and impactful when the event is connected to a bigger conversation.”
In addition to press releases, invite media to attend and cover the event. Post the event to local listings and event calendars.
Leverage event headliners in your PR efforts. Set up an interview with them before the event so you can create a press release or blog post. Beyond that, pitch an interview with them to local media. Then, share the articles that result on social media and the event landing page.
Beyond press releases, craft blog posts to talk about not only what your company is doing at an event but what you’re looking forward to. Are there themes you’re excited about? Are other brands participating that you may be able to include in your post?
You can also create a landing page with all the information about the event – the who, what, when, where, why, and how that answers all the questions potential attendees might want to know. Include a sneak peek of behind the scenes footage or images, a program of speakers with excerpts from their work, and so on. After the event, you can write another blog post that recaps the highlights. Include photos or videos from the event. Be sure to post this on social media, as well.
Leverage social media with scheduled posts, as well as live updates during the event. Post it on Facebook Events. Enlist partners and sponsors in your social media campaign to promote events. Be sure to tag them in your posts to increase the likelihood that they’ll share them. You can also create sample posts for your employees and third parties to share, making it easy for them to cut and paste.
“A major problem for brands in today’s digital world is that they tend to be faceless among a social feed of other brands,” said Deirdre Lopian, creative director, DLPR. “But influencers know how to create engaging content that will stand out and resonate with their audience.
What types of initiatives can influencers help brands with? Keynote speeches, panel discussions, promotions, and live-streaming are a few examples Lopian cites.
If you aren’t signing up for a full pass, you might want to look into other options. This can mean general press or industry access or an exhibition hall pass. Getting the correct access is the beginning of your event journey, so make sure that you have the right credentials.
If you’ve registered as a full attendee, roll up your sleeves and enroll in workshops or breakout sessions before you get there. Wait, you might say, “How do I decide which ones to go to?” Hopefully, the blurbs on the site give you enough information to make decisions. If you want to guarantee an engaging speaker, Google videos of them, or plugin a relevant search into your media intelligence platform and check out videos and authored articles/posts.
If you don’t use your social platforms for work, either clean them up or start new accounts especially for professional venues, such as conferences and to give to future colleagues. Stymied as to where to start? LinkedIn for professional networking, and Twitter and Instagram for monitoring the event and connecting with fellow attendees in real-time.
Depending on the conference, it may be possible to see an attendee list with accompanying social handles before you arrive. Also, if organizers provide event-specific Twitter and Instagram handles—you’re ahead of the game! Grab all of these and put them into Twitter lists. If you’re super organized, separating out speakers and attendees can be useful later when you’re on-site covering the conference. Since Instagram doesn’t provide the ability to make lists, just follow those handles.
If no attendee names or social handles are on the conference website, uncover attendees by looking at who is using the event hashtag and Google speakers’ names. In the case of South by Southwest, for example, I searched for the 2017 event by branded hashtag #SXSW, in addition to “South by Southwest,” and “southbysouthwest.” Plugging a boolean search into a media intelligence platform has the advantage of keeping searches running, gathering results throughout your planning process, as well as gives you the ability to spot possible trends ancillary to the event.
After you reach a certain tipping point, say 100 attendee handles on your Twitter list, a nice pre-conference engagement tweet might be to ask, “Who else is going to #SXSW? Putting together a list of attendees and don’t want to miss anyone!” Doing this serves you three-fold, it will broadcast your attendance to other Twitter list makers, second, it may then lead to introductions. And third, this callout may net you some responses; it is possible that your Twitter list will be the most comprehensive (and therefore will be utilized on the ground, during the conference).
At this point, you may have an idea of how you’d like to cover the conference. During an event, especially one that is a week-long, it is challenging to do anything other than focus on what’s happening in the present. You’ll be busy networking, attending sessions, taking notes, watching exhibitor demos, going to happy hours, and dinners. So, having an idea of what your coverage will look like and prepping for it before arrival, is the best way to create and produce content while you’re there. Block out time in your schedule to get your project together, so that it receives a maximum impact. Producing and pushing content marketing (whether this is a blog post or infographic) before (or soon after) the conference is over will allow you to leverage the hashtag in social channel promotions. It can also help cement new relationships you’ve forged at the event, and position you as an essential part of the community that the conference caters to (the first step towards industry thought leadership).
A big part of conferences is the networking opportunities. As un-conference YxYY puts it, “At your average conference, we know the best conversations happen in the hallways. They happen over late-night drinks, and on the walk from point A to point B.”
If you’re new to this particular conference and even new to the profession, how can you guarantee opportunities to have these conversations? Again, social listening is your friend. As you research the conference branded hashtags, include “happy hour,” “attendee dinner,” “VIP dinner,” “drinks,” and “after hours” to get a sense of what’s happening and who’s going. To attend events, RSVP to as many events with open invitations as you’ll really go to. You might also surface posts from fellow attendees suggesting IRL engagement. If you’re feeling bold, answer the call of: “Does anyone at the conference hall want to grab dinner?” or throw out a social invite yourself. Either way, conferences are a way to get out there and meet like-minded colleagues discussing your industry. Using media intelligence and social channel searching you can enrich your conference experience and make it productive.
We’ve covered sessions, prepping personal social media accounts, tracking conference attendees’ social accounts, listening to hashtags at the conference in real-time, and contributing with your take on the conference, and now the after-hours events.
Using this as a guide for your coverage strategy and listening to socials throughout your conference, (before, during, and after) will guarantee a productive event!