Ticketing

Episode 14: Mergers & Acquisitions: How to keep growing your event when your business chang

What happens when your business merges and your conference grows 4x larger? Emma Bica, Event Marketing Manager for PeopleNet/Trimble talks us through her company’s event growth and how to work collaboratively with a new parent company.

 

Tell us about you and your background.

 

To set the stage I have worked PeopleNet/Trimble for 8 1/2 years.  I was hired on as an intern when I was still in college and they had a marketing team of 2. They had a conference coming up for the customers that they were going to need help with, one was going to be out on maternity leave. I jumped in and saw part of the benefit of being an intern was getting to go to the Boca Raton Resort in Boca Raton. I started doing that and long story short, I’m still there, they haven’t gotten rid of me. Really grown threw my career, it’s been exciting to see things change.  Our department is now 6 people.

 

I focus on trade shows and events. We attend in some form or fashion 80-90 trade shows a year. Were in the trucking industry, its  heavily trade show oriented. I also manage our social media and do my organizational ninja data spreadsheet organization as well.

 

Can you give us a quick summary for what PeopleNet/Trimble does?

 

It is in the trucking space.  We create the on board technology that goes inside the trucking plate. As you’re going down the road and you see the semi’s going by you, tip your hat to them.  I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for this industry. It’s one that’s super easy to take for granted. We help to make their job easier and their businesses to run more efficiently.

 

Without this industry we wouldn’t have the clothes on our back it’s so easy to take for granted.

 

Yeah there are all these statistics that if all the truckers stopped for a day, the pharmacies wouldn’t get the medicine, hospitals wouldn’t have what they needed, there wouldn’t be milk at the grocery stores, or gas at the gas station. It’s one of those that is super easy to take for granted but we needed. They are working hard and there is a shortage because it’s’ a tough job to do.

Tell us about the event you had and the progression of it.

 

When I first started the user conference was about 400 people. It’s always been an annual user conference it’s really geared towards our customers. Heavy on education about our products and services as well as the industry as a whole. Having an expo hall for our partners and sponsors to be able too showcase what they can do for our customers, and our employees are there and available in one spot.

 

If we rewind to about 9 years ago to the first one I was involved with, in Boca Raton FL.  We had about 420 people it was super exciting and super stressful. My boss and I did everything from bringing the projector into the room every morning and making sure they were set up, switching the signs in-between sessions everyday.  Every little thing, we made sure it happened, we coordinated transportation for all our attendees.

 

It’s really grown and evolved over time, to skip over what I’m sure we will go over, we just finished an annual user conference it’s called The Insight User Conference, it’s with a sister company.  There were 2200 people there. It’s a few more people involved. We have an event managing team that helps us do a lot of the work. I like to say we’ve grown up a bit, but it’s crazy to think about where we’ve come to where we are to where we’re going to go in the future.

 

Tell me more about the conference itself.

 

It’s about 3 days long, start on a Sunday evening and end on a Wednesday afternoon. We have over 350 educational sessions during that time. We have an expo hall with over 70 of our vendors to chat with our customers. We have what we call an insight lab a hands on place for our customers to dig into the software service and employees there to make sure its being used to the best of their ability.  We also have a lot of fun.

 

Who’s attending your event?

 

It’s customers, its a really customer focused event. We want to bring them all together to have a lot of education on what is new, what the products and services we offer and we’ve been focusing on the industry. We have a lot of industry experts to talk about overall the transportation industry  whats new, what’s coming up, what do they need to be aware of, tips and tricks, and best practices. We are getting more into business best practices. Things that don’t only apply to people in our industry. We are trying to expand our educational repertoire. We are going for a more holistic approach.

 

To people buy their own tickets, how does it work?

 

It’s a registration fee that covers food, beverage, and evening entertainment, as well as all the education, access to the expo hall.  They just have to pay to get themselves their and their hotel and we cover the rest.

 

Tell us more about when you merged these events together.

 

Three years about in 2016.  Leadership said it would be best. There’s some efficiencies you see, we were serving similar audiences.  We were a month apart. When you look at it from a more logistical financial side it looked like it made sense for us to take these two conferences that were similar in nature and combine them into one to create a more powerful joint conference.

 

The planning began about a year and half before the conference started. In general these conferences are complex a lot of detail to put together. But now you have two planning teams who each had their own way of doing things. We’re located in two different offices, who’s best practices are you going to follow?

 

We couldn’t have done it without google drive.  Our company had just migrated to google from outlook. I don’t know how we could have managed a budget and all these things without it.

 

How did you put the two together?

 

It’s been an evolution, and change is hard for anyone.  We came up with messaging for our customers letting them know we were bringing these two conferences together and really focusing on the value that was going to bring them by not having to spend time out of the office two months in a row they could invest in sending more people there. They were going to have that value add of having one conference they could go to.

 

Did you have to change the cost of registration?

 

We did. We did some analysis and setting some bench marks. We were in similar places on somethings and some things we were a little off. The very first step to do if you are combining conferences is to do a state of the union. Where are you at?  What are you charging for registration? Demographics? Content? Etc.

 

It’s got to be difficult.

 

It’s a learning process and communication is key. We had one way of doing it and they had a way of doing it and neither is right or wrong but their are different. How can you work together to find a new way to do it? Thats what we focused on, lets create something new. We’re not trying to make your conference better or our conference better but we’re trying to create something new and keeping the focus on the customer.

 

I always tried to think of the customer. Who is the end user of this conference?  And whatever decision we make is to service them and what ever is in their best interest.

 

Did you have to go to your leadership because things weren’t turning out?

 

One of the things we learned, is there weren’t as many efficiencies that were long term generated.  In the first year there were some created taking two conferences and combining them into one. What we’ve seen as we’ve gone, we have it as our user conference so we don’t have competition there. With 2 companies there are more companies as potential competitors which lessons our sponsorship revenue possibilities. That’s one of the big ways we are able to put on our conference is by sponsorship revenue that was something we saw as increasing or staying the same, but that’s been opposite of the case.  From a budget standpoint we’ve been decreasing the amount of sponsorship revenue due to competitive concerns.

 

What is your strategy for the content during the breakouts?

 

Right now we’re really focusing on having the folks at the event to gain that content. I know being able to live stream during the conference or people to sign up for web versions is popular.  To be candid it makes me a little nervous. We are dipping our toe in the water of picking some sessions that may serve a mass audience because we understand our customer is busy for them to take time out of their schedule, we do want to serve them. Right now we really focus on at the conference is where the content is. We do send it out as PDF forms of our presentations for our customers to have available for a month after.  Also that content could get stale we don’t want it out there forever and ever.

 

Do you ever use celebrity power?

 

We have a handsome budget.  The things that are super expensive have not been in our reach.  But we figure out where we want to invest that money, maybe in a key note speaker. We try to have it with a purpose, we have a theme in our conference.  You want someone who fits with that. Obviously big names are going to be a draw, people are going to be attracted to that. We don’t want to have someone random where our attendees are saying this person is cool but I don’t understand how it fits.

 

One of the things we focus on when looking for a keynote it doesn’t have to be someone who knows our industry. People don’t like when someone pretends they get what they do we’ve had speakers do that. It come’s across in an unsettling way. We want to know where you have come from. We want someone who is a master in their area. If they do that well enough our audience can pick the pieces that matter and how it can apply to them.

 

What other things for the event planners thinking of combining conferences?

 

We do not make any money off of our conferences. Never meant to be a revenue generating event. We charge a registration fee to only cover the cost. That is one important thing we were both on the same page about. The integrity of the event, this is for customers, we want to have a quality event but this is not a revenue stream for us.  So what we are charging is just to cover the cost of food and entertainment and hopefully the rest can be covered by our sponsor revenue.

 

If you could give our audience a little bit of advice what would it be?

 

Embrace your inner organizational ninja and document and have data for things.  As much as I love the emotional side of events things can’t continue or change if you don’t have any data to support. Decisions needing to be made need data, if you are going to present it to leadership or colleagues all they are going to see is you had a nice party the party went well.  To help get some meat behind you do is to have the data behind you it will serve you well and help you to grow and see where you have grown.

 

The second piece of advice is being able to when you get to show time, let go and try to deal with things as they come.  You prepare for months or years to get to show start and when you get there you don’t have time to make a decision in that moment you can’t put it off or send an email. You need to make a decision and move forward.  

 

Meeting Minds By EideCom

Episode 1: Fundraising Tricks To Raise More Money

In this first episode, Charles meets with Shauna Brick and Sara Meyer of the American Heart Association to discuss maximizing a non-profit fundraiser. This episode covers everything from the strategy for pricing gala tickets to the use of alcohol. We also talk about live auctions, audience reactions, show flow, and entertainment for your guests.

 

 

WHAT ARE THE SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES OF NON-PROFIT EVENTS AND FOR-PROFIT EVENTS?

We, American Heart Association, are a national organization and we run much like a corporate business. We work a lot with sales and budgeting. Our gala is successful because we are so driven by the numbers.

 

WHAT WAS THE STRATEGY BEHIND MOVING YOUR GALA FROM NOVEMBER TO SEPTEMBER?

A couple of things. Sometimes when you look at who is going to be the Chairman(s) for our event, we have big C-Suite executives and it has to work with their schedule. Also, the venue. We have over 700 attendees and we need a space that will accommodate that. Plus, when we are trying to raise 1.8 million dollars, we need a beautiful venue! *link to donate below* Also, since we live in Minnesota, the majority of our guests are snowbirds, so they leave for 6 months of the year, and unfortunately November falls into that time. So we moved it up two months earlier! Which really can throw of our timeline, because that is two months that we no longer have to fundraise and plan. Our goal is $300,000 higher than it was last year, so those two months would be amazing to have, but we know our audience and know this event, so we are not too worried! *Shauna has been with AHA as their Gala Coordinator for seven years! Sara was there for five, left, then came back, and is coming up on her seventh year!

 

HOW MUCH OF THE MONEY YOU RAISE IS RAISED THE NIGHT OF VS. MONEY YOU KNEW WAS GOING TO COME IN?

It ranges depending on the organization, but AHA is very corporate heavy. So when you look at the audience and who is in the room that night, a lot of it comes from the corporations in the community, like U.S. Bank. We are raising about $300,000 tops on the night of. Majority of the money comes from sponsorships and donations beforehand. Even though we love monetary surprises, we want to make sure that we have done our due diligence of sharing what the mission is and where the donations are going. The more planning and less surprises the better, because people’s lives are in our hands. The expenses alone are what you are going to make the night of, give or take. I think it would be irresponsible of us to gamble on raising all the money the night of.

 

HOW DO YOU MAKE A GREAT EVENT, FROM FUNDRAISING TO THE EXECUTION OF THE ACTUAL EVENT, FOR NON-PROFITS?

First and foremost, it is not something you plan for 2-3 months. It is a process. People often ask us what we plan on doing now that the gala is over and we are shocked, because there is still so much work to be done and we have the next one to plan! We are always looking out 2-3 years. The individuals you want chairing your event are so busy, so we need to plan years in advance. Especially, if you have a large fundraising goal. We couldn’t do any of this without our amazing volunteers. We need those volunteers and C-Suite executives to spread that awareness. It is our job to help them sell the mission to their friends, because this is not their full time job, it is ours.

FUNDRAISING TIP: Have monthly check ins with all of your executive leadership team members. Simply, a 15 minute call asking them who are the ten people they are going to call this month. We will even create the message (email) and send it to them as a template for them to send to others, then we check in with those people and “close” the deal. Also, their assistants need to become your best friend so treat them well!!! We like to be pleasantly persistent.

 

HOW DO YOU EXECUTE A GREAT EVENT?

It seems like a lot of people like to be a jack of all trades, but for us, we have a team of three for the Gala. The three of us cannot do what this event entails without great volunteers. The night of and weeks leading up, we are reminding them how valuable they are to us and we set up specific leads. Someone to lead registration, ballroom set up, etc. You need a specific lead to be there if anything was to arise and you NEED to prep them! No amount of communication is too much and no amount of information is too much. You are putting your event and goal in their hands, they need to know everything.

 

HOW DO YOU DO THAT? HOW DO YOU PREP THEM?

We pick the veterans, the ones who have been at the gala a few times, and we sit down with them prior to the event, either for coffee or at the office, and we run though everything. I give them all the materials they need to be successful. For example, our auction room. Our goal is to raise $160,000 that night and if I’m putting out fires left and right I cant be there to talk to John from XYZ Organization about the next auction item coming up and getting him excited about it. So I need to make sure that the key volunteer knows the lay of the land, like where the online auction person is or what the vacation parameters are around the vacation home in Mexico, etc. It may be overkill in the beginning but it is worth it. These meetings happen about a month out and then again two weeks before, and then the leads need to arrive even earlier the day of than the guests and other volunteers. You need to realize that just because you’ve been planning this event for eleven months and you know all about it, doesn’t mean your volunteers do. Give as much information as you can and delegate as much as you can.

 

HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM SOME MISTAKES?

Continuously! We learn every year. For example, we changed how we did check out a couple years ago to make it more efficient. At least we tried. To the three of us it made perfect sense, but we weren’t there when people were trying to check out and it was absolutely chaos.

TIP: Keep your guests’ experience in mind the whole time. From the moment they reach the valet to when they check out or leave the valet. What is the first thing they see? It is all about the details. Have a glass of champagne being passed during check in. Just like any event, there is a general flow to the event, which is why the details matter so much in helping you stand out. It changes everything. Put yourself in their shoes.

 

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO IMPROVE CHECK IN?

In the past 7 years our registration has dramatically improved. It used to be ‘stand in this line, carry your program, carry the seven other things we have for you, etc.’ Now, our guests do not get any of that. You can go to any computer or open line, and you don’t even get a program anymore. You get a little card with your table number, because everything is on your phone!

TIP: Don’t be afraid to look into mobile bidding. Mobile bidding is your friend! For years we used BidPal, but now we use Greater Giving.

We also have volunteers to show you where to go. Then, at your table is where your program is, your bidder number, etc. We don’t want them holding anything but their phone and a glass of whatever. These are little pieces that make a huge impact on your guest’s experience. What are the experiences your guests can have? Also, be sure to change your experiences! Some people are going to galas every weekend. In the past we have had bright lights hitting the valet so our guests feel like stars when they walk in. Last year we had a gorgeous coffee station, Girl Friday helped us set it up. And as our guests were leaving we had these cups made with our logo and all of our sponsors logos that would be working with us next year. It was a take home gift that everybody loved! The guests loved it because it was pretty and who doesn’t love a take home gift? And our sponsors loved it because it was getting their name out there. For some, that coffee was that extra little push to get sponsors on board for next year. And now sponsors that weren’t on it, want to be on it!

Last year, when we were trying to get our donors on board before the night of the event, we had this beautiful wine wall, where you could “buy” a bottle and have it engraved in memory of the person you were there for. Then, you received it in a beautiful bag on your way out. It was great!

We will caution you to be careful with your changes. You know your audience and you know what they like. So if you change up the auctioneer, for example, it can be really hard on your guests because it eventually becomes endearing to them.

 

DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE AUDIENCE REALLY LIKES TO HAVE THE LIVE AUCTION?

For sure. It breaks up the program. Some years, our survivor stories can be pretty heavy. Sometimes non-profits can be “Debbie downers,” but we need to give hope. You have to be very careful with how you tell your stories. We’ve learned that through having people actually leave the room because the video or story was too heavy for them. We love a good tear jerker, but there needs to be hope.

TIP: If you’re going to make a video or share a really heavy story, bring in hope at the end!!! That’s where the money comes from.

You’re walking a fine line and you need to know your audience. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to know everyone and it has taken us years to work up to get a room full of high level executives. We go out before the gala, about a month to a month and a half out and we let them know the importance of who is in the room and that they are there too. We are setting the expectation of who we want in the room with the large company. We talk with our sponsors about Key People. From day one with our Gala Chairman, who this year is one of the EVPs at 3M, we always tell him, it is very important that your CEO is there.

Over the years, our event has gone up in donations exponentially and gone down in size. You need to focus on who is going to be there, because at the end of the day it is about hitting goal for the non-profit.

 

WHAT IS YOUR PRICE POINT ON TICKETS? HOW DO YOU PRICE YOUR TICKETS?

We don’t rely heavily on ticket sales. We focus more on the big sponsorships. A lot of our tables come from our sponsorships. So with those say four tables, for example, that comes with the sponsorship, we sit down with the sponsor and say, “we want X, Y, & Z at your tables.” We do individually sell tickets, they are $375.

 

WHAT DID YOU SEE HAPPEN WHEN YOU INCREASED YOUR PRICES FROM $150 TO $375?

Honestly, nothing. It is a pretty consistent group of people and amount that we raise/sell from tickets. But, everything has to be a strategic decision. We go through the pro’s and con’s. Keep in mind though, you can’t raise the money after the fact. Start high, set the expectation, and put the fundraiser hat on. You always have to think about if this: ________ is going to move the bottom line.

 

WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ENTICE THE GUESTS TO STAY LATE?

Instead of having the preset desserts, we decided to hold off and did a dessert cart after. That probably held another 100 people than we would’ve ever expected.

 

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO OTHER NON-PROFITS TO KEEP SOMEONE IN THE SAME EVENT SO THEY BECOME A SPECIALIST?

Yes, because although planning the event can be very repetitive, there is always something new. Also, it can be very hard to switch from wearing the “Gala hat” to the “Young Professionals event hat” or whatever it may be, because you are not given enough time to really put everything you can into making the event the best it can be. Knowing that the gala is our baby has really helped our organization grow.

 

HOW DO YOU SELECT THE RIGHT PARTNERS IN YOUR COMMUNITY TO HELP YOU PUT THIS TOGETHER? LIKE THE FLORIST, THE VENUE, ETC.

It isn’t always money. Our policy is that every single year we are supposed to get three bids on every aspect. But it goes back to our relationships. We have used the same vendors in a handful of different areas because they know us and what we are trying to achieve. They know our goals, our bottom line, our room most of the time, etc. So even though they might come in a little higher at their cost, we know the service they are going to provide.

 

QUICK TOUCH ON PROGRAMS, WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN’T?

Well, we have an amazing Senior Communications Director, Elizabeth. And we are thankful that we all know our expertise. We are good at fundraising and planning, but not writing a script. And in some cases, like for some non-profits, you do have to do it all. At the end of the day it is all about the goal and what you need to accomplish. So when we start planning the program, all three of us get together and we all have say! We come from different points of views and it is always interesting. One of the ways we start, is what kind of advocacy wins have we had? What are the things we can celebrate that evening to show the impact that the donations are making? We meet with our survivor and go over expectations and make sure they are comfortable with our expectations.

 

HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE FUN EXPERIENCE OF THE NIGHT WITH THE PURPOSE OF THE EVENT (RAISING MONEY)?

  1. Warming the room. Like an email to the guests from the survivor or the Chairman and in that email we will share our goal and encourage them to join us in meeting that goal. It prepares people to spend and start talking about it beforehand. It may sound like overkill, but that key messaging is so important. One email will preview the speaker, then the survivor, then the auction, etc.
  2. Alcohol. It gets people relaxed and a little competitive.

 

FOR THE EVENTS THAT DO CHOOSE TO HAVE ALCOHOL, HOW DO YOU MAKE THE DECISION TO HAVE OPEN BAR AND AT WHAT TICKET PRICE OR DO YOU JUST HAVE BEER AND WINE? WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY WITH ALCOHOL?

We have a balance. When you come, all of our pre-selected beverages are open bar, which is more than just beer and wine. That is open to everyone. Then, when you get to your table there is a bottle of wine, red and white, which we try to get donated by a vendor. We have a great partnership with a company, called Colby Red, that we will be working with. From that point on it is cash bar. Last year, we had a champagne toast at the end to celebrate the night, and I don’t know if there was value in it. But, alcohol in the beginning really loosens people up. We noticed with an open bar all night you have to worry about people being over served and it can be a bit messy. We like to give a little “liquid courage” up front, then let the rest be up to them. Our VIPs, or higher donors, also get a bottle of champagne and we will replenish their wine throughout the night. It goes back to what your overall goal is. Is it to have a party or to raise money?

RECAP…

  • It is not a 2 month event. The gala is a year-round event and we are always looking three years out.
  • Don’t be afraid to lean on your seasoned volunteers that night. The night of you should be the thermometer of the event, seeing what works and doesn’t work.
  • Make the small changes.
  • Know your audience.
  • Don’t forget about the details. Ex. Cards or gifts to your sponsors at the table. You want everyone to feel special and we all work hard for our money and there are tons of different amazing causes out there fighting for that money. Remind them of how much you appreciate them.
  • Build relationships! Don’t only talk to your sponsors once a year when it is time for them to donate.
  • It is important to have POST-event meetings, with your team AND with your vendors. What worked well, what didn’t. They are uncomfortable conversations, but SO necessary.
  • Understand the cadence and the flow of your evening.
  • Put the guest experience first.

 

ANY OTHER TIPS OR FINAL THOUGHTS?

Lead with mission and be sincere. And believe in your mission. It’s hard to sell what you don’t care about. Be yourself.

 

HOW CAN PEOPLE GET INVOLVED?

Volunteer! Email sara.shaw@heart.org to volunteer, donate, or provide connections for AHA. The gala is September 29th, 2018. A Saturday night. It is a black tie event and we are looking for volunteers for everything from the auction room to guest experiences!

Find out all you need to know about the 24th Annual Twin Cities Heart & Stroke Gala HERE.

 

 

Meeting Minds by EideCom