I’ve been doing the marketing materials for Cleveland’s Event Expo for about 9 years now, and boooooooooyyyyy has the climate changed over the past few years!

Mind you, Expo went on the road for the past two years and I’m retained only for the Cleveland market, so our last marketing effort here was three years ago. It may as well have been twenty years ago. This year was almost starting from scratch as co-founder Hank Frisch departed and Rick Turner, the other co-founder, formed an alliance with two other local event marketers to fill the gap. Along with myself, this was a new team tasked with rebuilding Expo’s brand and marketing/sales approach. We had the enormous Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland’s Ballroom to fill and we evolved our process along the way. We did a whole lot of things right. A few things wrong. But, we sure know what we’re going to capitalize on for 2019’s Expo!

Obviously, most of us have tight budgets. There are tons of expenses associated with putting on an event of this size, so marketing funds need to go where we get the best ROI. For this reason, we decided on not doing any print collateral (postcards, brochures) or newspaper/trade journal ads. We felt the audience for these had shrunken while expenses for them have gone up.

This year virtually anything that was in print is now digital

Gone are the years of trading or purchasing ad space in local business magazines, newspapers and radio shows. They were expensive and inadequately measured platforms compared to today’s online world. Social media is the most efficient platform for our event. And, considering our audience, Facebook is our #1 platform. We’ve implemented an Instagram account as well, which I think will gain more traction for next year, but right now Facebook is our primary social platform. The ad targeting and Insights (Analytics) is unmatched by anything to date.

We discussed our brand extensively and refined it considerably. We wanted Event Expo to be known for connecting the event industry – not just bringing event planners to event industry vendors, but also inspiring relationships amongst these vendors. In order to achieve this, we took advantage of video as our main medium of communication, which brings us to our 1st big revelation that we are sure to expand upon in 2019:

Tip #1: Make extensive use of video

Taking good quality video is easier than ever today. We used my iPhone and a lav mic (a must), and with a little editing in iMovie, I produced tons of great videos of our exhibitors on location.

I put these into our YouTube channel, then imported them into our website, and then made Facebook posts with them. Note – I did a couple “blooper reels” and they got more traction than any others. We also made extensive use of Facebook Live.

We were very efficient and didn’t waste any time when visiting our vendors. We usually would hit two vendors each time we went out. We’d quickly run through methodology with the representative and shoot our videos within about an hour:

  • First, we’d shoot a 3-5 minute interview with the objectives being:
    • Allow them to highlight their product, service or venue.
    • Assuming they had past experience with Event Expo, we’d ask what they found most valuable (all-important testimonials)
  • Next we’d do a 10-15 minute Facebook Live. These were intentionally loose and fun and allowed for more personal interaction with the vendors offerings.


Tip #2: Repurpose your content to broaden your reach!

As much as I love Facebook’s ability to hone in on your target market, in retrospect I wish we would’ve copied all of our posts to LinkedIn as well. The reasoning for leaving LinkedIn behind was the effort involved in establishing Event Expo presence and audience wasn’t worth the time and effort (as time and funds were stretched to maximum this year as we had to resurrect the show virtually from scratch this year). However, I find value in cross promoting on another platform and if you’ve already developed some great content then it’s a bit of a waste to not do so.

Also, LinkedIn has a hearty event planners market, so I will be building out Event Expo’s presence on there for 2019.

Tip #3: Use a dedicated CRM (Customer Relationship Manager)

As I mentioned earlier, the event’s co-founder left and along with him, so did our CRM. So we developed our new processes utilizing MailChimp for our list and email management and  Google Drive and it’s calendar and document management capabilities. The fact that it’s a free online suite of tools means that we can all access important data at any time. While fairly cumbersome, I think this was the right way for us to develop our new marketing and sales strategy for Year One of the new team. Putting together new CRM software and learning it on the fly was just too much to ask with all we were already tasked with. However, it is a must for 2019!

If you manage large repeat events a good CRM solution will integrate your Attendees and Exhibitor lists with your to-do calendar and track were your prospects are in the sales cycle. I’m currently trying to decide between Zoho and PipeDrive as my recommendation to the team. Both are highly rated and very affordable. But either will increase our efficiency infinitely and allow us to more easily refine our sales and marketing system.

Tip #4: Automate everything you can

Our website now does more work for us than ever before. We always did event registration on it, but now we fully integrated e-commerce and have made our video blog the hub of our marketing efforts.

Capturing leads for our two different lists (Attendees and Exhibitor) is essential for a successful show of this size and your lead capturing process should be refined, tested and refined again. It should make people feel confident and comfortable with providing you their all-important email address.

We also began taking purchases for booths, ShowBook ads and sponsorships on the site. Today, most people don’t want to be bogged down with writing and sending checks via snail mail. The 2.99% that PayPal or Stripe charges is worth not having to chase down money.


Final thoughts

My 4 event marketing tips for 2019 are primarily directed to teams that do a fairly large, recurring (usually annually) show. These situations cry out for automation and systems, so each show can get easier to produce and more profitable.

But, even if you don’t do recurring shows, your team can truly benefit by utilizing a good CRM software to organize your lists and processes and optimizing your website and social media to take as much manual work off your hands (sign ups, e-commerce). If you have any thoughts or questions regarding these, please contact me!

Over 50 Starting Over is a DIY resource for the not-so-technically inclined that want to generate their own lead generating online presence. It is powered by Barry Edwards of EdwardsCom.net.

Over 50 Starting Over marketing tips for the middle aged entrepreneur

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