Make Your Business Case for Attending Industry Conferences

It’s no secret that people are cutting back on attending conferences. Even if your organization has a bulletproof marketing plan for enticing your membership, it won’t work if prospective participants can’t convince the people holding the purse strings.

All too often, people who want to attend a conference simply submit a request and cross their fingers. As a meeting professional, you can help your members by showing them how to put together a business case for why they should attend your conference—and how to get the most out of the event once they’re there. (And note this: As a meeting professional, you also can use this strategy yourself, to get approval for the meeting industry education and networking conferences you personally want to attend each year.)

All prospective conference attendees should show their leaders how conference participation will relate directly to the strategies and objectives of their own organizations. That way, they can articulate the value of their continued professional development.

Imagine your organization sending an e-mail or pamphlet to your membership that contains information like this:

How to Get Approval to Attend This Year’s Annual Conference
In our current economic climate, getting approval to attend meetings may be more challenging for you now than it has been in the past. Here are three steps you can use to build a business case for attending our Annual Meeting:

1. Write down the three to five most important strategies or issues being addressed in your organization right now. Think about how you personally contribute to those strategies. How is your work aligned with the larger organization’s strategy or mission? Make a list of these “personal contributions to strategy.”
2. Review our proposed agenda for the conference and mark the sessions you want to attend that relate to your list of “personal contributions to strategy,” and also make a note of speakers or other people at the meeting you would like to meet.
3. Write a short business case for how attending these sessions and meeting these people will help you contribute to the organization’s strategy. Use this business case to make your request for attending the meeting.

For example, part of your business case might read as follows: “At present, our organization is highly focused on cost savings. My personal contribution to this organizational strategy is to be responsible for finding ways to reduce sales costs. At the XYZ annual conference there is a session entitled, ‘Using Technology to Maximize Sales Efficiencies,’ and an expert, Sarah Smith, will be running the session. I would like to attend Smith’s session and also meet with her privately in order to get ideas about maximizing the cost savings we could receive from using technology in my area.”

Preparing for the Meeting
Once you get approval, you should prepare properly for the conference because you’re going to need to demonstrate to the person who’s paying your way that you received the benefits outlined in your business case. Here are some things you can do to prepare for the conference:

1. Make a list of people you’d like to meet at the conference and why you want to meet them. Don’t be shy about approaching presenters and other “luminaries.” They are more accessible than you might think, especially if you make plans with them in advance.
2. About one to two weeks prior to the conference, contact the people on your list. Make a specific plan for a meal, coffee, or a time and place to get together.
3. One week prior to the meeting, make a personal agenda for yourself that includes the people you’re meeting as well as which sessions you’ll be attending. Be sure to include cellphone numbers or any other contact information you may need for any last-minute changes to your schedule.
4. When you’re at the meeting, try to stick to your schedule as much as possible and take notes during the educational sessions and during your private conversations. However, leave some “white space” on your calendar in case you encounter new people at the meeting with whom you’d like to spend some time.

After the Meeting
1. Immediately following the conference (perhaps on the airplane ride home), write or dictate a concise summary of what happened at the conference and how you will use the information you received and contacts you made to further the strategies of your organization. It’s important to write this one- or two-page summary quickly, while the information is fresh in your mind. Use the notes you took at the meeting to help you.
2. Submit the summary to the person who sponsored your attendance, thanking him or her for the opportunity. The purpose of this summary is to make your next conference request even easier than the first. Once your executives understand that you mean business when you attend a conference, they’ll be more likely to quickly approve your participation at future events.
3. If the knowledge you gained might also be useful to others in your organization, consider rewriting portions of your summary as a blog or Twitter post.

Attending conferences is one of the best ways of responding to times of increased uncertainty. Conferences are all about collaboration and learning—essential ingredients for innovation, economic recovery, and organizational success.

Mary Boone is president of Boone Associates, Essex, Conn. She has been an expert in interactive meeting design for over two decades. At the height of the meetings crisis in 2008, she wrote a white paper, The Four Elements of Strategic Value for Meetings and Events, which is included in the curriculum for MPI’s CMM designation. She is also the author of several books, including “Managing Interactively” (McGraw-Hill) and “Leadership and the Computer” (Prima Publishing), and numerous other award-winning articles and publications. If you have any questions about this article, please contact her at or via Twitter @maryboone.

3 reasons why digital campaign ideas fail

JT Anderson ContactFollow this author

Creative Posted on October 01, 2012 inShare.864 PrintShareCommentAs I write this, I am looking at a poster. Every year, an industry publication releases a digital issue that contains some great posters and infographics that I often find useful and put up on the wall of my office for reference. One from 2011 had an ad on the bottom of it that read, “Creativity Meet Ubiquity.” The ad seemed to infer that you can achieve that advertising omnipresence known as “ubiquity” simply by blasting your ad across all digital platforms — as if ubiquity was some great Holy Grail that we advertising professionals (especially creatives) have been looking for our entire careers.

As the executive creative director of a digitally focused agency, my challenge is to come up with new and persuasive ideas specific to the online medium. I find myself staring at this poster on my wall, often late at night, while trying to devise an execution that will break through the clutter. What I need is something relevant, something useful, something entertaining and unique, something that will make a difference for my clients, something — creative.

Connect with the industry. Want to meet the companies that are driving the future of digital marketing? Attend the iMedia Breakthrough Summit, Oct. 14-17. Request your invitation today. Honestly, I am never really going for ubiquity.

Ubiquity has had many names: the “breakthrough,” the “Big Idea,” “Media Agnostic.” It has been associated with the notion that if we repeat a message or experience across all platforms, it will have a greater effect. In fact, ubiquity is something that just feels right. It feels so right that it can’t be wrong — right? And yet, we’ve witnessed countless cookie cutter executions over the years that pander to the lowest common denominator of what “the idea” is. On this road paved with good intentions, many mistakes are made. Here are three of the biggest:

Defining an idea too narrowly
Campaign ideas are concepts, sometimes great ones. They are themes that evoke thoughts and feelings and connect the person experiencing them to the heart of the message. You see execution after execution of a great campaign across numerous media and can just feel how they are all connected. Perhaps they share an actor or model, a visual style, or a few words of copy, and this provides a through-line that ties the executions together. But do they really have to share any of these things in order to convey the same idea?

This is a slippery slope. If using the same actor again and again was all it took to create a memorable and moving campaign, then TV spots could just be print ads that advertisers showed for 30 or 60 seconds. Great TV spots start with an understanding of the inherent power that this particular medium has to offer and what people want when they’re engaging with it. So too should campaigns that run online. Start your brainstorming with these questions: What is the core theme of your idea, and how is it best represented in each of the unique media you plan to include in your campaign? What is your audience doing with those media, and what does it want from them? Showing an ad made for TV to an online audience isn’t necessarily wrong. But it also isn’t necessarily right.

Believing that people want ubiquity
We don’t go to an Italian restaurant when we’re hungry for a burrito, nor should we expect consumers to embrace campaigns that aren’t specific to their media environment. While it’s true that with enough money, frequency, and repetition a marketer can make just about any execution memorable, most clients don’t have that luxury, and bombastic campaigns that win buzz and awards don’t always serve the needs of the client. I try to judge my team’s digital executions by asking if they are media-smart, media-simple, and media-specific. You might not make the biggest splash in the pond by following this rule, but you will catch the right fish. Digital and interactive are not one channel, but rather a collection of platforms and experiences that appeal not only to different people, but also to different states of mind. Not only do you have to ask who your audience is, but also what your customers are looking for when you connect with them.

Falling in love
Keep in mind that your “media-specific execution” is not a “media-agnostic idea.” Sometimes in this job you feel so great about the ad you’ve just helped create that you want to share it with the whole wide world, but you have to be careful not to love it to the detriment of your overall campaign.

During the Olympics, many of us were captivated by Nike’s “Jogger” ad — part of its “Find Your Greatness” campaign. Some experienced it for the first time on TV, while others saw it when a friend or loved one was inspired to share it through social media. Either way, this was positive exposure, because Nike’s message spanned all media: Find your own greatness. But Nike wasn’t blinded by its love of what is undoubtedly a great advertising message. If viewers were curious enough to continue to after watching the ad, they were fed a set of challenges that unfold over time, inviting them to find their own greatness. Consumers were given an introduction to the range of Nike Plus products that might help them attain their own personal best. Online, it was those interactive challenges that made the campaign great — challenges that were presented in a way that was unique to the digital medium. Nike not only continued the journey, but it also led customers further down the buying path with an interactive experience that was its own node in the interconnected message.

We’ve all been down this path with other brands. We’ve all seen a TV spot and gone online, only to find the very same original message on the screen. Yes, we loved that TV ad — loved it enough to actively search out more information online — but do we really need to see it again? Nike’s creative team can be forever proud of catching lightning in a bottle and achieving a rare moment in advertising history where it found its own greatness. It can be equally proud of not selling its audience short online and allowing that amazing TV spot to be an appropriate part of an even greater overall campaign.

Now if you will excuse me, I have a poster to take down.

JT Anderson is VP executive creative director for Enlighten.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

“Drawing three lamps in book on a black background” image via Shutterstock.

Five top tips to starting a successful business

As LinkedIn is a business that started in a living room, much like Virgin began in a basement, I thought my first blog on the site should be about how to simply start a successful business. Here are five top tips I’ve picked up over the years.

1. Listen more than you talk
We have two ears and one mouth, using them in proportion is not a bad idea! To be a good leader you have to be a great listener. Brilliant ideas can spring from the most unlikely places, so you should always keep your ears open for some shrewd advice. This can mean following online comments as closely as board meeting notes, or asking the frontline staff for their opinions as often as the CEOs. Get out there, listen to people, draw people out and learn from them.

2. Keep it simple
You have to do something radically different to stand out in business. But nobody ever said different has to be complex. There are thousands of simple business solutions to problems out there, just waiting to be solved by the next big thing in business. Maintain a focus upon innovation, but don’t try to reinvent the wheel. A simple change for the better is far more effective than five complicated changes for the worse.

3. Take pride in your work
Last week I enjoyed my favourite night of the year, the Virgin Stars of the Year Awards, where we celebrated some of those people who have gone the extra mile for us around the Virgin world. With so many different companies, nationalities and personalities represented under one roof, it was interesting to see what qualities they all have in common. One was pride in their work, and in the company they represent. Remember your staff are your biggest brand advocates, and focusing on helping them take pride will shine through in how they treat your customers.

4. Have fun, success will follow
If you aren’t having fun, you are doing it wrong. If you feel like getting up in the morning to work on your business is a chore, then it’s time to try something else. If you are having a good time, there is a far greater chance a positive, innovative atmosphere will be nurtured and your business will fluorish. A smile and a joke can go a long way, so be quick to see the lighter side of life.

5. Rip it up and start again
If you are an entrepreneur and your first venture isn’t a success, welcome to the club! Every successful businessperson has experienced a few failures along the way – the important thing is how you learn from them. Don’t allow yourself to get disheartened by a setback or two, instead dust yourself off and work out what went wrong. Then you can find the positives, analyse where you can improve, rip it up and start again.

The Best Thing You Can Create in Life

Achievement, success, a legacy. Everyone is finding a way to arrive at these three things. LinkedIn connects people through millions of messages, but I imagine that if you could eavesdrop on them all at once, you’d find the same thread. Achievement means attaining a goal that means something to you personally. Success means finding fulfillment in your goal. A legacy means leaving behind something that is valued and remembered.

Yet as much as the social network facilitates achievement, success, and a legacy, actually reaching them has become confusing. Thirty years ago, you and I would have seen a narrow, rather fixed path. Our lives were more local and not global. We knew about economic events far away, but they didn’t impact us personally. The people we knew were almost surely born and raised in the same country as we were.

Now the path has become much broader and walls have crashed down. You and I can live a life with much wider cope. The potential for expanded achievement, success, and a legacy are greater than ever. To survive in an expanded world, however, runs headlong into some things that we cherish and that are scary to let go of: familiar surroundings, a feeling of belonging, the security of the group, and the comfort of conformity.

As LinkedIn launches a new format for exchanging inspiration and influence between its members, I want to dedicate my part to this confusing picture of expanded promise. The title of this post is a teaser for the posts to come. What is the best thing you can create in life?

It’s not achievement, success, or a legacy. It’s a clear path to reach those things, and that path is available only by a conscious lifestyle. Expanding your awareness is the best thing you can create in life, because it serves as the foundation for meaning, purpose, inspiration, love, and personal evolution. Please stay tuned. This is the theme I will address twice a week. Let’s travel the path together.

Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, is the author of more than 65 books including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest novel, God: A Story of Revelation (HarperOne) released on September 25, 2012).

Exhibits Are Not Just About What’s New

By David McMillin, Staff Writer
Professional Convention Management Association

Despite some struggles to increase attendance across the industry, the latest report from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research reveals that your attendees and your exhibitors still want to come together face-to-face. However, buyers and sellers also need a compelling reason to invest in show participation, and those personal encounters rely on one crucial component: the future.

“Trade shows should always be about what’s happening in the next 12 months and preparing attendees for the next year,” Mary Pat Heftman, executive vice president, convention at National Restaurant Association, says.

“As show organizers, we are really in business with the attendee,” Heftman adds. “You have to make the promise to your attendees about the value that they’ll receive by participating.”

Participants at the PCMA Exhibits Manager Think Tank, held on August 29th in Chicago, debated how to make good on that promise. Whether you host a trade show or you have an exhibit hall at your annual educational meeting, here are three recommendations to demonstrate value while creating more opportunities for your exhibitors.

1) Before the Show: New Product Previews

Arm your meeting marketing materials with a spotlight of the never-before-seen products and services that will be on your show floor.

As attendees receive your communications, you’ll help foster a feeling that they can’t afford to miss these products. Add a dedicated area on your website that includes images, profiles of product debuts and interviews with exhibiting companies about why their product is revolutionary. Use Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts to draw even more attention to these tools.

Across all of your messaging, be sure to educate your prospective attendees that your show is the place to turn to navigate their changing needs. Your exhibitors will appreciate the additional online presence and brand awareness, too.

2) During the Show: Exhibits in Action

Of course, your attendees want to do more than see – - they want to experience these new tools and technologies to understand how they may benefit their organizations.

While some of your exhibitors may already be conducting product demonstrations, analyze your exhibit floor to determine how to create more opportunities for your attendees to actually use these products. Transform your exhibit hall from a “first-hand viewing” to “hands-on doing” area. At the 2012 NRA Convention, Heftman invited big-name culinary experts such as Rick Bayless and Mike Isabella to the show for live learning demonstrations.

Outside of what’s directly in front of attendees, consider the digital space. If you’re working on a mobile app for your convention, be creative about brainstorming ways to continue that product interaction after they leave the hall. Can attendees scan a bar code or QR code to unlock another capability from a product? Can they easily download product specs or pricing information rather than carry another handout?

3) After the Show: Innovation Awards

To continue the conversation about those product debuts and extend the life of your show, consider highlighting the most forward-thinking products with some type of innovation award.

Invite experts to vote for category winners, and announce the recipients in your post-meeting marketing. You’ll help distinguish certain companies and encourage non-award winners to enter their emerging products in next year’s competition. You may even create additional leads for your exhibitors by inspiring non-attendees to learn more about these products.

Looking for more useful advice for your next show? Learn how to adjust your exhibitors’ expectations in more coverage from the Exhibits Manager Think Tank.

Are You Turning Off Your Attendees with Telemarketing?

October 01, 2012

By David McMillin, Staff Writer
Professional Convention Management Association

As meeting marketers work to pique the interest of prospective attendees, many organizations are using an approach that includes every channel possible. From direct mail to email marketing to social media, audience prospects receive messages everywhere they turn.

However, there is one route to your audience that you may want to avoid: automated telemarketing. According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers are more frustrated than ever with this promotional ploy. In late 2010, the FTC logged around 65,000 robo-call complaints. Earlier this year, those complaints soared to 212,000.

If robo-calls are still part of your meeting marketing plan, here are three key areas to consider.

Attendees vs. Consumers

While educating prospects about the potential benefits of your meeting may seem different than traditional telemarketing, you must be sensitive to protecting your brand. If you know your audiences are annoyed by robo-calls from credit card services, a similar style of message about an upcoming meeting may damage your organization’s credibility.

“Meeting marketing requires elevating your prospect audience to a position above that of a traditional everyday consumer,” Carolyn Clark, vice president, marketing and communications, PCMA, says. “They need to feel that they will receive customized benefits if they attend your meeting, and that feeling starts well before they arrive on-site.”

Conversations vs. One-Sided Sales Pitches

Reaching all of your prospects can seem overwhelming. As some meeting marketers look at databases with tens of thousands of contact numbers, connecting with all of them individually may seem impossible, but that doesn’t mean that a generic message will produce the desired results.

“Rather than leaving the same broadcast message for thousands of prospective attendees, meeting marketers should consider dedicating resources to a live phone campaign for select segments,” Clark says. “First, make sure to focus on your most loyal attendees. Show them you appreciate all their past support with a concierge-style approach to communications.”

That approach is all about having a meaningful conversation. From expressing your gratitude to offering help with planning their travel, a live phone campaign will make them feel exactly how they want to: special.

Outside of your die-hard loyalists, who represents the future of your organization? Are you aiming to increase retention from last year’s first-time attendees? What can you do to engage new members who have never attended? Based on past survey results, does a certain portion of your audience seem particularly at-risk?

Create talking points for your staff to answer key questions that these audience members may ask. Your live phone campaign is a unique opportunity to deliver answers and personalized benefits.

Meeting Marketing vs. Association Member Marketing

Your annual meeting may be your biggest source of revenue, but it’s important to remember the 365-day relationship you have with your members. You still need to work to maintain loyalties from those who choose not to attend your big gathering, and that reality should play a big role in determining how to deliver your messages.

“It’s tempting to have an anything-goes mentality when it comes to increasing your registration numbers,” Clark says. “However, you must recognize that the meeting is only one piece of an organization’s annual plan for success.”

Is There a Right Time for Robo-calls?

Despite the potential issues that can arise from robo-calls, the marketing technique can still work. It all depends on who’s talking.

“If you have a voice that your prospects will immediately recognize at the beginning of a message, that automated call can capture their attention,” Clark says.

Whether it’s your CEO or a celebrity who supports your organization, you’ll need to arm that voice with a simple and succinct script.

“The key is brevity,” Clark adds. “Keep it concise, and make sure those first few words are enough to keep them listening for the next 25 seconds.”

If you are searching for ways to update your meeting marketing strategy, be sure to read our tips on social media and email personalization.