Tips for Hosting Virtual Events

Due to COVID-19, many companies that typically host in-person events are shifting to virtual events. For some, this is an entirely new experience that requires different preparations, skillsets, and marketing tactics.

Though it’s been a while since I worked in the virtual event space at The Economist, I put together some tips on how to run virtual events for those who are new or need a refresher.

Do you have any virtual event tips to share? Please add them in the comments!

 

Tips for Engaging Attendees

Leading up to Virtual Event

It is generally more challenging to get attendees excited about an event when it is 100% virtual. Without travel plans or in-person networking events to look forward to, attendees may feel less enthusiastic about attending.

As virtual event organizers, it’s our job to keep delegates excited! It’s important to provide relevant information leading up to the event to keep them engaged – via email, SMS, social media, and/or direct mail. Schedule a consistent calendar of communications every week to maintain momentum and excitement leading up to the event. A few ideas:

  • Send recorded webcam messages from speakers or presenters, reminding attendees that the event is coming up & sharing a preview of whey they will be presenting.
  • Schedule a drip email campaign releasing the event schedule over the course of a few weeks or months, announcing new speakers one at a time.
  • Ask speakers to participate in promoting the event. Put together promotion packets with resources and tips for them to promote the event on their own social channels and to their colleagues.

Attendees might also be uncertain about what to expect from a virtual event. Clear communication about when, why, and how to attend are especially important. Information should include:

  • Logistics of the event, including how to log in, when and where events are happening, and who to contact for support.
  • Remind attendees about the value of attending – the value proposition may be somewhat different than an in-person event.

During Virtual Event

Attendees have more distractions at a virtual event than they would normally at an in-person event – from checking emails and social media, to watching movies and TV, there are lots of activities competing for their attention at home. It’s important to plan engagement tactics to keep attendees’ attention and incentivize them to participate during the event. Some ideas:

  • Organize chat groups for attendees to engage in between speaker sessions. Provide discussion questions to encourage engagement.
  • Set up video networking sessions and bring 5-10 people together for introductions and discussion. The groups could be random or organized by interest, job title, etc. Or, set up 1:1 “speed-dating” style networking sessions.
  • Announce a sweepstakes for everyone who attends a certain number of sessions or specific presentations, including them in a prize draw.
  • Plan special announcements for a specific time that the attendees will only be able to hear about if they attend, for example: awards, prize draws, industry announcements, exclusive offers, etc.
  • Reward attendees with valuable information they can only get if they attend, such as whitepapers, research, PDF guides or cheat sheets, session transcripts, or other valuable information that is only available for those who show up.

Tips for Engaging Speakers/Presenters

Leading up to Virtual Event

Keep in mind your event may be the first time some of your speakers are presenting at a virtual event. Therefore, they will need special guidance and support to prepare, including:

  • What to wear and where to host the session
  • What technical equipment and software is required
  • How to log in, start/end the session, record the session, etc.

Schedule 1:1 prep sessions with a producer and each speaker, to talk them through what to expect (especially for live sessions) and answer any questions. If the speaker is presenting live from home, be sure to test their webcam and mic.

During Virtual Event

  • Plan to have support specialists available for speakers to address any issues that come up (again, especially for live sessions).
  • Provide clear communication about how and where speakers can get support and information. For example, set up a “speakers’ hub” chat room or support hotline.

Tips for Programming and Production

Production

Technical Support & Back-up Planning

  • Plan to have technical support specialists available for both speakers and delegates to respond in real-time.
  • Communicate clearly about where people can go to get support.
  • Prepare “worst-case scenario” back up plans. What if the webcam isn’t working during a live session? What if the virtual event website goes down? These challenges are unlikely but can be dealt with more easily if you have prepared for them.

Programming

Choose the Right Speakers

  • Not every speaker is well-suited for virtual events. It takes extra charisma and energy to engage people online, so consider this when selecting your speakers.
  • You may benefit from selecting speakers who have a digital brand or are active on social media. They can leverage their own following to encourage attendance leading up to the event.
  • Put together promotion packets with tips and resources to help speakers spread the word about their presentations. It could include: social media copy, graphics, copy blurbs for newsletters and websites

Dynamic Programming and Tools to Promote Engagement

  • It’s important to have a mix of formats during the event to maintain engagement, rather than one long webinar or block of video sessions. For example, the program might include a one-hour block of presentations followed by an open chat/networking session, followed by a live Q&A.
  • Consider various tools to help attendees stay engaged during each session, including live Q&A, polls, surveys, white-boarding, infographics, etc.

Flexible Programming & Scheduling for Time Zones

  • Consider where your attendees will be joining from. It’s important to schedule relevant sessions at a convenient time, and make a recorded version available for those who cannot attend in real time.
  • People who are attending events online may have shorter attention spans due to all of the distractions they have at home. It’s important to schedule frequent breaks, optional sessions, and opportunities for attendees to come and go according to their schedules.
  • Consider extending the duration of the event. If the event would be one day in-person, consider extending it to two days of virtual programming, enabling more people to attend.

Lastly, remember you don’t have to do this alone! There are plenty of companies and experts who specialize in virtual events. Here’s a list of virtual event companies and services. If you have others to include, please drop them in the comments:

Virtual Event Companies & Service Providers

And check out these free virtual event tools from HubSpot.

The Simple Truth: How to Communication More Effectively

In a previous blog post about leadership, I wrote that one of the qualities I most admire in leaders is their ability to simplify things. Being able to simplify complex ideas is essential to effective communication. It’s an under-appreciated skill that I believe very few have mastered. Over-complication leads to inefficiency, miscommunication, bottle necks, and unnecessary frustration. 

I’m hardly the first person to tout the benefits of simplicity in communication. You may be familiar with the expressions,  “Keep it simple, stupid! (KISS)” and “Less is more.” Many experts have covered the same idea. Arianna Huffington wrote about “relentless prioritization” as a way to be more efficient and effective at work. It’s a powerful concept. She wrote, “Relentless prioritization is about relentlessly asking ourselves what’s essential to do today.” While she applies this concept to increasing productivity, the same can be applied to better communication. What’s the essence of what you’re trying to say? Say that, and drop the rest.

We see the simplicity principle applied to visual design, cooking, and even music. American jazz bassist Charles Mingus said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creative.”

So how can we get better at simpler communication? Here are a few simple rules that I have found useful.

  1. Do more, plan less. 
  2. Get comfortable with your core message, and repeat it. A lot.
  3. If you can’t explain something in one sentence or less, it’s too complex.
  4. If you don’t understand something, ask. There are others in the room who don’t either.
  5. Big words won’t make you sound more intelligent. 
  6. You can’t convince anyone of anything if you don’t really understand it.
  7. One sentence is better than two. Be your own editor. 
  8. Ask for what you need to be successful in your job – sometimes it’s really that simple. 

Do you have any simplicity hacks of your own? I’d love to hear about them as I work towards a simpler and more efficient 2020.

Hello from the other side

Seven things I learned while working at a creative agency.

This post originally appeared on Ueno’s blog.

Friday was my last day at Ueno, and today is my first day at my new job. It’s a bittersweet feeling. Ueno is a great company and I’ll miss my lovely colleagues (who, by the way, are not paying me to say that). When this post will be published, I’ll probably be introducing myself to my new ones.

I joined Ueno two and a half years ago, as the company’s first Director of Marketing. Agency life was a new experience for me, but I did know the company a little, having been Ueno’s client at my previous job at Reuters. So I guess you could say I’ve been on both sides of the table.

During my time at Ueno, the agency more than doubled in size, and as a company we worked on more varied projects with more varied clients than ever. So before I forget, and for anyone who might be in the same shoes I was in once, I thought I’d jot down a few things I learned along the way.

#1 The customer isn’t always right
An agency’s job is not to agree with the client and do what they say, but to open minds and push boundaries. A lot of the value from working with a good agency comes from the different perspectives and ideas that they bring. Your clients will trust and rely on you more if they know you will give an honest, thoughtful response. That’s why they pay you the big bucks! The reason many clients like working with Ueno is that every team member has the confidence to speak up when they think the client is wrong.

#2 Trust is everything
No project will ever go perfectly. As Ueno’s CEO often says, “no one comes to us hoping their project will be a disaster.” We all want to make great things. But to do great work you need trust. Without it, you’ve got problems coming. If an agency and a client aren’t on the same team, the project has failed before anyone has moved a pixel. And how do you build trust? By having a real, human connection. (Yes, clients are people too!)

#3 Life is tough, but so are you
For a lot of agencies, work comes in big chunks, and the schedule can be unpredictable. Plans constantly change, directions shift, and things fly in from out of left field. Clients want lower costs and higher quality. It’s exhilarating and exhausting, and it’s not for everyone. Processes can be difficult to establish because every client and project is different, so sometimes it feels like you’re constantly reinventing the wheel. The most successful people at agencies are those who can adapt quickly, keep an open mind, and find new solutions.

#4 There’s no such thing as ‘a creative’
I have come to hate it when people use ‘creative’ as a noun. It implies that creativity is a gift that only some chosen people have, which is wrong. (Some of the most brilliant creative problem solving I’ve seen involves the production team playing schedule-tetris on the fly to pull together a project team on a moment’s notice, and the People Experience team wrangling 65 employees for a week-long company retreat.) The right to be creative isn’t reserved to the design team. If you acknowledge that a great idea can come from anyone, then great ideas will start coming from everyone.

#5 Culture is the big differentiator
What makes one agency better than the next is not just the individuals who work there, but the overall culture. You can have the most talented individuals, but unless they respect and support each other you won’t get far. Culture is also how you treat people. If an agency’s MO is to work people into the ground, the revolving door will keep flying, and there will be no space or trust for creative ideas to flourish. (When people at Ueno go on vacation they really go on vacation.)

#6 Clients want to be good — sometimes agencies just have to show them how
Why are some clients more fun, productive, and easy to work with? Maybe they’re born like that. Or maybe their agency took the time to teach them what to expect from their partnership, explaining things like how the creative process works, and how to give constructive feedback. Not all clients know how to be good clients. Sometimes you have to help them.

#7 Agencies also want to be good — sometimes clients just have to show them how
Why do some agencies bring more value to the projects they work on? Maybe they were always like that. Or maybe it’s because their clients treat them as equals (not as a mere vendor or a “resource”), take time to get to know them on a personal level, and share as much information as possible about where they’re coming from and the problems they’re trying to solve. Communication is key. The more information you give an agency, the better they will be able to help you, and the more they’ll want to.

Having said all this, my biggest takeaway is that your job is what you make it and who you surround yourself with. Ueno is a special place because the people are so talented, welcoming, and different from each other. The culture that grew from these people makes Ueno unlike any other agency I’ve seen or heard about, in a good way. I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity and made some really good friends in the process. No bullshit!

Catch ya on the flip side!

From Pride Month to Pride Year

How you can make your company a better LGBTQ ally every day of the year.

[A version of this article previously appeared on AdForum.]

Did you notice the rainbow takeover of company logos as you scrolled through your social feeds last month? Pride Month, the celebration of LGBTQ+ equality and those who’ve fought for it, has become something of a “branded holiday,” an opportunity for companies to prove their cultural relevance.

As a gay person, I applaud everyone who shows support. We need it. But sometimes these gestures seem to be more about showing than supporting. Are there real actions behind all these rainbow-colored logos? Are all these companies serious about supporting the LGBTQ+ community throughout the year, or is this just about jumping on the Pride bandwagon? The next time you’re invited to a meeting about what your company should do for Pride Month, here are some things to think about and bring up, that may be more important than that rainbow-colored logo.

  • Do we ask and listen? Does our company provide a safe platform for employees to give feedback and share their stories? Do we have discussions with LGBTQ+ employees about how to provide meaningful support, both within the company and outside of it?
  • Do we stamp out toxicity? Do we equip the entire company with the training and skills to identify, address, and avoid toxic culture? Does our company promote respect for identity preferences, and encourage us to call out discrimination when we see it? Are there consequences for toxic behavior?
  • Do we do the research? Does our company work with or for organizations that have blatantly anti-LGBTQ+ policies? If our company supports an LGBTQ+ cause, do we do the research on how our donation will be used, and share its impact with employees?
  • Do we take diversity and inclusion seriously? Does we follow best practices for diversity and inclusion in our hiring process, and are our hiring managers trained to avoid bias? Do we see marginalized people represented in our company, at our events, and in our work?
  • Are we making an impact? Are we showing that we support LGBTQ+ causes in theory, or are we actually doing something? Do we look for ways to support and get involved with the LGBTQ+ community in a way that relates directly to your business or industry?

By investing in equality for all employees and the communities in which we work, companies can take an authentic stance when showing their support during Pride month and throughout the year — and really make a difference.

How asking questions makes you a better leader

pexels-photo-356079

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a few brilliant leaders so far in my career. And one common thread between them is that they ask questions. They don’t shy away from seemingly obvious questions. They aren’t afraid to be considered the dumb one in the room. Sometimes the simplest questions can uncover much more than the “smart-sounding” ones.

At the creative agency where I currently work, Ueno, we like to say to our clients “you know some things, we know some things, and together we know a lot.” Basically what we’re saying is that we’re no experts in the industry of every company we work with. But we are experts in digital design, marketing, and user experience. Our clients typically know much more about their business than we ever will. That’s where the together piece comes in to make real magic.

It all sounds great, but in reality it can be difficult to convince clients that the discovery phase, where we get to know our clients and their business, is absolutely necessary before we can begin working on a project. They wonder why they hired us to sit around and ask questions all day. Well, that’s the best thing we can do to get to the real problems that need to be solved. And someone who isn’t an expert in the business can uncover things that need to be clarified for customers and users, who probably aren’t experts either.

For example, if a client comes to us asking for an amazing website to sell their product — great! But if they have no idea who the product is for, well, that’s a problem. Our work together, no matter how beautiful it may be, will never be truly successful unless we are solving the right problems. That’s where the questions come in.

Early in my career I was afraid to ask any questions. I was certain that I’d be asking something people already knew by default, or something that would reflect my lack of experience or understanding. But by watching some brilliant people at work, I’ve realized that you shouldn’t assume everyone already knows the answers to what you’re wondering (chances are, they probably don’t). I was amazed at my CEO’s unabashed ability to ask the simplest yet most crucial questions, and to say “I don’t get it” whether he’s talking to a fellow CEO or a janitor. Now, I believe that if I don’t understand it, there is likely someone else in the room who doesn’t either. Even if there isn’t, I won’t be able to contribute effectively to the team unless I get what’s going on.

It’s amazing how simple questions can throw people off. It sometimes reveals the fact that even the founder or CEO really doesn’t know what he or she is talking about, and they are using some fancy words and run-on sentences to cover it up. Sometimes it just means the company needs our help clarifying these answers for their users or customers.

By now, you get the point. Ask more questions and don’t apologize. Even if they seem simple or unintelligent. You will be a much more valued person in the room when you uncover the problems, and get answers to the questions we were all wondering about. And by providing clarity to others, you will emerge as a leader in the room.

Oh, but here’s the kicker. You have to be a good listener, too. And that is a whole different blog post.

Artificial Intelligence and SEO – How Google’s AI Affects Your Business

The following post was written by Kellen Kautzman. Please read his bio after the post.

What most of us don’t realize is that machine learning is also incorporated into every stroke of our keyboard when it comes to studying internet traffic and searching for content online.

In 2015, Google introduced its own AI program, which leverages machine learning to decide where websites rank. Google refers to it as RankBrain, and this moniker alone should be a clue as to its purpose and intention – a pseudo-mind that determines which websites get traffic and which could easily become the major economic force behind who ultimately becomes wealthy and who doesn’t.

Because of the complexity required to understanding the nuances and depth of machine learning, many small business owners simply gloss over it. Let’s dive into the real world, dollars-and-cents ramifications of machine learning, its impact on small businesses and how companies can easily take advantage of its superior-level abilities.

Assume Google Measures Everything

From the amount of time a visitor spends on your site, how many pages they visit and whether or not they come back, assume that Google knows all of it and that these factors will play into your ranking. Old school SEO tactics like, “make sure to include an <h1> tag with your keyword in it!” only still apply if they positively impact user engagement on the site. The easiest way to make RankBrain happy, is to make your customer happy. As an example, your Google My Business page most likely contains your phone number, and Google is measuring how many phone calls are generated from searches to your business. If you treat your customers right, and they continue to search online for your business and call you directly from that link, you are effectively leveraging Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) in order to rank better, even though you aren’t link building or blogging.

It Sees Everything

Google’s capacity to see images has greatly improved in recent years. This means that the stock photo you chose for your homepage is not only understood by Google, but Google also knows that same image has been used thousands of times on other sites. That’s not original. When possible, use imagery that is unique to your business so that when Google “sees” your photos, it sees your original content, has to process what the images are, and then rewards you for it.

It Hears Everything

When you create a YouTube video, moments after it’s uploaded to YouTube, if you click on the closed captions, you will see the words you just spoke appear. Because of this, we know that Google’s technology is transcribing our video content with automatic captioning. If you want to increase your rankings in Google, YouTube videos are becoming an essential piece of the puzzle. The more you position yourself as an expert with video, the higher the likelihood that your content will boost your rankings. You can think of RankBrain as a judge who is measuring you up against all of your competitors and the videos are your testimony. They are extremely important for boosting your online awareness.

As you move forward in your ongoing quest to rank #1 across the board and become a ludicrously wealthy multi-billionaire, remember that Google’s machine learning technology is going to play a pivotal role in your online exposure and that it’s job is to measure everything you create online. It’s your job to provide as much evidence as possible as to why you should be given the coveted top ranked spot.

-Post by Kellen Kautzman-

Kellen Kautzman is the founder and operator of Send It Rising Internet Marketing, a Las Vegas-based internet marketing agency. Kautzman is a well-regarded expert on growing small business with digital marketing and SEO, a public speaker, and published author of the book, “Everybody’s Doing It – Advertising Redefined by SEO Expert Kellen Kautzman”, which initially launched as the #1 New Release on Amazon.com in the SEO category.

 

 

AI stock image by Tatiana Shepeleva/Shutterstock

How does B2C marketing differ from B2B?

 

With 18 months of agency marketing under my belt (whoa – that went by fast!), I occasionally look back on how my previous roles in consumer marketing differ from what I’m doing today. In this post, I’ll share my point of view on how business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing differs from business-to-business (B2B) marketing.

At its core, marketing is the same across both B2B and B2C. Marketers are storytellers who are trying to motivate an action from our target audience, whether it’s a signup, a purchase, a download, etc. However, the tactics we use to drive action from an individual versus a business are quite different. Additionally, B2B marketing is much more connected to a relationship-based sales process, and it will often include sales people who “close” the sale.

So, with that in mind, let’s go back to where I started in B2C marketing and how I found myself in this crazy world we call agency life.

I began my career in digital marketing at The Economist, building audiences for products that connected business schools to MBA students. This was a natural extension of the popular MBA rankings that The Economist publishes each year, along with the content produced specifically for current and future business school students under the “Which MBA?” umbrella.

My first experience running end-to-end marketing campaigns was focused on acquiring  attendees for The Economist’s online MBA fairs. These events were like a virtual version of a career fair, but they connected prospective students to business schools. My primary focus was to find qualified MBA candidates to register for the event and to ensure they actually showed up. As you might expect, free online events have an abysmally low attendance rate, so that second part was key. I spent my time developing creative and messaging for paid ad campaigns to acquire registrants, and developing emails and blog posts to keep registrants engaged leading up to the event.

Welcome to the online MBA fair!


It was a lot of fun to come up with creative ways to reach this audience, though it’s a niche market and I was working with very small budgets. I found one of the most effective tactics was to partner with existing MBA resources – blogs, test prep companies, chat forums – who already had a large student following, and work out a mutually-beneficial marketing deal. The problem was that many of these deals would bring in only a few registrants, when I needed 2-3,000, so that meant a lot of conversations and emails.

I’m pretty embarrassed about this banner ad, 5 years later.

Fast forward a few years, and we were building an exciting new product, the first of its kind for The Economist – a digital GMAT test prep course. We partnered with a technology partner who had experience developing online courses, and we spent months perfecting the course content and experience. My new marketing challenge was to find an audience for a high-priced product, as the price-point for the course was $500+. We decided to go with a freemium model to give people a taste of the course before making the decision to purchase. And whaddya know, it worked pretty well! Since then, The Economist has added GRE test prep to its online course lineup.

 

The original Economist GMAT website. We were so proud of this! (Still think it looks pretty great.)

 

The ads were getting better, too.


Most recently at Reuters, I was focused on mobile app marketing with the goal of acquiring downloads and engaged users for the new Reuters TV app on iOS and Android devices. Mobile marketing has its own set of rules, challenges, and opportunities. One of the biggest challenges is that you’re not just competing against your obvious competitors (in our case, other news apps) – we were competing against every smartphone app that wants a piece of the consumer’s attention. It’s largely a pay-to-play space that relies heavily on visibility in two main marketplaces, the Google and Apple app stores. I spent most of time managing performance marketing campaigns, developing detailed reports to measure and optimize results, and continuously shifting tactics to adapt to the ever-changing ad platforms (primarily Google and Facebook).

One of the best-performing banner ads we ran for Reuters TV.

In my current role as Marketing Director for Ueno, a creative digital agency, my focus is on spreading awareness for our services and building relationships with potential clients, as well as attracting potential job candidates. One of the biggest differences between this role and my previous roles is the immediate gratification of a B2C campaign versus longer-tail effort of B2B marketing. Because our clients typically spend at least $250,000 on a Ueno project, the decision to hire us is not made lightly and usually involves multiple people and conversations. So my strategy is to ensure Ueno appears in the right place at the right time, to connect with potential clients at multiple touch points throughout the year. Even if the client doesn’t have an immediate project need, we want them to know about us, so we are top of mind when the right project comes around.

 

Ueno.co/news, a new addition to our company’s website.


I find that it’s more challenging to measure return on investment for B2B marketing activities than B2C. At Reuters TV, I knew exactly how many engaged app users I was acquiring from every advertising dollar, thanks to a mobile marketing attribution platform. Now, with my focus on multiple touch-points to raise Ueno’s awareness, I have no way to know exactly who is seeing our content, hearing us speak at events, or reading articles about us. But I keep at it – and I have to make sure everything is targeted and purposeful. For example, if I spend hours writing blog posts that no one reads, that’s a wasted effort. Sometimes it’s a guessing game about which marketing activities are most impactful, and ultimately nothing beats a personal referral.

Lastly, one of the biggest difference is my close collaboration with our Partnerships Director, Karli, and the business development team at Ueno. In previous B2C roles, my marketing efforts were separate from sales, though of course there was a connection –– we needed more online fair attendees to sell booths to business schools, and more engaged app users to sell in-app video ads to brands. But it was less a combined effort, and more cause and effect. At Ueno, however, marketing and sales are closely connected because every client will go through a sales process before they sign an agreement. So I am filling the top of the funnel, getting folks to knock on our door or at least know who we are, and Karli takes the deal through the finish line. I chat with her almost every day to collaborate on different tactics to acquire new clients, whether it’s evaluating a speaking opportunity, working on a client presentation, or perfecting our case studies for the Ueno website. The story that we tell about Ueno has to be unified from the very first point-of-contact through to the signed agreement, so it’s important we stay aligned.

I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to explore marketing from both the B2C and B2B angles. I find it interesting that many companies and hiring managers draw such a hard line between the two, because I believe that good marketing skills are transferable to either one.

Do you disagree? Let me know in the comments below. And thank you for reading!