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Plan the foundation for a great conference

Dan Rayburn is the Executive Vice President for, and conference
chairman for Streaming Media East and West which are conferences in the streaming
and online video industry. The events attract over 5,000 attendees combined. I originally
interviewed Dan in 2007 for the SISO newsletter. Since I feel the topic is even more
relevant now, I reconnected with him to get an update on the subject.
Dan is one of the most passionate people with whom I have ever spoken about the
value of content as an anchor for events. In my research over the years, there seems to
be two camps regarding content:

Those who believe that you can run events in multiple markets without having to
live day-to-day in them, or
Those like Dan who feel you need to be a stakeholder in the market for which
you provide content, i.e. a mover and shaker in that particular market.

We chatted about creating the foundation of a great event and heres what we jointly
concluded to be the most important guidelines:

Dont be greedy with attendance fees. This is particularly applicable at the

early stages when you are trying to establish an event and build its audience.
$1,500? Too much! Of course, this needs to make financial sense. So consider
your business model and do your homework on what pricing your market will
accommodate. Research with potential attendees is key here.

Prioritize initial efforts on the quality of your attendees. When building

events, as well as an ongoing component of a total event content strategy,
concentrate on attracting higher quality attendees (the decision-makers who will
attract sponsor and exhibitor interest) before addressing concerns about the
absolute number of people. The right quality will deliver the sought-after quantity.

Build other content vehicles around the subject matter of your event and
use this for lead generation. Develop newsletters and blogs that go beyond just
updates about the event itself. This is particularly important for activity on social
This effort will help position your organization as a high value content provider
about the topic, rather than just an event organizer. Though this can become
expensive, in the minds of many the value of world class content makes it worth
the investment. Make sure the costs to establish this works for your business
model both in terms of opportunity cost.

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Dan actually offers free, on-demand conference content without a registration

gateway. He often finds that people will go viral with clips and session
information, generating interest in attendance in the following year.

Love your market. Unless you have a passion for what you are doing, youre not
going to put forth your best effort (something thats true for anything, not just
creating events.) Dan recommends selecting a market about which you are
extremely passionate and starting an event, rather than being an events
company that jumps on the hot topic(s) of the moment. He speaks of the pride
that comes from helping a market grow through his efforts (and youll know hes
genuine after connecting with him.) That pride is evident in every interaction with
his stakeholders, thus creating a chain reaction of excitement.

Understand your market. Assuming your passion for a market, it is likely that
you will understand it, or learn it quickly. It is particularly important to know:
o How the buy-sell relationship in your market works;
o What content you need to attract the decision makers with whom the
exhibitors and sponsors will want to interface;
o How you can make the event a watering-hole that attracts all the market

Put your cell phone number on your home page. This one is counterintuitive
but I dare you to try it if you want to be an influencer in your market. When Dan
initially mentioned this to me, I followed his suggestion for my contact page, as
well as a number of other places.

Why does he do it? To establish that hes immediately accessible for assistance with
questions about the market and to get immediate feedback. When asked if he
answers the phone when it rings every time. And thats 2 to 30 calls per day. When
asked if that takes him off the ball, Dan responded that he said it was is job to cultivate
more attendees and sponsors. And a prospect that feels hes getting individual attention
is far more likely to join him at one of his events.
When he first mentioned this to me in 2007, I secured a new client from someone who
had read one of my articles and called me directly at the number I had included. So I
can attest that it works.
For the record, my number is (781) 354- 0119.

Spend money on event research. I previously mentioned world class content.

To provide a strong foundation for your event youll need a good grasp of what
your audience will want to learn. This is one of the keys to developing a long
term, sustainable event. This can be expensive, but its worth it. And remember it

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is not a one-time effort youll need to do it frequently.

Partner with competitors. This may not seem obvious until you think about it.
Dan has worked with NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) and the CES
(Consumer Electronics Show), among others. This is usually in the context of
marketing partnerships even though, since their eco-systems overlap, they might
be seen as competitors. This doesnt always work, but its worth a shot.

I left my conversation with Dan feeling very energized and I can see why hes driven a
lot of success through his event. I think the underlying message is take care of your
content and your content will take care of you!

Warwick Davies is the Principal of The Event Mechanic!, a consulting company which helps event
organizers realize greater revenues and profits by fixing broken events and launching new ones both in
the United States and internationally. His clients include event organizers in the information technology,
healthcare, biotechnology construction and design, engineering and executive event markets. Previously,
Warwick was responsible for internationally recognizable event brands such as Macworld Conference
and Expo, LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, and the Customer Relationship Management Conference
and Exposition worldwide. For more information on The Event Mechanic! And past SISO The Event
Mechanic! columns please visit He can be reached
at or at (781) 354-0119

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