70 – 90% of acquisitions fail according to the latest research from HBR. In this succinct, must-read before you begin any corporate activity, advice note, media guru and best selling author David Gilbertson, describes the top ten steps you need to take to ensure yours is the exception that succeeds.
Run your own business properly first. Are you pursuing your organic opportunity, including NPD rigorously? If not, don’t distract yourself from what’s already in front of you. Get that right first.
Be sure that 2+2 will equal at least 4. If you believe non-organic or acquisition can help you, these are the conditions to satisfy:
a) your own business is growing anyway
b) the target is growing anyway
c) the target will help your own business grow more than it will by itself
d) your business will help the target grow more than it will by itself.
You are aiming in M&A to make 2+2 equal 5. In practise, equalling 4 (preserving both companies’ pre-existing profit) is sometimes hard to achieve because of the dilutive spread of management and operational attention required. Outcomes of 3 or less are disturbingly common.
Check the coherence. Does this acquisition make the business more or less coherent? In other words, will customers understand very well why you do both things and be interested in buying them both? Will future potential owners / investors, see the combined business as clear, logical and strong, or will it require constant explaining?
Assess quality of earnings. Is this acquisition better, the same, or worse than yours in terms of quality of earnings? I.e. Is it growing faster and more or equally sustainably as the existing business; does it repeat and renew annually as well or better than the existing business; does it have an equally low churn rate; does it generate or consume cash more or less favourably than your existing business? The answers will tell you whether you are concentrating or diluting your existing business with the proposed acquisition. A related question: is the target’s product quality and standard at least of similar standing to your own? If not, you risk degrading your own brand by association.
Beware: a) One business or two? You need to decide whether you will integrate the acquisition or run it standalone. The first requires more intervention and disruption to its past practices; the second risks you having at best no improving impact on it while depriving it of its independent drive which may slow it or cause it to lose its clarity of purpose.
b) Flight risk. Particularly where vendors work in the target as owners or directors and are paid out fully on its sale they may leave or compete against you if you don’t expressly preclude that which may not be straight forward. Key previously loyal staff at lower levels may not want to be part of a bigger / different organisation and may take the change in status as the moment to go elsewhere.
c) New toy syndrome. An acquisition is exciting and will act as an attention magnet for you and your staff. They may neglect better money-making opportunities in the core business in favour of thinking of ways in which they can interact with and explore the new business.
d) Increased complexity. The old and the new business will have different practices, policies and procedures. That does bring opportunity: one has better product development cycles, one has a better GTM, one is better at enterprise sales, the other at customer retention etc. So moving both businesses to the better of the two practices may be ultimately beneficial but it can bring significant change management challenge to overcome. People issues around benefits and incentivisation will in particular provide alignment challenge – one standard or two systems? How do you justify the latter in a combined entity? You can’t take terms down, their cost can only stay the same or rise. Assess the culture of the target. Is it truly a good marriage prospect with yours? Why do you think so?
Calculate synergies carefully: Revenue. Be careful that you are not convincing yourself, contrary to the evidence, that customers will buy both companies’ products and so you will become instantly more efficiently profitable through the acquisition. Customers used to dealing with specialist suppliers don’t always take well to their water cooler vendor suddenly offering them an insurance product or a catering service. They don’t transfer trust easily beyond where it has been established. If you cross buying lines within client organisations don’t expect an easy cross sell. If there is one then anticipate client requests for discounts. It is hard to maintain the sum of the average order value, let alone increase it.
Costs. Be careful about assuming cost reductions are safe to make especially in client facing areas. Few businesses today are structurally over-staffed with people who have plenty of capacity to do more. Both your businesses – old and new – may actually need most or all the dedicated people they have unless you can automate practices that are invisible to the client.
Goldilocks scale. Don’t buy too small or your wonderful acquisition will be a largely irrelevant offshoot to your core activity and is also more likely to be unimportant to the customer segment it serves. Consider how able and ready you would be in the event of a trading problem with your acquisition to have to fight a large fire in a small building. Ensure that the acquisition is worth the effort. It will certainly add work, so make sure it will deliver a return on your investment not only financially but also, critically on your own valuable expertise, energy, time and resources. You are probably busy already, where will your extra time come from? Will it make you smarter and quicker or just more tired? Think carefully before buying something so big that it already has its own embedded way of working, culture change is hard work. Unless of course you are happy to let it continue as is, but that means your business needs to change because if no one is changing, where’s the synergy and the return?
Explore alternative options. Be sure that you have articulated clearly, at least to yourself, why you want to go the acquisition route:
What is the growth driver that you are looking to acquire: people, product, processes, customers, channels, geographies?
Is there a simpler way to do this? E.g. Headhunt top people; hire advisors; pivot to a new strategy
Is there a cheaper way to do this?
Include commercial leads in your DD team. Finance teams are expert at modelling savings and producing hockey stick graphs. Be sure to include a senior commercial lead on your due diligence team, they are the ones who are going to have to make the magic happen.
Finish with a 90-day plan. Everyone has their press release ready and the TUPE plans in place, be sure before you transfer the money you have a full first 90 days plan prepared; know exactly who is going to be doing what, where and how during the first 90 days across both businesses. Staff and clients will expect – and be open to – change. Seize the moment.
And finally: move forward together.
On, and post, acquisition ensure you think and communicate consistently using the language of collaboration. Successful acquisition is all about embrace, it’s not about takeover. The pronoun of embrace is ‘We’. Use it often and always to mean the new everybody, never again as a term meaning the acquiring business. Unless you want to alienate the people of your acquisition be careful you do not use language of subjugation and division. It’s not “we have taken you over” or “we intend to do this (to you) or “you will be given” or “you will be changing”. The easiest way to ensure you always use “We” sensitively is to check that you can follow it silently with the word “together”. “We (together) can become”… “We (together) shall explore/aim/create…” “Over the next 90 days we (together) will share our..”
Zapnito asked me to speak at their annual Community Insights event on the Changing Landscape of Media and Marketing – and the Growing Power of Community within That. I explained that today’s landscape has been fundamentally shaped by 10 things that came out of the dot.com boom and bust. Publishers, associations and commercial event businesses can harness the power of community to drive their marketing ROI – but only if they stop mixing up product with promoters, get their pricing models in order and think strategically about the content they produce and share.
I was asked to speak at the Zapnito Community Insights Annual Event on the Changing Landscape of Media and Marketing – and the Growing Power of Community within That. Here’s what I said:
Thanks Charles. Good evening everyone.
As I was doing my research for putting this speech together (or to be more accurate, procrastinating putting it together), I was reading Ashley’s excellent article on the return of community in B2B publishing. If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it here https://community.zapnito.com/users/206116-ashley-friedlein/posts/53806-the-return-of-community-in-b2b-publishing-media-part-2 on the Zapnito site and on the Guild website (lesson one in the changing landscape of media and marketing – SEO is so important that we multiple place to improve our discoverability). Back to the blog though, it begins with saying, “if you’re old enough to have been around in the dot.com area of the late 90s then you may remember the famous “3Cs” that were meant to characterise the web: Content, Commerce, Community.
This made me wince. For two reasons. Partly, because not only am I old enough to remember the late 90s, when I first worked with Charles, I actually started my marketing career at the end of the 80s, a time of shoulder pads and mobile phones like bricks.
Mainly though, I winced because that time frame and mantra was peak internet bubble and a disastrous mix of belief in, and misunderstanding of, the 3Cs fundamentally changed both the media industry and how we market today – making it, frankly, a whole lot harder.
At the height of the boom, everyone was so in love with dot.coms that the Wall Street Journal suggested that investors ‘re-think” the “quaint concept” of profits.
These were the companies who were spending a fortune on marketing, offering their services for free with the expectation they could build sufficient brand awareness to charge profitable rates for their services in the future.
The Nasdaq Composite stock market index peaked in value at 5,048.62on March 10, 2000 before crashing. In its trough on October 9, 2002, it had lost 80% of its value. Trillions of dollars in wealth vanished almost overnight. It took until March 2015 for the Nasdaq to reach its 2000 peak. In Silcion Valley alone over 200,000 people lost their jobs.
I share this with you not just so you can bask in how young and fabulous you are (and perhaps think carefully about investing in WeWorks) but because…
the stonking hangover from that time wasn’t just financial. It fundamentally changed the media landscape and how we market in 10 ways:
In its obsession with the first of those 3 Cs, content, the dot.com boom turned everyone into a publisher, creating a blurring of the lines between authoritative content and UGC. If anyone can publish their version of the truth, how do people know what is fact? It seems that it depends on whether you are part of that tribe or community or not. Because whatever you think of Donald Trump (and I am firmly in the Dear God how is this possible, camp) his followers – “his community” believe everything he says and unsays. Because that is the other thing that digital content enabled – a blithe changing of the story. The more reputable papers note on their websites if a story has changed but even blogs that should know better, like the media industry’s Flashes and Flames, have been known to completely change, for example, acquisition prices, without noting it. So your understanding of a deal outcome is completely different based on the day you read the blog.
The other thing that became blurred was the difference between content which was a marketing tool, and content which was the product / service. If McKinsey is going to give a 100 page report away for free, why should a reader pay £1k for a report by a professional publisher?
People’s perception of the value of content has changed irrevocably.
Google is now 21 years old. When free information is everywhere, and Google has become a verb, then we have trained a whole generation to believe that information is not something you need to pay for.
So started the slow tortuous death spiral of print publications. Marie Claire just announced it would be going digital only after 30 years in print.
A few years ago Lloyds List (one half of the Lloyds List and IBC merger which formed the now mighty Informa plc) which had been published since 1734, became digital only. Good for the trees. Not so good for the printing industry and for the designers and sales teams at magazines.
To add insult to injury. Not only have (a worryingly large number of) people stopped paying for content but advertisers have changed the way they buy too. Value and pricing models for both the consumption of digital media and for advertising on and in it has changed dramatically and publishers are still finding their way.
Unlike the FT and the Economist who were early defenders of the value of their intelligence, and put in place firewalls, the Guardian landed itself in a terrible muddle.
Because Google and other media disrupters were wooing advertisers with the concept of eyeballs – not based on the value of their readership (of their community), but just on volume and a sprinkling of psychographics (behavioural preferences) they made their content free in a desperate play to increase circulation and at the same time lost their advertiser pricing power by moving from per page print pricing to CPM digital pricing, creating a double whammy of disastrous financials which only thanks to the munificence of the Scott Trust prevented them from going bust.
They of course, like a slew of media owners then sought other revenue streams and diversified into formats in which they were, to be blunt, amateurs. Since these were non-core revenue streams, they hopelessly under-priced them, creating (frankly infuriating and wholly unnecessarily) downward pricing pressures for the expert incumbents. As their delivery was also often poor, it tarnished the format in the consumer’s mind. Hard to know why one event will be fabulous, when the last one you attended was shoddy, unless of course you have built a community which is loyal to you.
LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter were all founded shortly post the boom. Marketers already struggling with how to include email and their own websites into their marketing mix then had to decide how much of their time, spend and brand authority, to give to these new apps. This explosion of marketing channels created existential angst for marketers, did they simply go to where hordes of other people were and try to use content and messaging to break through the noise and attract the tiny proportion of people who might be right for their target audience (their potential community) and hope that they would then follow them and not be distracted by other people’s content or did they simply use their databases (their pre-built communities) to email people directly. In some ways, it was like the difference between an insert in a magazine and a direct mail shot. The latter of course always outperformed, but in the excitement of the new, far too many marketers forgot this.
No one reads the T&Cs carefully enough. Even after Facebook admitted that they breached their own data privacy rules, they continued to add users. We have given up our privacy and no one seems to care that much. The Guardian who are finally in profit partly in thanks to their examination of this (and partly to their new begging pop up notices model), still weirdly and unashamedly promote their exclusives on Facebook.
Two final points: The dot.com boom and bust made people talk absolute nonsense about community for decades – mixing up target audience, leads, and customers with people who might love you but have no intention of buying from you ever. Equally, not realising that people could buy from you without feeling any community allegiance whatsoever. Not to mention forgetting that different groups within the community have different motivators. It is one of the reasons why Forums were so hard to monetise.
It also made people forget that marketing was ultimately about generating profits through optimising our ROI. Today’s media channels and marketing opportunities are set in the context of what happened 20 years ago.
It has all got a ton more crowded, complex, difficult and, in a happy offset, cheaper. In response we have a plethora of exceptional marketing tools from out of the box CRM and marketing automation to community platforms like the wonderous Zapnito.
When I started marketing conferences and training courses, we printed a brochure, sent it out to the 30,000 most relevant people on our database, put a few inserts into partner magazines (where we bartered a deal so that the low response rate was off-set by the equally low cost) and then did a re-mail to the best performing selections. We spent 25% of our projected revenue on the marketing. Lord Laidlaw grew IIR into the largest conference company in the world and, fast forward to 2005, became a billionaire when we sold the business to Informa.
Now I would not sign off a campaign plan that didn’t include social media, email, web, telesales, print etc; that didn’t have at least 100 different selection segments and trigger trees. And a good 30 partnerships. Yet for an established event I wouldn’t expect to have to spend more than 15% of revenue. Today, it is all about targeting the micro communities, with what is important to them.
In 2000 there were approximately 17 million websites only. Today there are over a billion websites. More sites are visited from mobiles than desktops.
To stand out in the midst of all the noise, and the bombardment of messaging, our prospects will only yes if we:
Make them notice us (hence re-targeting and re-marketing)
Make them connect with us
Make them an offer that they can’t refuse
Make it incredibly easy for them
Make them feel smart, recognised and rewarded for doing so.
Communities are the most powerful tool in enabling each one of these.
In essence because the model is flipped on its head. We’re not having to shout and produce content-value destroying clickbait so that people notice us, they are are already coming to us. As contributing members of the community, the connection already exists. If we are properly mining the data on their contributions, collaborations and time spent where within the network, we know what to offer them. We can add easy buy-now buttons at the appropriate spots on their user journey and depending on where they are in the marketing funnel. They become partners in product development and promotion, and we reward them for being such.
B2C media businesses have always had communities, avid brand followers, loyal readers, the trouble was they didn’t know who they were or how to reach them. Which is why of course Facebook etc – where they could see who their fans were, was terribly exciting. It meant that instead of creating half a dozen broad based personas, we could actually personalise, create hordes of micro campaigns. And thanks to Google Analytics and the like measure the effectiveness of messaging to each of them. Cambridge Analytica, appear throughout the Great Hack as the most appallingly, ethically challenged company imaginable, but also as being absolutely phenomenal marketers, micro-targeting and custom messaging to the nth degree.
B2B has always had the benefit of knowing who its customers were, and then being able to extrapolate out to similar target markets, looking at job title, function, company size, SIC etc. We captured all of this on databases. And added interest codes and other psychographic indicators. The biggest danger for marketers today, is that in the excitement of so many easy to use channels, they forget to measure what is and isn’t working and respond quickly enough.
Community takes target markets a huge leap forward. Here at the intersection of interests, shared emotions and experience – target groups self-identify and, more importantly, forge a brand loyalty and momentum that makes them more likely to say yes, to spend more and to encourage others to do so too.
It is why it is so important, that you and your members are clear about the values you share. What it is that you believe in. You need to be specific. Events, Associations and Publishers can all do this easily. Be clear about your purpose and your values.
Look at how successful Nike was with their Colin Kaepernick campaign. It didn’t matter that some people stepped away from Nike, because the sales from the community who did identify with the campaign went through the roof.
Your community members should be your promoters. These are your brand Life Time Value heroes.
Effective marketing then comes from building and monetising those communities.
It helps then to be clear about who those communities and micro communities within them are. One of the biggest mistakes that marketers make is to assume that a community centres around their product. Conference companies are some of the worst offenders here. An event is not a community – although it may be the physical manifestation of one or the annual meeting place for everyone in it.
To create that 365 day community, you have to think about each of the micro communities within your event world, your sponsors, exhibitors, advisory board, speakers and delegates, and how you can fuse their interests and needs in an on-line community so that they all feel engaged, committed, recognised and rewarded.
This is true for association sub groups, business information and so on.
It is particularly important if you are using content to build your place in the community and eventually own it and be seen as the voice and champion of it. Before all the marketers start throwing things at me, I am not suggesting that you create a ton more material, you can absolutely re-use and re-purpose assets. The key is to think about what are you trying to achieve and match the output to the objective.
And back to our original 3 Cs, to know which content to give away for free, which content requires commitment from the recipient and which is paid for.
You can them move content between those categories when necessary in order to reward and grow your community. So the FT yesterday made its premium content open to all, in a shameless tease to grow their subs and their average order value.
They made me, a long term subscriber and active user, pay attention to an offer upgrade that I have ignored for years. I also went to their FT Weekend Festival last year. They really don’t know how to run events properly so I ended up with a 20 point snagging list that I sent to a friend of mine there (who said he was super grateful although…) but they got the content right and I still felt part of the community. This is in marked contrast to the Economist who sent me a “special” renewal offer which was the same 12 for 12 offer that they have been handing out at every station all year. The Economist has a great brand legacy, but its profit margin has been shrinking at speed because it doesn’t get community or ROI based marketing.
The best marketers today – know how to make community the driver of campaign-based, highly profitable, marketing.
No event organiser actively sets out to bore their delegates to tears. Indeed, every event organiser I know works incredibly hard to research the right topics and speakers for their event. Delegates paying hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars to attend an event aren’t really looking for an opportunity to catch up on their sleep or emails. And yet…
No event organiser actively sets out to bore their delegates to tears. Indeed, every event organiser I know works incredibly hard to research the right topics and speakers for their event, ones that will engage and inspire their audience. For a while, it even became trendy for the big media beasts to rename their CMOs as “Chief Customer Experience Officers” (which is fodder for a whole other rant). Delegates paying hundreds of dollars (often thousands) to attend an event aren’t really looking for an opportunity to catch up on their sleep or emails. And yet…
So often the temptation to check emails or Twitter does seem to get the better of them; heads do nod. I have even seen drool. That is not a good look, for the delegate or the event.
Since the 80s, producers have churned out events with the standard mix of keynote, panel, workshop, out-of-the-box speaker and a fireside chat, which too often fails to challenge the speaker or hook the delegates. Frankly, it is more than a little lazy. We have to introduce formats that excite and engage our audiences.
It is really quite straightforward. We just need to do three things:
1. Put as much production effort into the presentation type mix as the speaker line-up
2. Match the speakers to the right format (there are some industry legends who are wonderful in an unplugged environment and shockingly dull giving a keynote)
3. Prepare the presentation content and the speakers before the event (not as they go on stage).
Some of it is as simple as signposting to the speaker and the audience that the content will be at another level. Don’t have yet another Keynote, have a State of the Nation Address or a Last Lecture on Earth.
By all means have one fireside chat; then add An Audience With or My Next Guest Needs No Introduction where the producer does more of the heavy lifting adding in photographs, videos and guest appearances, surprising and delighting the speaker as well as the delegates.
TV and radio provide lots of fabulous inspiration. Don’t have yet another panel, have Question Time, or Consultant Challenge, or Just a Minute, or Have I Got [Sector] News for You. All of these require that producers or editors or eager interns prepare content.
When the conference industry really took off, it was all about finding subject matter experts to speak. Nobody worried too much about whether they were good at presenting as long as they knew their stuff. Slightly shambolic scrawled slides shown on the overhead projector were just fine. Somehow that amateur hour or, if we are being kinder, laissez faire, approach to the presentations themselves has lasted.
Producers leave the responsibility for the actual content and format of the presentation to the speakers; who think you are lucky that they turn up and give their stock presentation, or one that they prepared in the back of the cab, you are glad that they do. There are half hearted attempts to get the presentations sent in ahead of time and to do tech run throughs but only in the most egregious examples of sales pitches do producers push back.
It has become the norm for a speaker to hand their slides over to the AV team on site, yet a speaker who hasn’t finished them days in advance is likely to be overly reliant on reading them, and the delegates will read ahead and revert to their emails or on-line shopping. I know of someone at a recent association event who bought a whole new wedding guest outfit during a particularly uninspiring session.
The only concession to high quality presentations has been to add an Out of the Box speaker whose polished presentation can be relied on to create pre break buzz.
Yet there is no reason why every presentation shouldn’t be insightful and inspiring. TED talks have after all spawned a whole industry by being rigorous about the exact type and delivery of presentation.
By asking speakers to present on a certain topic using a certainly methodology, we can dramatically improve the quality of the presentations.
Don’t ask your best-in-class practitioners to send you their slides, ask them to send you their Takahashi, Lessig or Kawaski slides. To make it more likely that they will adhere to the relevant methodology rules, template the slides and send them to your speakers ahead of time.
Understanding the audience make up and customising speeches to their needs is critical. Briefing speakers and setting expectations should not be an afterthought or a nice to have.
I have seen a renowned financial journalist, paid to speak, use slides that had a 10 year old copyright on them. He was brilliant and erudite and all round stunning in the Q&A; but his keynote was such a staggering mess, as he explained in a rather curmudgeonly fashion, what the rest of the graph now looked like or how the company lauded on the slide no longer existed, that it was genuinely painful to watch. At the other end of the spectrum, a Managing Partner from a large consulting firm at someone else’s corporate event spent a full hour learning about the language of the company, the strategy and the current challenges and wove them all so seamlessly into his presentation that it received a standing ovation.
It is easy to tell the difference between a panel that has met for the first time on stage or where the chair has read their bios as she is walking onto the stage, and the one that had a full meet and brief before the session so the Chair knows where the interesting points of tension and debate are. Preparation pays off.
Most conferences haven’t changed their core presentation types since the 80s. I think it is about time we were a little kinder to our audiences don’t you? Maybe you could commit to having a minimum of 6 different formats a day? There are 50 session ideas attached which are not your traditional keynote or panel. That gives you and your faculty plenty of options. I urge you to give it a go. Your NPS results will thank you.
Content is a great way to position your brand expertise, build your community, generate leads and grow revenue – done properly. Dive in without a clear strategy though, leave it to your most enthusiastic millennials, or – even worse – let your IT team lead the charge, and you are likely to do more damage than good.
Content is ubiquitous. That is not a good reason to dive in without considering what you are trying to achieve by producing your own. The opposite is true. LinkedIn has 9 billion content impressions a week. There are 656 million tweets a day. On Facebook, users generate 4 million likes every minute. There are over 40,000 Google searches a second. For you to stand out in this noise, your content strategy and execution has to be right.
Here are 10 simple steps to ensure that it is.
Nail your objectives. Why are you doing this? What change in your business are you looking to see because of implementing a content strategy?
Set smart goals. Decide how you will measure success. What size should your community be? What engagement levels from your clients equates to trust and stickiness? What role does content play in your lead funnel? When can you start monetising your content?
Embrace the conversation triangle. You can join an existing conversation, add value to it or own the conversation. Each requires different content and different levels of expertise.
Match your output to your purpose. If you are looking to build the community, start by joining the conversation that your audience is already having. Like and share content from them. Comment on it. Post relevant news alerts. To create awareness of your own brand and expertise, you will need to add value. This means producing blogs, social media posts, web cards, listicles, POVs and infographics. Establishing real credibility though takes owning the conversation with original data, research, substantive white papers, briefings, surveys, studies and videos.
Determine how to link your products and services. If you are looking to make direct sales or generate leads for your salesforce to follow, you need to be able to stimulate an emotion such as fear or greed that you can satisfy. Make the connection with what you offer explicit.
Use content to close the sale. Whether you need to move your prospect through the pipeline, or persuade them to finish checking out, great content can help. Think about how to use testimonials, imagery, usage guides and case studies to get them across the line.
Define your communities. Content needs to be bespoke to your different audience groups. Who are you hoping to impress and engage? If you are B2B, the CFO who signs off on your purchase is not necessarily going to be interested in the same content as your users but still needs to be reassured that you are experts in your field. Think about potential audiences and building community groups based on core criteria such as sector, job function, seniority, interest area, topics, geography, size of business and their relationship with you.
Enable user generated content. You know that your clients love and trust you when they are contributing to your content. Think about the promotions, tools and viral nudges you can build to make that happen.
Agree who does what, when, how. Your best author may not be consistently available. Your biggest expert may not be your most engaging writer. Think carefully about who should produce what, when. Produce a content calendar. Be clear about your brand’s tone of voice. Your brand guidelines should include a style guide. Will you use American or British spelling? Will you produce content in local language? Are you comfortable with slang? Agree which content needs to be approved before it is published. Have a crisis response strategy in place BEFORE you post your first piece of content in case of a content or a real world crisis.
Integrate, amplify, promote, analyse, adjust. The best content in the world is redundant if no one reads it or it clashes with your other sales, marketing and advertising campaigns. Content marketing should never be a silo. Build your social media strategy, including hash tags and paid for promotion around your content. Analyse in real time and adjust accordingly.
Once you have your strategy in place do not forget to look at the technology. There are systems and platforms available, ranging from simple and free social media tools to expensive and bespoke content management systems, that can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your content output.
Download the presentation attached to help structure your thinking about purpose and audiences.
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone had asked me which events their boss or client should speak at. The beginning of the year is peak absurd question season. As every comms agency is dusting off their client’s thought leadership strategy prior to their new year kick-off meeting, some poor minion is dispatched to pull together a list of conferences at which the CEO or her successor should be speaking. And yet so few have bothered to ask the fundamental question of what is he or she tying to achieve.
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone had asked me which events their boss or client should speak at. The beginning of the year is peak absurd question season. As every comms agency is dusting off their client’s thought leadership strategy prior to their new year kick-off meeting, some poor minion is dispatched to pull together a list of conferences at which the CEO or her successor should be speaking.
The answer is classic It Depends.
It depends on your marketing and communications strategy. Are you looking to raise the profile of your leadership? If so, with whom? Are you launching a new corporate narrative? If so, why? Are you trying to make your overall brand better known? If so, for what? Are you looking to develop new business or cement your relationship with existing customers? Depending on the answer, one event will be better than another.
There is no point speaking at the largest Internet of Things event in the world (unless you are being paid a lot of money to do so) if the audience you are trying to impress are bee keepers.
The events sector is a $1 trillion + global industry with more than 10 premier B2B events held daily. There is plenty of choice.
Events change ownership though, lose or gain traction and punch above or below their true weight. Carefully auditing an event’s current status is vital before raising your hand and saying you’d like to be on the stage.
You really want to be sure that their brand values mesh with yours. Who else will be speaking there? Are you happy to share even the green room, let alone the platform, with e.g. Nigel Farage or other controversial keynotes? Who is chairing the event? Is his or her tacit endorsement of your brilliance a good thing? Who will be in the audience? Most critically, when and where will you be speaking? Are you on the main stage or tucked away in a breakout session in the dead zone after lunch while your biggest competitor has their own standing room only unplugged session in the auditorium?
Finding the perfect event is only half the battle of course. It is sometimes hard to hear, or tell your client, but the organiser might not be as convinced as you are, that giving you a keynote or putting you on a panel, is the way forward. Particularly if you have something to sell.
Event producers are looking for two things: speakers who will attract others (whether it is delegates, sponsors, media coverage or other speakers) or who will dazzle on the day (creating happy delegates who will therefore return next year and recommend the event to other people, and lots of media coverage) – ideally both.
The perfect event faculty is made up of legends (political, financial, business, social), thought leaders, best in class practitioners, inspirers and disrupters (the innovators, commentators and technologists). Positioning where you fit within that mix will ensure that when you raise your hand to speak, the event organiser bites your arm off.
The deck attached takes you through step by step how to choose the right platform, how to be invited to keynote at the world’s leading events and how to make the most of it when you do.
One of my favourite passages in David Gilbertson’s Wine Bar Theory is when he says “Make sure you can describe your business simply. Then you can explain it to someone attractive you just met and are sitting next to at a dinner party or on a park bench. By the time you finish telling them what you do they need to be looking deeply into your eyes. Not lying face down in their soup. Or wandering off to find another bench.” Yet very often when I meet with clients and ask what they do I get a dozen different answers from a dozen different people. Some of the feistiest client board meetings I have been in involve the senior team arguing about what their business proposition is. So many things get in the way of nailing it down: egos, dreams, cash-flow, departmental rivalries. Yet, unless everyone is clear internally about what they do, why that is special and how it will continue, it is quite hard for their customers to appreciate it. Two facilitated exercises for helping everyone get on the same page are the Client Value Matrix and Stakeholder Perceptions. Download them here.
A friend of mine (ex Telegraph and Cannes Lions to name but a couple powerhouse brands she has led) who is doing her masters in socio-linguistics, told me recently that she’s observed that the word marketing is normally used with a reductive qualifier or negative conjoin. Think “just marketing” or “marketing cost”.
David Gilbertson, co-founder of the FTSE top 50, B2B media empire Informa wrote in his best seller Wine Bar Theory, 28 rules for succeeding in business, that many people are suspicious of marketing, or scared of it, or, because they don’t really know how to do it, or simply see it as a cost.
David imagines a man putting $5 into a slot machine, pulling the handle and getting $10 out. If that is what happens when you invest in marketing, why wouldn’t you do more of it? And done right, it isn’t about gambling of course, or taking a chance, it is about a deliberate, planned ROI which doesn’t just double your money but gives you 4, 5 or 10 times a return.
So why the negativity? Why are too many marketing teams seen as the colouring in department or my personal bête noir, the party planning or premium department? Partly I suspect because when non marketers in a company come into contact with marketing it is at a customer party they planned or because they have committed some brand sin and are being reprimanded for getting the corporate colour wrong; partly it is because executive boards when they have run out of all other ideas think tinkering with the company logo will fix their ills and partly it is I think because too many marketing departments have the wrong conversations with non-marketers. We might think fonts are fascinating – everyone else glazes over. Marketing is the power that drives your business. If you don’t believe that, either your marketing department needs improvement or you are giving them poor direction.
Philip Kotler calls marketing the art and science of exploring, creating and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit. You will notice that nowhere does he mention anything about party planning. Or premiums. Especially edible ones. Or trash can magnetic ones. Why would you ever waste money putting your logo on something that people are going to eat or throw away or indeed some combination of the two?
Marketing is about having something of value – let’s call that our proposition, which delivers something of benefit – let’s call that our brand promise – to a group of people, let’s call that our target market, which they will happily pay more for then it cost you to create and tell them about it. That is the essence of marketing.
There are 10 core areas every competent marketer should obsess about:
Being crystal clear about what makes you special
How people instantly recognise that, and you stay true to it
Where your market is and where you sit within that market
Who specifically is in it
How you are going to reach them
Which media you are going to use to do so
What will persuade them to say yes, individually and collectively
How you know whether it is working or not
And who should be helping you do it
In corporate speak, marketing is about:
Purpose and proposition
Target audiences and segmentation
Content and campaigns
Copy and personalisation
It all begins with purpose. What is the very essence of you? Apple’s purpose is to Unlock Creativity. The Economists is to spread Reason and Rationality. The BBC’s is to inform, educate and entertain. These all have the great merit of being both very simple and very measurable. In the latest Steve Jobs movie, his daughter draws a picture on the Mac using the mouse without instruction. Creativity Unlocked, check.
If someone has persuaded you to write a complicated mission statement which includes how you are going to save the world, unless you are a working on a solution to global warming or the middle east peace process, you would probably do well to tear it up and re-think it.
Your proposition is ultimately very straight forward:
What is it that we do?
Why is what we do / the way in which we do it special?
How do our clients benefit?
If you can answer those four questions your proposition – what it is that you are delivering of value – is clear, and you can summarise that into a pithy purpose statement.
Of course, before you put out the bunting and tattoo your purpose across your back a la David Beckham, just double check if those customer needs are currently being met, and if so, by whom? And are we better?
Assuming that’s all good, we can move on to the Brand. A lot of people like this part because it is fun to create logos and play around with colour palettes and fonts. Which is all fine (except that it can stop you being taken seriously) but should not be confused with the brand.
A brand is not a logo. A brand is not an identity. A brand is not a product. It is all about how other people view you. Just think about Pret right now. Their logo, colour scheme and products have not changed in the last month. But their brand has been damaged by people’s perception of how they acted.
Which is hard. And salutary. Because if you break your promise about who you are and what you stand for then people will punish you for it. So it is worth thinking carefully up front about what you want your brand identity to be and how you will deliver it.
At the centre is our purpose. Then the attributes or characteristics of our proposition. The things that make us special. Then what it says about the customers, how it makes them feel, what it delivers for them. The personality is how we go about delivering that message. The emotional component of a brand is important. Compare BA and Virgin. They have very similar attributes, the benefits of what they deliver is very similar. But what it says about you if you are loyal to Virgin vs BA, how it makes you feel and the personality is very different. Virgin is all about being cool and quirky. BA is about being classically British.
The Brand ID system follows your identity. You do need a short hand for people to recognise you. All brands have codes; graphical and symbolic devices that are associated with the company or product. A logo is a code. But as Mark Ritson argues, a “well run brand has more than just its logo. It might also have a colour. A pattern. An additional motif …. These are the things that loyal customers associate with the brand and immediately on encountering them they recognise the brand in question, even when the logo is yet to appear. Tiffany’s box. Coke’s curve. The panther of Cartier. The serpent of Bulgari. Cadbury purple. Hermès and its horses. You get the idea.”
Having this, doesn’t just make you recognisable, it will also save you considerable time and money to have templates that you re-use. Going back to the Economist. Think how straightforward the creative for their poster campaigns tend to be. It is white out text on a red background.
You need a colour palette with a primary colour or two and secondary colours, and a colour wheel to show them in proportion. You need fonts and a tone of voice and an image style. The system comes AFTER you have determined the identity. Not v.v.
If you are a Fortune 500 company or a fabulously funded dot.com business you might want to bring in a top agency to do this for you. If you are running your business from your kitchen table, don’t. Adobe has some great colour tools. Some of the most recognisable marks in the world are Word marks. Give a really tight brief to a small, local designer or even a freelancer. Bring in the genius of a branding agency like the phenomenal Pentagram when you know that your customers perceive your brand the way you envisioned and that your business is here for the long haul.
Once you have it though don’t mess with it. Unless you have a truly awful reputation or have done a dramatic U-turn in who you are or what you are selling, don’t change your brand system. Don’t hire a marketing manager who says the first thing they would do is change the logo. As a marketer, joining a new company, be wary of working for someone who says the first thing they’d like you to do is change the brand system. Either there is a problem with the business or your new boss doesn’t know what’s important. Neither of which is good.
So now you have your proposition and your brand you can map where your product and or service sits compared to others in your market. The most obvious two are quality and price. But there are hordes of other variables that will be specific to your market. They could include ease of use, service, luxury, custom, sustainability, exclusivity or % of cocoa or coolness factor. They might be the amount of packaging you use or if you have wifi.
If when you have done this, you can’t see where your clear market opportunity is you may need to go back and think about your proposition again. If it all looks good, now just double check that the attributes you put in your Brand I hold true compared to your market position. If you had FAST for instance as one of your attributes and have now discovered that there are half a dozen companies that are faster you might want to re-think it.
So now you have mapped the market successfully, you want to find your target audience. You need to be really clear of their demographic, orgagraphic and psyhographic characteristics. Otherwise, you will be wasting your marketing spend.
Some things like geography, membership and buyer type cut across both consumer and business audiences; but other characteristics are unique.
B2B audiences are defined by company size (think revenue, employees), type (think private, public, PE owned), sector (nature of business), job function and seniority.
B2C demographics, measurable externals, are things like income, gender, age, education. As with B2B though, the more specific you can be about behaviour the better. If you are opening a book store, it is much more useful to know that someone still buys hard copy books then that they live within a 1 mile radius and have blue eyes, even if you have identified that people with blue eyes who live within walking distance to the book shop are your best buyer group.
When you can tap into people’s tribal identification you have your strongest purchasing identifiers. There is no point in trying to sell Spurs scarves to an Arsenal supporter even though you have correctly identified that they will buy sports paraphernalia.
Nike’s latest campaign demonstrated a brilliant understanding of their target audience tribes. While news outlets had a field day showing Tweets of people setting their Nike’s on fire. Their core target market responded to their message and sales shot up. The idea isn’t to be something for everyone. It is to be everything for someone.
Just make sure that there are enough someone’s – that your market is big enough – to make money.
And to make sure everyone remembers who you are selling to and doesn’t suddenly decide it would be great publicity to sponsor the Royal Opera House when your target audience are sheep farmers in Wales, update your brand I with the target market.
The next thing to obsess about is how we reach that target market and how many steps do we need to go through before we can win clients, dazzle them and persuade them to win more. It could be very simple, if you have a unique offer which is sufficiently sticky, maybe all you have to do is get the brand known, drive people to download the app, use it and become addicted. Uber would be a great example of this.
Or maybe it is a bit more complicated. Think of a highly competitive, premium professional services GoToMarket approach. They need to build the audience of people they want to engage with using research, social media, networking etc. They need those people to know what they stand for and offer. They then have to prove that they actually know what they are talking about so that people raise their hand and want to hear more from them. They then have to see which of those people that have raised their hand meet their target audience criteria, who are likely to have the money and inclination to buy. Then they need to hand them over to a sales person to win the mandate. You might think why bother doing all this upfront, why not just let the sales person try and pitch the client. The answer is because 60% of the sale is made before someone meets the sales person. And you have highly compensated people who shouldn’t be wasting their time with people who won’t buy or spending their time trying to convince the person of the firm’s credentials when all of that can have been done beforehand far more cost effectively.
So once know the steps in the process, you can think about the media mix that you are going to use to make it happen. The key here is that not every medium is correct for every stage in the process.
Twitter for example is great for brand awareness, for building the community and driving traffic. It isn’t good for lead generation or direct marketing.
Facebook is good for creating user-based promotions. One of the favourite ones I ever did was a competition for our WGSN (on-line global trend forecaster) advocates to demonstrate how much they loved us by taking the We Love WGSN badge and creating something fabulous from it. The entries included the team from C&A in Brazil who literally stopped traffic creating a human statue of the logo and a designer in Mexico who tattooed it on his shoulder. A swimwear design team in New Zealand created a beautiful origami piece. That was all about creating viral reach and visibility.
We also did one for Brunswick at Davos where we targeted people actually at Davos and put sponsored content in front of them. In those two days we reached more new CEOs for less money than any other campaign we did. It cost us under $500.
Which brings us to content and campaigns. Content marketing is flavour of the month at the moment. That really doesn’t mean it is suitable in all circumstances. Sometimes – like when you are promoting visitor tickets to an exhibition you can just tell them what they’ll get and why it is worth the train fare or the parking to get it. You don’t have to entice them with other sweeties along the way. That said, if you are tempted to do content marketing, be sure to think carefully where you are simply joining the conversation in order to become part of a community, where you are really adding to it and where you own it because you have genuinely brought something new to it.
I sometimes think marketers have latched on to content marketing because it seems a lot easier to do then to write hard hitting copy. Ask somebody to read something, join in a conversation, look at some lovely pictures of celebrities in gorgeous clothes, you don’t have to slave over copy the way that you do when you want someone to act in a way that involves handing over hard cold cash. David Ogilvy famously said that copywriting is selling with a typewriter. So, whether you are reviewing it or writing it yourself, here are 10 things to remember:
Know your audience
Nail the fear / greed
Use words that sell
Keep to the WSJ rules
Remember the journalists’ friends
Think FAB (Feature, Advantage, Benefit)
Make it all about the right me
Remember no one cares that you are proud or delighted
Take time over it
Be a ruthless editor
And if you are going to personalise your emails or your leaflets, do it right. Remember the famous Labour election piece that read Dear First Name? Don’t personalise gratuitously and do always have another set of eyes proof read anything before it goes out.
One of the many things that I love about marketing is that you can measure exactly how well something is working. You can test whether one thing works better than another and you can change as you go along. Most social media marketing services even do it for you. Any marketing automation system or half way decent email provider will let you set up splits and resend the email to the underperforming split with for instance a new header.
In today’s world, you need someone to work for you who is all over this. Don’t worry if they are a digital native. Worry that they are super high energy, deeply curious, because it is all changing so fast. They don’t have to be Picasso and have deep technical expertise and creative genius but they do need to love both bits (or you need to have a team made up of some techies, some analysts, some project managers and some creatives). And they must be passionate because they are the custodian of your dreams. Or more prosaically, your share price.
Awards are very easy to do badly, leaving sponsors disappointed and attendees exhausted. Done well, they inspire a whole industry and produce margin boosting profits. It is all about careful planning and disciplined execution.
Everything you need to know to run a successful awards ceremony
Awards are very easy to do badly, leaving sponsors disappointed and attendees exhausted. Done well, they inspire a whole industry and produce margin boosting profits. It is all about careful planning and disciplined execution.
Anatomy of an awards ceremony
Awards categories – minimum of 12 to make money, maximum of 21 to avoid people poking their own eyes out with dessert forks (if you have really done an incredible job selling categories and go over 21, present an opening 3 – 6 awards with the starter, then have dinner and do the rest with dessert and coffee; or, for the truly award-tastic typically magazine-legacy businesses who sell 50+ make it a winners only event)
Judges – the great and good of the industry with whom sponsors will want to network, from whom nominees will want jobs, to whom the industry listens, follows and retweets
Ceremony – somewhere cool or fabulous, in the heart of the market or a destination; pre-dinner drinks (sponsored), VIP drinks (sponsored), entertainment (Britain’s Got Talent style); MC (comedian, personality or industry veteran who gives a short set / speech and then either reads the nominations or welcomes the presenter to the stage); three course dinner; after awards band / casino / secret after party location (sponsored)
Photography and videos – photographer takes step and repeat photos of guests arriving, winner pictures, videographer records short interviews with every winner and sponsor
Sponsors – headline sponsor, one sponsor per award category, reception and entertainment sponsors. If you sell naming rights make it a minimum of a three-year deal
Your entry fees should be used as a means to drive early entries by judicious use of early bird and discount offers
Table sales should cover the cost of the event
Your SpEx sales are your profits. Expect to be able to sell 75% of your awards categories. Use judges and media partners to present unsold categories.
Who does what?
The show director sets the prices
chooses and runs the judging panel(s)
writes the description and criteria for each award for the website and brochure
proposes the shortlist to the team
manages the judging process of the shortlist
writes the awards script for the night (including phonetic pronunciation as needed)
writes the copy for the awards guide and winners magazine
briefs the MC on the industry, attendees and winners
Sales and product agree the awards categories [criteria: commercially viable AND editorially sound] and judging criteria
Technology shortlists the awards entry and voting system e.g. Cvent, Capterra, Awardsforce, for executive sign-off; is there on the night with laptop and printers for last minute support
develops the brand including the trophy design and web cards for announcements and congratulations
builds the website (entries, judging and results)
drives awards entries including producing the awards brochure, with the complete categories guide, entry process and judges
produces the sponsorship prospectus
liaises with sponsors to amplify awards and presence
manages judges involvement marketing program
writes and sends out the short list press release
creates social media buzz (pre, at and post awards)
sends out the shortlist and attendee emails (being sure to include an add to calendar button)
manages table sales
manages the app downloads and usage (need 75% downloaded before evening for full engagement on the night)
briefs the design company to create the step and repeat board, the on-site signage, stage set and award PPT template
works with the AV company to produce the opening sting and all “on to the stage” music
produces “finalist” and “winner” print assets and media badges
manages the photographers, interviewers and videographers on the night
writes and distributes the winners press release and review of the night
edits and posts the ceremony gallery
edits and posts the winners videos
Delegate Sales sell tables to short listed companies, whole tables and half tables only, no single seats
Sponsorship Sales sell all non-table sales inventory ie headline sponsorship, awards categories, reception and entertainment, app inventory, awards catalogue/guide ads and winners magazine; and manages sponsors
Books the venue, the F&B, the entertainment and the MC
produces the trophies
builds the app
collect judges’ photos and bios, and sponsor logos and descriptions
hosts judges judging day(s) / virtual if necessary
creates and manages the onsite running order
ensures that AV company has the position of all winners tables marked in the running order so can turn camera and spotlight on them
develops and distributes the table plans
prints and sets-up signage, step and repeat board, triangles with app and wifi details, table plans, menus, awards catalogue and winners magazine and any paid for inventory such as logos on napkins and business cards in glasses
manages the budget, F&B, venue, the entertainment, the ticketing and the AV
works with marketing on the table design and decor
produces the nominee and winner slides to the template
ensures that everything runs smoothly on the night
sends post show thank you notes to sponsors with print ready picture of presenting the award and video link; sends winners their photos, videos and print ready / digital “winner of” assets
– 11 months book venue
– 8 months strategy and planning meeting
– 7 months start recruiting judging panel
– 7 months save the date as soon as have half a dozen impressive judges
– 7 months start selling sponsorship
– 6 months announce awards and open nominations
– 4 months agree shortlist of nominations for lifetime achievement award
– 3 months announce categories shortlist and start selling tables
– 6 weeks meet with judges live / virtually
– 6 weeks invite family of lifetime achievement award winner as surprise guests
– 1 week finalise stage set
– 2 weeks send app download instructions
– 1 week finalise sting
– 1 week brief MC
Midnight winners live on website
+12 hours social media winner posts and responses (being sure to tag individuals)
+24 hours headline and reception sponsor re-books
+1 week winner / sponsor thank you’s, photos and videos
+1 week attendee emails and photo gallery link
+1 month follow up interview with lifetime achievement winner
Reception / drinks room
VIP drinks room
Large seating plans on either side of each door way into main room as well as by the cloakroom and the entrance to the drinks room (alphabetise)
Stage set (steps on either side for the presenter to come on one way and off the other; steps in the middle for winners to run up; two podiums, one for the host and one for the presenter; three strong branded photograph points: behind the MC, behind the presenter and centre stage for winners
Venue décor (check carpets, wall paper and height of ceiling)
AV – opening sting, PPTs nominees and winners, VoG (for shortlist OR welcome to the stage name of presenter whichever has more room for name errors OR for additional details about why the winner won as they walk to the stage if a large venue), camera feed/relays, roaming camera to follow winners from floor to stage
Tables – check before booking whether they have tablecloths to match brand colours, venue centrepieces so you can skip the floral budget and use their candelabras, check chairs and see whether you will need to cover them or you can save money by avoiding covers and ties. If you have flowers on the table make sure they are high enough or low enough for people to be able to converse across the table
It is vital to be transparent about the judging criteria
Ensure that the judges feel absolutely bought into and responsible for the results; they should be accountable to the industry
The Lifetime Achievement Award tends to excite the most criticism. Be sure that you have the buy-in of the industry influencers. Look at your selections over the years and be conscious of the optics
Staff on the night (your own)
Front of house greeters (who can then double up in roles below)
Person to check off VIPs have been photographed in front of step and repeat board (who can then double up as trophy presenter)
Person to collect the presenters (two awards before the one they are presenting, be sure they have a table plan with presenters highlighted)
Person to greet presenter, hand them the envelope, check that they know how to pronounce the winner’s name, remind them to walk off the stage using the steps on the other side, go with winner to press room
Person to hand out trophy on stage to the presenter once they have read the name of the winner
Person to collect winner and presenter off the stage and take them to the press room
Person to manage videographer
Person to live tweet (have winner cards pre-prepared and ready to post)
Two table hosts per judges table
Sales staff to manage sponsors
Admin staff to manage F&B, AV and logistics
CEO / Board of your own business to add star dust
Staff on the night (vendors/partners)
VoG (normally from AV company but check quality)
Interviewer (of winners being videoed)
To ensure a seamless night – top tips
Staff run through the day before with all timings and reminder of appropriate attire
Send attendees a calendar invite with the location
Update the invite with a link to the table seating plan an hour before the event
Add the table seating plan to the event app
Make it easy to tweet from the app
Have the event hashtag clearly marked on the stage set
Brief the MC fully on the make-up of the audience. Send the table plan ahead so that s/he can research individual companies. Insist on a bespoke / tailored turn, not a standard routine
Have walkie talkies / ensure all staff are on a what’s app group
Check sting and slides on-site at least 3 hours before ceremony begins
Have MC there an hour before the event to do an AV run through
Offer sponsors an AV run through
Use an autocue or if budget is really tight have multiple copies of double spaced, colour coded, large font scripts
Include phonetic spelling of any difficult company names; in particular check with sales team that you have the correct pronunciation of any sponsor
Have FoH staff alert sales when sponsor(s) arrives
Have FoH staff alert producer when judge(s) arrives
Have FoH staff alert CEO / board member when industry VIP(s) / outstanding achievement winner arrives
Start moving guests from drinks reception to dinner 20 minutes BEFORE you need everyone seated
Plate starter and have it waiting on tables
Encourage awards sponsors to pre-purchase a bottle of Champagne for the winning table and have it delivered as they return to their table
VoG while dessert is being served, 10 minutes BEFORE main award ceremony will start
Ensure wait staff know when they need to have served ALL desserts for the awards to start
Have response plan for any complaints
Have after dinner party sponsor thank host and invite everyone to the next stage of the evening