Breaking it down

Conferences are a great way to get an executive’s name out there and connect with others in the industry and with journalists who are covering the space. With hundreds of conferences taking place, however, it’s important to determine which ones are worth the time or the money. So how do you know which are the right ones? Here are a few questions to ask:

1. Why go?

There are a few reasons to go to conferences in person or online, and it’s worth taking a moment to determine those reasons. Is it new business? Networking? Reputation-building? Is there someone in your executive ranks qualified to speak on a panel? Is it simply information-gathering?  Is there a budget for this covering tickets, travel, sponsorship?

2. How do you know which ones are right?

Once you’ve answered the questions above, and determined reasons for going, you can work with your PR agency to pull a list of conferences that cater to the audiences you have in mind. For the right events, sponsorship is always an option, and while often costly, it does bring additional visibility and clout. More on that below. In terms of timing, it is important to realize that conferences set their programming two to three months in advance so it’s necessary to send in speaker submissions long before the conference itself takes place. As for which events are right, make sure that the people who typically go are in the right fields and at the right level.  If you’re in the business of selling advertising, for example, your senior execs will probably want to meet other senior marketing folks at brands or agencies so the 4As or Advertising Week makes sense. If you’re in the business of  robotics or autonomous vehicles, attending or speaking at the Autonomous Robots and Logistics Conference can make sense. Take a look at last year’s schedule for each event and take note of the types of people who spoke there.  Who were the keynote speakers? What were the topics? Who are the sponsors? Can you tell from social posts who attended? Have you asked your colleagues (and prospects) whether they’ve ever gone and whether they thought it was worthwhile.

Take a look at what kind of media coverage each conference generated in the past? This will tell you if reporters are likely to be there, which could be an added advantage if you’d like to start building relationships with those who cover your industry.

And, of course, are you looking at both virtual and live events?  While virtual events certainly offer the opportunity to participate without having to spend the money and time to travel there in person, it’s important to recognize that many of the networking advantages of in-person attendance do not apply when remote.

3. Panel or not?

Speaking on a panel is great for visibility and helps generate interest in your company. First, you need to decide who is best suited to represent your company at each conference, whether as a panelist or networker. Participating on a panel is a great way to establish credibility and make contacts.  It’s important to propose an executive whose credentials (and speaking style) set them apart in order to win a slot and, ultimately, draw a crowd.  Panel participants’ names are included in on-line schedules, mobile apps, flyers and signage. There will likely be trade journalists in attendance as well, who look to build relationships with authoritative experts in the field. Your PR firm can help make introductions to reporters in attendance, and arrange meetings on site. And, depending upon your company’s investment in this conference – as a sponsor or presenter – a separate breakfast or dinner for colleagues and press can give your company added visibility. .

If you’d like to propose one of your executives as a panelist, it’s important to remember that the process begins months before the conference actually takes place. The best first step is to review the panel titles that may already be posted on the conference website. It’s usually best to shape the submission to fit a specific panel and highlight any special expertise or perspectives on the topic. If the submission is ready to go before the panel titles are available, then use the submission to tout the speaker’s areas of specialty and include any other panels they’ve been on, articles they’ve published or interviews they’ve done – including video.

4. The importance of networking 

Do your research in advance to determine who typically goes to each event. Ask everyone you know. Post on LinkedIn. It’s best to set up meetings ahead of time. Book your executives in the recommended hotel so that they are likely to run into people they know. And in order to benefit from these events, it’s best to take full advantage of group activities –  attending coffees and cocktails and, most of all, by collecting as many new contact names as possible and using social media to the fullest, with the conference hashtag, in order to let the world know they’re there.

5. Don’t forget to follow up

Conferences are only as valuable as the energy we put into them in terms of preparation, energetic attendance, participation in panels or other events, and active follow up. It’s important to save contact names and follow up when appropriate.

6.  Is it worth sponsoring?

Sponsorships can be valuable, if your company has budget for that. Sponsorships add visibility and opportunity.  They can include banners at the front entrance; ads displayed on monitors throughout the conference space; giveaways distributed by vendors during breaks between sessions; food served at lunchtime events—all these things are essentially advertising opportunities. In addition, most conferences have separate programs aimed specifically at sponsors that include lunchtime events where you can connect directly with attendees interested in your products/services.

Here’s a quick recap of what to look for when choosing a conference 

  • Talk to your PR firm and have them pull an event list as a starting point. There are so many conferences around the country – and the world! A head start combing through them for the most appropriate for you will be a huge time saver.
  • Look at the details – who, where, when. What are they going to talk about? What will make someone want to go? Usually, conferences will have an overall theme and then break it down into different tracks based on interests. Check out the website or call them up so they can help guide you toward what would be best suited for your needs. And of course, talk to your executives and make sure they’re aligned.
  • Decide who is best suited to represent the company at each event. It could be multiple people.
  • Look at the speakers. Who is speaking at this event? Is there someone who presents a business opportunity?
  • Look at the sponsors. The size and categories of sponsor brands can tell you a lot about who attends, and whether it’s worth the investment.

Conclusion

Conferences can be a great way to network and learn, but they require an investment of time and money. This is why it’s important to work with your PR firm to do the groundwork before deciding which one will be best for your needs.

Contact us to find out how to build a conference schedule that makes sense for you!