Your b-to-b event checklist—answer these questions first

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As the media business continues to undergo a metamorphosis away from traditional print toward newer online and on-demand models, b-to-b events have changed from ``nice-to-have'' to ``need-to-have.'' Many publishers, working hard to close the gap created by declining print revenues, have turned to events as the third leg of their media strategies.

However, as everyone rushes to build or expand their event portfolios, we're seeing a lot of events that fail to fulfill their promise. Conference delegates aren't happy with the level of content or the quality of speakers being advertised. Exhibitors or sponsors aren't seeing the number of qualified purchasing influencers they've been promised. And event organizers are seeing venue-mostly hotel-costs going up almost as fast as the cost of their promotional efforts, which are required to generate the quality and quantity of attendees they've promised exhibitors and sponsors.

In our experience, there are two major challenges to creating a commercially successful b-to-b event.

Picking the right business model. There are a lot of models to choose from. The two forms most commonly in use today can be differentiated by whether delegates pay to attend or whether their participation is underwritten by exhibitor/sponsor dollars. The former is usually the more attractive financial model because of the dual revenue sources from both sponsors and delegates. To help determine which model works best for a specific event, consider these questions:

  • Is there a buy/sell relationship between the targeted visitor demographic and an exhibitor/sponsor universe (for both or either of the models)?
  • What is the level of audience demographic? (C-level, director, lower? The higher the level, the better the sponsored delegate model will work.)
  • How large is the exhibitor/sponsor universe? Very large or limited/specific? (A larger prospect universe suggests a better candidate for the dual revenue stream model.)
  • Is an appropriate, affordable, venue available that fits the needs of the audience for one or both models?
  • Are there competitive events and what are their models and fees?
  • Do you envision this as a one-time event (highly topical) or an annual (repeatable) event?

In general, your choice of model will be dictated by the level of your attendee. In other words, the more strategic the attendee, the more often these delegates are invited under the auspices of a sponsor. Whereas, the more operational the attendee and the more practical the content, the more likely the audience will pay to attend.

Evaluating the opportunity. To launch or not to launch, that is the question. When thinking about a new event launch, consider the following questions:

  • What's the financial model?
  • What's the value proposition to the targeted visitor demographic?
  • Where are you going to get the databases for promotional purposes (in-house or outside; free, trade or for a cost)?
  • How large is the exhibitor and sponsor prospect universe?
  • Are there affinity groups that you can work with (associations, etc.) to help lend credibility, drive attendance, groundswell, etc.?
  • Where and when should the event be held and are appropriate, cost-effective venues available?
  • Who is the competition and what is your differentiator?

At the end of the day, it really is about the content. Social networking objectives aside, we're all too busy these days to take the time to participate in an event unless we sincerely believe we're going to get an ROI. Whether the conference requires a fee or it is free to attend, whether it is across the street or across the nation-the biggest investment any of us makes is taking the time away from our desks to participate. The longer the event, the farther away, the more difficult it is to get attendees.

It is critical that the content has value to the targeted audience. Need to know/urgent business information is a more powerful draw than a high-profile speaker. Get the content right and the rest is in the details of actually producing the event.

B-to-b events can and should be a significant component of your go-to-market strategy. They effectively help reinforce and extend brands and they can be a substantially higher-margin contributor to your portfolio's bottom line.

David Korse is CEO of IDG World Expo Corp. He can be reached at

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