Customer experience is key for organizers

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Georgiann DeCenzo heads Advanstar Communications' marketing development and licensing groups, overseeing operations and strategy while also keeping an eye on the bottom line. Media Business caught up with the chairwoman of the American Business Media events committee to talk about the industry.

MB: Is more emphasis being put on event growth at Advanstar?

DeCenzo: Advanstar is very market-focused. Our strategy is to serve the needs of the customers in each vertical market—whether it is events, or online or education—whatever that market trend is. We don't have a strategy that we're going to grow events or we're going to grow magazines. It's whatever the needs are of that individual market. Our expertise in events and event management gives us an opportunity to grow the events portion of our business in areas where there is demand for face-to-face events.

MB: What is the role of technology in events growth? Do most companies have the necessary assets in place?

DeCenzo: People are using technology not only for traditional audience development but also for ways to extend their brands beyond the three or four days of their show. Some of the larger show organizers have the technology and they have the staff in place, but they have not figured out a way to monetize it and make it profitable yet. It's an exciting time for the industry. If people have discussions with their staff and share best practices with other companies, we can figure it out.

MB: What advice do you give to companies introducing or growing events, especially in a saturated market?

DeCenzo: Just because you've been to events doesn't mean you can manage them. The first thing: Know what you don't know. Begin to get that understanding, and hire the expertise. There are thousands of consultants who work in the market. Tap into one of them.

The other thing: Figure out the revenue model that you want to go after for a launch and the sustainable, profitable revenue model that you want to go into the future with. Sometimes the launch model is different than what the model is going to be three years from now. Figure out both and pick one.

On a launch, it's really hard to make money on gate revenue. If you have a sponsorship revenue model or an exhibit hall revenue model, you want to remove all barriers for getting the audience there. If you're picking a conference model where you're making money off the audience being there, then you put your money into content development. That's my short advice.

MB: What is the role of the editorial staff during an event?

DeCenzo: My philosophy is that my group is a franchise. It doesn't matter to me whether my group presents the industry with information via a conference, via webinar, via digital edition, via Web site, via print. My editorial director is in charge of that content. Period. We have to present the industry with relevant, high-quality, innovative content. [The way] we deliver that content should meet the needs of the market.

MB: What is the biggest lesson learned in the events industry this year?

DeCenzo: Customers are requiring greater levels of service. We have to make it easier for people to do business with us, either from the attendee side or the exhibitor side. And we have to think of innovative ways to service our customers to provide them with the best possible experience on show site that's going to bring them back. The customer experience is what we all need to focus on as show organizers.

If you look at most show organizers and how they allocate resources, the majority of resources are dedicated to exhibit sales. If you get the right attendee there, selling exhibit space is really easy. When you have the right audience, it cures a lot of ills. That's not to say we ignore the exhibitor, because at many shows, the exhibitor/attendee lines are very blurry. But we need to improve customer experience.

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