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Developing real strategies

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The events industry has embraced digital tools, from Twitter to virtual events and the ubiquitous e-mail blast. The question now: How best to incorporate digital tactics into an event schedule, filtering novelty from market-shifting mediums that maximize return on investment.

Event organizers are moving from experimentation to strategy development, according to a report released in October by George P. Johnson Co. and the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. Almost three-quarters of the 242 exhibition producers and corporate brand marketers who responded in May and June to the online survey indicated that they would be rolling out a new digital strategy by the end of the year. The challenge will be to assign value to tactics like social media, the impact of which can be difficult to measure.

Cathy Breden, executive director of CEIR, spoke to Media Business about how show organizers' use of technology has evolved—and why education continues to be in high demand.

Media Business: How has the use of digital tactics changed over the past year?

Cathy Breden: Organizers are using digital much more than they ever had. They are trying to learn best practices from others to take what others have learned and begin developing their own digital strategies.

Last year, they were just in the beginning stage. This year, they are becoming more savvy in terms of mixing up tactics [to reach] specific audiences. They're adapting their strategy and the tactic that they use to an audience based on their knowledge of that audience.

E-mail by far is the main method of marketing, but LinkedIn is also becoming more popular, as well as Twitter and the idea of learning how to engage the community year-round using digital strategies and tactics. [Organizers] are moving toward developing a year-round community around an event.

MB: What should organizers be considering as they develop their own strategies?

Breden: They need to understand their audiences and what they are trying to achieve. They need to know their goals and objectives. Is it to drive awareness, extend reach, increase attendance or is it all of the above? They need to set a strategy for reaching their goals, and they're getting a lot better at it. Organizers are becoming more in tune with digital marketing and the tactics that work best for them.

Anecdotally I think that people are still questioning the value and the time that it takes to develop a strategy and how to measure it. [Seventy-two percent of respondents in the study] said that within the next six months, they'd have developed a strategy, but for others it's going to take longer.

If organizations haven't begun to develop their digital strategy, they need to to be able to remain competitive in the marketplace. It's not going away, and organizers need to learn how to work with it and use it to enhance their event and achieve goals for their organization or their event.

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