The events industry is continuing to enjoy a rebound, with nine consecutive quarters of growth, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research's third-quarter CEIR Index. In this interview, Marco Pardi, president-business technology events at UBM Tech—producer of such events as Black Hat and Interop—discusses the role live events play in technology marketing.
BtoB: With the rise of digital marketing, what is the future of technology-oriented events?
Pardi: When the demise of print started, many people associated the "print-killer" with digital and website media. I think what we've found is that events have become more important and engaging as a marketing opportunity, because online communities actually are driving a greater need for people to get together.
Since the beginning of time technology has been one of those markets where we have to touch and feel the products to see how they work and talk to our peer set to see what's working for them or not. Tech purchasing is a big deal, involving millions of dollars worth of IT equipment and service and multiyear commitments. The best way is to talk to vendors and other IT directors face-to-face.
BtoB: How is the rise of social media and online communities impacting tech events?
Pardi: One is feeding the other. Yes, there are online meet-ups, LinkedIn and Facebook Groups, Google Circles and the rest, but nobody is sitting in their house doing social media and never engaging with life. You find people via social and digital communities, and then there's the time to actually meet up.
These days we're actually driving more conference registrations and revenue through Facebook and LinkedIn. These are active participants who have opted in to social sites, and are interested in keeping the communities alive. A live event is the place all these people can interact with each other live.
BtoB: We hadn't thought Facebook is attractive to geeks.
Pardi: We have many different communities that cut across technology sectors. For example, last week's Online Marketing Summit does not attract geeks, but rather those interested in getting better data analytics and improving marketing. But during the keynotes, our presentation was a trending topic on Twitter, which means the traffic was through the roof. And this is an event with just 1,000 attendees.
Then you have the highly specialized, geeky audience that attends the Black Hat show. There's very little social media there. Attendees are very protective of their information, although there also are very vigorous closed online chat groups; Black Hat attendees are not Facebook users.
BtoB: Content marketing is much talked about these days. How does content impact on tech events?
Pardi: The IT industry needs to keep its skills up to date, and that's not always easy to do. At our events we don't see much pay-for-play vendor talks. Our presenters are truly independent experts. For events, content means getting an executive, a customer to speak at the show. That is the heart of the value proposition. Thus, case studies are the most popular content at our shows, especially those that examine what went wrong.
BtoB: What makes technology events unique from other kinds of live events?
Pardi: It's all about the customer experience. We have found that the more technical the audience is, the more they want to get together with their peers. And they also want to feel that they're being celebrated. IT people don't want awards, but they do want to be acknowledged for the amazing work they do.
Also, IT people aren't quite as social as other segments, and they're looking to us to pull them together. They have a great sense of humor, but don't always know how to initiate conversations. One thing we've started to do is pipe rock music into the registration area that men from the ages of 30 to 50 would like, such as the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin and Steppenwolf. It was a low-cost solution to being a better host, and it's amazing what it did for the experience.