5 Things To Avoid When Running a Successful Roadshow

tour-d-states-biker1.jpgEvent Farm just wrapped up our inaugural Tour d’States Roadshow event, a six-city series of educational sessions, panels and networking events that traveled across the United States to give event professionals an opportunity to network with industry peers and hear from experts about what they see for the future of the business of offline. We’re very pleased to report that the roadshow was, overall, a remarkable success! Our executives’ keynotes were forward-thinking and visionary, the panels with local experts informative and engaging, and the quality of the attendees and the conversations throughout the event top-notch and inspiring.

While most of the Tour d’States events went smoothly, we encountered some minor (and a few major) bumps along the way, as is to be expected with producing any major event. To help you plan for your next B2B-oriented educational roadshow series, we came up with a list of five things to avoid that we wish we had known when kicking off our six-city tour. While we were able to implement these changes as we traveled from one city to the next, if you keep these in mind when gearing up to run a successful roadshow, you’ll be sure to avoid some major snafus.

PS – if you weren’t able to attend our roadshow, but wanted to check out one of our panel recordings, you can click here to access our Future of Event Marketing series for 2016.

1. Don’t invite anybody and everybody; make sure that your guest list is targeted.

tour-d-states-panel-la.jpgBecause of the small size of each of our roadshow events – we aimed to have 30 to 40 high-quality marketers in the room for each city – we had to be extremely targeted about who were inviting and why we wanted them in the room. Our marketing team started promoting the roadshow by targeting MQLs (marketing qualified leads), SQLs (sales qualified leads), Opportunities, Customers and Evangelists in our marketing automation platform based on their home state. This helped us ensure that we were both inviting people who were important to our business’s bottom line and likely could attend based on their geography.

From there, we had our sales and customer success teams reach out personally to their VIP prospects and clients located close to each of our host cities. This personal touch was key in generating our goal number of registrants, and once they were confirmed on our list, many of our sales reps reached out again shortly before the event to verbally confirmed their attendance.  In addition to boosting our numbers, this strategy helped our reps establish a deeper personal connection with each attendee, making conversations more personal in nature and easier to establish and carry on the day of the event. Make sure your own sales team employs this tactical approach when running your own roadshow to get the maximum impact for your event’s registration and attendance.

2. Avoid relying too heavily on outbound campaigns for attendance.

From a new lead perspective, one of the great things about running in-person events is that it gives your sales team a chance to reach out to potential prospects with a valuable offer – in this case, attending a free educational roadshow – without asking for anything in return (besides their attendance). Our SDRs, or sales development representatives, did a FANTASTIC job running outbound campaigns targeting event professionals with certain job titles and working for specific companies and inviting them to attend our roadshow events. Their efforts generated a substantial amount of new, hyper-targeted top-of-funnel leads, meaning people who may never have heard of Event Farm before that opted into our event and other marketing efforts, making marketing to them down the line a very straightforward process. 

While we were very fortunate to have amassed a sizable list of registrants to whom we could market down the road, we found that the registrants who came in from an outbound campaign were less likely to attend the roadshow come game day compared to our existing high-value prospects and customers who already knew us, our brand, our software, and likely had a personal relationship with one or more of the Farmers who would be in attendance. Of course, we found a lot of value in our outbound campaigns in terms of the quality of the leads it generated, but when running one of these campaigns yourself, make sure that your end result – your guest list – favors those prospects and customers who already know you for the best attendance results.

3. Don’t commit to paying a venue’s high rental fee before you’ve explored other options.

social-tables-office.jpgOff the bat, we knew that one of the higher fixed costs that we could potentially rack up in each city was that of the venue rental. Rather than handing over the company credit card to the first venue that piqued our interest, we took a look at our list of customers and other industry friends in each city who might have an office or event space that we could use to host the roadshow event for a few hours. In addition to providing us with a venue, we pitched this as an opportunity for local event marketers and marketing executives to see their space first-hand, which could lead to venue rentals or potentially bigger business partnerships for the host down the road. When it made sense, we also offered a spot on our panel to one of their executives to give them some additional thought leadership and exposure to those in the crowd.

We’re lucky to have some amazing customers and friends in the industry who stepped up to the plate and let us use their gorgeous offices and event spaces so that we could pull off our series without breaking the bank. Special thanks to our #DCtech friends Social Tables for letting us use their HQ, as well as DigitasLBi for lending us their great MainStage space for an afternoon!

4. Don’t rely on conventional catering and bartending providers if their services don’t fit your budget.

We were expecting between 30-40 people for our first event in Chicago, and set out to find a catering service that could create a snack and drink menu that would both fit with our Tour d’States theme and enhance our guest’s overall experience during the last part of our event, the networking happy hour. When we received quotes from the caterers that our venue recommended, however, we were pretty shocked to find that none of them could get below $2,500 for a relatively small, 60 minute mix-and-mingle networking happy hour. As that quote would have eaten up about half of the budget for each city’s event, we had to get creative and think beyond the norm to come up with a solution.

whole-foods-catering-roadshow.jpgFortunately, one of our teammates suggested looking at Whole Foods’ catering menu, which turned out to be an excellent and affordable option. The menu came in at about 1/3 the cost of what traditional caterers could offer, and was packaged and delivered to our venue for an extra $20. The Chicago spread ended up looking and tasting so great that we opted to use Whole Foods for the rest of the roadshow series, and while the catering menu varied slightly from city to city, we were quite happy with the reliable, high quality product that they provided across the country.

We also used this opportunity to get creative with our drink offerings as well. Alexandra, our CMO, came up with the great idea to create a local craft beer tasting experience to offer our attendees a little something different than the norm at your standard B2B networking happy hour. To accomplish this, we got in touch with craft beer stores in four of our six cities, and had them send their favorite local beers along with a cicerone (the official term for a sommelier of beer, we learned) to provide some details to the crowd about what they were drinking. In California, we were fortunate to team up with Lagunitas Brewery directly, and they were so kind as to provide us with some of their product in exchange for a sponsorship, which helped to keep costs low.

5. Don’t be afraid to pull the plug on an event if all hell breaks loose.

Sometimes, the perfect storm hits on the day of your roadshow event, and absolutely everything that could go possibly wrong, does exactly that. We were scheduled to have our San Francisco roadshow event on a crisp Monday in October. While the weather in the city itself was totally fine, there was fog at SFO that canceled and delayed hundreds of flights that day, leaving three of our team members that were supposed to arrive before noon stranded at their home airports, including our CEO, who was slated to deliver a 50 minute keynote presentation to kick the event off. Once it finally started to look like our LA-based team would be able to fly out in time for the event, President Obama made a surprise landing at LAX, causing a ground stop that lasted almost two hours. It was looking less and less likely that our team would make it to SF in time for the roadshow.

To make matters worse, I wasn’t able to get in touch with the venue owner that day. Even though he had been extremely responsive to my texts, emails and phone calls prior to the event, we weren’t able to get into the venue until 2:30 – an hour and a half past when we were supposed to begin setting up, and 30 minutes before our guests were due to arrive – when one of his crew members happened to open the door. He was surprised to see us, and had no clue that the theater was hosting our event that afternoon, and as a result, nothing had been properly set up.

We went through every possible option to pull this off, including finding a backup venue to host the event, an alternate keynote speaker, and other minor logistical configurations in order to make the event a success. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t possible. We wouldn’t have been able to deliver the top-notch event and experience that we had promised to our invitees, especially with our team operating at just 25% of capacity. Although it really pained us to do so, we had to cancel the event last minute. While nobody was more disappointed than I was to make this call, our team still believes that we made the right decision, and look forward to making the mishap up to our SF-based prospects and customers that were looking forward to the roadshow as much as we were.

Event pros – especially field marketers – what tips do you have to share with your peers who may be gearing up for their first roadshow series? Let us know in the comments below, or Tweet us @eventfarm to keep the conversation going.