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In the cut-throat meeting and convention industry, sidelined by some client companies bringing events in-house, and the ever-laggard economy, can mean that some or many corners tend to be cut when selling or marketing to audiences. It seems that every industry focuses on numbers and nothing else, whether that be revenue numbers, or attendee numbers.

However, longevity in this business means that you have to respect yourself and your organization, and sometimes, either reduce your numbers (in terms of revenue and attendees) just to create a memorable and respectable event, rather than a haphazard and slipshod event that your attendees, speakers and sponsors would love to hate.

Spin a tale and get a sale?

One of the main worries of meeting planners and convention organizers is if such events will be well attended, or not. And since the economy these days are not riding high and wild, the need for financial restraint is very real, and planners and organizers tend to tighten their belts and hope for the best. In such circumstances, above-the-line advertising, traditionally the most expensive vehicle, tends to be compromised first. Some planners imagine that PR (public relations) can be a complete substitute for above-the-line advertising, at next to ZERO cost.

“We need some PR! Can you go and sell our event to the journalists and tell them to give us one full page feature in the newspapers? Also, get the radio stations to to announce to the public to get people to sign up!” barked an event planner (true story).

Or perhaps in this rendition, “Go and ‘PR’ with the journalists so that our convention sales will go up!”

Some of those planners have emerged from a strong sales career, and have no knowledge of PR, believing it to be just another advertising vehicle. They would pitch something with a pure sales bent, without any regard to the editorial slant of the publication or media. Some would go so far as to even request for “reviews” prior to publication, not realizing that editorials do NOT go through your reviews, unless you paid for them as an “advertorial” or advertisement. Remember, an advertorial might look somewhat like an editorial, but it is not an editorial, and will always be discounted by the readers compared to an objective, unbiased editorial. And do not even attempt to strangle your PR agency to work miracles to spin tall tales, because PR is about telling the truth as it is, not spinning tales.

Is that an expert who tells, or sells?

In organizing events and conferences, it is important to make a clearer distinction for potential audiences, the differences in the tracks and presentations made by vendors and content experts.

Content experts tend to provide more well-rounded, objective and usable content, while vendor speakers, no matter how objective, will have to account to their bosses and try to pitch their wares to audiences, in however subtle, and many, not so subtle ways. So in the marketing of conferences, it is important to attempt to separate the vendors from real content experts, by perhaps labeling the vendor tracks as “sponsored” tracks, or some other fancy moniker.

Also, since vendors are there to push their wares, they should not be compensated, while it is always ethical to pay the content experts, since the experts have much less commercial agenda than vendors. If you are on a razor thin budget and cannot pay the speakers in fees, consider an equitable package which may come in the form of free conference tickets for the content speakers to give to their clients, special meals, or some commercially sponsored gifts (useful ones), and such. Use your creativity.

Sorry you don’t speak my language

There are also sadly, some meeting planners who would rather choose accents over substance. For example, I have sometimes observed meeting planners dropping very well qualified and highly regarded content speakers from various parts of the world, for the simple fact that they do not speak “properly accented” English. Such planners would rather choose native English speakers, over the highly engaging substance, life stories, and inspirational anecdotes from the non-native English speaking experts.

But of course, not everyone discriminates against accents. Otherwise, the likes of the most honorable Nelson Mandela from South Africa, would never have reached out so successfully to the world. Likewise, I have heard powerful speeches from speakers from France, China PRC, Taiwan ROC, India, and even Australia, all with heavily accented English but nonetheless delivered powerful and enriching speeches.

I too, had some similar experiences when the local people helped me reach out to their audience, by not discriminating against my lack of understanding or communicating in their language. When I was in Tokyo, Japan, to speak as a keynote speaker on Internet security, the room was packed with Japanese executives who could speak only limited English. But the Japanese organizers created a special real-time translation booth with TWO translators, who translated every word of mine real-time, without any lag at all! The audience was able to learn and enjoy the session with me, and laugh with me in tandem. And the only Japanese I spoke at the session? “Konnichi wa” (good morning) and “Arigato gozaimasu” (thank you very much).

A copy here and a copy there

The curtain falls, the applause has ended, and your audience is streaming out of the conference room to finish up the buffet lunch served outside. The conference was a success and every attendee was asking for speaker materials to bring home for a read. Have you done your due diligence?

When you make speeches, presentation slides and transcripts available, have you secured the usage rights and paid for them? Some might assume that all materials are usable as long as the speakers step on their stage, and many do not secure proper usage rights before, during and after events (such as archival systems). Also, re-distribution tend to be a no-no, unless you have proper licensing. Much as voiceover clips from members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) of America would require separate licensing for uses in different media, it is imperative that you check individually with each speaker or talent, to ensure that you respect their intellectual property rights not only in terms of including their speaker materials in your binders for attendees, but also if such uses by your attendees are clearly spelt out to prevent re-distribution, resale or any other use prohibited by your speakers and talents.

Are you water or fire?

Even when the competitive landscape seems to force our hands ever so often, we should never attempt to become combative and compromise our own innate standards.

According to the eighth chapter of Dao De Jing (道德經) by ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Zi (老子), there is a phrase which can loosely be translated as “the ultimate good is like water”. Water benefits everyone without competing for glory with men. You will find water extremely pliable and manageable, when you divert streams to irrigate crops, to power turbines, and to cleanse and filter it for drinking and sustenance. Such is the nature of water, which gives life, without calling too much attention to itself.

So the question whenever the competition gets hot and dangerous over your shoulders, do you retaliate like fire, or like water?

Copyright©2005 Seamus Phan. All rights reserved.