Something unusual has been happening in the office over the last couple of months. After years of seeing the volumes of free-circulation business press dwindle to almost nothing we have begun hearing the thud of magazines more frequently once again.
It started with Print Power, a publication produced by Lateral Group. The blurb at the front says that it is a European initiative dedicated to strengthening the position of print media in a multi-media world. That’s as may be, but what actually hit the desk was an extremely well thought out, beautifully designed and, most importantly, well written publication that not only made it out of the poly bag (got to open it to separate the recycling) but is still here for reference.
And then, starting the new year with a bang, along came the January issue of B2B marketing. I haven’t seen a hard copy of this magazine for a while, which is a pity because it’s a smasher. Lots of varied content, once again well written, great layout and a tone which didn’t make the reader feel like they were on the periphary of a rather exclusive club, or reading something fresh out of the mouth of a PR assistant.
So, this got me thinking about two things: how important it is for B2B magazines that they are written properly; and secondly how we need to find time to sit, absorb and process information.
Many business magazine operations (and one of the above is not innocent of the offence) have embraced technology and decided that the way to keep their readers and consequently their circulations is to develop regular email newsletters. And then send them out to their database. Every Day. Event magazine went even further and sent out two email bulletins a day. Thank goodness they have stopped that. It seemed like a great plan at the time, but it forgot something very fundamental about human behaviour: that if you give us snacks we will graze rather than engage; and that most people switch off when they feel they are being nagged.
What’s more, readers don’t even have to let on that they have stopped engaging. While the email administrator always ensures that the unsubscribe information is included, all the recipient has to do is to classify the message as unwanted and it will forever be consigned to the junk folder.
In creating this constant stream of bitesize snippets we have created a culture of having to write something to a timetable rather than to an editorial plan. In doing so, we resemble budgerigars: saying anything for the sake of it, not because we believe it is something that will interest the recipient or even that they will make time to read it. So they lose interest, stop reading, and they are off to find someone who they think will give them what they want. Our marketing messages become bland, our products uninviting.
As consumers of information we are not without blame either. This veritable cornucopia of new media has us flitting from place to place searching out the information we think we need. But, time to ‘fess up: it’s exhausting isnt’ it? There’s a reason why hummingbirds drink pure sugar…
If we want to make good business/marketing/communications decisions, then we must pause to nourish ourselves with high quality information devoured slowly and with relish. We must create time to sit down and consider what is in front of us without constant interruption from screen based applications, or the pressure of having to tell an audience of disinterested individuals streams of minutiae. And noone is better placed to provide this michelin-starred content than the quality end of the B2B press.
So come on chaps… put the chips away and start cooking up some roasties.
A recent post on the very excellent BBH Labs blog* has brought me back to thinking about tigers and sheep which I wrote about in May 2010. In that post I didn’t actually use the quote that originally came to my attention through the British mountain climber Alison Hargreaves so here it is:
Better to live one day as a tiger than your whole life as a sheep
Inevitably, when we discuss modern communication, we spend most of our time considering whether we are properly reflecting the truth of the brand or engaging the interest and participation of the audience. And rightly so. But doesn’t it help, a little at least, to be motivated by our own interest, enthusiasm and sense of pride?
While I have worked in many events organisations that have enthusiasm by the bucketload; and self-interest is after all what motivates many a sales executive with an eye on their commission cheque; I am not sure that pride in the sense that Jim uses it is often in the mix. When staging an event, particularly one in the B2B marketplace, the team has to serve a huge number of masters: from industry bodies with committees and egos of their own; to sponsors who rightly want to extract maximum benefit for their investment; a multiplicity of media partners, exhibitors, speakers; plus the visitors themselves; while constantly reminding themselves of the need for a positive financial outcome.
How in this maelstrom of expectation do you stay true to the event and the original ideas that drove it’s inception?
It helps if you actually have a clear description of what your event actually is. Sit your entire team in a room and ask them to define your event in a single sentence (no restriction on the number of words!). If you have never done this I can guarantee you’ll have more than one answer. Once you have nailed this one, decide on the personality and profile of your event. Write it down. Create your branding document, and by this I don’t just mean your look and feel, it should also define your market position and your key performance indicators. And every single one of your team needs to know that this is the hymn sheet they should sing from.
While it is essential to be embedded in your marketplace, and you should make essential changes, don’t be tempted or swayed by single voices or what other organisers are doing. Constant reactions and alterations make you look like grass swaying in the wind rather than firmly rooted and leading the way. If your research was thoroughly executed and your key participants were eager to come on board, don’t let others tinker with or distort your original concept simply because they think they can.
Have the courage of your convictions so that when the last truck leaves the venue you can say “That was my event, and of it I am very proud.”
*Well worth a read – particularly if you have been struggling with how to develop your own company blog with buy in from the entire organisation. Admittedly they have lots of fabulous creative content to play with, but that shouldn’t be your excuse.
My pre-teen loves Shakespeare. It’s not something I can take any credit for since I didn’t really pay much attention in English Literature (I blame the teacher) and the sight of Denzel Washington, Robert Sean Leonard and Keanu Reaves striding around in riding breeches in the 1993 film version of Much ado about Nothing probably stopped me from appreciating the complexity and vivacity of the language.
Despite having the RSC and Globe Theatre more or less on the doorstep we haven’t quite managed a trip to see the Bard’s offerings live as yet, so there was little to reference when confronted by a project to design the stage setting for MacBeth. However, we were saved from having to trawl through countless videos on YouTube by a brilliant event produced by Florida Virtual School on the 6Connex virtual experience platform.
The Florida Virtual School develops and provides virtual K-12education solutions to students in Florida, the U.S., and the world. Founded in 1997, it was the country’s first, state-wide Internet-based public high school. Today, FLVS serves students in grades K-12 and provides a variety of custom solutions for schools and districts to meet student needs. Its virtual Shakespeare festival was live on 26-27 April and once we had logged in we were able to see presentations from FLVS students as they acted favourite Shakespeare scenes or added their own interpretation. With vignettes from other Shakespeare companies, including the very excellent Reduced Shakespeare Company, we were able to absorb a lot of content and styles in a very short period indeed, presented in a way that felt extremely accessible.
Was something lost by the presentation of theatrical works in video that was a bit grainy and certainly wobbly in places? Possibly yes. But many children and young people (and the rest of us!) today live off a diet of YouTube video and homemade entertainment delivered via phone, iPad and PC so my 12 year old wasn’t remotely phased by a lack of cinematic quality. What she really enjoyed was being able to interact with the actors and presenters in real time. Networking was easy in this virtual environment and the fact that most of the other participants were 4,500 miles away was of no concern. Did she learn anything – definitely. Did she enjoy the experience – absolutely.
The debate about virtual vs live rumbles on, and on, but what this event shows is that these environments are not just a business solution. They offer a real opportunity to open up access to real live knowledge and expertise for all.
Just when you thought you had got to grips with all of the options available via cloud computing and social networking along comes something else to add to the mix. If you are one of the many trying to navigate your way in this emerging market there is a much opinion being shared by those on the leading edge.
Before you can even begin to think of technology suppliers or content you need to know exactly what is meant by virtual event because like lots of new innovations the term doesn’t mean the same to everyone. The end result from using a webcasting solution would differ greatly from that produced from one of the purpose built platforms such as 6Connex, Ubivent, On24 or InXpo.
A virtual conference is a Web-based event that replicates many aspects of a traditional placebased conference. It features multiple sessions (not just a single Webinar or Webcast) and may include keynote presentations, training and education workshops, discussion areas, social networking opportunities, exhibit areas for vendors, and various other features. Activities in a virtual conference may take place in real time (synchronously), on demand (asynchronously), or in some combination of the two.
Which is a great starting point. Next you need to specify your goals and then work out what you expect a technology solution to deliver. If you are a novice reading the advice of an independent commentator like Cece Salomon-Lee from Virtual Buzz could prove invaluable.
Above all, go and have a look at some of the events currently being produced: you’ll find everything from Shakespeare Festivals to Sales Conferences; Training Days to Careers Fairs. In fact there isn’t much you can’t do in these environments.