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What do events mean to your organization?
Events for us provide that high touch. When we’re thinking about marketing, whether it’s from a fundraising or engagement perspective, we’re looking at events to provide that moment in time where it can either be the climax of a growing marketing plan or the beginning of what we see as a longer tail after that. But that is the moment where you know you’re going to have somebody’s attention for a set period time. It’s not like social media where you’re vying for that attention or PR where you’re trying to get a reporter to write a story which then hopefully someone’s going to read and you’re going to promote it… this is the moment in time where you get to control everything, and therefore from a marketing perspective they’re critical moments for us.
How are you driving your messaging through your events?
As we look to end the child obesity crisis in this country we are tasked with working with the private sector. Inherent in that is bringing along the NGO’s and advocates to help us with that journey. Bringing those two groups together, two groups that don’t often see eye-to-eye, creating that safe space where that conversation can happen, is the key for what our biggest events do. We do the Summit, which is 1,000 people, and then we do smaller, partner breakfasts down to 12 – 15 person salons, things like that. But at the Summit, which is really our signature event, we’re bringing together those groups in a way that says “this is that safe space” and we’re going to talk about what we’ve done, we’re going to look forward. We get to dictate what the rules of engagement are because it’s our stage. The result of that is a very productive two-and-a-half day event where we can have big corporate voices sitting next to very strong advocates and we can broker that conversation in a way that moves us and our mission forward.
You do attract a number of influencers on both the private and public sides. What do you think is bringing them to you, is it that safe space or are there other attributes of your events that bring them there?
I think the caliber of our speakers and leadership certainly help. Our Honorary Chair is First Lady Michelle Obama and she has keynoted each of our Summits so that’s clearly reasons one through four. Like with anything else, we start with the CEO of one large company, and then their competitor wants to speak the next year. We have a panel of these groundbreaking companies and then a series of asks from other companies that say “well, we’re a groundbreaking company too why can’t we do this next year” so CEOs and Presidents of major organizations in our space is where we default to. We also look to bring in those speakers that are maybe not top of mind. For example, the President of Johnson & Johnson spoke this year at our event, we had the CEO of WhistleSports Media host a panel, we had Summer Sanders on that panel, and Victor Cruz… so being able to leverage all of the work that PHA does to funnel that talent to that singular moment in time, to sort of punctuate our efforts throughout the year, that’s where it all adds up.
Something I’ve always enjoyed about your organization, and it’s something that I think a lot of organizations don’t do well, is that you’re actually true to your mission in that you’ve always incorporated kids – young children, youth – into your events. Can you talk a little bit about that?
When we can, we definitely want it to be a conversation about people who are trying to help. We very frequently, and I think lots of organizations fall into this, have our idea of how we can help and therefore we want to execute that, but I don’t think we ask the people we’re trying to help enough, “How can we be helpful?” And that’s something we get away from. This year we had this great panel of people and doctors who deal with obesity, and the language that we use around obesity, that it’s a disease that somebody has, that it’s not necessarily an adjective to project onto somebody… It was really telling because these are exactly the people we’re looking to help and to have them give a first person account in a very practical, straightforward way – there’s not a lot of finger-wagging – but it is a very eye-opening experience. We obviously offer food at our event, and we always try to make sure there’s this theme of healthier options. As you know, PHA is for making the healthy choice the easy choice, inherent in that is we don’t always want to make the less healthy choice the impossible choice. So how many healthier options can we put on the table is something that we look at. We do physical activity breaks throughout the event, some of them are sponsored some of them are not…
I’ve done the push-up challenge…
The push-up challenge, that was it’s own thing, we’ll talk about that later. That was an organic thing that we’ve adopted. People expect it now. They come to our galas and our events, and they’re like “so… push-ups?” We try to incorporate all that, because I think if you’re any organization doing an event and you’re talking the talk but then people go to the expo or the next break and things are completely the opposite of what you want them to be…it just doesn’t ring true. And from a marketing perspective, if you’re looking at this event as a way to push your message, that’s not a lost opportunity, you’re actually losing ground at that point. You’re going the wrong way. Then everybody’s going “yeah, the event was great but why were they serving xyz food for lunch if this is supposed to be a ‘healthier’ event?” or “How come there were no kids?” or “where are the people we’re trying to help” or “How come this food company wasn’t on stage?”
Keeping it congruent. The sponsorship world has changed a great deal in the past 10 – 15 years. Can you talk a little bit about how your sponsorship strategy has evolved from what it was?
We now have two people to shake them upside down instead of one. We’re relatively new to this space, so from our perspective the sponsorship issue is one where I think the biggest evolution we’ve had over our time is to take the sponsorship out of that singular moment. If a company wants to be a part of this event, fantastic – we want to make sure their well-branded, well-represented, maybe they’re speaking, maybe they’re presenting, maybe they’re giving something away in the expo, etc. – but, where’s the tail? What happens after that moment for that sponsor? It’s great that your brand is everywhere, but what happens the next morning? Is it just “thanks for coming” or are there other discreet moments in time either leading out of the current event or leading up to the next event, which frankly gets you into that nice rhythm with sponsors that you want to see. We’ve seen a lot of value in saying, “look, we’re not only going to be doing all of this stuff at the event, but for the next year when PHA is out there doing x,y and z, we want you a part of that in these different ways. So that’s had some traction more than anything else.
Is social media coming into play? How are you leveraging that, both for you and for sponsors?
We use it heavily. We usually pick one platform that we focus on, but we make everything available. So for us, Twitter is an easy play. We have the scrolling message board during the event, social media chat to promote things, we use specific hashtags, all those sort of blocking and tackling pieces. Again, leading up to and out of the event itself, it’s being able to leverage that social media following for sponsors, for attendees, for information distribution from key speakers. Ex: Somebody gave a presentation on A, B and C we think our attendees would be interested, after the event is over we can take a condensed version of that and make that available. That sort of information sharing, we don’t want to pull away from the people who actually paid to attend the event, but how do we keep the conversation moving, and social media is perfect for that.
Are you creating a hybrid model for your Summit at all? In terms of really engaging a live audience actively?
We talked about it. We snapchatted a few speeches this year, the bigger ones such as the First Lady and the Surgeon General. The places where we think there are active pockets of people on social media who are going to be interested – I think it’s something we’ll continue to test and play with. The idea of the live stream in some instances makes a lot of sense, in others I do always worry about the person who paid to be there, and tickets aren’t cheap. There are other things that we offer that you can’t get just from watching online, and networking and other things that our attendees tell us are very important to them. But I think the beauty of periscope and snapchat is that you can pull discreet moments out and give little tastes without giving the whole story away.
When you think about event ROI, what do you establish at the outset that you’re measuring against as you get to the end?
I think there are a few things we’re looking at. We’ve got surveys with attendees and there are key metrics in there that we look to. For instance, when you ask people if they’d come back to the event next year, I don’t look at the yes’s and the maybe’s – I look at the no’s. No’s are definitive. Especially in that context. We survey our sponsors and our exhibitors as well and make sure those numbers are hitting certain marks. Certainly PL is a big issue for us, we’re a nonprofit, this is a revenue opportunity for us, and we have to make sure that our expenses stay low and our revenue from sponsorship, registration, expo are high. This is probably one of the largest single outlays an organization will do. These events are not cheap. So when you look at a several hundred-thousand-dollar outlay, you’ve got to look at it in terms of “why are we doing this?” And if we’re just doing it as a branding event, is that kind of a spend for a two or even thirty-hour branding event going to give us the ROI we’re looking for? We also want to make sure that people are connecting, and this is built into those surveys. One of the things that’s important for us is that – we’ve got over 200 partners now – we want them to work together to move this ball even further than they’re doing on their own. How important is that networking? Are we delivering on a promise to bring those people together? Are we providing an environment where that can happen? Are we packing it too full of information so that no one has any time to talk? All of those issues sort of play into it for us. The other piece of it that’s important for us is it’s a moment in time where we can hold up new partnerships. So it serves as a deadline. We’re able to close agreements because people want to be on our stage and we can very easily say, if you want to be on stage we need to get this done by this date or else we’re waiting a year until the next one. How many new commitments are we announcing? How many new partners are we announcing? What do they think about the experience? How much media are we getting them at that moment? All of those factors are different KPI’s that we use. But I think you have to look at it as a business investment, in large part. If you’re not doing sponsorship and expo and things like that, then you’ve just decided that this is going to be an outlay. Even then, are you getting a better return by reaching 100, 1000, 1500 people in that moment that you couldn’t get some other way for maybe less money? And bandwidth. These [events] are intense, and we think they’re worth it. But you need to weigh all the pieces.
GUEST: Drew Nannis
Drew Nannis serves as the chief marketing officer for the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), joining the organization in 2011 as one of its first employees. PHA works with the private sector and its honorary chair, First Lady Michelle Obama, to help make the healthy choice the easy choice for busy parents and families. Mr. Nannis’ role at the partnership covers all aspects of its marketing and communications efforts from co-branded marketing campaigns with its partners to new media to sub-brands such as Drink Up and FNV to events like PHA’s signature Building a Healthier Future Summit.
Mr. Nannis previously served as senior vice president at AARP for media relations and strategy, and in various communications roles on Capitol Hill.