With extensive experience heading up global events, Laura Holton shares her advice on planning experiences! In this episode, we talk about planning across time zones, platforms for global evens, collaboration tools, hybrid potential and more.
We are back with another episode of the EventBuzz podcast by Purplepass. I'm your host Savannah McIntosh and for this week's episode, marketing and event planning expert Laura Holton will be joining me. Laura Holton is currently the head of marketing Automation Consultants, associate with the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and a past Masters Graduate at the University of Southampton. As an event and branding marketer, she has over seven years experience across several industries, from bridal and music productions to retail and technology.
Because of her extensive experience, heading up global events, planning across multiple time zones to implementing experiences remotely. She has gathered an array of great solutions, tips and best practices spanning across agencies verses single handedly running the show, venues, online platforms, swag, catering, guest speakers, sponsors, vendors, so much more I could keep going on and on.
So let's get started.
Hi, Laura. Thanks for coming on to the podcast. We are so excited to be talking with you today. How are you doing?
I'm good. Thanks, Savannah. Thanks so much for having me. I'm very honored to be a guest on your podcast.
Yes, I'm glad we are finally able to get together and do this. And before we jump in, I just want to give the listeners you know a little bit about who you are. So if you don't mind telling them more about what you do for Automation Consultants and your role in the company, and maybe something you specialize in?
Yeah, of course. So where to start. So my name is Laura Holton, and I head up the marketing team at Automation Consultants, otherwise known as AC. We are an innovative IT solutions and software provider who at the heart of it aim to enhance business performance and agility through digital transformation, automation and DevOps.
I'm personally based in the UK. However, as an organization, we support SMEs and enterprises worldwide across the entire software lifecycle. And as such, I focus in on developing our marketing strategy, and in particular events to achieve and maintain global reach. Over the last few years, we've successfully clocked a lot of event hours both in person and remotely spanning themes around DevOps for enterprise agile at scale, and optimizing ITSM, which is short for IT Service Management.
And along the way, we've had the honor of working closely with two of our most strategic partners, Atlassian and AWS, we love working with our partners. So it makes the events definitely more interesting.
Nice. And are you guys currently planning any events this year or have any in the works?
Yeah, so we've just ticked off event in January, which was DevOps for Enterprise, I had to think about that one. And our kind of sister partner at Fox, they've just completed their first event, which was scaling Matt JIRA. So we supported them with that, which was great. And it must be said, kind of in the events, side of it, it's really allowed us to reach our customers on a completely new level.
One that isn't kind of like a sales pitch, that we definitely focus in on like the authoritative platform and leader for key topics and challenges in the industry. And it's just genuinely proved as a great way to not only connect with our customers, but to also grow our partner relations through collaborative panels, keynotes, sponsorships, and more, we kind of try and fit a bit of everything in. So as an event brand marketer, I have had a the kind of seven years experience across a multitude of industries. So I've gone from bridal, not for profit, music production, retail, and of course, technology. And in the last years, our events have taken off, we've seen kind of like a doubling in size each time round, and becoming more globally orientated. So it's a hugely exciting time for us.
Yeah, so that's kind of a little bit about me. And hopefully, I can kind of impart some of my event wisdom here, today.
Yeah. And these events that you're currently doing, are they virtual or hybrid? Or how have you been going about doing that since we're still kind of in the COVID era?
Yeah, so they are pretty much or remote at the moment. So we started doing events, obviously in person. Last year, we were in kind of halfway in the midst of planning an in person event when the pandemic hit, and we had to very quickly switch up and change it completely to a remote event.
So that was finding the platforms that we needed to use and how to get the message across obviously from switching our marketing from in-person. It went from yeah we're going to be in person. So no, we need everyone to stay at home. And that will be we will be still on screen and providing everything more that we wanted to touch upon. So it's, it's definitely been interesting. We've definitely learned some lessons kind of from the get go.
But we've gone through a lot we've had experience with event agencies versus kind of just taking it all in house, to choosing the venues and the online platforms, and still managing to do things like swag, which everybody loves, even in a remote time, it's great to kind of have all of that. And I think the whole aspects of managing international guests, speakers and sponsors, it's provided us actually with a bigger platform and reach moving to remote. So it's proved quite well for us.
Yeah. And do you think moving forward, you guys are gonna do, when we can do in person experiences again, do you think it's worth keeping it? Maybe hybrid? So you do the in person, but also stream it online?
Yeah, definitely. I think our plan is more than likely to switch to a hybrid when we can. At the moment, we've got a event kind of planned for July. So it's kind of a we're going about the journey to the Atlassian Cloud, which is one of our partners, and a very big topic in our industry at the moment. But we tried to do kind of two big events a year. And so potentially kind of our winter event could actually be hybrid, which is a very exciting thought, and definitely something we will be pursuing.
Awesome. And I'm assuming because you are doing more global events, now you're dealing with a lot of different time zones, correct?
Oh, yes. Definitely different time zones.
So I wanted to ask that because I actually really want to talk to anyone that's really taking on global events, where we're where they're dealing with virtual, virtual events, streams, but it's also different time zones. So I wanted to see what suggestions you could give when it comes to planning across multiple time zones for remote events.
Yeah, so I think one of my main suggestions is to pay attention to exactly that the, time zone. Planning events can be tricky, at the best of times, we know that the multi zone remote events can definitely add an extra level of complexity to all aspects. The one thing you really don't want to run into is a miscommunication on the date or time, which sounds simple enough, I know. But when you throw into the mix, daylight saving hours, where the clocks moving backwards, forwards, and everything in between, from when you start planning to when the big day arrives, you could find yourself with a mix match of timings and some very confused attendees.
Having in mind in all the sorts of switching is defiantly a big one.
And same when you start putting out marketing material, I feel like that can also get kind of confusing. It depends like if you want something to go out a certain time, then you kind of have to align it with all the different time zones. Is there a certain way you guys kind of coordinate if you put out any marketing communication material, or sometimes there's like platforms, you can use, I schedule it for you?
Yes, so we use a email marketing kind of platform called Sendinblue. And they provide all of that type of automation that allows us to reach kind of our global audiences, because we have customers in the US where Asia, UK, Europe, kind of all over the world. And where they do have all different time zones. What we don't want is them obviously receiving our kind of event invitation at 5am. When
when all of that other work emails and come up on top, and it's buried underneath a whole host of more important kind of pressing issues.
So the platform that we use offers a feature that allows each individual kind of email to be sent out at the appropriate time for our guest list. So they've worked out as we send emails out a time when they're likely to open them and kind of what's, what's the best time within I think it's about a two hour time gap that is best for it to land in their inbox and then for them to open it.
And that's really great because what happens is, and what we have noticed as well is that they've, it's boosted our click through rate for it. And it has definitely resulted in kind of more engagement, obviously, with our emails and absorbing our marketing content for the event, but also clicking through and actually signing up because they've received it at a time that's right for them to take the information in, instead of just seeing it pop up and go, yeah, the dive into a meeting right now. And then I've got a whole host of other things to do.
It fits in with their schedule, and then results in a bigger guestlist for us, which is obviously good.
Yeah. And I think that's why I asked it's so important, especially when dealing with timezones, platforms, a software out there that can handle it for you and kind of coordinate that can take a load off you. So you're not like sending out like you said event invites one in the morning and people are like what. What's happening?!
And the other thing you you mentioned when we were talking about how you're doing more global events, and doing it remotely. While we're on this topic, I wanted to ask because you said it's now
all about how you like communicating with people that now we're communicating with people. It's so different from being in person and kind of doing meetings and seeing them but now it's global, and everyone's all over the world, different time zones.
Do you have any advice when it comes to you know, communicating with different teams, whether you're, you're talking with another client or marketing team, that's somewhere else?
Yeah, definitely. It's definitely a challenge when you've got international guest speakers, you've got sponsors, or in all different time zones. Obviously, the attendees are one element of trying to communicate the message, but the actual building of the event and making sure, teams if they're split across time zones, as well, that they can still work simultaneously.
It's a really big deal to kind of get that on track. So we tend to use a lot of collaboration tools and it's a really good starting point, we think, to events, because if you use the likes of Trello, Slack, Confluence, these can help us track tasks and maintain a good level of transparency to our team sponsors and vendors, because it can save endless meetings and emails, especially when you're dealing with an eight hour plus time difference. And it also kind of waves goodbye to being a bottleneck, instead of them waiting to hear from you. If you're constantly updating something that's visible to everybody. And they can just pick up as soon as you've switched off. It's a great way to maintain a steady stream planning, marketing, and getting that message out there ready for the event.
Yeah, and I'll link some of those things that you mentioned some of the platforms below for the shownotes for anyone that wants to check them out, because it's very important. We use some of those when we do like team collaboration, because like you said, everyone has a different schedule. And so you can do instead of going through and having, you know, a super long email thread, and you have to go back and see what you're talking about.
It can be very, very useful.
And moving forward. I do see a lot of promoters like we're discussing right now finding more ways to reach their audience online and be more creative and do engagement online. But then it's what about those customers that are traditional and still don't really hang out online? How, in 2021, can we still connect with them? Or if you had maybe some tips for connecting also in the physical world during COVID, and not just online to kind of when it comes to marketing?
Yeah, it was safe to say the last few months have been rather turbulent for our traditional customers and the strategies we use in order to form these connections. The main way, obviously, that we've all adapted is to move straight into virtual world of remote events. And but with this new wave of kind of the new normal coming in, it's a question of how we're reconnecting like you say, especially where we've got a lot of customers that don't necessarily want to find themselves online. And I think this,
in the broader sense, particularly still in COVID times is gonna fall into the category of hybrid events, especially when they can build it as a kind of micro experience is one of the biggest trends I think, coming up this year, where they are focusing a bit smaller regional, community led experiences, whether it's localized or delocalized events concepts.
These are spread around various destinations, and allow us to connect with these traditional customers, but still, obviously, work on a global basis to deliver something to others that still want to be online and appreciate being able to experience or without having to travel.
And it opens it up to a lot of different organizations. So I've noticed, for example, there's a number of different organizations at the moment that are holding this type of hybrid format. And they're coming up with names like multi-pod locations, and it makes it sound very exciting because they're developing these unique experiences with the main elements, kind of in these pods, but then broadcasting together to form a shared experience around the world, where guests can attend in person one day, virtually the next and creating their own event experiences based on their personal needs and comfort levels. And I think just really focusing in on that element of flexibility and referencing the fact that the traditional customers still there, but they still want to be involved and find out these types of micro experiences can definitely help with that and drive the hybrid format forwards.
Yeah, that's a good point. And what do you also think I wanted to ask, what do you think about traditional marketing, we often are focused on digital marketing, but we there still, like I said, traditional customers, and people still enjoy getting flyers, you know, physical things. What are your thoughts on doing traditional marketing, let's say like sending out, you know, a postcard or going through mail, or direct calls?
Yeah, so that I mean, for us, that's something we still do, I think, receiving these physical elements, it gives a bit more of a personal touch. And they feel a bit more noticed. Obviously, you can reach the masses, on like through digital marketing. But it's actually when you hone in to the individual, that's probably where you get the most connection, and build that relationship up for anything, obviously, for products or for events.
For businesses in general. Being able to drive that type of connection bullets is definitely key. We've used it in past, we've created postcards when we've had an event. And we've popped in the kind of like a QR code to sign up to make it easy for them. But it gives them all the information that they want to know. And it's something that they can hold on to, they can see the branding, they know that it's come to them, and we've taken the time to actually design it and deliver it to them, instead of just relying on it kind of getting in front of your feed at some point on one of our multiple kind of digital marketing strategies for the events.
And it's similarly I mean, we still dry forwards, print. For example, we've just been in the CIO review. And we're coming up to being in the European and when we recognize that there's still a lot of people, I mean, that will have these subscriptions and enjoy flicking through I mean for myself, I love flicking through the book. So I imagine there's a lot of people that still really love getting something physical and reading through it, instead of finding the digital version and flicking through it on your screen. It's not quite the same. So presenting messages kind of across the board in a multitude of traditional avenues is definitely something I think that is still there. And it can be overlooked as well, because digital marketing is so encapsulating, and it's easy to get to a lot of people, but, those traditional customers are the ones that are probably the more long standing ones.
And the ones that you actually want to share a bit more individuality in connectivity and communication with because they're the ones that you are likely to see the quickest and most truest response. When they say they're going to attend, they're likely to attend instead of if you've published it on social media and someone's gone on to the event page and gone yeah I'll attend. But they've forgotten to actually click through to the official event page and do the following registration. They've just gone on to the Facebook event page, for example. And gone yeah, I quite like to attend this. And then that's the end of the road for kind of communicating and joining in, in that kind of event community and it's a shame. But you can definitely see how traditional customers can be reached and established in a more beneficial way when using traditional marketing avenues.
Yeah, traditional marketing is really interesting to me, like I was thinking about it just the other day or like few days ago. Iwas looking for like a house cleaning service because my mom is moving, I'm helping her move, we needed a maid. And I was looking online, and there's, obviously it's all at my fingertips, it's right there, there are so many options.
But then and randomly, I was sitting somewhere, I think, I don't know, I went to a store or something. And I happened to see a business card of a maid service. And for some reason, in my brain, it was so much easier, because I had that physical card just to hold on to that and call them later than do all this searching online. And I ended up working with them. So people underestimate the power of yeah, traditional marketing, it could definitely benefit you. And like you said, it's often overlooked and not thought about and those are the, those tend to be the customers that are a little bit more loyal, or you know, tend to stay with you.
And I think to the reason it does work is because we are, no matter how we evolve, I think we're always going to be drawn to that physical thing. Even more and more now, because everything's becoming so digital. Like you said, me too. I like a good book. I cannot read on a screen. I like to actually touch it and and flip the pages. I don't know how people read it on a screen.
I'm the same.
Yeah, I cannot do that. Especially if I work on a computer all day. I want to have that book and that time away from the screen. But yeah, we definitely need to always consider, definitely do digital, the digital marketing, for sure. Because we can reach a lot more people but don't exclude traditional if you can, if you have the resources to put something out there.
So and leaving, I have one more question before I let you go because I know you're busy. One of the biggest challenges we see amongst our event promoters is finding ways to increase their event registration, especially now. It might be easier because it's more virtual events. But there are so many channels, opportunities for marketing out there that it can be overwhelming.
So putting aside COVID and just saying it's a normal world. Are there any suggestions you have when it comes to increasing ticket sales and exploring other marketing avenues? Does that make sense in a way that it's not so overwhelming?
Yeah. So I think when it comes to promoting a global event, obviously, you need to consider the audience and I always go with the thing of you need to get creative. So ticket sales and a longer defined by traditional digital methods individually or joined. Instead, you want to look to leverage all of these avenues. Don't pursue one or the other. And really focus in on some of the latest trends. I mean for example, Clubhouse is a rising platform for b2b organizations at the moment.
Oh, I heard about that.
Yeah, yeah. And it's really driving forwards a new form of communication and kind of community in in its truest sense. I think a lot of people are really looking for that kind of community feel. And I'm not sure whether it's because of COVID and the pandemic. And obviously, we've all been remote so we're all searching to find communities that share like minded views and wants to know about the same things.
But it's definitely rising in popularity. And it's, it's basically any form of networking for organizations to either build or be a part of a wider community. We've got our partners Atlassian, they have the Atlassian community and it's driven by the people that use the products and it's a free kind of resource, but everyone to help each other get to know the products and get to know each other and the topics within the industry. And the events that are hosted by partners and the product owners and Atlassian themselves, but it provides this very interesting marketing kind of platform that's generally underutilized communities are almost forgotten about as a point of marketing and event because what you've got is a whole group basically have like minded people that are looking for the same things.
If, for example, our kind of cloud events, everyone's looking cloud migrations at the moment. So when you've got communities really focused in on Atlassian cloud migrations, you've got a pure kind of guest list of people that really want to know about the event, instead of reaching out to millions of people that you're just repetitively producing similar content, you target in on something that, you know, really matches up with, how they're feeling and what they want to know.
And it likely results in a much more interesting and engaged audience when it comes to the event because you've actually reached people that wants to know about it, they want to kind of be a part of it. And some of them even want to kind of actually speak at the events. It provides not only kind of the guestlist, but actually, guest speakers, and everyone wanting to be a bit more collaborative and develop these thought leadership opportunities, which is a great thing.
Wow, okay. Yeah, I haven't really looked too much into Clubhouse. Honestly, I just saw something about a pop up yesterday. I'm trying to remember the article. But that's really interesting that you touched on that I'm going to also link that, but I'm going to do more research myself, because I don't know much about it at all yet.
Because it's fairly new, right?
Yeah, I think it's, it's been around maybe a month or two.
And I think we've kind of pitched it almost like, as the new podcast, but it is very different. It's more informal, and just a sharing of your thoughts, in some sense. And it gives people a chance to basically connect with organizations, thought leader individuals that like, say, share, just very similar views. And it's, it's more of a knowledge share instead of a sales pitch or requiring something from them. Everyone's just kind of really interested in what's in their heads and kind of finding out something new. And I think, in general, being part of something new, obviously, it's the new shiny thing.
And it's quite exclusive as well, because that they've done it in a form way. You have to be invited. And then once you're invited into this space, you've got access to a lot of things.
But I know, for example, our platform that we use for our remote events, is called Accelevents. And they've just recently gone on there and they've they've done a an event talk for Clubhouse, but you can't like say you can't access it unless you've physically been invited. And then you kind of get access to all sorts of other bits in the platform once you're in and it's almost like the truest form of its name really being a Clubhouse. It's, it's definitely forming, like its own bubble of community.
Interesting. I'm glad you brought that up, because now you just sparked my brain. But it was, I think it said Clubhouse being the new podcast. Yeah, I will look into that.
Okay, thank you so much. That was a great tip. Before I leave, is there anything else you would like to kind of put out there for our listeners, any general tips when it comes to virtual events or just planning events right now during COVID?
Yeah, so I think my main tip is really focusing in on the attendees experience. I think you can't go wrong, really, if you've, if you've really hone in on that, you know, you want to ask yourself, why they've signed up why they've taken the time to maybe reschedule their meetings and commitments and actually chosen to experience and be educated by what you're presenting at the event.
And I mean, ultimately, we all know that our goal is to kind of leave them wanting more and to continue the communication. But this all kind of turns a little sour if we forget their experience. And I mean, it falls into a number of things as well because it can be down to the software that you use, be it remote or hybrid. Picking the right one really makes a difference. So I mean, you have all the little bits like we can show it to test it and have the address rehearsals and kind of having backups as well, because the worst thing with remote offenses, that technology can fail us.
And something can go down, whether it's on the platform itself, or the Wi Fi of a guest speaker has suddenly just decided to take a break. And then you've got the backups that you need. But the kind of choice of software and like how that enhances or decreases the experience of your attendees is even down to the final little bits, whether they've got to download something, or whether they can simply just log into a browser or an app, and their away.
So I think what I can't stress enough is, knowing your audience and ensuring their experience comes first. Because if you don't have that, all you're going to find is that they they have this negative thought associated because maybe you've done all on demand sessions, so they've doesn't feel alive. So then they feel like well, I could have just signed in later and got the on demand session at a later date. I didn't need to spend the time kind of in the mix, you may not have a reasonable way to engage other participants and kind of creating those communications between speakers and sponsors and vendors.
And I mean, I saw in an event a few weeks ago, the lack of communication and engagement via an event platform meant that the experience over 65% decrease of attendee to attendee speaker, vendor, and sponsor engagement in comparison to their first remote remote event that they held back last year. And I mean, they pulled it together very quickly last year. And there were there was issues. Because it was I think they had three weeks to pull it all together, it was a big Expo and then it came down to kind of all on online. And obviously, it was a lot of attendees in like the 1000s. And the platform took a little bit of time to kind of get used to how many people were turning up all in one go. But they had
a whole different experience that while that was a problem, they could engage with everybody that they would have seen in person.
And they communicated on a much deeper level and got to know everybody, whereas this year round, they made sure that the software was seamless, but it was almost in lieu of any communication or engagement features. So everyone tuned in to watch something, but that actually there was no way to talk to someone that was obviously watching one screen the next country over. And that all adds into how we experienced the event. So the software really comes down to it a lot of the time. But yeah, I've like say I can't stress enough, but know your audience and ensure their experience is what matters and comes first. And I think that all events moving forwards, you'll find that that's what counts.
Yeah, exactly. And engagement for virtual events is so important because we are in a world of like Zoom calls and, and working remote. So if I want to go to event, I don't want to sit there and be like it's another Zoom call. I want to be able to talk to other people and engage and and stuff. So and there's so many platforms, like you said that are offering live chats and gamification and all this different stuff.
So just a lot of research, it's worth it. Once you find that great platform for you and your events. It's, you know, you can just only go up from there.
Yeah, I mean, latest, obviously, is the classic phrase at the moment, which is Zoom fatigue, I think everyone's experiencing it. And we're all a little bit more switched off that, I think going into that like whole host of technology and what that can bring. We had no events back in December, where it was a whole virtual world. So they taken it a step forwards where you actually had to participate.
There wasn't a way to just sit back and kind of just have one in the background. It really made you join in as an attendee, and it changed the whole experience. I mean, they had this book could only be described as like a virtual campus and it simulated expos and conferences. It had offices because they were using it as like remote office almost they had all their staff that could go around and have meeting rooms.
And you know, they had rooftop parties, fireworks and speedboat racing of all things. But it meant that you not only needed to get involved, but you immediately want to get involved. And it produced a very unique experience, because it was like you're in the room with the other attendees, because if you started to walk away, the volumes would change in your headphones. So there it was, like, as you're approaching and joining conversations, or if you turned your head to talk to somebody else, the what you could hear changed as you've moved, and having something like that is very unique and kind of
what's the word...engaging, but at the same time, it also meant that they had to download software onto their computer.
And that causes its own set of issues. When you've got your company kind of computer and
they base it basically gone. Okay, well, we've pre agreed all of this software that you can download, but actually, there's a blocker to say, we can't download anything else, and then it stops you being able to participate.
These types of really unique and interesting kind of platforms are out there. There's definitely a balance, because sometimes the most simple ones that still have that kind of connectivity and engaging features, does allow for people to join in much easier, and probably join in for longer. So it's it's an interesting one where technology sits in the whole realm of remote events.
Exactly. I know. Yeah. It's crazy. Like you said, Zoom fatigue, I've never been on zoom before. COVID So the amount of things you have to adapt to in such a short period of time blows my mind, but we're doing it and we're figuring it out. And I mean, all your tips and everyone we've been talking to you it's really gonna help and we're all growing together.
So we'll get there. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I'm glad we were finally able to do this and come together and I hope the rest of your day is as good and smooth and you know, get outside if you can I don't know your others like.
Oh, it's night there!
Yeah, well, we're just in we're about quarter to seven. So we've still got some daylight at the moment. So it's it's been interesting to sit on my desk and watch lightning kind of flash across the skies. But no, it's been really great. So thank you so much Savannah and been appreciated it all.