Over the past 18 months, I’ve worked with a number of excellent exhibition and tradeshow organisers who understand that having exceptional content at the heart of their events is a key part of a winning formula for growth. While usually willing to invest in this area, they are often unsure of how to get the best return from this investment – with many reporting that the content they added to their events has not had the hoped-for impact on visitor quality, visitor numbers and overall revenue growth. MPG asked me to write this piece to share my thoughts on the best approach to building a great content programme for an exhibition-style event – ensuring its long-term growth and success. The business case for investing in an excellent content programme It’s not enough to know that content is important to event success. You must understand why it’s important. The objectives of building content into your event are as follows: Grow visitor numbers: great content will bring visitors – people who are keen to learn to help them excel in their careers Improve visitor quality: focused content gets the ‘right’ type of attendees to your event. These people will know that attending (or speaking at) your show will bring them in to contact with the best quality knowledge gathering and networking opportunities Increase length of visit: high quality, varied content keeps people engaged over a full day or more – keeping them at your event for longer Help attendees find suppliers and potential partners: visitors primarily want to hear from their peers, not sponsors, and your content programme should reflect this. However, the content (and floorplan) can and should be built in a way that helps visitors source the vendors they’re hoping to meet, with these meetings being enabled and enhanced by the content programme. Putting these objectives at the heart of your content strategy sets you up for a great content programme to contribute to event success and growth. Put the customer first in your event research Having specialist, experienced content researchers and producers on your team is an essential fundamental requirement if you want to create a great content programme. These content specialists also need to be well managed and supported. They need clear direction and specific KPIs around content quality and meeting deadlines. It isn’t enough to have a general idea or an overall ‘good sense’ of what your target audience will find most interesting and valuable. Putting a content plan together based on past experience, assumptions or ‘gut feel’ is not a strategic enough approach for success. To achieve a strong content programme, you must obsess over confidently, and with a research-based approach, answering the following questions: Who is your target audience? How can you segment this audience to identify key groups interested in specific topic areas? What are each groups’ specific learning and knowledge needs? Therefore, what kind of content, and in what format, will most likely attract and engage these groups? Drawing upon your advisory board or any professional associations in your sector is often a very good starting point. But these groups are often one step away from your audience. You need to go directly ‘to the horse’s mouth’ and engage directly and deeply with members of the core market to discover exactly what your visitors will find most valuable and attractive. Crafting bespoke content for specific parts of your audience is also attractive to exhibitors and sponsors, who know they will be able to easily find the audience they want to speak to as they will be attending specific sessions at specific times. Great speakers are essential for a great content programme There is no shortcut to success. If you want to source the best speakers for your event, ones that will attract your target audience and build your event’s reputation as ‘the event to attend’, you need to commit fully to thoroughly researching your market to source the best speakers. Aim for your researchers to make four to five phone calls per day to people within your target market. This is the only way to really get ‘under the skin’ of your target audience to understand their priorities. It’s also how you identify speakers. Those you talk to will either help you identify the people they would like to hear speaking or will end up being speaker material themselves. Highly relevant, targeted content enables high performance marketing Targeted content, highly relevant to specific audience groups, can also make marketing far more relevant and effective. Customer journeys you build via social media, PPC, email marketing and other channels – leading to website landing pages with targeted messaging – can and should be tailored to focus on specific content themes and sessions – not just the overall event programme. This will boost registrations, and if followed through with equally relevant and targeted communications during the conversion campaign, should also increase your conversion rate from registrant to attendee. Be a winner in the growing events race Events are a highly competitive space these days as valuable and impactful ‘face-time’ facilitated by good events becomes ever more important in the digital age. The recent flurry of mergers and acquisitions in our industry indicates strong investor appetite for fast-growing events. But anyone who knows the events industry well will also know that barriers to entry are relatively low and an event can quickly go into a rapid and irreversible ‘death spiral’ if a strong competitor emerges. If you don’t already have strong competition, the chances are you will soon – especially if you’re in a growing and attractive market. An outstanding programme of highly relevant content, delivered by excellent speakers, presented in engaging formats and fed into targeted marketing campaigns is one of the very best ways to pull ahead of your existing competitors and dissuade new ones. So, don’t underinvest in your content or treat it as an ‘add on’ – make it core to your event and make sure it is outstanding in every way. About the Author – Ros Oxley Ros Oxley is Managing Director at BlenheimCEC – a consulting and training organisation working with event companies of all sizes and serving various markets, including Comexposium, Informa Exhibitions, ITE Exhibitions, Smarter Shows and Wilmington Healthcare. Ros is also Director of on-line events company, Ivent. Ivent clients include a large number of UK and international organisations such as the ACCA, KPMG, Best You, Edenred, Kuoni, the NHS and the DTI. Between 2005-2015 Ros was MD for a number of Informa businesses and in 2013 she was awarded the ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Conference Business’ at The Conference Awards. Before embedding herself into the world of events, Ros gained extensive experience working in the City of London, including a stint as a Commodity Broker at the London Sugar Exchange, making history as the first woman to trade on the Sugar exchange. To find out more about Ros please view her LinkedIn profile.