IF EM STARTED ITS OWN BRAND, HERE’S WHO WE’D HIRE
Ahhhhhhh, Dream Team season. It’s one of the best times of the year here at Event Marketer, when our editors get to play entrepreneur and ask the question, “Who would we want on our team if we were assembling the best and brightest b-to-b marketers in the event industry?” B-to-b events are, after all, home to a virtual revolution in new formats, fresh thinking and trends that are driving the entire industry forward.
Like any good reporters, we informed our staffing exercise by inviting the event community to imagine the possibilities, too, and submit their recommendations for the team of their dreams. The impressive collection of people you’re about to meet were selected from a competitive pool of hundreds of submissions from all over the country. They not only have formidable fan clubs across their internal and partner organizations—they also have outstanding portfolios of work that illustrate the kind of calculated risk-taking and action they’re capable of.
Each Dream Team profile gives you insight into why they were selected, and what Dream Team title we would give them, if they joined our brand. We hope you enjoy getting to know these change agents as much as we did, and as you turn the final page, we hope you’re struck—as we were—by the breadth of skills and strengths required to be an outstanding b-to-b marketer today. Indeed, this entire industry is made up of many, many Dream Teams. It’s an honor to shine a spotlight on just some of their members each year.
Congratulations to this year’s third annual B-to-B Dream Team, once again produced in conjunction with FreemanXP.
–Jessica Heasley and Sandra O’Loughlin
Catch our Dream Team for a live panel discussion at this year’s Experiential Marketing Summit, May 14-16 in San Francisco.
Thornton's crowning achievement is AWS re:Invent, an educational conference for developers, partners and customers.
A familiar refrain among this year’s crop of Dream Team marketers is “Focus on the customer and success will follow.” But, nowhere has this strategy played out more resolutely than at Amazon where “Customer Obsession” is a key leadership principle.
Amazon Web Services
*Dream Team Captain*
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Senior VP-Experiential Marketing
CURRENT POSITION: Head of Global Field Marketing and Events, Amazon Web Services
WHY WE WANT HER: She’s the driving force behind the growth of AWS re:Invent, Amazon’s annual confab. It’s no small feat to introduce a new “must-attend” event to the highly competitive and increasingly crowded developer conference space, but Thornton has done it—with a focus on the customers and a commitment to maintaining the event’s quirky culture.
Rachel Thornton, director of global field and partner marketing and global events at Amazon Web Services, the computer services arm of the tech giant, credits that tenet for the explosive growth of AWS re:Invent, its annual gathering of developers, partners and customers. What launched in 2012 with an initial group of 6,000 attendees in 2017 attracted a record 40,000 people who flocked to the five-day event for education, networking and a good bit of fun. Indeed, re:Invent is Thornton’s crowning achievement. We think it’s pretty outstanding, too, and are proud to present Thornton as Team Captain of Event Marketer’s 2018 B-to-B Dream Team.
Besides re:Invent, Thornton manages a plethora of AWS events, to the tune of 1,500 or so a year, ranging from large summits, to training and education events, start-up sessions, one-day tech-essentials, Awesome Days classes for AWS’s global developer audience and more. But no question, it is re:Invent that draws industries of all sizes and people of all stripes from all over the world to attend deep technical sessions, hands-on learning, chalk talks, workshops and boot camps, all created with one goal in mind: education. In 2017, re:Invent drew attendees from locations as far flung as Korea, Japan and China and folks from industries as varied as financial services, media and entertainment, education, government, healthcare, telco, life sciences and more, all seeking enlightenment from AWS teams, partners and customers.
"The Amazon motto is 'Work hard, have fun, make history,' and we were happy that we were able to bring that all together."
And once again, due to its customer obsession, re:Invent didn’t disappoint. “When we think about re:Invent, we always think about the customers, our community and work backwards for what we want to offer them and how to constantly work with them,” Thornton says. That entails on-site focus groups during the event and throughout the year, dialogues with sales teams and in-person discussions with customers, asking what they liked and what they would like to see added to the event. Those insights lead to session content and new activities such as the chalk talks added in recent years, along with hands-on learning opportunities, peer-to-peer learning and networking moments.
In terms of tech, along with the mobile app that is now standard issue at just about every event, re:Invent incorporates AWS technology into training and certification boot camps and hands-on labs. For those who can’t attend, re:Invent live- streams content. It offers a YouTube channel with session content, daily recaps with video on social media and, a first this year, a re:Invent Twitch channel. re:Invent also this year integrated Amazon’s Alexa throughout the conference and in some hotel rooms. “People could ask Alexa to turn the lights up, to play a great song they heard in the welcome reception, or ask what was happening on Tuesday at 2 p.m. We got a lot of positive feedback. Customers thought it was fun, too,” Thornton says.
"I think 'peculiar' is how we like to describe ourselves. But we also like to think about what can be the fun things we can do at the event to get people networking, to get them to have a good time."
Listening to customers has also led to fun add-ons such as the re:Invent 4K Charity fun run in 2016, and new in 2017, a board game Tweetup and an on-site makers’ fair for customers, partners and team members. Then there is the Tatonka chicken wing-eating challenge, which last year had teams dueling for the winning title and ultimately earning a Guinness Book of World Records award for the Most Chicken Wing Eaters in a competition. “The Amazon motto is ‘work hard, have fun, make history,’ and we were happy that we were able to bring that all together,” Thornton says.
Working hard and having fun is nothing new to Thornton who cut her teeth handling field marketing events, trade shows and mid-sized programs for Microsoft in 1995, then moved on to Cisco in a similar role. She joined Salesforce in 2007, and after a couple of years in field marketing, took over Dreamforce. Then she landed at Amazon and AWS with its focus on customers, education, community and its “quirky” culture. “I think ‘peculiar’ is how we like to describe ourselves,” Thornton says. “But we also like to think about what can be the fun things we can do at the event to get people networking, to get them to have a good time.”
Peculiar or not, event marketers of every variety could benefit from Amazon’s obsessive customer focus. “Make sure you’re building a robust community, that you’re checking in with them, that you’re engaged with them, and then asking, how does taking that feedback from your customers really change the way you’re presenting learning opportunities,” Thornton says.
Thornton sees b-to-b attendees as “hungry” for education and, despite re:Invent’s impressive growth, education—not sales—remains at its core. “Think about the education you can provide, and the community and the networking,” she advises. “When those things come together in the right way attendees are very happy. People love feeling part of a community and they love to get educated and build their skills.”
Listening to customers and community are key to engendering that love, she says. Besides that customer obsession, she draws on another Amazon leadership principle—hire and develop the best—to build the right team along with an event. Then, having a strong backup plan—and then another—is a must, she says.
As is having the right reading material, especially on a long flight. A self-described magazine junkie, Thornton plows through heady publications like The Economist and its bi-monthly culture magazine 1843, The Atlantic and Harper’s, along with InStyle, on her frequent travels around the world. She’s a huge fan of Chet Baker, who’s on heavy rotation on her playlist, and has recently added jazz musician Scott Hamilton to the fold. You’ll also find her on Twitter, where she follows Ira Glass and science fiction fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. That is, when she’s not obsessing about the attendees at this year’s re:Invent, all the things they’ll learn, the people they’ll meet and the fun they’ll have doing it.
DREAM TEAM TITLE: VP-Brand Marketing
CURRENT POSITION: Assistant VP-Marketing, AT&T
WHY WE WANT HIM: Laurence reduced the number of business events in his portfolio by two-thirds while increasing key productivity metrics and leads. He produced the first-ever The Summit|AT&T Business, a proprietary event that racked up an impressive 96 percent “extremely” or “very” satisfied sentiment from attendees—in its first year. This savvy leader knows how to cut back and go big in all the right ways.
Two words sum up Laurence’s approach to events: “big” and “bold,” a strategy that is paying off in spades at AT&T Business. “If we’re going to be at an event, we’re going to have a presence. We want to espouse a point of view, look for thought leadership opportunities and be able to identify leads that materialize into sales opportunities,” he says.
In his role as AT&T Business industry event lead, Laurence handles strategic messaging, booth layout, customer activation and overall production. He also identifies which events are necessary to attend, and where AT&T can maximize its return and increase its customer engagements. About four to five years ago, Laurence slashed AT&T’s roster of annual events from 150 to 50, and has never looked back. He also handles the corporate briefing programs in Dallas and Bedminster, NJ.
As executive producer of The Summit|AT&T Business, Laurence led an invitation-only event that launched last October in Dallas and encompassed more than 150 sessions and 225 speakers including former President George W. Bush, Anderson Cooper, Meg Whitman, Mark Cuban and other business luminaries. The conference drew more than 2,500 attendees, 1,500 customers and a whopping 1.6 billion media impressions. “It allowed us to put a stake in the ground and begin to change the perception of AT&T from telecom to a technology company,” he says.
With more than 25 years of marketing experience and a background in marketing communications, strategy and market segmentation, Laurence says the best event marketers balance the art and creativity of their discipline with the analytical skills and financial acumen it requires. Those attributes, along with a maniacal focus on the customer experience, are what it takes to succeed, he adds.
"My team hears me say this all the time, 'Pursue perfection,' because even if you fall short, you will end up being pretty damned good."
Down the road, Laurence foresees a continued shift in the target attendee at b-to-b events, especially as more women enter technology. The technology will evolve from the shiny gadget it is now into a robust digital ecosystem. Analytics and insights will be king as companies seek to understand the customer journey, create content and enhance experiences as attendees become more diverse and savvy. “When I built the Summit, it needed to be best-in-class, so we needed to understand what that looks like, and how to make sure we were not only in that quadrant, but hopefully, to be the gold star within that quadrant,” he says.
That pursuit of perfection is a constant refrain throughout Laurence’s career. He credits an uncle who has been influential in his personal and business life for inspiring and mentoring him. “My team hears me say this all the time, ‘pursue perfection,’ because even if you fall short, you will end up being pretty damned good,” Laurence says.
We think he’s pretty damned good, too.
Laurence produced the first-ever The Summit|AT&T Business, a highly successful proprietary event.
McElroy helped integrate IBM’s Watson into the 2018 Grammy Awards, where past red carpet looks were compared to this year’s.
DREAM TEAM TITLE: VP-Technology & Innovation
CURRENT POSITION: Program Director, Innovation, IBM
WHY WE WANT HER: Every marketing team needs a tech “guru.” She ensures that IBM events showcase the best of its innovations, so that IBM customers are better able to serve their customers. And her “show me, don’t just tell me” approach keeps IBM’s customers coming back for more.
Erin McElroy began her career as a consultant handling government technology implementations in Washington, D.C., and still thinks of herself as a consultant. But with a father in direct mail and a sister in advertising, she’s been in and around marketing for years. Combining those skills with a deep interest in all things tech, including robotics and artificial intelligence, she’s got just what it takes to keep IBM on the leading edge when it comes to b-to-b engagements that educate and captivate attendees.
McElroy is personally involved with between 10 and 15 of IBM’s 6,000 events held each year around the globe. That would include collaborating with Tommy Hilfiger in a four-month program to reimagine design, supply chain and marketing that in January was showcased at the National Retail Federation conference, and the 2016 World of Watson, where a team of 10 robots buzzed around greeting people and answering questions as a way to introduce the company’s new conversation service. Also this year, she worked with the Recording Academy, where she integrated IBM’s Watson into an event at the Grammy Awards at Madison Square Garden that compared past red carpet fashions to this year’s.
McElroy says b-to-b events in the future more and more will resemble consumer engagements because of the proliferation of devices and the need for b-to-b companies to enable consumer engagement. “With so much information out there, you have to be dynamic, you have to give a good experience, you have to give your customers a reason to stay with you and come back,” she says. And we believe her.
Following are additional insights from our Dream Team technology innovator.
EVENT MARKETER: Aside from becoming more b-to-c, where do you see the industry headed?
ERIN MCELROY: [I’m seeing] the integration of live experiences happening simultaneously or even progressively in dynamic conferences, through video and simulcasts, where you might do an event in London that impacts what you do physically in Las Vegas, which impacts what you do in Singapore, for example.
EM: What changes have you seen over the past five years?
EM: Five years ago, if you had a Twitter or social wall, you were on the cutting edge. Now, it’s much more than text, much more than the perception that you have social. Now, there is more focus on visual, video and live stories. People are also delving more into conversation bots.
EM: What about the b-to-b attendee of the future?
EM: They are looking for real technology that is interesting and innovative, assurance that it’s been done before and looking to be inspired on what is coming, so they can be on the cutting edge of it.
EM: Any tricks of the trade?
EM: Most important, put yourself in the shoes of the audience, and that includes being knowledgeable about their business. Talk to them, ask them about their challenges and what they are dealing with; don’t just rely on a profile from your agency.
EM: What is your work/life motto?
EM: “Just Do It Now,” a lesson I learned from my grandfather who was a poor dirt farmer and rose from delivering telegrams for Continental Trailways to become its ceo. He was a man of action who made me realize that anything I want or need to do, whether with my family or in my career, I need to do it now. That motivates me in most of the decisions I make in my life.
GE POWER DIGITAL
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Senior Director-Corporate Events
CURRENT POSITION: Senior Director-Event Marketing, GE Power Digital
WHY WE WANT HER: This change agent’s approach to events is part evolutionary and part revolutionary, and we dig it in equal measure. She knows how to right-size a portfolio of proprietary events to create customized touchpoints at every stage in the buying journey. If you’ve restructured your event around a central “campus” concept, you might just have Yuzzi to thank for the idea.
Annie Yuzzi started in events as a self-proclaimed “ski bum” living in Aspen and saving money for lift tickets by working as an event coordinator in a local hotel. Fast forward to today and she’s still blazing trails, but this time in the form of experiential programs that drive business and challenge long-held brand perceptions.
The power sector she works in, and the company she works for, are in a constant state of flux and transformation. Yuzzi has managed to meet these challenges with a series of budget-conscious proprietary events customized around customer needs and where they are in the buying journey—and the journey to understanding the larger digital transformation that’s happening across GE and the power sector. She’s moved away from activating at events, and instead focuses now on creating a broad variety of experiences, some as small as “one to few,” based entirely on the customer.
Indeed, just because you scan a badge doesn’t mean you have a lead. It’s one of the reasons she’s divested in the trade show circuit in favor of more personalized experiences. “I think our salespeople would rather go on location and really dive deep with customers around the product,” Yuzzi says. “Building those relationships is very difficult at a trade show versus a smaller event where you have their undivided attention for several hours.”
Deep customer insights have long driven Yuzzi’s approach to events. While at MobileIron, she turned the software company’s annual conference into a “silent disco” where the entire event, from the exhibitors to the breakout sessions, took place in one room; attendees “listened in” to content using noise-canceling headphones. It’s the event she’s most proud of, and a strategy the industry still widely emulates. It’s also a perspective that still shapes her strategies today, especially as millennials start filling the ranks across industry shows and rejecting the formats of the past.
WHAT HER COLLEAGUES SAY:
“In less than one year, Annie changed our mindset to think like true marketers, challenged leaders to make event decisions based on data as opposed to sentiment, and implemented rigorous procedures to define success by driving demand generation, pipeline and sales.”
Internal collaboration is something Yuzzi uses to create smarter, more effective events. She says skipping the opportunity to sit in with an engineer or a salesperson to understand their experiences with the customer is one way event marketers often miss the mark. This emphasis on different perspectives no doubt informed GE’s annual flagship event, Minds+Machines, where Yuzzi’s team activated AR, VR and demos to show the product through the eyes of a plant operator. It also shapes her predictions for the b-to-b landscape of the future, where “flipping the classroom” and talking with, instead of to, attendees will be the new normal. It’s why, for example, we’ll see more customers delivering keynotes. “It’s not about content anymore. It’s all about the collaboration and who you meet, who you connect with, and who’s going to help you on your journey,” she says.
“It’s an approach that’s working for GE, too. Thanks in part to the event marketing team's leadership, the Power Digital Solutions business won the GE Business Award for Best Business Driving Digital. Not too shabby for a former ski bum.”
While at MobileIron, Yuzzi turned the software company’s annual conference into a “silent disco.”
Matuk helped revolutionize the brand's user conference, Google I/O, by "festivalizing" the experience.
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Senior Director-Brand Experiences
CURRENT POSITION: Head of Hardware Experiences & Executive Producer for Google I/O, Google
WHY WE WANT HER: Few technology brands have mastered the art of using live experiences to humanize their offerings like Google has. Matuk is leading this trend with one of the industry’s premiere “festivalized” user conferences—Google I/O. We love the spirit of connection and reinvention she brings to her work, and her ability to transform legacy events into perennial sell-out experiences.
Amanda Matuk originally thought she would follow in the family tradition of a career in law.
But after a few months as a legal assistant in San Francisco’s Bay area, she heeded the call of tech instead. We’re betting the folks at Google are glad she did.
After a short time at Facebook, she landed at Google, first in sales, then in marketing, where she honed the skills necessary to pull off thought leadership conferences, educational programs for ad agencies and business partners and consumer-facing hardware launch events. A turning point occurred in 2015 when Matuk took over Google’s I/O developer program, an event she is most proud of. “It was an important moment for the company and an opportunity to transform a program that had been happening for 10 years,” she says. Here, Matuk discusses those changes, and what she sees ahead for b-to-b event marketing.
WHAT HER COLLEAGUES SAY:
“Amanda was integral in the recent reinvention of [Google I/O] moving from a traditional convention center to an outdoor music venue, creating the first ever developer festival for Google... She’s a solid leader with a creative eye and an ability to take risks that push boundaries.”
Event Marketer: What drove the transformation of I/O?
Amanda Matuk: One of the major components of the Google ethos is “Focus on the user and all else will follow,” so it was this single-minded approach of knowing our audience and addressing and adapting to its needs to foster growth. To get back to our roots, in 2016 we moved I/O from Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco to Shoreline Amphitheatre, a festival venue near Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA. We also wanted to have the capacity to bring more people to the keynote session. It was an important move to be first in this space and we’ve noticed that our competitors have followed suit.
EM: Where do you see b-to-b events headed?
AM: Whether it’s b-to-b or b-to-c, we’re always talking to and building for people, and I think that is going to play out in the next five years. We are focused on that now. It will be less about conferences and more about connection.
EM: What is the role of technology in your events?
AM: If we are doing our job well, Google should be synonymous with technology, so we have a lot of tech moments integrated into our events, especially when we are showcasing developers. But we are at a really critical point where technology is improving and growing so much that we don’t want that to be the face of who we are because we care about the humans that are behind those tools more than anything else.
EM: What do b-to-b attendees want and expect at events?
AM: Two main things: they are looking for information and innovation in experiences. They want to walk away feeling like they learned something and had a unique experience with us. We strive very hard to make sure that when they walk into a Google event, activation or conference, it is something that only Google could produce. There is a level of magic and information that permeates the entire experience.
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Senior Director-Trade Shows
CURRENT POSITION: Director-Global Congress Lead, Pfizer
WHY WE WANT HER: In a highly regulated industry, Mann is challenging the status quo with immersive storytelling experiences that leverage technology and customer insights to reimagine how pharmaceuticals are marketed and sold.
Laine Mann landed in the healthcare industry on a bet. She was working in non-profit fundraising events (loving the work—not loving the paycheck), when she decided to offer $200 to the first friend or family member that could land her a job interview. A college roommate accepted the challenge, getting her a job at NovoCare, and she hasn’t looked back since.
It’s the kind of take-charge approach that’s served Mann well as the strategic lead for Pfizer’s global events, where she’s been rewriting the rules of the game with fresh and innovative customer engagement strategies that are a lot more “pull” and a lot less “push." It’s a role she says has evolved from pure operations and logistics, “getting the trains in on time” as she puts it, to a more strategic approach to designing events that tell a story.
Take one recent gerontological conference where her team reengineered the experience away from talking about the brand to immersing attendees in a universal story about healthy aging—and how Pfizer supports consumers along the way. Cutting-edge mirror technology took attendees on an emotional journey from infancy to high school to adulthood, illustrating the role the company can play at each stage. Post-show surveys proved the experience changed attendee perceptions, which was a key objective for Mann’s team. The response also reinforced a paradigm shift Mann says is impacting the b-to-b event industry—especially in pharmaceutical marketing.
“Today, it’s about what the attendee wants to understand versus what you want to tell them,” Mann says.
Mann’s team does a lot of research trying to find out how customers learn. “But for me, the business-to-business attendee is ever changing. And rather than predict what they want or expect, I’d rather spend time empathizing and talking with them. That gives me the insight into what they hope to learn and what their unmet need is. And then we can build an amazing experience together,” Mann says.
Mann’s team produces more than 350 events a year, but this year, there’s only one number that matters and that’s the number “one.” As in, first place. As in, the place her hometown team, the Philadelphia Eagles, took in this year’s Super Bowl. “We truly consider this a team effort, that we all won the Super Bowl,” she says.
She calls this inherent curiosity “emotional intelligence,” and it’s a must-have quality she looks for when hiring event marketers for her team. It’s also a skill she credits with helping her sustain and grow her career. “We want someone who isn’t afraid to ask a lot of questions, doesn’t necessarily take things for face value, seeks to understand other perspectives,” she says. “So, someone who is not afraid to do a lot of empathy interviewing, and definitely somebody who’s a great storyteller.”
Taking thoughtful risks, like that $200 bet that launched her career, is also ingrained in Mann’s approach to life. She credits her mom for always reminding her, “You never know till you try.” And she keeps the Winston Churchill quote, “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts,” on her desk as a reminder to celebrate her successes and her failures.
Taking risks. Growing from failure. Asking smart questions. Telling great stories. Sounds like the makings of a modern-day Dream Teamer to us.
Park brings a b-to-c sensibility to b-to-b event activations, like the annual Spotify House at Cannes Lions.
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Director-Marketing Innovation
CURRENT POSITION: Global Director-Business Marketing, Spotify
WHY WE WANT HER: With a deep background in consumer marketing, Park brings a b-to-c sensibility to b-to-b conferences and events that offer personalized engagements, like the recent Spotify House activation at Cannes Lions—an activation that was as compelling to look at as it was to experience live. As she says, clients are consumers, too. And we agree.
Jessica Park has always been inspired by brands and organizations that have a stake in how culture is shaped. She began her career in music marketing at VH1, creating brand activations at music festivals and branded tours with key franchises and building promotional plans around some of the brand’s biggest tentpole events. Now, at Spotify, she heads a team of 20 marketing professionals across 11 cities worldwide that, as she puts it, generates “heat” for its advertising business. “We really think of ourselves as the champion of Spotify’s brand message, building buzz, awareness and consideration for Spotify as a platform to our advertising industry professionals,” she says.
Take Spotify House, the brand activation last year at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, which Park considers her proudest marketing moment. Spotify House helped establish the brand as a tier-one partner alongside the Facebooks and Googles of the world, she says. During the day, immersive Spotify House tours focused on discussions with key clients. By night, performances by Phoenix, Solange and Sampha raised the heat factor at beach soirees. A VR Spotify House, developed out of the brand’s UK office, delivered an instant connection to the experience for those at home.
“Treat your clients like fans. That is the litmus test for us for every event we do.”
Using technology in non-traditional ways is the wave of the future, Park says. High-tech Spotify Labs leverage digital tools and engagement tactics to shed light on advertising opportunities. At Cannes, clients could build sample ads on an interactive table. Personalized events such as Spotify’s Fans First series are another strong trend. A recent Spotify Fans First event invited super fans of singer Camila Cabello, identified based on their streaming history, for a Casa Cabello musical experience. B-to-b events could leverage this data and technology all the same.
The b-to-b attendee is broader and more consumer-like than in the past, and is seeking education and inspiration, Park says. That audience is social-media savvy, which accounts for a stat that Park is particularly proud of—Spotify doubled the number of social impressions at Cannes Lions from the year prior.
Park finds inspiration everywhere, from galleries, museums, shows and tv, but acknowledges that her best source is her network of friends and family who share articles, images and gifs on email, Instagram direct messages and group texts. Curiosity and the ability to take inspiration from various facets of life is key to success in event marketing, she adds.
Overall, her strategy stems from one tenet—treat your clients like fans—an insight she shares with her team. “That is the litmus test for us for every event we do,” Park says. The results are as dazzling as the colorful beach at Cannes itself. And that’s why Park scored a spot on our b-to-b Dream Team.
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Director-Engagement Marketing
CURRENT POSITION: Director-Global Face-to-Face Marketing, Facebook
WHY WE WANT HER: A brand like Facebook could rely on its brand recognition and market dominance to engage its b-to-b community, but thanks to Hogan’s leadership, it takes a far more personalized approach. Highly bespoke and delightfully unconventional experiences are the calling cards of Hogan’s events. “We never show up at an event the same way twice,” she says.
Julie Hogan credits her big Italian family and their “spectacular” Sunday night dinners for impressing upon her at a very early age the power of connection. “They really set the stage for my love of people and my quest to bring people together,” she says.
That authentic connection is still at the heart of everything Hogan does at Facebook, where for the past four years she’s been heading up the brand’s global events. From its “Facebook Beach” headquarters and Instagram “Wander and Wonder” activations at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, to its immersive global partner centers where b-to-b prospects and customers can learn about Facebook’s family of apps and services in one-on-one environments, face-to-face connection is the driving force behind everything Facebook does in the real world. Hogan believes so strongly in the idea, her organization was recently renamed the “Global Face-to-Face Marketing Team.”
Here’s a snapshot of our conversation with Hogan on what’s driving this approach to b-to-b events.
Event marketer: What makes a great modern-day b-to-b marketer?
Julie Hogan: One of the things that I pride myself on is having a team with very diverse skillsets and people who’ve come from various backgrounds within the industry. The more diversity you can bring to a team, the better the outcome. It enhances how we show up, how we interact with one another and, ultimately, helps us to elevate what we do, time and time again.
EM: Give us a glimpse of the b-to-b event of the future.
JH: I think events will look more like bespoke experiences, [using] digital technology that’s enabling people to connect before, during and after an event. We’re seeing specific focus areas for companies, which I think is really important from an ROI perspective. You’re not just going into an event trying to pitch products. You’re going into an event to create community and highlight ways we can drive business results and create better engagement with our clients and partners.
“The Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga is Hogan’s most listened-to song on the playlist. “It’s upbeat, kind of starts off slow, and then the momentum builds. It’s metaphorically like producing a big event,” Hogan says.
EM: What about the attendee of the future?
JH: They’re tech-savvy. And, living in this mobile-first world, you have to think mobile-first for engagements. A technology-first approach is critical. That doesn’t necessarily mean leveraging every type of platform or product that you can. It’s deciding what would be most beneficial for that particular audience and then using that.
EM: What’s your secret to a long career in b-to-b events?
JH: Moving fast and being agile is key, particularly for this industry, but also for us here at Facebook. Things are constantly changing, and being able to pivot as needed is a driver of success here. I would also say being able to effectively communicate across a variety of different stakeholders. Not everybody has that gift. And that is something that is certainly a factor of success for me within this industry, but specifically for my team here at Facebook, too.
Hogan heads up the brand's global events, like its “Facebook Beach” headquarters activation at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
Knopp headed up Kashi’s “anti-booth” concept at Natural Foods Expo West, where the brand showed up with no samples but a mighty message about organic farmland in the U.S.
DREAM TEAM TITLE: Brand Manager
CURRENT POSITION: Associate Brand Manager, Kashi
WHY WE WANT HER: For her willingness to take calculated risks, which last March played out at Kashi’s “anti-booth” at Natural Foods Expo West, where the brand showed up with no samples but a mighty message about organic farmland in the U.S. Her bold move cut Kashi’s exhibit costs by 25 percent and surpassed media goals by 158 percent.
Natalie Knopp has been steeped in events throughout her career, first as an events manager in the hospitality industry, then with emerging natural food brands. At Kashi she manages packaging design and storytelling across four brands—Kashi, Bear Naked Granola, Pure Organic and Stretch Island Fruit Company. “Packaging is a large pillar of our storytelling team. I also bring to life that story through events for all of our brands,” she says.
Does she ever. Imagine showing up at the world’s largest natural foods show among 3,200 other brands as the one booth with no food for 80,000 attendees. On purpose. “We wanted to break through, to flip the script, to not do what every other brand is tired of doing, cutting up small pieces of granola bars and handing them out,” Knopp says. Instead, Kashi leveraged its space to spark conversation around Certified Transitional, a program that supports farmers during their three-year transition period to achieve USDA Organic Certification. A 15-foot-tall green “<1%” 3D installation reinforced the fact that less than one percent of U.S. farmland is certified organic. The display drew attendees into the 20-foot by 40-foot booth for more information on organic farming rather than tastes of Kashi bars.
Knopp also executes mobile tours and market takeovers, as many as eight to 12 medium- to large-scale events and other smaller ones annually, depending on the brand. In addition, she leads Kashi’s internal Good Vibe Tribe, an effort to educate employees in health, natural living and other issues surrounding a theme of “people and planet.”
Social amplification and the rise of technology are key changes in b-to-b events over the last five years, Knopp notes. “We love exploring ways to bring VR, GIFs or live streaming into the platforms that we share on, and we’re on all of them. What is key is making sure technology connects back to our message and brings a benefit to the experience without being too distracting,” she says.
“Be empathetic. Keeping the audience number one is most important as we look to the future.”
Knopp sees consumers becoming wiser, empowered with resources and technology. To fuel her spirit of invention, she finds inspiration outside, literally, as she runs through the Southern California landscape, or within the worlds of art, culinary and fashion. Attending Art Basel in Miami led to epiphanies that played out at Expo West. Serving on the board of directors for the non-profit Solana Center for Environmental Innovation also fuels her creative juices. Her work/life strategy is grounded in what she calls an “attitude of gratitude,” a mindset that builds respect among agency partners, her team and beyond.
Her advice for marketers on the up and up? Keep your focus on the audience. So, instead of bogging down attendees at Expo West with another sample to toss in their goodie bags, she gave them a stat to chew on, and a story to share on social media. Her bold move made her a natural for the Dream Team.