How to Socially Network... Really
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by Robert Wynne
There’s nothing wrong with amassing another hundred Twitter followers or a dozen more friends on Facebook or Google+, but for real social networking, nothing beats attending or creating a well-produced event.
You know the goals of public relations: to maintain or enhance reputation, promote goodwill and foster a positive image. PR pros and self-promoters can accomplish many of these tasks via media relations and high-profile placements. But sometimes it’s best to get out of the office, turn off the phone, network in person and meet the influencers.
Almost 10 years ago I went to a fantastic conference presented by SABEW (Society of Business Editors and Writers) as a sponsor, and I still call on several of those reporters today. Whether a person or company sponsors, speaks or just attends, there is something magical about hearing something innovative and/or profitable and/or useful live and in person.
Three leaders who created some of some of the most innovative and memorable annual events share advice on how to network like the pros.
“Any events created strictly as marketing events will fail,” says Victor Harwood, founder and director of Digital Hollywood. “The best ones, they are all organic in terms of growth and creation. Digital Hollywood is now a brand that represents entertainment and technology industries coming together.”
Harwood produces about three to five events per year with 2,000 to 3,000 attendees in Los Angeles, New York and Las Vegas. He lures the biggest names in media as keynote speakers such as Rupert Murdoch of News Corp., Steve Ballmer of Microsoft and Robert Iger of the Walt Disney Co. by connecting the dots between digital and entertainment worlds. But it wasn’t easy.
“It started out as a very drill down tech event on hypertext 20 years ago,” Harwood says. “It was a very small event in San Francisco, a thousand people were there.”
People return to Digital Hollywood to speak on panels, meet old friends and learn what technologies to watch and what companies to follow. “In order to run a successful event you must become a leader in the industry,” Harwood says. “Your event is their event if they can quantify they can do business at your event. If they don’t do business, they don’t come back.”
In 1971 a group of children’s writers based in Los Angeles gathered to network and meet more of their own. Four decades later, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators holds an annual event that attracts thousands of people from all over the world. Authors, illustrators, publishers, agents and the occasional TV and film scribe make the pilgrimage for the Summer or Winter conference.
“We began when we were very young, out of college. We decided to attend a class, but there wasn’t anything at the time so we threw one,” says Lin Oliver, executive director, SCBWI. “The first conference had 55 people and most of them were relatives. Most of the people we asked, big names, agreed to be on the faculty. That’s how we were born — out of the generosity and trust of the children’s book industry.”
About 1200 attend each conference for a few days as that’s all the SCBWI can accommodate. (My wife went to the summer event in Century City, CA and met “The Fonz,” Henry Winkler, who was promoting his children’s book.)
“People come back because they know their work is getting better and better, we always rotate the faculty and the biggest stars of the children’s book field come to speak,” Oliver says. “We just jam the program, the biggest complaint we get is there’s too much to do.”
Lin suggests budding event producers should put dollars aside, at first. “Don’t look for profit motive, look for real value, look to make it as personal as possible, so people come away with abiding colleagues and friendships, that’s what people come back for.”
There are hundreds of advertising conferences, and thousands more on the Internet. But when professionals agree on the conference they like to attend that merges advertising and the web, many rush to ad:tech.
With conferences in Tokyo, New York, New Delhi, San Francisco, Singapore, Melbourne and London, it sounds like the opening to the “Dancing in the Streets” video with David Bowie and Mick Jagger. Most entrepreneurs cannot create something this big, at least initially, but there are marketing lessons contained in ad:tech’s success.
“You have to wrap a hot dog of novelty inside a bun of recognizability—creating as many new and exciting things as you can while still retaining the core identity of the show,” says Brad Berens, Global Chief Content Officer for dmg events, the organizers of ad:tech, and a Senior Research Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future.
Berens’ advice for organizers is to keep the content fresh.
“This means having new speakers, topics and formats that always reflect the state of the industry, but having key veterans and evergreen subject matter as well,” Berens says. “Otherwise you’re just chasing shiny objects and not actually helping people figure out how to do their jobs better. To zero in on one example, we all love Guy Kawasaki and he generously keynoted ad:tech San Francisco in 2011 when his wonderful book Enchantment was released. One year later, we had a chance to have Guy return to the stage—and he’s scintillating so it’s always a pleasure to have him—but we couldn’t have him do the same talk two years in a row. So, Guy suggested that he and Robert Scoble interview each other about the state of the industry, and it was terrific.”
Big names. Big fun. Big connections. Not the easiest recipe, but certainly the most profitable. These leaders have figured it out, melding passion with professionalism, creating real social networks.
We produce two boutique events per year for publicists at business schools and engineering schools. The main draw is meeting nationally-recognized journalists in person. After all, when following up with a story pitch or request, it’s a lot more powerful to say “remember my face?” than “remember my email?”