With Teri Smart from Forefront Networks
In this episode we talk to Teri Smart, the Vice President of Marketing at Forefront Networks.
Forefront is an experiential and entertainment agency in Austin Texas, that designs events meant to build connections between brands and their audiences. Forefront specializes in event production, sponsorship sales and corporate hospitality.
Teri shares how Forefront Networks utilizes the CRM platform Salesforce as a key part of their strategy to maximize the success and profitability of events. She discusses the different ways organizations can utilize events for various goals and audiences. She emphasizes the importance of having thorough research and data backing your sponsorship valuations. As well as diving into event marketing, visual direction and creative design, ticket pricing, programming, promotions and gaining traction in the media. As well as assessing the financial sustainability of your event.
- How can Salesforce be used to make an event more profitable?
- The benefits of having your event ticketing platform connected with Salesforce.
- The different ways organizations and brands can utilize events.
- What is a Brand Activation and how can it be valuable to brands at events?
- How to evaluate and communicate event sponsorship value.
- Understanding the two sides of event marketing.
- The value of visual direction and creative design for an event.
- How to determine ticket pricing and programming.
- Event sales and promotions: tips for getting people to buy early.
- Earning PR and gaining traction in the media.
- Assessing the financial sustainability and evaluating financial risk.
- Managing remote teams.
Teri Smart is the Vice President of Marketing at experiential and entertainment agency Forefront Networks. Teri’s expertise is in marketing strategy, brand management and outbound communications. In her role at Forefront Networks, Teri oversees ‘business to consumer’ and ‘business to business’ marketing for events.
Lisa: Welcome to Ticketbud Tidbits!
In today’s podcast, I talk to Teri Smart, who is the Vice President of Marketing at Forefront Networks, an experiential and entertainment agency. Forefront designs events meant to build connections between brands and their audiences, specializing in event production, sponsorship sales and corporate hospitality.
Teri’s expertise is in marketing strategy, brand management and outbound communications. In her role at Forefront Networks, Teri oversees business to consumer, as well as business to business marketing for events.
So, stay with us, and hear all of her great tips and insights around everything event marketing. We also chat to Teri about Salesforce, as Ticketbud is launching a Salesforce connector that ensures the continuity of event data, with a direct link to the CRM platform.
Teri shares how Forefront Networks utilizes Salesforce as a key part of their strategy, to maximize the success and profitability of their events. Also in this episode, Teri discusses the different ways organizations can utilize events for various goals and audiences.
She emphasizes the importance of having thorough research and data backing your sponsorship evaluations, as well as diving into event marketing, visual direction and creative design, ticket pricing, programming, promotions, and how to gain traction in the media.
We finish up by talking about the importance of assessing the financial sustainability of your event.
We’ve packed an awful lot into this episode, so let’s get started! I really hope you enjoy it!
Lisa: Welcome to the podcast, Teri! It’s great to have you talking to us today!
Teri: Thank you.
Lisa: Can you tell us a bit about some of the events that you work with, at Forefront Networks?
Teri: Absolutely. We actually produce quite a range of events. We’re sort of known for this huge 400,000-person event in Austin, called the Trail of Lights, that brings all of these folks together over the course of two weeks. It’s really community-building, on the outside.
On the inside, we have corporations come in and do their Christmas parties as a part of this event, so we reach the business to consumer, as well as the business to business side.
That’s just one event, though. We produce company picnics throughout the year. We also just got back from Napa Valley, where we co-produced an event that was strictly corporate, with about 500 folks that came together in sales rewards, sales incentive and client reward trips. We spent a little bit on both sides; the consumer and the corporate side.
Lisa: Nice! Ticketbud is about to launch an integration between our ticketing platform and the CRM platform, Salesforce. I know that Forefront Networks uses Salesforce, so I wanted to ask you some questions around its value, and how you use it.
For someone who hasn’t used Salesforce before, can you explain how an event organizer can utilize it to nurture leads and develop relationships through their events?
Teri: it’s very important to utilize Salesforce as more than just a gathering place for client data. I think in some instances, that’s how it’s been seen. It’s really a place to manage and cultivate a relationship, from a basic lead to a multi-tenant relationship.
So, how did you contact them? When? With what message? What was the response? What events are they participating in? How did that move the relationship forward, or did it?
These are things that often live in our salesperson’s head or in a spreadsheet. As a business, we need these things documented, so that we can, event to event, develop that relationship, whether it’s with a consumer or with a sponsor.
Lisa: Yes. it’s keeping that history of the relationship, so that I guess the business has that, not just a person.
Lisa: How does using Salesforce in conjunction with an event help make the event more successful or profitable?
Teri: We use Salesforce as our single source of truth. That’s what we call it around here. That’s where we keep our client data, whether they be consumer or business. A hospitality client, are they a philanthropy sponsor? Did they buy premium tickets to the different events that we have?
We know who buys what type of tickets. We know what sponsors do what, at what levels. We know how that’s changed over time, and why it’s changed over time. Is our revenue going up? Is it going down? Is our pipeline growing? Is our pipeline shrinking? How many leads do we need to have, in order to have a successful and profitable event?
Salesforce lets us do that. We need to manage it, and if we can’t measure it, then we can’t manage it.
Lisa: That makes sense. Why would Salesforce be particularly valuable for large events?
Teri: The number of contacts that we have for our events can really break the bank on some of the other tools out there. While initially, some of the other tools may seem cheaper, once you have a large event, and you load in a bunch of contacts, it really shoots up there.
We utilize Marketing Cloud within Salesforce, which is the email marketing tool that they provide. That allows us to send email campaigns to our contacts, and log the behavior. We have well over 100,000 contacts, and managing that content through Salesforce actually comes at a better price point than some of the other tools, and having those integrations allows us to do it all, mostly. So, for the bigger events, it can actually be a better price.
Lisa: How does Salesforce data help you make more informed decisions and build your business?
Teri: Knowing our clients year after year, monitoring their behavior, that all weighs heavily into our business planning. Our pipeline management weighs heavily into our business planning. Salesforce is really where we go for all of that information. The reports that we generate from there are vital in not only our 90-day and one-year, but also our three-year planning.
Lisa: Connecting Ticketbud to Salesforce enables event organizers to easily report on opportunities generated from events, and reduces the duplication of data. Can you explain some of the benefits of having your event ticketing platform connected directly to Salesforce?
Teri: Absolutely. For us, this is critical. Given the size of our largest event every year, we don’t have the luxury of manually porting data over. We don’t have the time, and we can’t have mistakes like that. So, automating this process is critical for us.
We know who bought what type of ticket, when they bought it, if they’ve bought before. That repeat customer data is really important for us to have. We know the price points. We know if they have changed ticket types over time. Maybe they’ve gone from a general admission ticket, and now they’re buying a VIP ticket. Maybe they went backwards.
We’re able to really see those trends, and to have that come straight from our ticketing platform to our sales database is incredibly important.
As I mentioned before, we’re hooked up to Marketing Cloud. So then, we can run campaigns quickly and easily, based on the ticket types that these folks have purchased in the past. Also, through our clients, we know that even if this one event, they have purchased this type of ticket type, if we have let’s call it a VIP experience at another event, we can go look at those folks that have bought VIP tickets at one time, and try to transition them and move them to another event, as well, at that same level.
Lisa: That makes sense. To shift gears a little bit, when talking about events, there’s one question that I always ask people, and I think should be addressed first. Why do you want to have an event, and what are you trying to achieve with it? Events can be utilized to achieve lots of different goals, but you have to be clear about what that goal is, at the start.
It might be a fundraiser or an engagement opportunity, community building, a chance to get people to try your product or service, or obviously an opportunity to build your database of contacts.
Can you talk a little bit about the different ways events can be utilized by an organization or brand?
Teri: Absolutely. We have brands that want to connect with their audiences. What we’ve really found is that an audience can be defined in whatever way that is pertinent to that brand’s goals at the time. So, a brand may want to connect to their internal audience. Maybe they need to have an event for employee engagement, and that’s the number one thing they need to do, because they have a retention goal, or they have hiring goals in the community, and want to be seen as a great place to work.
That’s one way to look at it. Another community might be the community that actually physically surrounds them, and wanting to endear themselves as they bring in more jobs, or are seen a certain way in the community.
The other place that a brand might want to connect is with their actual client or consumer.
So, there’s three different audiences there, just right off the top, that can work through the goals of that employer or that client.
Lisa: Organizations and brands can also use events as part of their marketing strategy, with sponsorships and brand activation. That’s the other element, is you may want run an event, but other people may want to participate in your event.
Can you clarify what a brand activation is, and why that’s a valuable marketing strategy for brands at events?
Teri: Brand activation is really a brand coming in and saying “I want to interact with you,” this audience. Again, they decide what the audience is, based on the goal and based on the event. “I want to activate my brand. I want you to understand me. I want us to integrate together.”
We created a brand activation for HomeAway, at Austin City Limits, actually for the last two years. We do their backstage experience, for their VIPs. We made it a “home away from home” backstage. There were places to relax. There were little areas to sit and talk. There were all of the comforts of home, because it was HomeAway.
So, it’s finding a way to take a brand and bring it to life in an interactive and unique experience with that audience that you’re trying to reach.
Lisa: Can you share some advice for event organizers, around gaining event sponsorships, and how to communicate that value that they can offer?
Teri: We actually have done a lot of studying on this. This is an important one. We actually sent someone from my team to go get specific training on this, when it comes to developing packages and trying to understand how to sell these.
What we’ve learned and what we’ve been formally trained on is it always has to start with the goal of the sponsor. So, even though you have this event, and you think it’s the most magical place, and there’s going to be all of these consumers there, and we think it fits the demographic perfectly for a specific brand, you’ve got to find out what their goals are. Their goals are where it starts.
Understanding the goals of the brand, and if there is a match with your event, that is where you’re going to shorten that close cycle. That is where you’re going to increase your close rate, is by ensuring that that’s there, first. Otherwise, you’re just sort of shooting arrows out there. That’s the number one thing we’ve found.
The second thing is making sure you’re valuing your sponsorships correctly. You may think that the title sponsor to your event is worth $100,000, but there’s actual math that should go behind that. Sponsorship valuation is often overlooked.
The way to give your salespeople the confidence to go out there and get those sponsors and close those sponsors is by arming them with the data that supports that price point. Again, that’s one that’s often overlooked, and probably the second thing I would say to close out that topic.
Lisa: Rather than pulling a number out of the sky.
Lisa: Where’s the best place to start, with marketing an event? Where do you start the planning process?
Teri: Again, we go back to the goals. What has to happen, to make it a successful event? There are certain things programming-wise that you’re going to want to put in. Those have a price point to them, and they also have an audience that they attract.
So, we have to start there and say “What are we trying to achieve? What is it going to cost to achieve those things?” And then, “How do we need to price into that?”
That’s become the operational side of marketing, where we really get into a competitive set and a pricing analysis, and a cost-benefit analysis. That’s one half of our marketing equation.
The other half really goes into the communication side. Where are the people that we’re trying to reach? Are they on social media? Are they in an email database that we have? Are they donors of another philanthropy, that we think would be interested in ours? Is it a billboard in a part of town that we don’t usually draw from, but we know is an important piece of our puzzle?
What media partners do we think fit best? If it’s an event heavy in music, let’s look at the radio stations that might work best with the genre. If it’s something that’s more visual, like the arts, let’s make sure we’ve got some TV planned.
It all starts with the event, the audience, and really the competitive set out there. Those are the base things that we start with.
Lisa: How do you go about determining the visual direction for the creative design of an event, and why is that important, for it to have a visual look?
Teri: It’s so important, because it’s really part of the brand of the event. We’ve taken some events in the past, that have been longstanding events, and we’ve been brought in to breathe new life into them or really just to produce them for the first time, where they have fallen off. Looking at that brand, and making sure that it speaks to the audiences that it’s trying to gather, is incredibly important.
Making sure that when somebody visually sees your event, either in an ad or on a Facebook post, even what it looks like on your tickets, that it all jives and comes together. That’s going to make that brand have more legs and have more longevity in the peoples’ minds, and will cause that recall effect.
We really want people to not only remember our events, but anticipate them for the next year. Visual direction and creative design, I feel like is a really important part of that. It’s not my forte. I’m very blessed to have people on my team that are good at that, but it’s vital.
Lisa: I like that you mentioned about having that consistency across the board, and thinking about every interaction from the advertising to the tickets, to when they arrive, and what they experience.
Teri: Signage on sight, everything.
Lisa: It’s the whole thing, yeah. Speaking about tickets, how do you determine ticket prices and ticket programming, like what types of tickets to offer? Because there’s a lot of different ways you can do that.
Teri: Definitely. Looking at the audience, how are we trying to segment that audience? If it’s a historical event that we’re taking over, obviously we’re going to start there. But then, we sort of have to wipe our hands a little bit and say “No. They brought us in because that event’s not working.”
So, let’s re-look at the programming, re-look at what people might pay for that. Again, are there competitive events out there that we can look at, even in other cities? Maybe they’re not competitors; they’re just like-minded events.
So, understanding that. Looking at history. Looking at what we need, to make it successful with the programming. If we’re going to do a beautiful brunch after a run, what do people pay for a beautiful brunch in town, and a 5K? How do we differentiate it, so that people are willing to pay the price point that we need, in order to make it a successful event?
We really take it from both sides. What would the consumer be willing to pay for the type of programming that we’re putting forward? And hey, let’s make sure this type of programming we’re putting forward is something we’re proud of. And then, can we afford to do that?
Lisa: What advice can you give around sales and promotions, leading up to an event? Most people would know about offering early bird offers and that sort of thing. But what are other promotional strategies that you can use to boost sales at different points, leading up to an event?
Teri: Obviously, like you said, there’s pricing early birds, there’s flash sales and things of that nature. But if we can find ways to bring people in – it’s really important for us, especially given that we do some outdoor events, to have people buy their tickets ahead of time. Not only does it help solidify the financial success of your event, but it also takes some of the guesswork out of the day of.
So, when you talk about promotional strategies and sale promotions leading up to an event, one of the things that we really push people to do, one of the pieces of advice I would really give, is to try to find ways to get people to buy ahead.
One of the things that we utilize is something called Event Protect, which actually protects these consumers in case an outdoor event gets completely cancelled, due to crazy high winds or some act of nature. That’s something that we’ve really found is an important marketing tool.
So, when you ask for advice on sales promotions leading up, the obvious stuff is out there, but I would really push people to create incentives such as Event Protect, such as “Prices are going to go up at the door,” anything that you can do. Or “Hey, this sold out last year. Make sure you get your tickets now!” That’s going to give everybody a bit of a sigh of relief, going into day of.
Lisa: It’s creating the urgency of it, like “You might miss out,” or “The price will go up.” And then, also mitigating the risk of bad weather, so if you’ve got something like Event Protect, which Ticketbud’s events can all use, that’s another way that you can sort of encourage people to have the confidence to buy early.
What are some of the key elements to an outbound communication strategy for an event?
Teri: For us, our outbound is – I can call it pretty straightforward. We utilize that email database that I talked about. That’s why Salesforce is such an important piece of our strategy. Our email database is our number one ticket seller for us.
Secondly, we utilize partners. In Austin, there are social media partners such as Do512 or 365ThingsAustin, that we will use to place advertisements to get people to buy tickets. We will use tracking codes, so that we know what’s coming from there.
And then, eventually, what type of ticket did they buy? Again, back to that connector with Ticketbud and Salesforce. People coming from this ad end up buying this type of ticket, is really powerful information, when we decide how much to spend on that advertising for that outbound communication.
The other things we do are our own social media. We have our own channels, of course. We use broadcast partners, as well.
And we’re just now looking into billboards, which I know feels a bit “back to the future.” There are just some intersections in town we can’t deny get a lot of eyeballs.
Lisa: Listeners want to be able to earn PR off of their event. What are some tips that they can use, to gain traction in the media?
Teri: You need a unique story. Going out with “Hey, tickets are on sale!” is really not that effective.
Lisa: It’s not going to do it!
Teri: You want to find what are those angles that the press wants to pick up? Is it that it’s the 70th year, and there’s someone’s personality, a name behind it that you can really build a story about, that they want to put on the front page of the entertainment newspaper?
Is there something new at your event, that you haven’t had before? Is there a celebrity that is going to be your host or your endorser?
Anything that you can find that’s new and different and press-worthy, is what’s going to do it. Announcing the same old, same old, or a price change, or something of that nature, it’s just going to fly under the radar.
Lisa: You’re creating the story for them, and presenting like “Here’s your story! We’ve got it ready to go!”
Teri: “We wrote it for you!”
Lisa: What are some of the key considerations, when assessing the financial sustainability of an event, and evaluating the financial risk?
Teri: We spend a lot of time on this. Just because you think an event is a good idea, or because 8,000 people come, doesn’t make it necessarily financially sustainable.
First of all, the venue. What are the venue costs? Do you completely have to build it out? Do you need tents? Do you need bathrooms? Or is it an indoor place that has fire code limitations, so you actually can’t enough people in it to make it profitable for you? So, we start with the venue.
We look at parking. Parking is important these days. You look at, again, what else is going on that weekend? From financial sustainability, you want to have something that people look forward to on that weekend in April. If there’s three other things going on, you may fall out of favor.
So, we look at time, place, and then just the community’s desire to see something again and again, when you’re looking at something from a consumer and a sponsor standpoint.
For corporate parties, it’s a little more straightforward. If a company comes to us and says “I want to host a 400-person summer picnic,” we can build the financials around that, by working with that company.
What are they willing to spend? Okay, here’s the location options in that price point. Here’s the project management that it’s going to take. Here’s the catering we can bring in. Those are the easy ones, because you are just dealing with a straightforward budget.
But when you’re building a consumer ticket from the ground up, you’re looking at a lot of other factors, like venue, and how many people you can actually serve.
We produced the Austin Ice Cream Festival last year. It had 8,000 people there. It was wonderful and fun, but sustainable? That park is only going to hold that many people. So, how do you grow it? A brand like that, those are the hard questions we have to ask ourselves every year.
Lisa: Something else I noticed, you have experience leading remote and virtual teams. I know a lot of event organizers are running events in different cities or dealing with different staff across the country. I’d love for you to share some advice on how best to manage teams that are not in one location.
Do you have sort of strategies you can use, to ensure the teams are connected and effective, and essentially working as a team?
Teri: Absolutely. We certainly have standing meetings that are important and vital for people to get on the phone and talk. I love to do those over videoconference. That face-to-face is important. I try to make sure that we get together in person, outside of just the day of the event, because those are stressful days.
Only coming together a few days before an event, during an event, and then flying out, you don’t get to build the camaraderie. So, we certainly try to ensure that we get together in between events, for planning, for team-building, so that we’re not just coming together when it’s a little tougher.
I think that face-to-face is important. It doesn’t have to be every month, but it needs to be at least twice a year, outside of events.
We also use tools. We use project management tools. Those help us keep everybody on task. But that’s a bit more of the tactical side. But the warm and fuzzy side is that we get together and team-build.
Lisa: That makes sense. I’m going to finish up by asking, is there any advice you wish you had been given at the start of your career, or advice that you thought really helped you?
Teri: One of the things that I really felt helped me, that I really try to pass on in mentoring others, is to really gain some skillsets, and not just be a generalist. Eventually, you can evolve to managing all different sides of marketing, for example. But when I started, I was told “Really go and understand pricing. Really go and learn and read, and get really good at that.”
Because once you understand pricing, then you can start understanding supply and demand. Then, you can start understanding how to create that demand. Then, you can start understanding how to fulfill that demand.
I felt like, for me, I’m a bit more of a numbers-based marketing person anyway, that was really great advice, because I was seen as somebody that knew how to do something. That made me hirable, and it made me promotable.
So, that’s one thing that I tell people all the time. “Pick something you really like.” I liked pricing. “And get really good at it.” The other stuff, you can build around it as you grow.
Lisa: Seeing we’re talking about events, I always like to ask people, what’s a great event you’ve attended, and what you loved about it?
Teri: This is a hard one for me, because I’m so biased. I have to think about that one for a minute, if I don’t want to pat ourselves on the back here. Maybe I’ll be a little bit more general. I love events that are multi-sensory. I love events that bring in different – like food, music, drinks, an activity that you’re actually doing something.
Those are the kind of events that I love to be a part of. I’m fine to just go and sit and taste something or hear something. Those are nice, but I really like to be tested on all of the senses.
I’m not answering you directly, because really nothing’s coming just jumping to my mind, that wouldn’t be self-serving. I love the multi-sensory. That’s just something I really get jazzed about.
Lisa: I actually agree with you. That’s definitely my favorite, anything that I can get involved in and experience. I don’t think we’re alone in that. I think definitely, with all of the different events -.
Teri: Experiential is the direction.
Lisa: Yes. People want to get in and hear and feel and touch it and smell it and everything. It’s definitely something for all event organizers to be aware of. Integrating those sorts of experiences are really, really valuable.
Thanks for joining us on the podcast today! I really appreciate it. We got through some of the technical sound cutting out there. We made it through! It’s great to have you.
Teri: Thank you so much. It was nice to talk to you, as well.
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