With Teri Smart from Forefront Networks.

Overview

In this episode we talk to Teri Smart, the Vice President of Marketing at Forefront Networks, an experiential and entertainment agency in Austin Texas. Forefront designs events that build connections between brands and their audiences. They specialize in event production, sponsorship sales and corporate hospitality.

Teri discusses the different ways organizations can utilize events for various goals and audiences. She dives into event marketing, visual direction and creative design, ticket pricing, programming, promotions and gaining traction in the media. Teri emphasizes the importance of having thorough research and data backing your sponsorship valuations. As well as assessing the financial sustainability of your event.  

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.

Listen now or read the show notes below

About Teri

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.  

Topics:

Forefront Networks events

Forefront networks partners with and produces a range of events, both business to business, and business to consumer events. They are known for producing the 400,000 attendee holiday festival Trail of Lights, in Austin TX. This is both a community event open to the general public and also a corporate event, with corporations using the event to host Christmas parties.

Deriving value from Salesforce as a CRM platform

Teri explains that it's important to utilize salesforce as more than just a database for collecting client data. It’s a place to cultivate a relationship from a basic lead, to a multi-tenant relationship. It's an opportunity to build a full picture of the relationship; how did you contact them and when? What was the message? What was the response? What events have they participated in? Did this interaction move the relationship forward?

This information is much more valuable in a shared accessible application than in someones head or in a spreadsheet. It allows you to progress and deepen all kinds of relationships (consumers, sponsors, partners etc).

How can Salesforce help make an event more profitable?

Teri says, “If we can't measure it, we can't manage it”. Salesforce helps the team at Forefront do that, it is their single source of truth. It allows them to keep track of all activity and relationships over time. Including:

  • What sponsors participate at different levels
  • Whether revenue is going up or down and if the pipeline is growing or shrinking.
  • How many leads are need to have a successful and profitable event.

Why is Salesforce particularly valuable for large events?

While some of the other tools that are our there may initially seem cheaper than Salesforce, they can quickly get expensive when you load a large volume of contacts from a big event.

Forefront Networks also utilizes Marketing Cloud within Salesforce, which is their email marketing tool. This is valuable when you have to manage high volumes of contacts. It allows them to send email marketing campaigns to contacts and log the behavior.

How does Salesforce data help you make more informed decisions and build your business?

Teri explains that knowing your clients and their behaviour year after year, is invaluable to your ongoing business strategy and pipeline management. This all comes from the reports generated from Salesforce.  

What are the benefits of having your event ticketing platform connected directly to Salesforce?

Ticketbud can now be connected to Salesforce through the AppExchange. This allows event organizers to easily report on opportunities generated from events. It also ensures the continuity of event data, reducing duplication of information. Teri states that given the size of some of their largest events, they don’t have the luxury of time to manually import data. They also can’t risk the chance of mistakes. Automating this process is critical to Forefront Networks and their events.

It allows them to see trends, such as:

  • Who bought what type of ticket
  • When they bought it
  • If they have bought before (repeat customer data)
  • The price point they purchased at
  • If their ticket type has changed over time (eg from a GA to a VIP ticket)

To have this information come straight from your event ticketing platform to your Sales database is incredibly important. It also allows you to easily run email campaigns targeting segmented audiences. For example, you can directly target the people who bought VIP tickets at your last event when promoting the VIP experience at your next event.    

What are the different ways events can be utilized by an organization or brand?

Events are a great way for brands to connect with their audiences. Your audience can be defined in different ways, depending on a particular goal.

  • An organization might be targeting an internal audience, with the goal of employee engagement.
  • It could be a community event, to build connections with a local community.
  • Then of course there is your client or consumer audience, you’re developing a relationship with.      

What is a Brand Activation and why is it a valuable marketing strategy for brands at events?

“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”.

Teri Smart

Teri shares that a brand activation is about a brand saying, I want to interact with this audience. I want to activate my brand and have people to understand my brand. They are looking for a way to integrate into an event experience.

Teri shares an example of a brand activation that Forefront Networks did for the Home Away brand. The VIP backstage experience at the music festival Austin City Limits, was turned into a home away from home backstage.

How to communicate value when sourcing event sponsorships

Teri emphasizes the importance of developing sponsorships with data supported valuations. Forefront Networks has provided staff training to ensure they are able to get this equation right.

  1. The first place to start is with the goal of the sponsor. The value begins when you can see there is a match between the potential sponsors goals and your event. Otherwise you have nothing to build on.   
  2. Make sure you value your sponsorship correctly. Don't just guess. Sponsorship valuation is often overlooked. There’s research and math that can be used to support and justify sponsorship packages relevant to the event. Equipping sales or sponsorship staff with the data and knowledge that supports the sponsorship price point is highly valuable in closing a deal.

Event marketing

Know your audience. Identify what has to happen to make it a successful event and be clear about the associated costs.

Questions to ask:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • What is it going to cost to achieve what we want?
  • How do we need to price the event for this to be profitable?

One half of the marketing equation is look at things like a competitive set, a pricing analysis, and a cost benefit analysis. The other half is the communication side, where are the people we are trying to reach?

The importance of the visual direction and creative design of an event

Teri talks about how the visual direction is part of the brand of the event. Making sure that visual look of the event speaks to the target audience is incredibly important. Ensuring consistency across all visual and design elements of your event (from tickets, to advertising and then the event itself) is highly valuable for brand impact and recall.  

How to determine ticket pricing and programming

  • If it's an established event, look at the history of what has and hasn't worked.
  • Consider how you can segment your audience differently.
  • Look at your event programming and what people might pay at various price points.
  • Find out what competitors or similar events are doing with their programming. What experiences are they offering?
  • What is the standard price point for this type of experience?
  • How can you differentiate your experience so that people are willing to pay the price point you need to make it a successful event?    

Event sales and promotions

There are various promotional strategies that can be used to boost sales leading up to an event. The goal is generally to get people to buy early. This lays the foundation for the financial success of your event, and reduces event day stress and guesswork. This can be done with things like early bird tickets and flash sales.

Forefront Networks like Ticketbud, uses Event Protect, which protects the ticket transaction in case of unforeseen cancelation. This can be used as a valuable marketing tool, particularly for outdoor events where people may have weather concerns.

Strategies for getting people to buy early:

  • Use incentives - early bird sales, flash sales.
  • Use scarcity to create a sense of urgency -  don’t miss out, this event sold out last year.
  • Mitigate risk in the mind of the consumer - offer ticket protection.

Key elements of an outbound communication strategy

For Forefront Networks their email database is their number 1 ticket selling channel. Which is why Salesforce is such an important part of their strategy.

  1. Owned email database
  2. Utilize partnerships - identify key partners to help you promote events
  3. Identify relevant publications/media - where people look for events and things to do
  4. Owned social media channels
  5. Consider broadcast and outdoor media options.

Where possible, use tracking codes so you know where traffic is coming from. Knowing how many people were driven from a particular ad, and how that converted to a certain number of ticket sales is really powerful information when determining future advertising spend. Record and track what people are buying, so you get to know their interests for future promotions.

Tips for earning PR and gaining traction in the media

You need a unique story. What angle do you have that the press will pick up on? Think of it as a story and present the story.  

  • Is there a personality you can build a story behind?
  • Is there a new or exciting element you can present?
  • Do you have any celebrity/high profile ambasador or participant?

Assessing the financial sustainability of an event and evaluating the financial risk

Teri explains that Forefront Networks spend a lot of time on this, particularly for consumer events. Just because you think it's a great event with good turnout, doesn't make it financially sustainable. There are a lot of factors to consider.

  • Venue costs - does it require complete build out? Do you need tents, bathrooms etc?
  • Fire code limitations (can you get enough people in the venue to make it viable?)
  • Parking - is it accessible?
  • What else is going on at the same time? Are you competing with other events?
  • Is there community appetite for this to be an ongoing event?

Corporate events are more straightforward because you can build the offering around the budget.

Managing remote teams

Teri has experience leading remote teams and shares tips for managing a remote team and keeping them connected and working together.

  • Regular standing meetings, preferably with video conference.
  • Face-to-face in person catch ups. Not just at events when things are hectic, but make time in between. Get together at least twice a year outside of events.  
  • Get together for planning and team building.
  • Project management tools are also great to keep everyone connected and on task.

Teri’s career advice

Teri’s recommends developing skill sets, rather than just being a generalist. While you can evolve to manage all different sides of marketing for example, it is incredibly valuable to get some specialist knowledge in a particular area. Become known for a particular skill. That makes you hirable and promotable.