So you’re ready to start your own commercial conference or event. Maybe you work for a publishing company or media owner, and want to create your own event for them. Maybe you’ve been planning for months and you’re ready to leave your job. Maybe it’s a side project. Maybe you’ve just started. Here’s what you need to think about.
- Market sector
- Topic / angle
- Business model
- Event budget
- Creating a marketplace
- Reaching the market – marketing partnerships
- Revenue streams – sponsorship
- Revenue streams – delegate pricing
- Lead times
1. Market sector
If you’re creating a commercial conference or event, there has to be a good reason to bring people together, enough motivation to get them there, and a broad market that is already conference enabled.
What does this mean? I started out in legal conferences in the 90s, and delegates twenty years ago were prepared to pay relatively serious money to attend commercial conferences. I ran a team that delivered over 150 one day conferences a year across half a dozen subject areas. Nowadays, with the exception of a handful of large events, the market is served by (inexpensive) legal training and law firm (free) seminars.
So choose a market that has money. Education? Great, but delegates may not pay more than a couple of hundred pounds, and sponsors have tight budgets too. Hedge funds? People pay. NHS? Great, but all sorts of centralised budget control and limits on delegate fees. Insurance? For the right topic (see below) there’s likely a lucrative market.
2. Topic top tips
So you’ve got your sector, now you just need to find a viable topic. Here’s where a conference professional’s experience really helps: journalists have often told me there’s no “skill” to designing / creating / curating conference content, but there is. Anyone who supplies a topic outline that starts with introduction should be writing a book or a long-form New Yorker piece.
Conferences are more immediate than print journalism, and require different skills to create; a skillset that can challenge even the best social media managers.
Conference content has two main drivers; evergreen or topical. Evergreen – Clinical Risk Management for A&E. Topical – impact of the latest legislation on XYZ.
Even when you’ve got a topic (subsidence) you still need an angle; what’s the impact of…?
And you need to understand delegates’ motivation for attending an event – this mostly comes down to two factors, fear and greed. Is there some shiny new thing that could radically change their business life? Do they understand the EU X or Y?
But there’s something else about in-person events: who they might meet there. In finding a sector, isolating a topic, and then getting an angle, what you’re really doing is creating a marketplace at the event where the different interested parties / players might meet. And that’s what differentiates conferences from training: it’s about more than the data or content, it’s about the connections you make, that latest nugget of info you get from that cutting edge presentation, or the on-stage conversation from two of your competitors.
Watch out for the update on the next few steps to starting your own event.