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Kate Spellman: “Content is King”

Content is King. Content is the foundation of a successful virtual event. If you have the right content, attendees will join the event. At Questex we monitor where audiences engage in and off our website in order to follow topics of interest. For example, we launched an Artificial Intelligence virtual event for the electronics, telecom, […]

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Content is King. Content is the foundation of a successful virtual event. If you have the right content, attendees will join the event. At Questex we monitor where audiences engage in and off our website in order to follow topics of interest. For example, we launched an Artificial Intelligence virtual event for the electronics, telecom, pharma marketing and healthcare markets because it was of high and timely interest.


As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Spellman.

Kate Spellman is the Chief Marketing Officer of Questex and is responsible for accelerating growth across Questex through new product innovation, marketing services and audience engagement. She is an accomplished business leader who brings a proven and consistent track record to launching and driving rapid growth in revenue within information services businesses. Through her successes, Kate has exhibited a unique balance of strategic vision and executional precision and her highly collaborative style enables traction through partners and acquisition. Kate also brings a cutting-edge view to the rapidly evolving ecosystem of technology, events and practical applications in the marketing services arena.

Prior to Questex, Kate served as President of Informa Engage, the marketing services engine of Informa plc. Earlier, Kate was Chief Marketing Officer of Penton where she was responsible for a cross-functional marketing team and marketing services. Kate grew Penton Marketing Services to 44 million dollars. Previously, Kate had a long career holding several management positions at CMP Media (later UBM LLC). Her last position with the company was launching UBM Studios, the digital arm of UBM, where she launched and drove rapid growth in the company’s digital business, including 10 million dollars net-new revenue in 18 months. Kate’s first position in the information services industry was at International Media Partners.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I had a wonderful childhood growing up the daughter of a diplomat living in Germany for many years as well as the D.C. area. Both my parents were avid travelers and believed that traveling was part of our education. As children, my siblings and I were lucky to be able to take advantage of living overseas from learning about other cultures to traveling to many exciting cities.

Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?

I began my career in the yachting industry. With a love of both travel and people it was a perfect start for me, it allowed me to meet people from all corners of the world.

When I was offered a position at CMP Media (later UBM plc) all I heard was “international and travel” and I was hooked! I had a long career holding several management positions in UBM’s technology portfolio and had the opportunity to travel and meet amazing, talented people throughout the world. My last position at UBM was CEO of UBM Studios, the digital arm of UBM plc, where I launched and drove rapid growth in virtual events and digital business solutions. At the time, digital solutions were in its infancy and it was a very exciting time to be pioneering a new industry and having these insights globally.

After leaving UBM, I became Chief Marketing Officer of Penton where I was responsible for a cross-functional product and marketing team — connecting marketers and advertisers with B2B decision makers through turnkey products and solutions through audience, content and vertical knowledge across both events and digital platforms. I was a member of the Executive Leadership team that completed the successful sale of Penton to Informa for 1.2B dollars. After the acquisition, I launched Informa Engage, the marketing services engine of Informa plc.

I joined Questex as Chief Marketing Officer in September of 2018.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was asked to do a PowerPoint presentation for the president of an information services company and as a young marketer it was assumed, I knew what that was. I ended up writing a 20-page paper, like I had done in college, and cut and pasted it in the PowerPoint. Needless to say, it did not go over well. And, yes, I actually presented it in 10-point type!!!!

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The book Authentic Leadership resonated with me and changed my management style.

The three key learnings I took from the book:

  1. Being authentic provides my team with a tremendous amount of autonomy
  2. Leading by example means knowing your gaps, being open to them and hiring to fill them
  3. Giving my team the freedom to make mistakes and admit those mistakes, which allows the team as a whole to innovate and grow.

I have the saying “Own It.” My team and I work hard, we are accountable and feel pride for a job well done.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is from Maya Angelou. “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive.” I pursue this by celebrating the positive in all aspects of my life.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?

I have been in the information services industry for the majority of my career. I had many years of experience creating and executing live events and delivering and selling content. Then in 2010, I was asked to launch UBM Studios, the digital arm of UBM plc, to drive interactive online events and environments. With sales and production capabilities in the US, London and Singapore, I created a team of over 30 to handle sales, marketing, creative, project management as well as business and product development.

At UBM Studios, I had the privilege of re-launching COMDEX, one of the largest computer trade shows in the world, as a virtual event. COMDEXvirtual was targeted to the global IT channel community. The event offered targeted content, an Exhibit Hall, opportunities for meeting and networking as well as gated hospitality suites. At the time, it was the largest independent virtual tradeshow in the industry and was covered by The Financial Times. It was exciting to be a part of a historical virtual launch.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?

There is a myth that virtual events will cannibalize physical events. It is not true. Yes, virtual events are different than in-person events, research shows that virtual events drive live event attendance the following year. Through robust technology, outstanding execution and a bit of creativity, virtual events can deliver an exceptional content, engagement and networking experience for attendees.

Here are a few things to consider when creating a virtual event:

  1. Virtual events should drive an audience need
  2. Content should encompass the entire event from sessions to networking
  3. Engage editors as moderators for intimate discussions with thought leaders
  4. Use Q&As, surveys and polls to gain attendee insight
  5. Allow attendees to chat among themselves throughout the events

Additionally, virtual events allow event and information services companies to think bigger and more globally and reach a larger universe to engage a larger community.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events?

Questex had the opportunity to collaborate with Arizona State University on a virtual event that was extremely successful.

The pandemic has created complicated new realities for educators across the globe. There has been much debate about the safety of bringing students back together to learn. And the pandemic has forced universities to confront long-standing challenges in higher education from blended learning and skyrocketing tuition costs to fewer international students and perceptions of elitism.

Arizona State University in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation created REMOTE: The Connected Faculty Summit, a first of its kind, free virtual event created to help faculty and administrators design effective and engaging experiences for learners. The event took place July 13–14 and 50,000 professors, instructors, lecturers, teaching professionals, instructional designers, provosts, deans, department chairs and administrators registered from more than 150 universities and institutions across the world, with 26,000 attending on the first day. To draw an audience of this size is remarkable!

The event offered a stellar line-up of speakers offering practical information to educate students:

  • 100+ speakers from 60 universities and institutions focused on two broad categories of presentation — “Disciplines” and “Topics”
  • 2 keynote presentations from Michael M. Crow, President, Arizona State University and Kristie Ornelas, Senior Director of Cisco Customer Experience/Scott Galloway, Professor at NYU Stern, founder, and bestselling author
  • Speakers from Arizona State University, Washington State, University of Central Florida, CUNY, State University of NY/Monroe Community College, University of Illinois and more
  • 88 half hour sessions focused on disciplines, best practices and policy
  • Networking chats
  • Live Q&A’s where attendees directly asked questions and speakers will answer in real-time
  • A live track of 12 sessions featuring Every Learner Everywhere experts in digital instruction and pedagogy

REMOTE: The Connected Faculty Summit proved that remote learning can be successful.

What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Content! The foundation of a successful virtual event is content. If you have the right content, people will attend an event and they will network. What impresses me most about the virtual events we host is the engagement by attendees. If you have the right content this happens naturally. Event organizers can see through reporting what is trending, the content that resonates and use that content to extend the event’s reach beyond the “show.” 67.7% of respondents say audience engagement is the largest challenge when it comes to virtual events. The next biggest challenge is interaction. (Markletic, 2020)

What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event?

The most common mistakes we see are not being clear about goals. Is it learning, buying or engaging? How is your audience going to engage? Where are attendees coming from — mobile or computers? What is the right tool to use? With regard to planning — how and where is your audience going to engage? How do you define success? How are you going to reach your audience?

What can be done to avoid those errors?

Be prepared, work around your audience as far as timing and length, schedule a run of show, prepare your speakers and your sponsors, understand the platform you are going to use and be very clear on who is doing what. Make sure you have the right skill sets from event performance, marketing through to web-engineering. All of these steps are important for a successful event.

Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?

Today, at Questex we are using the Intrado platform for large events and Zoom for small conferences. I began using the Intrado platform when I was leading the UBM Studios business. In terms of preferred platforms to run virtual events on, industry research shows 41% of event organizers use Zoom for their small virtual events, followed by Microsoft Teams, which is used by 29% of organizers. 31.6% of event organizers use Intrado as the virtual platform for hosting large conferences while 20.1% use ON24 as their preferred virtual conference platform. (Markletic, 2020)

Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?

Yes! We have produced several of our events in sound studios with studio-quality production, complete with artistic video transitions and live music that offers a high-quality visual and audio experience.

We use a Marketing Automation tool as well as a Content Delivery Platform (CDP) to target, segment and campaign to our audience. Intrado has built-in notifications which can be automated into your system for deep reporting. Additionally, we use Audience Extension and a social media plug in to amplify our messages.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes?

What are the “ Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Marketplace Need. When the pandemic began, we saw that all of the industries we serve were facing unique challenges with regard to continuity. For example, the Pharmaceutical, Education, Healthcare and Telecommunications markets pivoted to solve immediate new problems, while the Hospitality, Bar + Restaurant and Beauty industries were looking for advice and creative ways to keep their business viable. Our Technology, Media, and Telecom group launched the 5G BLITZ Week for the FierceWireless audience in just weeks following the cancellation of Mobile World Congress to bring this audience together virtually to get business done. Additionally, our Bar & Restaurant group launched Evolve, a hybrid event series that offers six-months of sales, education and networking. We recognize that the pandemic has had a devastating effect on bars and restaurants. Evolve is meant to bring real solutions through real conversations to the very real plight facing owners and operators today. We are taking this event on the road to visit key locations throughout the country and we’ve gathered leading voices in the industry to hear how they are managing the circumstances around the pandemic.
  2. Audience. Questex reaches seven million business decision makers in the following vertical markets: Life Sciences, Education, Healthcare, Wellness, Hospitality, Travel and Technology. We know where, when and how to reach an audience. We also know which device our audience uses in order to reach them. For example, many virtual events today are being pre-recorded to reduce the potential for technical difficulties — speakers dropping or even worse, losing the live stream. Our team knew from past events that The StreamTV Show audience is a talkative group. So, we took the risk and streamed every session live. The chat stream was interactive with audience members engaging with each other and speakers picking up on side conversations and folding them into the discussions. It was truly an interactive event, which kept our engagement numbers very high and produced incredible feedback as the audience felt connected in a way they were missing due to the pandemic.
  3. Content is King. Content is the foundation of a successful virtual event. If you have the right content, attendees will join the event. At Questex we monitor where audiences engage in and off our website in order to follow topics of interest. For example, we launched an Artificial Intelligence virtual event for the electronics, telecom, pharma marketing and healthcare markets because it was of high and timely interest.
  4. Data. The data you are able to mine from event attendees helps you gain insights into customer behavior and also allows for the delivery of personalized content. Through our CDP we know what topics individuals are interested in and we can target by topic. For example, for Hospitality Insights we were able to target the investment industry for issues specific to hotel purchasing.
  5. Collaboration. Questex’s Centers of Excellence, which scales across the company is focused on Performance Marketing, Content Innovation, Product & Technology, Customer Experience and Event Performance, and is key to Questex’s success. For example, when the pandemic began and we realized we needed to evolve all of our live events to virtual events, the Centers of Excellence team pivoted quickly to move forward in an integrated fashion to standardize their practices so that they could assist all of Questex’s core markets deliver virtual events. The team emphasized sharing information, continued improvement of the user experience and always keeps an eye on what can be scaled across the company.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

The idea is the most important part! Once a topic has been identified make sure there is a real need and gap for this in the market — Who is your audience? What are your goals? Is there really a need? I would recommend looking for an information services partner that has a robust interactive platform, an audience to attend the event as well as content (this is critical) that will draw the audience to the virtual event. The information services partner will collaborate with you throughout the entire process to ensure that the event is successful. And following the event, the information services partner will provide you with detailed reporting to determine the events return on investment.

Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Community. I think people are becoming increasingly isolated, belonging to a community is important not only for balance but for mental health. Outreach to our neighbors, the elderly and younger people who are currently forced to learn and work from home is a real issue that we need to embrace. Interestingly, England has appointed a Minister for Loneliness. This is an issue that is becoming more serious during the pandemic and affects people of all ages and backgrounds bringing together health, business and community.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

A visit to Davos is on my bucket list with the goal of not meeting one person, but to hear the thoughts and insights from the top influencers of the world.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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