Engage early to drive traffic. Send notices out early with call-to-actions that can help determine how to tailor the site to engage that attendee. Anyone looking to be successful at a virtual event should start with the objective to talk to customers and prospects first to understand what drivers would resonate with them. Then, begin the platform build at the same time as the outreach to potential attendees.
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 Brad Falberg.
Brad Falberg is the President and Founder of Exhibitus, an award-winning, full-service experiential agency that offers custom and rental exhibits, virtual and hybrid activations, innovative engagements, branded interiors and event measurement programs — all designed so global customers can inspire audiences and deliver measurable results.
Since 1994, Brad has managed Exhibitus’ success by investing in state-of the-art facilities, client-focused technology and the best people in the business. His expertise in consulting with clients and working with design teams from a clean sheet of paper to a final design has delivered beautiful, unique and relevant environments that engage audiences and gain brand awareness.
Brad is the driving force behind Exhibitus’ corporate vision, which began with his philosophy that “Design Matters.” His company mantra has developed into a process that measures the link between design and event success.
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”?
Due to my Father being transferred with his job, I lived in a number of locations in the US. Born in WI, we moved to Chicago, and then to the SE when I was in elementary school; so, I consider myself a southerner.
My Dad was a sales engineer and manager, my Mom an educator. I ended up going to college to study engineering like my Dad, but fate had a different idea for me. First, I thought I wanted to be a pilot, so I joined the Navy. Unfortunately, I missed one letter on the eye chart and was released. I then thought I’d go the civilian route by becoming a flight instructor as a way to work my way into the airlines.
I was heading down that path. It was then that serendipity knocked.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I was looking for a job post college when an older brother of a good high school friend suggested I try selling in the trade show and convention industry. I thought why not. To my surprise I found that I really enjoyed working on designs and had a knack for consulting with clients and designers alike. I found that I love beautiful design. Who’d have thought? Creativity was the last thing cultivated in my family.
At one of our industry’s conferences, I met a couple of people who had started their own companies as a distributor for a national manufacturer of trade show displays, and the idea was born to start my own company.
I remember lying in bed at night not able to sleep thinking about the prospect of starting my own company, sometimes excited, most of the time anxious.
I thought of something my Dad told me a long time before — If you want to be something in life sometimes you just have to jump and grasp for the brass ring. I took that to heart every time I felt afraid. He was so right, if you try and fail, at least you tried. If you never try, you’ll never know what could have been.
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 excited when we landed the UPS account at my company. UPS went to hundreds of shows a year, and this was a big feather in our cap.
On one of the early shows, I personally traveled with the client. At the end of the last day of the show, they decided to ship the exhibit to a different location than originally planned. I was in a rush to get going to make my flight when I said, “No problem. I’ll have my account manager FedEx you the new labels tonight!”
My UPS clients looked at me and said, “What did you just say?” Realizing my mistake, the blood ran out of my face. All I could say was, “Sorry, it’s just a habit like saying give me a Kleenex.” “Well, break it,” they said!
For those that know me, it wasn’t the first time I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
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?
With regard to impacting my business life, I’d say there are two. First, are the Dale Carnegie books you get in his training course. I always remember the admonition, “To win friends and to influence people, take a genuine interest in them.” Genuinely caring for my employees, customers, and suppliers, especially during this pandemic has been a hallmark of how I have lived my business life, and I believe it is a big part of why we have been so successful.
Perhaps it is a cliché or simply too big, but the Bible is the second. Related to the idea above, I have always conducted myself ethically in business and in my business relationships. Again, I think that when you are honest, transparent, and ethical, people notice, and it engenders loyalty and deeper relationships.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two I like. First is, “Go big, or go home.” Those companies that succeed better than most do not rest on their laurels once they gain some success. They figure out how to leverage their initial success and to turn it into additional growth and success.
The second is, “Give me the strength to change the things I can, the peace to accept the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Anyone can find much peace if they practice this idea.
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?
As an experiential agency for over two decades, our core business is to create event environments that attract, engage and convert. Not only do we design through collaboration with target audiences in mind, we also maintain in-house production facilities where our creative team, along with the logistics and marketing/results division, balance all the elements for a bespoke event for marketing professionals. We work in unison with customers to gain the insight needed to develop innovations and memorable experiences that help position them at the top to ensure the brand receives the exposure it needs.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
The pandemic accelerated our process and offerings in virtual events, and it is still evolving as the medium evolves. Moving from live to virtual, the fundamental tenets of event marketing remain the same: staying connected to customers and engaging with the right prospects increases brand awareness, lead generation and revenue for organizations.
We continue to expand offerings to leverage the power of face-to-face interactions in the virtual world, which has the added benefit of extending reach well beyond that of live events. Exhibitus has in-house experts in the disciplines needed to help organizations create a collective “WOW” in the virtual environment. Using behaviors of target buyer personas, we design user experiences that connect audiences with a brand through storytelling, hierarchy of messaging and intuitive design.
Our virtual experience portfolio spans a wide range of industries, from medical to defense to manufacturing. A virtual experience offers the unique ability to extend marketing reach to audiences beyond the event so relationships continue in unique spaces that showcase a brand.
The benefit? Target attendees can relive their experience with a brand to move further down the marketing funnel, or share with those who couldn’t attend increasing lead generation opportunities.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
We have two great examples that come to mind. One company provides products for wound care and the other develops diagnostic tests for a variety of clinical areas, both of which have created compelling virtual events during the pandemic.
The wound care company has been a virtual pioneer from the beginning of the pandemic shutdown. As soon as show organizers began considering virtual events, this client went into action, inviting Exhibitus to work with them to understand options that could help replace at least some of the leads and revenue received from live events. As a long-time client, we understand their brand and have been able to add our creative expertise to the collaborative process and play a role in developing a strategic approach.
As the company began to see value in reaching a target audience virtually, they continued to evolve the program based on proven marketing strategies coupled with fresh activations for each iteration. They have gone from a traditional trade show booth look-and-feel to a more realistic lab environment that offers engagement with products. The attention and positive reactions they garnish lead to meaning conversations with customers and prospects.
The diagnostic company’s target audience has always been very hands-on — they want to touch-and-feel products and interact one-on-one with company representatives. The transition was not easy, but they were able to leverage a great deal of creative work that had been completed right before the shutdown, providing a new look and new activations with information to draw attendee’s attention and encourage connection using social media. The activations also were designed as tools to be used in other capacities beyond the event space.
Through step-by-step collaboration with clients like these, Exhibitus has formed a foundation of knowledge that now can be used to meet the challenges associated with creating virtual experiences, and we continue to learn as the digital experiences become more sophisticated and accepted as a marketing channel.
As in a live trade show program, the goals and messages need to be clearly defined before a virtual experience is created. Although these opportunities do not replace completely the need for face-to-face marketing on a trade show floor, there are advantages to consider, all beginning with an understanding of what needs to be accomplished.
What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?
One of the most common mistakes is not having a strategy for driving traffic to the site, or if you do have plans for outreach, starting those plans too late. Traditional marketing strategies can be used in the digital world to gain attention if there is adequate time.
The second common mistake is not allowing time for testing. One cannot just build a virtual event experience and then turn it on. When complex technologies are being integrated into a single user experience, quality control of the platform is necessary.
Also, it is important that you are comfortable with the selected platform and understand the “bells & whistles” available. It is critical that training be incorporated into the overall timeline, and that everyone involved has practiced and perfected their role in the live process.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
It comes down to the comfort of the individual(s) tasked with the event logistics, as well as the stakeholders. There are many big players working on the performance of systems that allow interaction — Zoom, MSFT Teams, Go to Meeting, for example. Again, the objectives to be achieved and the strategy for achieving these goals should be the starting point for considering the type of technology facilitating the event.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
It depends on whether you are talking about hosting an event or looking to develop assets to participate in an event.
Marketing outreach is best facilitated by a CRM system. The best case would be if the organizer’s platform easily integrates with a participant’s CRM.
Today’s platforms offer many features that should be explored. Good chat features, polling options, networking break-out session and simulcasting functionality are examples of tools to be considered.
Measurement tools such as Google Analytics can be used once you have defined what you want to measure. Don’t forget to have a debrief that reviews the numbers and decide how to use these metrics to continue to improve.
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.) LINK TO VIDEO: https://vimeo.com/511295311
- Engage early to drive traffic. Send notices out early with call-to-actions that can help determine how to tailor the site to engage that attendee. Anyone looking to be successful at a virtual event should start with the objective to talk to customers and prospects first to understand what drivers would resonate with them. Then, begin the platform build at the same time as the outreach to potential attendees.
- Develop the story before structure. Know what you want to tell and then use that to drive the decisions around what you want to do and how success will be measured. Then, platforms and media will follow based on the story. A marketing professional should develop messages around their products well before they finalize the technology profile of their virtual event.
- Start early to ensure a smooth performance. The technology and the approach for these events are evolving. Allow time for exploration so that you are not stuck with the same generic approach and quality control after the story is confirmed. We suggest a minimum of eight weeks, with 12 weeks being preferred. This allows time for the marketing efforts to reflect what is happening on the creative side.
- Know the numbers. Understand your reach and the size and profile of the audience that is expected to attend. A well-known pharmaceutical company uses metrics to drive its live trade show program. When the shift to virtual happened, they established baselines for success and have continued to evolve their program based on the numbers.
- Look to increase value of the investment. A manufacturer of medical products produced a virtual site for one event. It was so well received that it was translated into several other languages and used for target audiences in other parts of the world. This recycle improved the return on the value of the original investment. Also, these “properties and engagements” might be used to host a company’s own event for a defined target market in between major virtual and hybrid shows.
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?
- Get your story straight by identifying the messages you want to take to the market.
- Talk to the creative teams — both internal and external.
- Engage with development/technology teams to make sure the desired platform is the best approach and you know any limitations before creative content is developed.
- Set your ultimate goals and know how you will gather numbers to measure success.
- Understand the resources available for the project, both dollars and personnel needed.
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.
One of the things I’ve learned in the pandemic is that advocacy is important. I have volunteered for the Experiential Designers and Producers Association’s (EDPA) national board, and specifically on their Advocacy Committee.
We have two goals. The first is for our own industry by engaging with our local, state, and national officials to make sure they are aware of the convention and trade show business and the 100B dollars in economic activity we generate directly.
The second is to advocate for our clients, the trade show exhibitor. Their experience in going to shows has not been very good for a long time now. For the security, growth, and good of the entire industry, we need to meet this challenge head-on.
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.
This one is simple — Tony Robbins. The reality is that the main thing that stands in just about everyone’s way of achieving some kind of self-desired success is actually themselves! In spite of my own success, I could do and be so much more, yet I stand in my own way sometimes. Tony has spent his life getting to the bottom of this conundrum, and helping people overcome their own self-inflicted obstacles.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.