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Mark O’Toole of Mower: “Looks matter”

Looks matter. Getting and keeping attention online requires a bit of design wizardry. Stand out from the crowd. If you are a healthcare technology company, stop using images of doctors doing exams and use animal imagery to shake things up. This type of visual stimulation engages your audience and might fire up your planning team too. […]

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Looks matter. Getting and keeping attention online requires a bit of design wizardry. Stand out from the crowd. If you are a healthcare technology company, stop using images of doctors doing exams and use animal imagery to shake things up. This type of visual stimulation engages your audience and might fire up your planning team too.


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 Mark O’Toole.

Mark’s goal is to keep Mower and its clients ahead of trends, and to set a few trends of its own, using all the tools available to today’s traditional and digital marketer. In fact, we’re all communicators, according to Mark. And, despite all the industry change and disruption, the best marketing is about helping clients meet business goals, strategic thinking expressed through great results, finding the story, and long-lasting relationships and the trust that comes with them. A lifelong Massachusetts native, Mark has experience across PR and marketing disciplines, spanning startups and global businesses alike. When he’s not penning a turn of phrase or a SlideShare with millions of views, he chairs the board of the iconic Freedom Trail.


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 suppose I’m here despite my childhood! I had an older cousin who was a “journalist” (he was a stringer for a community newspaper) and he made no money. My family knew I liked the news, so they spent most of their time dissuading me from a career in journalism. In college, I was an intern for Boston National Historic Park (home of the USS Constitution) and that got me focused on marketing and PR. So, here I am family!

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

I spent 10 years in various roles in television, including traffic and sales. I enjoyed seeing how the news was made but didn’t particularly feel that I had a long TV career ahead of me. I had two career tracks ahead of me, national network television or anything else. I chose anything else and applied to just about every PR and marketing job in the Boston area that I could find. I landed a job at a small PR firm and in a few weeks, I knew I was in the career I was meant to be in.

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?

My first couple of months in PR (the 90s so no internet!) I kept a running, written list of reporters and editors with phone numbers and email addresses so I could contact them when pitching. Finally, a young, newly hired team member asked why I didn’t use the reporter database to find media contact information. I had no idea such a thing existed. Lesson learned? Ask a lot of questions, especially when starting a job.

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?

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

I often steal from League of Their Own, and tell my teams there is no crying in PR. I don’t say this to diminish anyone’s emotions but just to remind my teams that we have a job to do, sometimes it can be challenging, but in the end we have a responsibility to deliver what our clients need.

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’m not much of an event organizer. I attend a lot of events and help clients plan strategy for their hosted events or those they attend. I feel my job is to help my clients get the most of every event that they are part of, and to create content that extends the event experience for their own clients and prospects.

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

Guidance for clients and virtual events this year has focused around four areas: content creation, design, measurement and amplification.

Content creation: Developing content that has utility during a virtual event and beyond it is key today. Content should not exist for just one purpose and then be discarded.

Design: To stand out and attract an audience in a virtual event world requires a dynamic visual presence. Powerful imagery, captivating video and animation, meaningful taglines and calls to action — getting these elements and more to work together to surround prospects is critical to success when a business is confined to a digital presence.

Measurement: When lead generation matters, establishing what measurement looks like is critical. As with any marketing communications plan, businesses must establish what they need to measure — and what a good result will look like — ahead of a virtual event.

Amplification: It may take a quantity of channels to replicate the exposure of a physical show. Including email marketing, content-generation from virtual event presentations, paid and organic social media posts, press releases and blogs posts, and even direct mail can be effective.

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?

As this year unfolded, businesses likely spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to watch, copy or replicate elements from other events. What we saw was that companies found their own lane as time went by, learning what format worked for them and their audiences. I liked seeing events that maximized the capabilities of online event platforms, events that explored newer channels like LinkedIn Live, and events that felt personalized to the attendee.

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?

The biggest mistake virtual events make is believing they can replicate their former physical event. It’s just not possible in a virtual world. More importantly, it’s not necessary. Audiences have different expectations, and needs, when it comes to virtual events. To move past that, listen to your audience and learn what information they want and need from you and how they prefer to experience it.

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

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

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.)

Three Virtual Event Activities We Forget

  1. Looks matter. Getting and keeping attention online requires a bit of design wizardry. Stand out from the crowd. If you are a healthcare technology company, stop using images of doctors doing exams and use animal imagery to shake things up. This type of visual stimulation engages your audience and might fire up your planning team too.
  2. Recorded content can work, or not. In an effort to create the perfectly timed, error-free virtual event, it’s easy to fall into a trap of over-scripting your recorded content. Remember, successful events are based on human-to-human contact so less polish around your presenters and their content may feel more accessible to your audience.
  3. What happens after? Like a live event, where vendors scan our badges or business cards, follow up matters in virtual events. Make a plan to distribute your content to attendees, get feedback, promote the next thing.

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?

Welcome to your virtual event brainstorm! What are you trying to achieve? What do you need to communicate? Who do you need to reach? Where are they? What are you measuring? Answer those questions before you ever get into the nuts and bolts of building your virtual event.

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.

Can we ask people to slow down? Slow down in how they approach their work. Slow down in their relationships, professional and personal. Slow down a desire to get to the next thing. Slow down wishing your kids would grow up faster. Slow doesn’t mean a lack of interest or desire or caring or love. I think it means the opposite of all that. Taking time to get things right sometimes feels like a lost art.

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.

I’m a big fan of Michael Franti. He’s clearly invested in and loves his family deeply, and that comes out in the positivity of his lyrics and music. In a tough year, he’s worked hard to spread hope and optimism.

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

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