In May, I had a terrific conversation with Mark Bruno that turned into an article called, “Are Events Really Worth It?” My goal was to help wealth and advisor-related businesses make better decisions coming into the heavy second- and third-quarter event and conference season. The high level of engagement validated that industry events are top of mind for many, and we received a lot of very smart follow-up questions. Mark and I met up again to answer a few of them. Here’s Part 2 of “Are Events Worth It?”—just in time for your end-of-year and FY 2024 planning.

What’s the deal with all these weekend financial industry events?

When an event opens on a Sunday, salespeople and some speakers need to arrive on Saturday. As an employer, it weighs heavy on my heart every time I ask a parent to travel on a weekend.  I’m a parent myself, and I remember taking a red-eye into the Wealth Management EDGE conference thinking, “I’m getting too old for this.” But I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my weekend at home, so the overnight flight had my name on it.

So why are weekend events getting more popular?

If you notice, weekend events typically take place at destination locations. Mark and the team at WealthManagement.com are seeing people make a family holiday out of the event, arriving a few days early or staying afterward. Mark himself brought his wife and twin girls to Disney World right before an event in Orlando. In general, he feels people aren’t looking for work/life balance post-COVID-19 as much as they’re looking for work/life integration.

For me, the thought of traveling to a work event with my three young children sounds way too stressful. I want to be present when I am at work and present when I am at home, and combining the two feels like I won’t be present at either. Perhaps work travel with kids is in my future, but for now, weekend start dates will still weigh heavy on my heart. On a practical note, calendar pressures can also require starting conferences over a weekend. We’re still dealing with a scheduling hangover from COVID-19 that disrupts venue availability. Event planners must live with certain dates if they want specific locations, sponsors and speakers.

Will the crazy pace of events continue?

In Part I, Mark and I called out the ridiculous number of events on the calendar.  During COVID-19, people were starving for face-to-face interaction, so there was a lot of pent-up demand in 2022. Live events came roaring back with more sponsors and attendees than ever before. User conferences evolved into industry conferences. It’s all become too much.

The end of this year looks busy, but we’ll see how 2024 plays out. Pent-up demand is dying down. People are starting to realize they don’t need to attend every conference, especially when so many large events look and sound the same.

There’s some good news for large event organizers, though: big events are the new offsites! A lot of RIA and wealth management firms are hungry to bring teams together and build cohesion. Maybe their staff still works from home three days a week. Or they’ve hired people across the country who’ve never met each other in person. An industry event is a perfect opportunity to bring everyone together in one place without the effort of organizing an offsite. If you’re a vendor or sponsor, these mini-offsites are fantastic opportunities to bring entire teams. RIA Edge West was created specifically as an opportunity for firms to gather c-suite teams together.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, niche events are also wonderful and rising in popularity. Small and under the radar, they don’t have to compete for the same speakers and advisors. For example, SHIFT is hyper-focused on behavioral finance. ECHELON Partners’ Deals & Dealmaker’s Summit targets mergers and acquisitions activity. Many small custodial conferences bring together subsets of clients over very granular topics. These events are niche in size and scope—but big in terms of influence. Attendees often come from very large firms with substantial assets. They represent premium communities—the best of the best who help, share and learn from each other.  From the viewpoint of a speaker, sponsor or vendor, niche events can be incredibly powerful growth tools.

Last time, Mark shared some powerful tools for getting the most ROI out of an event. How did those ideas play out at EDGE this year?

In Part 1, we discussed how to show up at an event depending on where you are in the funnel. Are you at the top, looking for awareness? Get a speaking spot. In the middle? Do demos. At the bottom? Set up one-on-one meetings and sign deals. We also talked about creating content at events to leverage long after it ends.

You all seemed to love these ideas. People wanted me to follow up and find out what Mark thinks now after observing them in action at EDGE last May.

Here’s one tidbit he shared. The Wealth Management team runs a podcast booth at EDGE. This year, they added an interesting twist: A dry-erase whiteboard offering open signups to take part. Every spot was taken within an hour. Attendees got opportunity to get together with podcasters and influencers (people they’d never met but long admired), turn social media into real life and then create content out of it. The lesson? You don’t need to be onstage, or even have a booth, to capitalize on an event. The smartest people at EDGE used their time independently, bringing their own cameras or iPhones to share their experiences. It’s incredibly easy to attend a presentation and shoot a reaction video, saying you love what you’re hearing or offering a counter opinion. The videos don’t even need to be highly produced. (Of course, don’t just show up at random sessions to shoot video. Find sessions that align with your strategy first.)

As Mark says, it’s not the people who spent hours onstage who got the best ROI from attending. It was the content creators who got hundreds and thousands of clicks on social media and their own websites. And those videos continue to trickle out months later. At FiComm, we’re still releasing EDGE videos from 2022 when we were onstage with Michael Kitces, and are just now editing 2023 EDGE content with Angie Herbers. Those videos and repurposed content and will live on for years.

Mark tells everyone, when you’re planning for an event, start by asking: What can I do with this experience before, during and afterward the event? Sponsors spend 90% of their prep time on booth setup and speaking spots—writing presentations, having meetings, doing calls. But that’s just one piece. Good conferences are amplification platforms, offering so many ways to make yourself heard.

I’ve got an indispensable speaker. Now how do I get in front of conference organizers?

As I said in a previous post, the best way to score speaking opportunities is to become an “indispensable speaker”—someone every event organizer wants on stage. What if you already have that person? How do you get in front of organizers like Mark?

Mark is always searching for new voices, scouring everything from articles to podcast metrics across the whole WealthManagement.com business. You can pitch organizers like him directly, even if you’re not famous yet. What matters isn’t who you are, but how clear and compelling a pitch you can make.

Compelling means targeted. Mark says he can tell right away if you’re blasting the same pitch indiscriminately to 15 different organizers. You’ll get nowhere fast that way. Instead, find your ideal gig, know your audience and craft a very tailored pitch. Show how you’ll fill in gaps on the agenda and deliver content that’s relevant to attendees.

To that point, I’ll add: be sure your public profile backs up your pitch. You need to demonstrate your authority and authenticity through your social media profile, your previous publications, and the “About Us” page on your website. If you’re just starting out, you have to build up your platform. Years ago, I flew everywhere I was invited, spoke to everyone, met new people, and got them to present me to other people. If you put in the work, you’ll get where you want to go.

(By the way, here’s a provocative question: Isn’t it a privilege to stand on stage in front of thousands of advisors? If so, why does every speaker deserve to be paid? Maybe Mark and I will go for a Part 3 to tackle that question.)

Are people cutting back on their events budget for next year?

Finally, the money question. Businesses are deep into 2024 events planning. Are they pulling back or reallocating their event budgets?

Mark hasn’t seen any major changes in total dollar expenditure. But he did offer a better, more strategic way to look at event spending.

To Mark, WealthManagement.com isn’t an events or even a media company. It’s an audience and a content business. The value of any event comes not only from being on stage, but from engaging with your target across many kinds of content and channels. Some top asset managers seem to understand this. They don’t just look at event budgets. They integrate all their marketing budgets—content, social media, digital advertising, PR—into one holistic campaign to promote their brand. If you think that way, you can come out of events with a much better ROI.

If you need help figuring out how to make events pay off for you in 2024, click here to schedule an executive consultation with me. I’m happy to help you align events with your strategy more closely, and brainstorm new ways to get better value out of them.

Editor’s Note: Mark Bruno recently left WealthManagement.com to join Emigrant Partners 

Megan Carpenter is the founder and CEO of FiComm Partners


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