Episode 238

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When you realize that this episode is about holding a virtual event, you might jump to the conclusion that this is a C19 focused episode. Nothing could be further from the truth. Virtual events have been successful for years and are always worth considering, pandemic or not!

Agency owner Nicole Mahoney has always been an innovative marketer on behalf of her agency. Her podcast and other industry specific content has positioned her agency as one of the country’s authorities on destination marketing.

In the fall of 2019, she knew it was time for them to host a broader event to connect with even more industry leaders and prospects. She briefly considering hosting a live conference but the costs were just prohibitive. That’s when she decided to explore hosting a virtual summit. In November, that’s just what her agency did and the results were impressive.

With the right structure, the right tech stack, the right speakers, and the right audience, virtual summits are an opportunity for agency owners to establish themselves as the experts in their respective industries. Learn how Nicole used this channel to build her audience and lay the framework for significant growth.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

 

Agency Owners | Connect with agency prospects using virtual events with Nicole Mahoney

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Why Nicole decided to organize a virtual summit
  • The benefits and drawbacks of virtual vs. live events
  • How Nicole structured her virtual summit and who she invited to participate
  • The technical and production side of Nicole’s virtual summit
  • How Nicole’s team tracked engagement for their virtual presentations
  • Where Nicole plans to take her virtual summits in the future
  • How Nicole is collaborating with other marketers in the travel and tourism industry
  • The results of Nicole’s summit and what’s in store for the next one

The Golden Nuggets:

“Virtual summits are a great way for agency owners to expand on the content development they are already doing.” @Break_TheIce Click To Tweet “We currently use virtual summits for audience building, but they are capable of doing so much more than lead gen alone.” @Break_TheIce Click To Tweet “So many people are looking to online resources for doing business during the pandemic. There is a lot of opportunity to monetize your content.” @Break_TheIce Click To Tweet “Ask yourself, what are the biggest questions your audience has going into the new year? If you plan on hosting a virtual event, pick a theme and structure that will answer those questions.” @Break_TheIce Click To Tweet “The bigger your audience gets, the more ways you can deliver content under your brand.” @Break_TheIce Click To Tweet

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Ways to Contact Nicole Mahoney

Tools & Resources:

Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road sellable. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency, want you to know that I am thinking about you 24/7. I know that no matter where in the world you are, we are in an unprecedented time, such a weird, bizarre be rated Sci-Fi movie kind of time. And I know that many of you are struggling with this sort of temporary new normal, and we are here to try and help you manage it. Your job is to get through this and to get through it as whole as you can, as strong as you can so that when we get through this outbreak stage and we get into a stage where we have the disease in containment, and we are back into a recovery mode, that you’re ready to come out of the gate and you’re ready to come out of the gate, strong, your clients are going to be anxious to make up the revenue that they have missed out on making when we’ve been sort of in crisis mode.

And they’re going to be turning to you for help with that. So I want you to be ready to do that, and we want to help you. So we’ve put together resources as I’ve already told you, but I want to keep telling you, if you head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com/COVID, you’re going to find all kinds of things that we’ve put together for you. We’ve organized it by week so that you can see the most recent materials first. And again, there’s no firewall, there’s no email asked for, we’re not going to try and sell you anything. It’s just our way of trying to support you through this because you have a business to sustain and maintain, and you have a team to keep busy and you have clients still to serve. And even the clients that have hit the pause button right now, many, if not most, hopefully all of them will be coming back to you shortly to say, you know what, we’re ready to go again.

And I want you in a position to be able to serve them. And so anything we can do to be helpful, please do not hesitate to reach out. One of the truths is for all of us that we’re trying to figure out how to do business in this new way. And right now with everybody being homebound through much of the world and people not really thinking so much about wanting to buy new services, although I will tell you I am seeing agencies still land new clients. In some cases, these were seeds they planted a year or more ago and they’re bearing fruit. And in other cases they’re getting phone calls or people are finding them on the web. And so just because some clients and some industries have shut down, it doesn’t mean that everybody has. And so A, keep prospecting, but B, we have to be thinking about how do we get out there in a different way?

How do we help right now, which will lead to selling down the road. And as you know, if you’ve listened to the podcast for more than a few episodes, I am a huge proponent of shifting our model of selling to a model of helping and educating, was the whole topic of the book that Stephen Westner and I wrote, Sell With Authority, that came out earlier this year. But certainly in this time hardcore selling is just inappropriate and it’s not going to get us anything, but the stain from a prospect, but we can be out there and we can be helping, we can be planting seeds. And so that’s why I wanted to have today’s guest on the show is because before COVID-19, she had already, and this is not a new idea per se, but I think it’s a new idea the way she did it.

She had come up with an idea for how to market her agency and their expertise in a really unique way through a virtual summit. And so I wanted her to come on the show and tell you how she did it. It’s even more sort of spot on today as we sit in the middle of this crisis. But honestly she would have been a great guest, and it’s a really great idea, even if we weren’t in this crisis. So let me tell you a little bit about our guest, so Nicole Mahoney owns an agency called Break The Ice Media out of New York. And they are experts in the travel and tourism industry.

And so as you can imagine, their business has changed a little bit since COVID-19 but the event that she’s going to talk to you about was actually an event that they conceived and executed late in 2019 as a way of introducing their agency to a large audience of prospects who would be in the market for their services. So I’m going to let Nicole tell us more about it. She’s been an AMI member for a super long time and is very generous with sharing her expertise. So I know this is going to be a great conversation and you’re going to get a ton of takeaways from Nicole. So let’s get to it. Nicole, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Nicole Drew:

Thanks so much for having me Drew, I’m excited to be here.

Drew McLellan:

So we’re recording this now because we are in the midst, depending on what someone is listening to this, we’re in the midst of that COVID-19 work from home sort of situation. And so for many agencies, the way we have serviced clients, the way we sell to clients and prospects, all of that has taken sort of a very quick detour to the left. And so I already had known that you had done a virtual event which you had done before the COVID thing. You had done a big, just because it was a good business idea, but in particular I think the topic is timely because I think it’s something agencies can be considering doing or thinking about doing or offering to do for their clients as we’re scrambling to find ways to be valuable. But let’s go back to the beginning of why you actually decided to hold this virtual event. What was the thought behind it? Because it really had nothing to do with the situation we’re in now.

Nicole Drew:

That’s very true. It actually had to do with me trying to come up with another way to deliver valuable content to our audience. So our agency is focused on the travel and tourism industry and roughly three years ago I started a podcast and we’ve been putting out podcast episodes every week similar to what you do Drew, but for the travel and tourism industry, interviewing folks from that industry. And I was really looking for a way to kind of build on that. And I was thinking about live events, frankly, that it started with, I was thinking about live events. And then as I started to think about it and I know you with the Build a Better Agency summit, it’s a big leap to take.

Drew McLellan:

Yes, it is.

Nicole Drew:

And then all of a sudden you’re in the middle of a pandemic and-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, that was not in my… When I did the pro and con list and the risk list pandemic was not on that sheet of paper at all, foolishly enough for me. But that’s right, we figured it out. We’re just going to do it later in the year. But you’re right, a live event is a huge risk and I can see why, and you have a small staff so not only is it a huge risk, but it’s a huge resource suck.

Nicole Drew:

Exactly. And we’ve done event planning for clients. And so we know how much goes into it and how much that takes. And so I was really starting to think, well, maybe we should do something online. And I started down a path of maybe we’ll develop some online courses. And as I was doing my research for that, I’m a total podcast addict, so I look for every podcast out there on online courses. And I stumbled upon one that was talking about virtual summits and it was last fall, last September. And I thought, this is what I need to do because a virtual summit, actually the light bulb went off, I can bring in my guests who I’ve been interviewing on my podcast and I can ask them to be presenters and still have them involved and still have access to their audiences along with our audience. And I thought it would be a really great way to extend what I’m already doing with content development.

Drew McLellan:

And just to be clear, the content you’re developing and the podcast and all the other things for you this is very much you are selling by positioning yourself as a subject matter expert in the travel and tourism industry. And you’re using your podcast to interview both clients and prospects and create relationships with them. So for you, the virtual summit was a way for you to deepen those relationships, but also wisely to be able to say, okay, well, they are a presenter just like they would be at a conference, they’re going to talk about it. So now I have access to their audience as well to attend this, but also to learn more about my agency, right?

Nicole Drew:

Exactly. Yeah. And that’s exactly what it did. And I’ll tell you, I didn’t have the foresight that we’d be in a pandemic at this time either, but I had a lot of folks who participated in my virtual summit that I held last year reach out and say, “Wow, you’re a visionary, how smart are you?” And it’s kind of yeah, it’s sort of worked out that way, but it really wasn’t about that. It was more about delivering the content and building our audience and being a resource to the audience. So that’s been great. And I’m in the middle of our second virtual summit, which we launched middle of February kind of pre-pandemic and launched registration, I should say. And the actual summit is happening April 1st to the third. So in the middle of all of this, I have had some presenters, only two, but a couple of presenters backed out because they just can’t get their mind wrapped around doing a presentation, but the rest of them are thankful for the opportunity to still be able to share and teach and reach an audience as we’re all homebound.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. The fact that it fell into this moment in time is a lucky strike extra for you. And while I certainly want the listeners to be thinking about it in this season, I want them also to step back and say, okay, this is a really smart tactic, regardless of what’s happening in the outside world, regardless of if we’re all back to work. So I want to drill down a little bit into sort of the nuts and bolts of what you did and how you did it. So the summit was how long, and did it go all day for a couple of days? Walk us through sort of, if I signed up for the summit, A, did I pay for it, and B, what was my experience like as a participant?

Nicole Drew:

Sure. So the way we chose to do it is we chose to make it free because for us, we wanted it to be an audience builder. But there is a paid piece to it on the end, which I’ll explain in a minute. So the way that we set it up is it was over three days. We wanted to, I’m on the East coast, but we wanted it to be accessible for East, West coast as much as possible. So we decided to time it that we would start it at lunchtime on the East Coast, noon, Eastern standard time, and go until five Eastern standard time. So that way folks on the West coast could still participate. But you did not have to participate live during the event. You could watch any of the presentations for 24 hours after they launched, the day that they launched.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So if I signed up, I had access to all three days-

Nicole Drew:

Correct.

Drew McLellan:

And if I wasn’t available to watch any of the presentations live, there was a place where I could access those presentations still for free for 24 hours.

Nicole Drew:

Correct, exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. And you did five hour blocks for each of the three days?

Nicole Drew:

Yes. And what we did is the presentations themselves are actually pre-recorded, but we had a live chat box. And so if you were participating live, we would ask our presenters to be available in the chat box for live Q&A. And we did see several of our event attendees or summit attendees in the chat box, but a lot of them were watchers and that participants, like in a regular conference, not many people actually raise their hand. So we had preceded questions, so every presenter at least answered two questions in the chat box. And in a handful of situations, you’d get another one or two questions asked by someone who was participating live.

Drew McLellan:

So if I’m the presenter and my pre-recorded presentation is playing and I’m in the chat box, am I stopping the presentation to answer the question or I’m just answering them on the side while my presentation is continuing to play?

Nicole Drew:

You would just answer it on the side. And the way we did it is because we had the preceded questions, we would wait… We decided to make our presentations 20 minutes long with 10 minutes for Q&A because we wanted people to be able to consume the content in chunks, and not feel like they had to sit there in front of their computer for five hours. And so what we did is we said, if the presentation started at noon, at 12:20, we would ask the first preceded question in the chat box. There’s no way for us to know really through you as our summit attendees, did you really push play at 12 on the dot, but we figure if you’re the screen, you’ll see the activity starting to happen. And we built this entire thing within our WordPress website. There are tools out there and we researched both that you can subscribe to that have all the infrastructure built into it. But we also found a lot of plugins that would work within our WordPress site and decided to build it and own the content ourselves rather than use a third-party source.

Drew McLellan:

So did that require a lot of coding knowledge and things like that, or was that pretty much a wysiwyg, what you see is what you get kind of programming?

Nicole Drew:

A lot of wysiwyg and plugins. I have someone on my team, we are not developers on my team, but we have folks on the team that know just enough to be dangerous, that’s how we describe them. And we do have a WordPress developer, another AMI agency actually that helps us, and we had to lean on them for very small pieces. Most of it, we could do ourselves, it was plugins that we found.

Drew McLellan:

And so what do you think you invested in terms of time to build out that infrastructure?

Nicole Drew:

You’re right, I know exactly what we invested because we track our time.

Drew McLellan:

I love that. You know what, I hope somebody recommended that you do that.

Nicole Drew:

Someone told us a while ago, even Nicole, you have to track your time, and I did. So roughly 300 staff hours is what we put in, I believe, but that was the whole build-out. This next one, if we were doing this after the April one, I’d love to see how much staff time because it’s not as much.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So you build the backend, you load in the presentation. So most of the presenters, are they mostly just recorded on Zoom or something like that and send you MP4 file or what?

Nicole Drew:

Yeah. So we gave them options. One option was they could record it themselves. They could use whatever tool they want, we’ve recommended Zoom most use Zoom. The other was I would schedule the Zoom with them and just sit quietly on mute and record it for them, because some of them weren’t really comfortable with the technology. And then my other option was we could do a Zoom and I could interview you and make it a conversation. And actually, our mutual friend, Susan Baier, that’s how she did it, so it’s Susan and I talking for hers. And what I liked about that is mixing up the formats, you’re not just watching slide show after slide, after slide show, it’s a mix of things. And I found that worked really well.

Drew McLellan:

Did you get feedback from the participants on which style of presentation they preferred?

Nicole Drew:

I did not actually get that specific feedback. We did get feedback that people really appreciate it, they liked the content. Certain presentations got, not that we had a rating system necessarily, but got more kudos I guess, we heard more about certain ones over others. One of the things that was interesting for us is we tracked… So this is all, we use the Vimeo, that was where we put all of the videos because you can have those gated on Vimeo, where on YouTube you get ads and things like that. So we paid for the subscription for Vimeo and we had it as gated video content. And we could see how many people were viewing, had viewed the Vimeo videos. And here’s one thing to think about, and it makes total sense, that the very first presentation, so on the very first day had the most views.

And then as a percentage, it kind of went down from there in terms of how many watched it. And then the other thing that we noted was how many went up the next day. I was kind of addicted to all the analytics watching it kind of live, look at all these people that are on our website right now is pretty exciting. And then to see the next day, Oh, look at Billy Bob’s video went up by another 50 views or whatever it is. So the fun thing about that, and actually the good thing about that is we have some measurements and things that we can watch to see how are people engaging, how many people participated.

And the other piece that I didn’t mention yet is for each presentation, there was a downloadable piece of content that the presenter provided. In some cases, the presenters created these really great worksheets that went alongside their presentation, in other cases the presenters just basically let us give out their PowerPoint deck as that. But what that did is it gave the participants something to keep, but also gave our presenters the ability to collect names and email addresses.

Drew McLellan:

For their own presentation.

Nicole Drew:

For their own presentation, correct. We would not share everyone’s, just the ones that downloaded their content.

Drew McLellan:

And so people entered the summit through your website. So Vimeo was the backend, but they weren’t logging into Vimeo to look at the videos, you were using Vimeo embedding tool or something.

Nicole Drew:

Yeah. Vimeo was embedded on the page. So each presenter had their own presenter page, and on that page was their embedded video, their downloadable piece of content and then a speaker bio and some typical things and the chat box, so you can chat. So each presentation has its own page and those pages within our website are gated and you have to be a member to log in and see them.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. And so what was your goals in terms of participation? So how many presenters did you have to get all together to fill 15 hours of content? And how many of those were your team versus other folks?

Nicole Drew:

So we had 15 presentations and two of them were Break The Ice, my agency the rest were outside. And I was really careful about that because this is not a Break The Ice Media summit. Now we could do that and that would be valuable, maybe one of our clients would want to do that or maybe someday we’ll want to have our own Break The Ice summit, but this was more about in the same vein as my podcast, which is really showing off the smarts of all the different people in the industry, but we wanted to make sure that people knew we’re some of those spark people in that industry too. So I wasn’t leaving my team out of the mix.

Drew McLellan:

Right. I would bet, and I know you’ve already got one plan for April, so it’s too late to impact that. But the next one, I bet they would be pretty excited to hear more from you and your team about and again, because you’re also using this as a prospecting tool, some of those smart ways, case studies and things that you’ve done to help clients that they could still learn from. But I think they would be hungry to hear more from your expertise too.

Nicole Drew:

Yeah. And in this next summit, two of my team members are presenting again because I’ve had a few presenters back out, I’m probably going to end up doing something. We’re doing this on the fly because of the times we’re in. So I don’t know exactly how that’s going to be positioned just yet, but the early thought is to do a presentation basically kind of the five things that you need to be thinking about as we come out of this pandemic. And just try to get people thinking forward and planning and what they should be doing marketing wise in the travel and tourism industry specifically, which has been hit really hard.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So if somebody wanted to do this, how did you go about researching the tech stack and figuring all of that out? Because that sounds painful.

Nicole Drew:

Yeah. So fortunately, like I said, I’m addicted to podcasts and through a couple of episodes that I listened to, and I don’t even remember the names of them, I learned about a website called Summit in a Box. And the woman that owns it is Canadian, and she has a WordPress business and she had done a successful WordPress summit and decided to teach other people how to do summits. So she’s actually where I learned all of the tech and there were a lot of choices. And then I had my team do the research to figure out what would work best with our WordPress site.

But I highly recommend something like that, I had to navigate through because she’s a solopreneur and she’s an online entrepreneur and those online entrepreneurs have a different approach, a different tone, different goals than what I have in terms of what they’re trying to accomplish. But there was some really good information there that really helped us kind of short circuit the whole process. It would have taken us a lot longer and it was 40 bucks a month to join her… I think she’s changed her model now, but at the time it was $40 a month to join her community and get access to all of that information. Cheap

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right. I suspect given the world today, she’s raised her prices.

Nicole Drew:

Probably. Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

So what was your goal in terms of participants?

Nicole Drew:

So my goal was actually pretty lofty. We didn’t hit my lofty goal, but we launched the virtual summit last year, right before the Thanksgiving and we hosted it right after Thanksgiving and-

Drew McLellan:

That’s quick.

Nicole Drew:

It was really quick and it was because I wanted to get it in, in 2019. And I wanted to have it early enough in December that people would pay attention. So we ended up with about 200 people.

Drew McLellan:

Still that’s great.

Nicole Drew:

I was very happy with it. I was hopeful that we would have had sort of 1000 people to be quite honest, because I thought if our presenters really pushed it out the way I had hoped they would, we would have had that many, but with all the noise around the holidays, it was hard to get them to engage, some [inaudible 00:24:59] and some didn’t. But we looked at those 200 people and roughly, I’d say 80% of them were new to us. So they didn’t even come from our list, they came from the network. And we also looked even closer and found that about 70 of those people could be potential prospects depending on, we have to vet them further, but they look like the kinds of people that we would like to work with.

So now we have this list of 70 that we then followed up after the new year and did a campaign through our CRM, just kind of offering them up some case studies and some additional content and trying to see who’s interacting with us to take that 70 down to a smaller number that seems very interested in us. And then from there we plan to take those and really try to profile them and figure out which ones would be good targets. And then the pandemic hit, so they’re still sitting in waiting, but what’d be cool is to see how many of those sign up for the next summit, then that’ll tell us something else.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So is it your plan to do multiple of these a year with all new presenters, but as you think about this from a vision point of view and all the other things you’re trying to do, what’s your overall plan?

Nicole Drew:

We came into 2020 with the plan and this is still the plan to do one in the spring and one in the fall. We’re familiar with all of the travel and tourism conferences that happen, and we’re trying to be in between those and to serve a niche that we think those in-person live events aren’t serving. And so that was the plan. We want to use it for audience building, but we also have bigger goals around our content where we’d like to try to start generating some income around our content, besides using it as a lead gen, but also to get revenue from folks that might only be content consumers, they’re not going to ever be a direct client. And we see a lot of opportunity in that and we’re starting actually to kind of accelerate those plans as we’re in the middle of this pandemic, because so many people are looking now to online for resources, and we’re starting to talk about how quickly can we develop some online courses that we can then sell to this audience that we’ve built through our podcasts and through our summit and start to get some revenue.

Drew McLellan:

And again, this season of time that we’re in right now sort of reminds us how important having multiple revenue streams are. But even when everything’s going according to plan, it’s still a good idea to have money coming from different directions so it makes perfect sense. And are you thinking that you’ll always have different presenters than the last summit, will you have regulars or repeats or are you going to constantly try and keep the roster fresh?

Nicole Drew:

For the most part, we’ll try to keep it fresh. From 201