Episode 238:

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 2019 to 2020, I have one presenter that’s repeating but she has a huge audience. She’s the one that pushed it the most for us last time. And I also believe that her content’s really relevant to the theme for this particular summit, which is the theme that we started with still sort of works, and we’re calling it the tourism marketing revolution, because marketing’s changing so quickly. And it still is being called that, but we’re also morphing it and making it more relevant to the time obviously that we’re in and where everybody’s heads are at right now. But one thing I did this time around is I’ve invited people to participate in the summit that have not yet been on the podcast. So it’s actually going to become a little bit of a reverse funnel for my podcast. So people are now going to be presenting at the summit and then my follow-up is, can you come be [inaudible 00:29:00], with the first one?

Drew McLellan:

It’s a great tryout too, because you get to see if they’re good presenters and are they articulate and are they subserving or are they generous with what they know? So it’s not a bad plan.

Nicole Drew:

Yeah. And there are folks in the industry that we’ve been looking at to talk about partnering with or getting them to sponsor the podcast and perhaps the summits. And so one of our presenters was actually from a company that provides a technology solution to the same industry that we work in. And we have been working with them and talking with them about sponsorship, and so we invited them to be part of the summit. So it also works for that, we’re trying to think about all the ways that we can be helpful, but also build these relationships and get to know people deeper. And I’m excited to see what’s going to happen from the second one and really excited to happen with the third one, because hopefully we’ll be through the pandemic, we’ll get to have a regular cycle and see how we end up in 2020.

Drew McLellan:

So I want to ask you a little bit about sort of how you found the presenters and what that was like to get them on board and get registrations. But first let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back and chat about that.

Hey everybody, I am sorry to interrupt this episode, but I wanted to make sure that you knew about a resource that we are building out to help agency owners and leaders manage through the COVID crisis. So if you go to the Agency Management Institute website, so agencymanagementinstitute.com, and you either search for COVID or on the homepage, there’s a link to the COVID survival tools for agency owners. Basically every week we are adding new resources, they are things that we’ve created, podcasts, videos other things like that. And also things we’ve curated.

So some of them are from other subject matter experts, some of them are documents around, for example, some of the SBA loan stuff that’s going on right now. So we’re just trying to gather up anything that we think will be valuable for you and organize it in a way that will be easy for you to sort through and access. No email required, no firewall, we’re not going to send you a drip campaign or try and sell you anything. I just want you to go there, take what is useful to you and ignore the rest. We are in this together, we are going to survive this together and we are going to thrive again together. And this is just one of the ways that we’re trying to do that is to put those resources in a place that’s easy for you to get to. So again, agencymanagementinstitute.com, either search for COVID or click on the link on the homepage, and it will take you to the resource page.

All right. We are back with Nicole Mahoney from Break The Ice Media, and we are talking about how she pulled off a virtual summit late in 2019 and has another one coming up in a month or so. So depending on when you’re listening to this in early April of 2020, and using it as both a content creation tool, a list-building tool, a funnel filling biz dev tool. So lots of reasons behind this, but a lot of the success of your summit has to depend on the quality of the presentation. So if I sign up and on day one, everybody stinks, I’m probably not coming back for day two. So how did you vet the presenters and then how did you reach out to them? How did you encourage them to do this and what was in it for them?

Nicole Drew:

I reached out for the first one to just folks who I’d already talked to through the podcast. And so they were previous podcast guests, we already had a rapport developed. I’ll tell you, I was really nervous to send the very first email requesting, would you like to be on, because I was expecting, what, are you crazy? I don’t have time for this, or I don’t know what I was thinking, but that imposter syndrome that sets in. And when I got my first yes back, I was like, all right, I’m onto something. And it wasn’t just a, yes, it was like, oh my gosh, this is brilliant, yeah of course. And so the folks that I chose were primarily people who like me also serve the industry. So they were seeing the value in having the platform.

So a lot of consultants, but they have big networks because they’re working with destinations and businesses all over the country, all over the world in some cases. And so those were easy yeses, but then I also asked someone who has been a previous client of mine. And she’s not a current client, but she is really active. She’s a VP of a destination marketing organization. And she said, yes. And for her, there was no personal incentive other than I want to show off my smarts, I want to share with my colleagues, I want my peers to know what I’m doing, because for her it’s not like she’s a consultant or an agency and has the opportunity. She doesn’t need leads from a downloadable piece of content necessarily. And so when she said, yes, I thought, okay, now I’m really on to something because this appeals to all type, they see the value in that.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and some of it just it’s flattering to be asked, then someone thinks you’re smart enough that they want you to present to an audience.

Nicole Drew:

Yeah, exactly. And then, so what’s in it for the consultants and the agencies and the other types of businesses that serve this, is they do get the leads from that downloadable piece of content, they do have this as a piece of content. They can use their video presentation, they own that, so they can use it somewhere else if they want to. I had read about affiliate links that some people had done because there is a paid piece to this. And the paid piece is after the 24 hours is up and this content is no longer free. You can buy an all access pass and you’ll have lifetime access to the content. So you have complete flexibility of when you want to watch it and how you want to access it and who you want to share it with, and all of that.

We sold about maybe 20 ish or so, so it wasn’t a huge number, but I wasn’t about making the revenue I just wanted to see how that would work. I’ve seen other summits where they’ve offered to their presenters affiliate links, and then they give them some percentage of the sales. But I don’t really think that model works for what I’m trying to accomplish, perhaps if you were doing it for a client or thinking about it for someone else, that might appeal to them. So we did not do the affiliate piece. And then for this upcoming summit, we’re actually not selling the all access passes because of the pandemic. So we decided just two days ago to do away with that for now, and we’re going to leave all our content up and free for 30 days and use that more as the give back to our community that here’s this summit and you have 30 days, we’re homebound anyway, take all this content. And then hopefully this will help you get through this.

Drew McLellan:

And will you have somewhere on those pages, an opportunity to sign up for the next summit? Like we’re going to do this again on September, whatever, if you’re enjoying this content, because you know that link’s going to get passed around, getting them to sign up already for the next one, being reminded that the content is so great.

Nicole Drew:

No, that’s a great idea, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So yes you were going to do that?

Nicole Drew:

Yes, I was going to do that.

Drew McLellan:

I knew you were. So how far in advance, because we all know that people are good intentioned, but when you ask them A, to appear on video which a lot of people are uncomfortable with, and B, to put together a presentation, how far in advance did you require them to have the videos into you? Because I can imagine that would have been just a nightmare with you chasing people the day before to get their bloody videos.

Nicole Drew:

Yeah. And I’ll tell you that one of the most time consuming pieces is babysitting the presenters, and so you got to be prepared for that. So far I’ve owned that because those are my relationships right now, eventually that could be one of my team member’s responsibility. Well, the first time, because we were working around Thanksgiving, I was very flexible. We wanted to try to get the presentations a couple of weeks in advance, but we were taking them all the way up to the day before from one person. And this time around, we asked for them three weeks in advance, but then now there’s this pandemic, that’s put everybody into a tailspin. So again, I’m taking them right up until almost the last minute.

What we do with the video, once we get it, we put an intro slide on it. I do a voiceover introduction of the presenter, and then we put an ending slide that basically says Q&A and instructs people to go to the chat box. So that’s the video editing that happens, which isn’t a whole lot, of course we added off where they’re looking at the camera, all funny and trying to get the video started and all that. For the most part that’s not a lot of editing things, so we really literally can turn it around pretty quickly. We just don’t want to do all 15 the day before and get them all loaded.

Drew McLellan:

But it also allows you to brand all of them and put the summit logo and all of that on it. So yeah.

Nicole Drew:

Right, exactly. So hopefully maybe by fall, we’ll have this nailed where we actually get the presentation three weeks in advance.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. There’ll always be a reason. People are good intentioned, but sometimes around this kind of thing around deadlines, they kind of suck. So you just got to know that.

Nicole Drew:

Well, that’s why actually I like it when they say, “Oh, I’m not really comfortable recording my own presentation, will you record it for me?” Yes, I will because it’s on my calendar and I know it’s going to happen and we’ll have your video. Perfect.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think that’s a great idea. So how did you decide who you wanted to invite? How did you get the word out? And what did you learn through that process?

Nicole Drew:

So as far as who I wanted to invite to be attendees of the summit?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Nicole Drew:

Yes. So for that, we used every channel that we have available to us which for me is a podcast, a weekly e-newsletter, emailing list as well as our social channels. And then we also asked our presenters to do the same, several presenters did they emailed, they posted. We also for the first one did paid advertising on Facebook and we did some retargeting through the website and we did see some conversions from the paid ads. This time around we had that in our plan, but we pulled it based on what’s happening with the pandemic and some of the uncertainties that we have right now. But it’s affordable way to help boost that a little bit. The other thing I forgot to mention earlier when I was talking about this, it’s important that you have a theme and a focus.

And so our theme last year, I was thinking, because we were coming up to the end of the year was I was thinking, what are the biggest questions on the minds of our audience at this time of year? And we tried to theme an event around answering those questions for them. So last year was a lot about measurement and ROI as people were going into 2020. And then for this upcoming one, we decided to theme each day, although everything’s in flux right now. So it’s actually not coming off exactly that way, but we decided to take a segment of the industry and theme each day around a certain segment and then invite speakers that were experts in those particular segments. Pre pandemic that’s how it was lined up. I’ve had to shuffle things around and we’ve changed some topics around. So now the whole thing is morphing a little, but it’s really important to be focused because that gives people something, they know what to expect. And it’s easier to sell.

Drew McLellan:

So are you seeing a lot of repeat registrations from people who attended the 2019 or is the audience not the same based on the topics?

Nicole Drew:

We haven’t had time to analyze who’s registering this time compared to last time. But I do see the registrations as they trickle in because I like to see them, so I get copy them. I like those emails in my inbox. And I’m seeing a lot of new names and from all over the country, which is what I love because we’re located in New York state, so when I see somebody registered from California or Missouri, I get excited because that means we’re reaching these audiences that we wouldn’t have otherwise reached. So I don’t know, it’ll be interesting to see how many repeat but the way we set up our summits is our audience for our summits is the same audience for our podcast, same audience for our blog. And so those are the people we talk to, those are the people who we care about, those are the people we’re trying to help solve problems. And so I would imagine that no matter what the theme is, it’s going to appeal to the broader audience that is our niche.

Drew McLellan:

So you are super niched in your agency, which everybody who’s listening knows that I’m a fan of. And so did that help you build this out? Think about, I have to think that it made it so much easier to figure out who the presenters were, who the audience was, who to target for registrations and obviously what you get out of it on the back end, which is the lead gen and all the other things that you’re benefiting from.

Nicole Drew:

Yeah, exactly. It made a huge difference. And I’d mentioned earlier, I found that Summit in a Box resource, and some of the things that she talks about are trying to niche and she’s got worksheets similar to an AMI worksheet would be on, how do you think about your niches? And so for some people they have to start there, it takes a lot more time to build it out. And so you’re right, for me it was kind of I had that aha moment in late September and I was like, “Oh, we can do this and we can pull this off by December, sure.” My team loved me for it.

Drew McLellan:

I was going to say, that is a lofty goal.

Nicole Drew:

But yeah, it definitely gives you a faster start if you already have that niche and that focus. And we understand our audience so well, because we’re so deep with them all the time.

Drew McLellan:

So on the days of the actual summit, was it an all hands on deck, like you were all sort of managing elements of the technology and the summit, or could you actually take our clients that day? What were those days like for you at the agency? Because I’m sure there’s people that are listening, they’re thinking this sounds great, but I’d have to shut down everything to babysit all the pieces.

Nicole Drew:

Yeah. No, you don’t have to shut down. It was oddly, it was funny, we’d walk around the office and say, we’re working on talking about a client or whatever we’re doing. And I’m like, you realize there’s like 100 people participating in our summit right now. It was oddly calm, and on the first day there were three of us that were watching our separate pieces to make sure everything worked. After the first presentation or two, it was kind of, well, other than for me, I was on the Google Analytics watching people move around on my website. And they weren’t just staying on the presentation page, I could see them on the about us page, I could see them on our blog content. I was getting really excited as I was watching them walk around the site. But you don’t have to sit there and watch them, it’s just I found that fun.

Drew McLellan:

So obviously you thought this was successful and worth the effort because you’re doing a second one. So as you look back on this, can you kind of just reflect on the results, the why you’re doing it again? What makes it a part of your content strategy in the longterm? If somebody is listening to this and saying, yeah, it sounds kind of interesting, but what do I get out of it? How did you decide, yeah, we’re going to do a second?

Nicole Drew:

I didn’t want to lose the momentum from the first one, first of all. The first one I found successful because we had 200 people participate. We had, as I mentioned, all of these new folks who found us, who I would have never found or it would have taken me a lot longer to find them that are coming to us that are now in some form of a funnel for us, we’re sorting them out still. And I do believe we’re going to convert business off of the summit. It’s just too soon to have converted yet after the first summit, but also we’re building our audience. And I think the bigger our audience can get between the podcast, now the summit what’s actually happening is we’re building out our… My podcast is called Destination on the Left, so we’re building out our destination on the left brand and all of the audiences that will fall under that.

And all of the different channels, the way that we’re going to communicate to them. So in a long-term vision we have this vision that our Destination on the Left brand will have a lot of different ways that we will deliver content to the broader audience. And we find our niche, we believe our niche is in the small to midsize destinations, businesses and destination marketing organizations. We’re not going after the big brands, we’re not looking to work with cruise companies and airlines and that, we’re more in the small to medium sized businesses that are in the travel and tourism industry. And this is a way that we can serve them. And when we look at the landscape, we don’t see a lot of conferences that serve them. And so we believe that this Destination on the Left brand can build into something that’s more than just a podcast and summit. Online courses perhaps is a revenue center, maybe the live event will come to light. And other things that we’re talking about. So definitely part of a bigger vision.

Drew McLellan:

Are you also thinking about how you package this up and sell this as an idea to a client?

Nicole Drew:

Yeah, we’re starting to. I was just asked so interesting, one of the presenters for the summit is the Family Travel Association. And I was recording his presentation for him last week. And he said, “We just canceled our live event, which is going to be in September because I’m afraid that all the events that are being canceled right now are getting pushed to September and that’s going to impact us, but we want to do something virtually, will you do that for us?” And I said, “Sure, I’d love to.” So, yes-

Drew McLellan:

And then you did the agency age-old dance of now I have to figure out what we’re going to charge for that and how we’re going to package that.

Nicole Drew:

Exactly. So, yes, it’s definitely… And we have another client, it’s a current client, we organized a live event for them but because of this pandemic it’s supposed to happen in June, we’ll likely get moved and we’re working on trying to figure out some virtual solutions for them as well. So very quickly this is becoming more of a service offering than just agency tactic.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think it’s going to serve you in many ways. This has been great. Thank you for being so transparent and sharing your experience. I knew that this would be super valuable for people to listen to, and hopefully it got everybody thinking a little differently than sort of the normal things that we do for clients. I think this is an exciting opportunity and yes, it is certainly timely because of this moment in time. But I think it’s equally valuable and timely given that people are looking for online learning and especially if you can package it up and sell it on the backend as well. There’s lots of upside to this, and so I’m grateful that you were willing to share it. Thank you.

Nicole Drew:

Well, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to be on.

Drew McLellan:

So if folks want to learn more about your podcast or they want to if they’re listening to this in real time, want to watch the summit as it unfolds, what are ways that people can track you down and learn more about your work?

Nicole Drew:

Our agency website is a great place to go, which is breaktheicemedia.com. We have a resources tab there, and you’ll find the virtual summit, the podcast and our blog. The virtual summit is free for 30 days, so even if you’re listening to this after April 1st, or you don’t get to jump on April 1st, you’ll be able to still register and participate all the way through May 3rd, I guess technically. And I’m on LinkedIn, very active, so Nicole Mahoney on LinkedIn. I’m on Twitter and we’d love to hear from you.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. Thank you so much. All right, this wraps up another episode of build a better agency. There are untold opportunities and we are smart enough and we employ some super smart people to build new things and chase new opportunities. And I think Nicole has given you a great example of what happens when you get a crazy idea and you chase it down a little bit. All of a sudden it becomes a very practical idea that is literally filling their pipeline and building their list and has already led to an opportunity to do the exact same kind of work for our clients. So this is a season of I think thinking about our business with more intention perhaps doing more pivoting than we’re used to doing, and maybe even having a little extra time to think about or explore some of these things.

So hopefully you were inspired by all of that. Big shout out to our friends at White Label IQ, our presenting sponsor for the podcast, super grateful for them. If you are looking for White Label PPC design, or web dev, they are your guys, head over to whitelabeliq.com/AMI to see their special offer. And I am happy to tell you, we mentioned the Build a Better Agency Summit, for many of you, you know that was planned for May 18th, 19th, and 20th. And because of what the U.S. and the rest of the world is going through right now, we have moved those dates, it is now going to be November 11th and 12th, still in Chicago. It is a great place, by the way, if you’ve never been there in the holiday season it’ll be all decked out for the holidays and great shopping right on Mag Mile. So every store on the planet that you can imagine will be there, if you want to do some Christmas shopping before or after the summit.

But we have moved it. If you have bought your ticket, you’re all set don’t worry about it. If you have not bought your ticket, we would love to have you. I am seeing the summit now is a huge celebration of survival and thriving, and the industry coming back out of this pandemic stronger and better and more connected than ever. And we would love to have you be a part of that. So head over to the Agency Management Institute website, and the first tab is Build a Better Agency Summit, you can learn more about it there. And I will be back next week with another guest to help you think a little differently about your business. If you need to be in the meantime shoot me an email at [email protected], and I promise as quick as I can, I will get back to you. All right. Thanks for listening, talk to you next week.

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