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Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

Most publishers claim to know their readers; to know their likes, dislikes, hopes and fears. This is quite surprising because most publishers don’t actually get face to face with their readers very often. This is a missed opportunity, because the personal touch can reap dividends. Here, Andrew Jackson outlines the networking benefits of staging events.

By Andrew Jackson

If you had a magazine with just one reader … and the next day that reader suggested two new readers … then each day, each of those two readers suggested two new readers, after ten days you’d have over a thousand new readers. Well if only "get-a-friend" campaigns really pulled response like that!

Actually getting new names from your existing people in the first place isn’t that easy, let alone converting them. Everyone’s trying to avoid spam, unsolicited calls and so on. Everyone knows we don’t look too kindly on colleagues who supply our names and contact details to others, based on the promise of a few bottles of wine to them perhaps, if we eventually sign up!

My experience is that you can get lots more new readers from existing readers if you’re a bit more personal about the whole thing. That is, focusing more on the personal relationship you can forge with existing readers and, in turn, the personal relationship with new readers. You need to approach the new reader telling them there’s been a specific recommendation from someone they know.

Obvious perhaps, but we all need to recognise a bit more the power of recommendation. Every day, we use the opinions and advice of others in deciding what to buy next. A new car, where to send our kids to school … for any purchase that matters, we tend to ask others for opinions. Increasingly, also the opinions of people we don’t even know. It’s staggering how internet forums have grown over the past few years. The conclusion is, as publishers we’ve a real interest in getting people who like our product to mix with others and get them talking. We can encourage this to happen by taking some simple initiatives.

"Circulation networking" is what we could call it. These are ways to get people talking and supplying new names back to publishers. For example, some of our clients run industry awards and then approach readers of their magazines to nominate names for the awards. They then approach nominees and get them to subscribe and come along to the event. Then they ask the new names for more names and do the same thing, again and again.

In the approach to new readers, you have to emphasise you’re offering networking opportunities and how they can help. Everyone likes popularity and recognition, but there are specific things networking can deliver. People like to share similar problems and exchange ideas on solutions. Everyone knows networking is often the best way to find new customers. Networking rewards on many different levels.

Clearly to make these networking promises you need to offer some things to make them happen – some vehicles to get things moving.

Networking vehicles

Awards, conferences, receptions and dinners. Any event that brings readers face-to-face is a networking vehicle. They’re much more effective than say online forums, which lack social opportunities.

If you organise events, you have to make networking easy at the event itself. Sit people next to others they want to meet … or those they should want to meet! Give everybody name badges. If it’s a sit down event, do a table plan and post it up where they go in. Guests will almost always bring a colleague or two with them if they’re up for an award, so the guest numbers soon escalate and the table plan challenge evolves! Some firms will actually take tables of 10-12 seats. At the event itself, lighten the mood. Provide audience involved entertainment where members of the audience are brought up to entertain. Dancing, singing … anything that brings people together in a shared experience gets them to know each other.

Take lots of pictures. After the event, post them up on your magazine’s website with captions. Get your event visitors to look there after the extravaganza so they can remember names and faces.

Outcome? Well there are no promises. However, I know a couple of publishers with annual dinners now in their third years, pulling in more than 400 paid guests.

New event revenue

Events bring in significant revenue. Guest tickets, sponsorships, advertising in magazine previews, on-the-night programme ads and so on. You can offer package deals - a combined seat and annual subscription for those new to the scene. Or maybe offer existing subscribers a discount on the event entry. How much do you charge a seat? It varies quite a lot. I know publishers charging £500 a seat and thoughtfully paying over £100 of that to predetermined charities.

Importantly, with new money coming in, don’t lose sight of circulation objectives and funding your extra circulation building. Why not at the outset agree a percentage of the event revenue that goes straight back into circulation promotion? Money that could cover say compilation of the new event / circulation database … or a new staff member to do telemarketing, emails and develop personal relationships with new customers. Beware though, it’s a long term strategy. First-time events rarely make a profit and usually initially look to break even.

Managing the risk

Staging an event for the first time presents a hurdle for small companies, but in reality you’re unlikely to stumble if you approach it the right way and minimise the financial risk. Try to get some guest and advertiser commitment for an identified date and venue, before signing on the dotted line with the venue itself. If you’ve placed an option on that venue for that date, it will be held for you for a period. Stall the venue booking for as long as you can and agree a small deposit, such as ten percent based on minimum guest numbers. That way if you have to cancel, it’s less of a financial problem. Emphasise to your financial people that you’re managing and minimising the risk.

Quantify the costs. After a while, you get to know all the costs involved and particular venues that will offer less risky contractual terms. To negotiate, you usually need several venue options and to play one against another to get good terms on the table.

Quantify the revenues, project profit scenarios and identify break even points. Some event costs are fixed, so there are naturally bigger profits as the guest numbers increase in subsequent years. Remember, the event itself will become a saleable asset after just a few years and emphasise this to your financial people if you’re having a hard time getting the go-ahead. Event organisers have experience on all the costs, revenues and growth rates and can help you make realistic financial projections in a proposal.

Managing the event

If you’ve never run events before, consider hiring an event organising firm to find suitable venues and organise the event. They can take the worry away. Timing and project management are crucially important. A schedule of preparations is required for the weeks leading up to the event and a checklist of what-happens-when on the night is needed to get these things running smoothly.

Budgetary control is essential. It’s easy to get carried away when entertaining. Few people realise that an event organising company can actually save you money. They’ll know how to bring in caterers, audio visual, entertainers, balloons, photographer and so on at lowest cost … depending on what your venue will allow. Some venues will also allow you to bring in things like reception Champagne and dinner wine on a corkage basis. This can halve your drinks bill!

Booking the venue through your event organiser can also save you money. They’ll get a commission from the venue on turnover that’s not available to you directly. Suggest sharing it. Get them away from any interest in inflating the bill with the venue and get them to push and haggle at every stage, from contract terms through to how many waiters the venue is fielding on the night.

Regarding fees, an event organiser will normally want to work on a percentage of total costs with you. They’ll be looking for 20% plus, but suggest 10% and haggle! If it’s a first time event, they might want a part fixed fee to reduce their risk. Remember, a lot of the organisation is still there even if guest numbers end up lower than expected.

Where is the venue? How it’s perceived, how to get there, how many it will accommodate, is it available for such and such a date … all these will probably determine suitable venues in your mind. When you’ve found some that look good, you need to place "options". Ideally you’ll get a first option but perhaps just a second or third option if other companies have already voiced an interest. Try and stall signing the contract with the venue for as long as possible. Before signing, negotiate costs and payment dates – reiterate you’re also considering other venues who are offering better terms! The art is securing a venue big enough to cope if it takes off but small enough to allow you to commit to a small number of guaranteed guests. Guaranteed guests are the number of guests you’ll have to pay for, whether they arrive or not.

Managing the circulation spin-off

Many publishers have an event department and a circulation department as separate entities. You could consider one management across both areas to ensure you get the circulation / event synergy outcome you’re looking for.

It’s obvious, but whatever your event, promote it in every media at your disposal. Database the names of award nominees, guests, enquirers … anybody who steps forward. Approach each of these personally, both to come to the event and to subscribe to your magazine.

The power of the network

The truth is, you sometimes don’t need a magazine or any guest event revenue to make it a success. Just charge people to join the club! That’s often what associations and trade bodies do. I know associations who have specific objectives simply to act as a networking tool for members and they run conferences and dinners absolutely free-of-charge (for members). They make a nice living from membership fees, event sponsors and supplier table top promotions during the conference breaks.

So as publishers, let’s focus on events to a greater extent from now on to pull in new readers. Remember, if every reader can get you two more readers … you’re laughing!