Visiting the 2020 AEO Forums

On Friday we (Lisa and I) visited the 2020 AEO Forums in London. It was a day of discovery and validation, so I thought I’d start by condensing the day into a few bullets:

  • The events industry is not good at being ‘sustainable’, we can, and should all be doing more to change this!
  • Collecting data isn’t insight, true insights come from asking why… I already knew this, but I think we need to get better at explaining the difference.
  • Don’t be afraid to be more personal in our copy, online through social channels or in our day to day communications.
  • Collaboration is key, share ideas, challenge one another and dare to be different.

If that’s not enough, here is a more in-depth view of how the day went…

We arrived at the Business Design Centre on Friday full of optimism for a great day ahead. In previous years the forums have been valuable in helping us see life through organiser clients’ eyes. After a quick cup of tea and some intros from Chris, who explained that the theme of the day was ‘work smarter, not harder’ (not to be confused with ‘work harder not smarter’!), we were underway.

The first session combined all functions (marketing, operations and sales) looking at sustainability in events. We learned that IMEX is doing a great job of reducing waste to landfill and working collaboratively with suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint through a whole range of different initiatives.

It sounds simple but even for us as suppliers to the industry we could be doing more to reduce our carbon footprint. We do make conscious choices with regards to some of the products we use, we recycle paper and so on, but there is always room for improvement.

After the first session and before the morning coffee break, Hayley from the AEO led a session on the AEO working groups and the work they are doing to promote best practice and cross-company cooperation in the events industry.

After coffee break (along with some huge Jammy Dodgers!), we split into our three streams and focussed on marketing, operations or sales. Both Lisa and I were signed up to the marketing stream and keen to hear some of the topics and challenges that the marketeers are facing.

The first topic was close to our hearts – demystifying customer insight for marketing, presented by Ben Smithwell, a customer experience specialist from Comotion, part of the Freeman group.

Ben did a great job explaining the difference between data collection and real insights in plain English. We know that drawing insight from data takes time and skill and it was refreshing to hear Ben speak so passionately about the subject. What Ben said was that true insights are often a result of asking ‘why?’ – something we do daily here at Zing. Data can provide indicators and signals but true insights require more exploration to understand what those signals mean. Giving context to data and using a variety of rounded research approaches (ideally both quantitative and qualitative!) is the best way. We also agree with the little and often approach to research, something that could be used more in the events industry rather than the ‘one post-show survey, rammed with everything’ approach that’s often taken.


AEO 2020 image













The second marketing session of the day was also one we were looking forward to – making your digital copy work harder. Tim Tucker, who also spoke last year gave us some top tips on making copy more personal and clear, appealing to the senses but still encouraging action. Tim said he’s seen great success in being more chatty with subject lines like ‘can you do me a favour?’ working really well in some instances. This gave us food for thought around some of our, more formal research email. We’ll certainly be taking Tim’s advice and doing some A/B testing in the coming weeks.

Between 1pm and 2pm we took a lunch break where we enjoyed some delicious food and managed to catch up with some familiar and new faces, before getting back to the forum content.

The first session post-lunch was all about wellbeing. Heather Beach reminded us of the importance of both mental and physical wellbeing in the workplace. Heather spoke passionately and from experience about how we can improve our mental wellbeing and how this can help create a team of better motivated staff.

Next up Katy Howell told us that we are all doing social media wrong. Well maybe not quite, but cutting through the noise is getting harder and harder. She gave us some great examples of shows doing social really well.  InfoSecurity Europe and The Wedding Shows were both singled out for praise based on their approach to creating communities, sharing relevant content and being part of their industries. Like Tim earlier, Katy reiterated that by using human language we can connect better with our audiences. We shouldn’t be afraid to have a personality online, which can be difficult to get right…

The day was wrapped up by the AEO hosting a workshop around how marketing, operations and sales teams can work with more cohesion. It was all very friendly and we came away from it feeling positive that we can all work smarter, not harder.

To summarise, it was a great day and more importantly, we came away with some action points to implement in our business. From reviewing our business sustainability, to thinking more about the words we use to communicate, it will all help us change the way we do things and hopefully improve our working lives.

We can’t speak for the operations or sales forums but we can say well done to the AEO for another successful marketing forum, roll on 2021!


Posted by Jonathan

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