Publishers Need to Ride Experiential Trend - SIIA Offers New Series to Help

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"...consumers are plenty willing to open their wallets, but what they choose to buy reflects a fundamental shift: Increasingly, shoppers are passing up the cashmere sweaters or leather handbags and instead shelling out for experiences..."
—recent Washington Post business story by Sarah Halzack titled Shoppers Move on to Experiences

The above quote was followed by this: "People are saying, 'I've got enough stuff. I want to pamper myself a bit and do something that makes me feel good,'" said Steven Kirn, executive director of the University of Florida's retail education and research center.

That article focused on retail and consumers, but it doesn't take a marketing genius to realize that this experiential trend applies to B2B as well. Events—especially of the in-person variety—are taking off because people like the benefits of interaction. Trade shows, conferences, training, roundtables, awards dinners, etc. are providing experiences that pamper people in a more business-helping way.

Seeing this trend, SIIA is launching the sparkling new Best Practices Series, beginning with New Secrets of Successful Events and Webinars, Thursday, April 7 in Boston. Sponsored by the Specialized Information Publishers Foundation, this series offers three full-day, in-person learning events this year in three cities that will take a deep dive into one hot topic—at a very affordable price.

While, as the Post article says, millennials might be fueling the retail side of this trend—52% of their holiday spending was on experience-related purchases, compared with 39% for older consumers—human nature is fueling the B2B side. Technology may have reduced our dependency on communicating in person, but it can't take away from the learning and camaraderie of being with colleagues.

It was interesting to hear Alice Ting from The New York Times, say that the Times' content has become valuable to others as a launching pad for events—and they're not so eager to let that piece of business go. "A lot of potential partners wanted digital rights, they also wanted events [rights]," she said. "We're less apt to give them that."

About a year ago, Benny DiCecca, CEO of Wellesley Information Services (WIS), a division of UCG, told me his key to events: "You have to bring the live to it—conferences, seminars, road shows, educational shows [that have sponsors but are free to attend]. You have to determine what people are willing to pay for. Is it informational, in-depth learning, software? ... We try to partner with the right companies."

DiCecca will lead off the Boston event with Why the Event Model Is So Compelling to Publishers and How to Make It a Cornerstone of Your Business. There will also be sessions on Crafting Sponsorship and Booth Packages (from Bill Springer, executive vice president, Diversified Business Communications) and Finding Repeat Success with Seminars (from Lynn Freer, president of Spidell Publishing).

Interestingly, Halzack wrote, "Vacations and dining out are each projected to see a 27% increase in consumer spending between 2015 and 2019, according to a study conducted by market research firm Mintel. That is the strongest growth of any spending category." Business trips to nice places often spur vacations, so that's another sign for increasing your event focus.

At the time I spoke with DiCecca, WIS was running about 36 events annually and he vowed to "keep pushing to reinvent ourselves and our products. As you know, publishing is constantly changing, the technology, the need to control your own content and messaging."

Events allow you to do that, no matter your size. I just saw this quote from a small museum: "[Building the experiential] is really about the ideas and the creativity you bring, not the dollars. Thinking across boundaries is something small museums are often forced to do by virtue of having small staffs and tight budgets. But perhaps we can think of these constraints as a strength—as permission to step outside of our comfort zones and defy categorization."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…