Ask Wisely and You Shall Receive the Best Answers, and More Revenue

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A few weeks ago, I got back the best answers to a Q&A that I could remember. The key? I took some extra time to think and research—and that led to good, pointed questions. That brought me back to our initial Best Practices Series event in April—sponsored by the Specialized Information Publishers Foundation—on New Secrets of Successful Events and Webinars.

In his keynote, Benny DiCecca, CEO, Wellesley Information Services, a division of UCG, asked the group, "Are you asking the right questions?" He spoke of the research and surveying they do before creating events. "One question we weren't asking was, "Are you willing to pay to go to an event to learn on this topic. There is certain information that people would open up a checkbook and some people would not."

Here are eight other tips from that day on attracting customers and getting good speakers:

1. People pay for what they want, not necessarily what they need. "People really need to understand this," said Lynn Freer, president of California-based Spidell Publishing. "People may need it but don't want it. Do they want People Magazine or The New Yorker, chewing gum or vitamins? Don't use valuable real estate [or] webinars to sell something people don't want and don't want to pay for."

2. Listen to your audience. "We send out a flash email when news happens and can gauge by responses, questions, comments, tweets, LinkedIn posts whether people care about it or not," Freer said. They have a message board where folks ask tax questions and regularly survey attendees. What do people really care about? Freer asked.

3. Make sure you understand the content – "Don't let it get out of control," said DiCecca. "One differentiator between Wellesley and everyone else is that our road shows are not sales pitches, and I will make sure they're not. We're not going to change who we are. It's very, very important that you do that. We follow through with who we are.

4. You can't be everything to everybody. "Conferences are big bets," DiCecca said. "The content and research need to be on target. How big of a bet do you want to make on the event? Sixty sessions? Eighty sessions? A hundred sessions? You have to streamline the content."

5. Treat your speakers well. "We get a lot of speakers from [our] competition, but we treat them better and pay them better," Freer said. With class sizes that can be in the hundreds, Spidell depends on the quality of their speakers—especially with their subject. "Nothing can be more boring than tax law," said Freer.

6. Look for speakers in your own backyard. Your editors and writers are most likely experts in the field and may have a good speaking style or can be coached, said Adam Goldstein, publisher of Business Management Daily. As for content ideas, "we conduct a keyword search in our CMS frequency," Goldstein said. "If a topic comes up a lot, it's probably something our customers are very interested in."

7. Niche the niche. BMD looks for ways to optimize hot topics. Goldstein said that in the HR field, a topic such as, "How to Do Your Legally Complied Employee Handbooks" can be "roadmaps to get you sued. Everyone has mistakes in them." It did well but they further niched it out and a conference on digital handbooks outperformed the original one. He also mentioned international as another possible niche.

8. Cross-promote anywhere you can—it's good for the speaker and good for you. "If you must pay a speaker, don't use your own money," Goldstein said. (He called it the OPM model—other people's money.) "Give them in-kind promotions, post their articles on your site and use them in social media. Promote their own webinar to their people on a royalty basis. Trade ad space. We'll put their products in our store. Monetize their participation."

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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…