Roundtables, Reinvention and Even GOT Take Center Stage at SIPA Annual 2019 Conference

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"At the end of the day, it's about the attendees," Brian Cuthbert, group vice president at Diversified Communications, told us this week at the SIPA Annual 2019 conference in Washington, D.C. Speaking about succeeding at events, he asked, "What are you doing for engagement? [If they're] spending $1500 a head, you have to provide the right experience. You empower them. People will forgive a bad session or two. [But] they'll remember the fun and networking. We see it all the time." Then Cuthbert gave the quote of the day:

"What are you doing to create an experience that makes them feel a part of something bigger than themselves?"

"We don't run a conference today that doesn't have peer roundtables twice," Cuthbert added. "We make sure [our attendees] get a chance to network with each other. They love to engage. It's building that community, [so we] encourage them to connect with each other."

About six hours later, we all could see why Cuthbert feels that way about roundtables. SIPA's own roundtables were packed. Leslie Davidson from Davidson Direct was dispensing webinar advice at one table, Dan Fink of Money-Media—just named Volunteer of the Year during the Awards Luncheon—was talking corporate licensing at another.

At a middle table, Jennifer Schwartz of Access Intelligence led a discussion on Launching a Subscription Product. The event marketing table was standing-room-only. And across the way Rob Ristagno was taking people through low-hanging data uses. "Interview people on the frontlines of your organization—maybe they're in customer service support—often they're the ones who are directly talking to your customers and can provide key information."

Emily Laermer of Money-Media—fresh off winning two of her company's 16 SIPAwards—spoke about the data visualizations she does. "It's really about making a large amount of data digestible," she said, describing a post-Parkland project they worked on. Two popular phrases came up that I would hear throughout the conference: triaging content and content metering.

Cuthbert was right. The pull-up-an-extra-chair engagement and information exchange of these roundtables proved priceless to this event. Here are more highlights from Day Two:

Embracing popular culture. The opening keynote, Danica Stanciu from Politico Pro, spoke about her company's product that reaches 4,000 subscribing organizations and 25,000-plus individual subscribers—and accounts for 60% of Politico's revenue. Given the seriousness of the subject, it was enlightening to hear that they are doing successful initiatives like a Game of Thrones Playbook. "We're just taking advantage of the opportunities that are out there," Stanciu said. "Game of Thrones is everywhere. We drew in potential subscribers by producing a playbook [based on the show]. We're always looking for ways to focus on our audience and draw them in."

The good, the bad and collaboration. In an area I will expound upon more, Stanciu went over what they've done right and wrong with Politico Pro in the last few years. The good has been leveraging the existing brand, focusing on editorial depth and breadth, the collaboration between editorial and business—a constant theme here—and listening to the audience. The bad has been underinvesting in data processes, diversifying very late, and a limited definition of success. 

Reinvention. In his outgoing board president speech, Tom Gale of Gale Media, talked about the disruption and transformation in the industry today. "[My company has] had to reinvent ourselves to make money. Ten years ago more than 95% of our revenue was from subscriptions. Now it's less than 15%. We do webinars, podcasts, live events, data—in fact 1/3 of our revenue comes from data products. Similarly, SIPA Is in the process of reinventing as well. There's a new strategic plan and new cornerstones that will deepen engagement. It should get fresh ideas and new blood into our organization. I'm really excited about where [SIPA] is headed." Greg Hart of PSMJ Resources becomes the new SIPA president.

Welcome to the Hall. Cabot Wealth Network's Ed Coburn was presented with the distinguished SIPA Hall of Fame Award. "I started the first week of my first job standing at a photocopier, in what was the pre-PC world, copying a shelf full of sales leads to send off. Since then, I've gone from marketing, to product development... to now owning my own company. The secret sauce has been my involvement with SIPA—the learning, the connections and friendships. People I could go to for help at any time. I've devoted a lot of time and it has paid dividends. I truly believe that I got out what I got out because I put in what I put in." 

Renewal affection. Check each segment of your renewal efforts, Denise Elliott, president of Kiplinger, told us. "How does each renewal effort perform relative to where it is in the series? You should be looking at every single month" for any highs, lows or numbers that stand out. Then look at the why. Direct mail should convert better than internet orders, she said. So If you're not seeing that, you need to dive into something.  You have to look source by source. Kiplinger has had success with giving white papers or reports free with renewals, especially with a 2-to-3-year renewal or if they renew early. "Mr. Kiplinger would sign our early 'nice' renewal letters," she said, "and then I would take the hit for tougher communications later on."


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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…