There's probably a course out there somewhere you can take called Event Launching 101 for Publishers. But even better, you can follow Aging Media Network's prime event example called Dished. The first one-day event took place in March 2018, sold out its 150-person capacity in 90 days and just won a 2019 SIPAward for Best New Success Story. Year two this past March sold out even faster, Elizabeth Ecker, director of content for Aging Media Network, told me this week.
Here's what Ecker (pictured here) wrote in their award-winning entry: "After observing the growing interest in senior housing, dining-related news coverage in [their publication] Senior Housing News, and noticing a lack of general resources available to senior housing dining professionals (many of whom have entered the industry from hospitality and restaurant backgrounds), management decided to launch a new event in Chicago geared toward this audience, and DISHED was born."
Sounds like quite the blueprint: Use the analytics from your publication to determine what people are most interested in, investigate the market, find a great venue—we'll get to that in a minute—choose a cool name, and launch. Of course, it's not that easy. But once Aging Media Network made those key decisions, the ingredients for their now-annual Dished event glided smoothly into the oven.
"We realized this is a niche within a niche when we set out to do this," Ecker said. "People who are specifically in this niche are craving something geared to them. The challenge was coming up with original content."
Fortunately, the reporters from Senior Housing News—their 20,000-circulation daily newsletter serving senior housing investors, developers and management professionals—complied.
"We definitely draw from our coverage and look to our reporting to help shape the direction of what we're going to present," Ecker said. "Our reporters are talking to professionals in the industry all the time.
"We've very proud of the event; we've gotten a lot of positive feedback." Other variables contribute heavily to their success.
That venue. Dished is held at an independent venue called The Boelter Center in Chicago's River West neighborhood. A converted industrial building, it's owned by Boelter Foodservice Design & Equipment, and was selected based on its unique setting and elements including a demonstration kitchen and catering program. "The site accommodates cooking venues and it's very unique," said Ecker. "All of the folks there are foodies, and they are used to putting on events." So while the site does limit their capacity, it makes up for it by fitting the event perfectly—foodie people want to go there.
A one-day format. "We've had success across all verticals with this shorter event format and received positive feedback," Ecker said. "What we also found is that the people who attend this don't travel that much; they're really plugged into their day-to-day work so three days would be tough for them to get off and get approval."
And that makes for a more special experience. They also found that operators in the senior living space—their audience—might have other reasons to come to Chicago. There could be people in regional leadership positions they can visit. "It's fun talking to our attendees," Ecker said. "You'll hear chatter about what great restaurant you going to for dinner tonight." It's an exciting vibe.
A great promotional video. To promote the 2019 event, Aging Media Network put together a fast-moving, delicious-looking, 105-second video highlight reel that makes me want to attend the next Dished. The video starts with celebrity chef Aarti Sequeira (pictured here) of Food Network fame telling attendees, "All of you are gathered here trying to figure out how to serve our seniors better." The video does a great job of mixing chef's creations with testimonials and happy people learning and eating. "I'm looking forward to this next year; I can't wait to come back," says one attendee. Ecker said they took video of the 2019 event and should have the highlights up soon.
Celebrity keynotes. In addition to Sequeira, keynote speakers have included Sister Madonna Buder (The Iron Nun) and Chick-Fil-A's Dee Ann Turner.
Sponsors help keep the attendee price down. "We're fortunate to have sponsors and returning sponsors," Ecker said. Despite a limited capacity, the venue does allow other liberties that a hotel might not, such as not worrying about a room count, and bringing in food and drink demos. "One of our vendor sponsors did like a cocktail hour and brought in a whole kitchen set-up," Ecker said. "So it's not like a traditional conference; it feels more dynamic."
I also like that they sell "tickets" to this event rather than registrations. It adds to that dynamism.
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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…