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Episode 93 / March 18, 2024

Harnessing the power of TIME100’s influential people lists for event success with Dan Macsai

In this episode, Dan Macsai reveals how TIME uses influential lists to build communities and enhance event experiences, sharing challenges and strategies for successful event planning in 2024.

In this episode, hear from TIME Executive Editor and Chief Events Officer Dan Macsai, whose dual role sees him curating influential people lists like the TIME100 while spearheading the magazine’s event portfolio. Macsai shares insights into the list-making process and the challenges and triumphs of executing events in new locations. 

He also emphasizes the importance of community building beyond events, leveraging editorial content to create year-round engagement and the indispensable human element in the age of AI. This episode provides a unique look into the strategies that make TIME’s events successful, the power of lists in fostering community, and the evolving landscape of event planning in 2024.

Here’s what you’ll hear about in this conversation:

  • How TIME’s editorial lists serve as a core strategy for developing meaningful events and fostering influential communities
  • The challenges, importance of community grace, and thrill of expanding TIME’s global footprint in uncharted territories like Africa
  • The importance of meeting attendee expectations to deliver more than just a one-off gathering

Mentioned in this episode


[00:00:09] Rachel Moore: Welcome to Event Experience by Bizzabo, the podcast where we bring the best and brightest Event Experience Leaders together to share stories, tips, and lessons learned from creating some of the world’s biggest events.

I’m Rachel Moore, your podcast host. 

We’ve all heard of TIME’s person of the year. What if you could design TIME’s event of the year? Our guest today is none other than TIME’s Executive Editor and Chief Events Officer, Dan Macsai, and he’ll share how he and his team build communities for their events by creating leader lists. Dan will also share and compare events from 2023 to 2024, and it’s all to help you level up your own Event Experience every single TIME. Let’s get to it!  

[00:01:08] Rachel Moore: Our guest today comes from a journalism background. He was a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek, followed by reporter, then editor for Fast Company.

[00:01:17] He then moved on to TIME, where he has been for 12 years. And today serves as the Executive Editor and Chief Events Officer for TIME. I’m speaking right now and you’re about to listen to Dan Macsai from TIME. Dan, thanks so much for joining us today.

[00:01:32] Dan Macsai: Thanks, Rachel. I’m really excited to be here.

[00:01:34] Rachel Moore: As I always say I give the briefest overview, the high level overview of what people have done in their background.

[00:01:41] You know, I’m really just basically looking at your LinkedIn profile, but I know there’s so much more to what you do. So Dan, I’m going to toss it over to you. Can you explain for our audience what all your role entails at TIME? What is in your world there?

[00:01:54] Dan Macsai: Sure. So I have essentially two jobs at TIME, which you articulated perfectly. So as executive editor, it is my job to create the leading editorial franchises that we do. So that’s our lists of people like TIME 100, our world’s most influential people list; TIME 100 Next, our list of the world’s next most influential people, as well as lists like Best Inventions, World’s Greatest Places, any franchise like that.

[00:02:20] But my favorite list to do are the lists of people because that dovetails really nicely with the other part of my job, which is overseeing our events business at TIME, a lot of which are built right on top of our lists of people because it’s the best form of audience development, right? And programming where we have these lists of people, we then bring them together in rooms and we create great events.

[00:02:44] So that’s my job. It’s to manage the creation of our editorial lists. And then manage the creation and execution of the events that bring them to life and so much more. Not all of our events are built on lists, but some of my favorite ones are.

[00:02:57] Rachel Moore: I relate to this so much because I know Bizzabo, we put out, I think in 2022, we put out a list of the top 55 event industry leaders to follow, and I do dip into that for podcast guests. And I know we dip into that for our webinars and events. So, it sounds like a super solid practice and a great way to just keep capitalizing on the people, you know, and build that content. Right?

[00:03:19] Dan Macsai: Totally. It’s a very organic form of community building. And it just creates this stable of people that we can pull from for both attendees and onstage participants and sometimes even sponsors. So it’s a really great sort of synergistic form of event creation.

[00:03:34] Rachel Moore: Very smart. So, obviously we want everybody who’s on any of your lists at TIME to be listening to this podcast. But that’s such a great way to build those, that content. And thank you for giving us that additional insight into your role too. 

[00:03:47] Well, now we’re going to segue into some of the more get to know you questions. So, I’ve been asking our guests lately. Let’s say you’re at an event, you have to be on the floor and on the ground. What are your go to event day shoes when you need to be in action?

[00:04:01] Dan Macsai: Great question. So I love this brand called Amberjack. They make like dress shoes for men that are super comfortable, almost like gym shoes. Cause one of my issues is I, I’m not going to say I have it hard. Cause like women have it much harder. Most of my team is women, high heels are much harder to wear.

[00:04:19] But dress shoes for men are pretty uncomfortable too. They’re just like tight and plasticky and they don’t breathe. And like the Amberjack shoes I found are like, and this is not sponsored by the way, I’ve just found they’re like, they’re really they’re really comfortable.

[00:04:31] They feel like gym shoes, but they look like dress shoes. So you can like, look professional, but feel comfortable at the same time. So I love those personally.

[00:04:37] Rachel Moore: That’s why I love asking this question because I’m getting a variety of answers and I know people actually are talking about it. Like when they post on LinkedIn, they’re like, so I said this and people like, Oh my God, need to go check out those shoes. So excellent. Is there anything that you’re listening to watching or reading these days that you can’t put down?

[00:04:55] Dan Macsai: Yes. So, I just watched, it’s not out yet. So look, we just get advanced access to some of this stuff because TIME is journalists. But there’s a new Netflix show called Three Body Project. It’s a sci fi show based on a very popular book. It is so good. It’s from the creators of Game of Thrones and True Blood.

[00:05:11] And it totally lives up to that hype. Like I know you’re hearing that and you’re like, Oh, both those shows are really good. This better be really good. It’s that good. It’s a sci fi show involving an alien invasion of some kind. It’s very cool. You should watch it. I think it comes out March 21st.

[00:05:26] So again, not sponsored, just great.

[00:05:28] Rachel Moore: I love the teaser. Now everybody’s okay, I gotta be ready for that. Thank you so much for that. Is there a particular social post or a piece of media or even a hot take about events that you’ve found interesting lately?

[00:05:40] Dan Macsai: Yes. Interesting and encouraging is one that I found. There’s been a lot of talk about the rise of AI and how it’s replacing jobs and it’s going to destabilize different industries. And I read a take, I forget, I think it was on like LinkedIn or X or something like that. And it was like, events are one of the only things that are AI proof, right?

[00:05:55] And I don’t mean that like we can’t use AI to create events for sure, but fundamentally it’s that business is so human. Right? Like you need humans to create like a human experiences. It’s all centered on live experiences. And so that part to me was a heartening take to read.

[00:06:13] There’s a lot of AI disruption talk. And I think there are lots of ways that AI can improve the way that we analyze data coming from events and enhance all sorts of things. But fundamentally events are a pretty human experience and there’s just no. replacing that. So, that to me is encouraging.

[00:06:29] Rachel Moore: You know, you say that, and I’m going to go on a tangent here. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Willy Wonka debacle in Glasgow.

[00:06:34] Dan Macsai: Oh yeah.

[00:06:35] Rachel Moore: Let’s talk about where AI went wrong for an event, but it was the marketing of the event. But you’re right. They couldn’t AI the actual event, which was the problem. Gosh.

[00:06:44] But that is encouraging. You’re right too. AI has been like A hot topic. Like most of our guests are bringing it up because you know, look at Google and everybody and Amazon all looking at saying how we’re going to be incorporating it going forward, but you’re right it’s front of mind for everybody.

[00:06:58] I do like that, that you said that it’s pretty heartening to say that events can’t get replaced by AI.

[00:07:04] Dan Macsai: Like they’re human experiences. Like it’s just ask the people that attended that Willy Wonka thing and they’ll tell you.

[00:07:10] Rachel Moore: That was so bad.

[00:07:12] Dan Macsai: Yeah, it was, it totally was. 

[00:07:14] Rachel Moore: We’re going to get a little calendar oriented here.

[00:07:16] First we want to kind of talk about 2023. Now, We’re recording this. We’re well into and reaching soon the end of Q1 of 2024. That said, 2023 is still in the rearview mirror, right? And we’re like, I can still spot it in the past there. I’d love to ask you, looking back what were your predictions or assumptions about how events would play out in 2023?

[00:07:38] And was there anything you were right or even surprised about?

[00:07:42] Dan Macsai: Sure. So, I will say I was wrong about how I thought events were going to play out for us in 2023 in a good way. So, when we started our events predictions for 2023, we were still kind of coming off the pandemic where everything was very virtual oriented. I think 2022 is kind of a ramp up year for us.

[00:08:00] We did about 10 events and we expected in 2023 to do maybe 15, 16, like just a slow going off of what happened in 2022, like a slow ramp up. We wound up doing 30. So that was twice as much as we had predicted. So I was very wrong about how many events we would wind up doing. And I think what that meant is that I underestimated in a great way, just the enthusiasm people would have.

[00:08:26] For gathering together again, and for us at TIME, the enthusiasm that our partners and our sponsors would have for creating those experiences. So I was very surprised by how enthusiastic people were. And it did, candidly, it was hard to catch up with that demand. We have to do a lot of hiring. We have to do a lot of scrambling behind the scenes.

[00:08:47] I personally had wanted to attend a lot of other companies events in 2023 and wound up not having any time to do that because we were so busy doing our own but it wound up being a good problem to have, right? Because it was emblematic of a great shift in the industry and we’re really excited to see where things go from here.

[00:09:03] Rachel Moore: That’s so great too, that you scaled up. Obviously you had a supply in mind. The demand was like, we need more please, sir. Can I have some more? And you were like, okay, yep. Let’s give you all some more events.

[00:09:14] And that’s fascinating too, because if I go to my favorite fast food restaurant, it’s oh, let’s make more burgers or nuggets or something. You’re making full events and that’s not a small lift. So, yeah, as far as like scaling up how did you feel about all that stuff afterward?

[00:09:28] I mean, were you under the pressure a bit? 

[00:09:31] Dan Macsai: Yeah, I think there’s probablya lot of people listening can relate to this. 

Educating the Execs

[00:09:35] Dan Macsai: I think when I was dealing with people also on the leadership team who like events. Maybe think they’re experts in events because they’ve been to a wedding or planned a birthday party. Like they just underestimated how much work it is to do these things.

[00:09:49] Like people would say to me like, Hey Dan, so we just sold three more events in the same month. It should be fine. Right. And I’m like it’s not fine. You have to understand people don’t just show up in a room. People don’t just show up on a stage and stages just don’t build themselves.

[00:10:03] There’s a lot of work that goes into this behind the scenes. So I really had to spend a lot of time behind the scenes helping the fellow leadership team understand just how much work it takes to create an event and then build them a business plan for the hiring we would need to do and how it would pay off and not just pay off, but how it would need to sustain our current momentum.

[00:10:22] Like we just need that. And so I think as chief events officer, I get asked a lot what does that really mean? What do you do as a chief events officer? And I think the most important thing that I do aside from leading the creation of our events is communication, like helping align our business goals and our business plan with what’s actually executable.

[00:10:41] It’s being that communicator in chief so that to make sure that my team and our company is set up to succeed.

[00:10:47] Rachel Moore: and I was just, I was thinking earlier too, senior title, it’s chief events officer, which is the same acronym as chief executive officer, but one could also you’re a chief education officer because, you’re right, so many of our listeners can relate to that because people do come in just assuming.

[00:11:05] We’re just going to add on. It’ll be easy. Oh, it’s just adding on. It’s more profit. That’s great. Yes, it is. But I think that’s so crucial that you’re providing that educational standpoint to say, let me tell you what all goes into this. And it is not just a flip of the switch as much as we wish it could be.

[00:11:21] Right. Still on 2023? Were there any standout event experiences that you had in 2023? Dropping some names and places here.

[00:11:29] Dan Macsai: Totally. So my standout event from 2023 was our first ever TIME 100 Summit and Impact Awards in Africa. It was in Kigali, Rwanda. It was incredible. And the reason I like it so much is we had been asked for years by members of our community, our TIME 100 community other partners that we’ve worked with listen, we love going to your events in New York or Dubai or Singapore.

[00:11:51] Like we’re TIME, we’re a global brand, but we’d never activated on the continent of Africa before. So activating for the first time in any new place gets me really excited because what that meant for us is we did an event. There were 400 people at the summit and 200 people at the dinner that followed and 98 percent of them had never been to a TIME event before.

[00:12:13] So I’m very proud whenever we get to show up in a new space and put our brand in front of new community members and turn them into hopefully TIME evangelists. A lot of them had experiences with TIME, the magazine, or they’d write a story on our website, but it’s so much different to be in a room with TIME and see that experience come to life.

[00:12:32] So that event was very cool. And it’s also it’s fun. It can be very challenging to activate in a new space and a new region for the first time. But when you do it, and you pull it off? It’s just such, it’s the best feeling in the world. So that would be my standout experience.

[00:12:47] Ad Intro: We’ll be right back with more Event Experience after the break.

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[00:13:29] Ad Outro: We’re back with more Event Experience to discuss with Dan Macsai the pain points of executing an event in a brand new location.

[00:13:39] Rachel Moore: I’m not an event designer. I talked to a lot of event designers and planners like yourself. But just imagining to say, we’re going to a brand new place and you’re scoping it out.

[00:13:48] I mean, all the things that go into it and making sure it’s successful. But I would imagine too, sometimes that excitement probably carries through the mistakes or missteps that might happen with executing for the first time in a new place.

[00:13:59] Right.

[00:14:00] Dan Macsai: It definitely does. And that 

New place grace

[00:14:01] Dan Macsai: you’re never going to execute in a new place or for first time without making mistakes. Like we, we absolutely made mistakes, but I think like one of the things that did carry it through is that people gave us grace, right? This is the first time you’re activating in our region.

[00:14:15] We’re really excited that you’re here. Like even the attendees, like we’re pretty gracious about it’s okay that you started a little late or there was this production glitch here or there. That’s not what we’re going to remember. We’re going to remember the connections we made here.

[00:14:27] We’re going to remember the standout moments on stage. And we’re going to remember that your brand showed up to where we are and met us where we are. And we appreciate that. And that’s why I love doing that for the second time as well, because you can fix a lot of those mistakes that happened along the way the first time.


[00:14:41] Rachel Moore: That segues nicely actually into taking us from last year, 2023. And we’re in 2024.

[00:14:48] We’re already a couple of months in, it’s still somewhat of a brand new year for events. You know, things are starting to get rolling with the calendar that is going to override us all. Right. Because there’s so many events to try to as well as plan. What are you anticipating from this year’s experiences?

[00:15:03] Any new trends or guesses that maybe people aren’t anticipating, but you have front of mind?

Building event communities

[00:15:09] Dan Macsai: One of the biggest pieces of feedback that I have gotten from our events is like people like coming, but they’re very focused on community building after. Right. And that’s a harder thing to do as an events professional, but it is kind of our jobs to that. We create an amazing experience in a room.

[00:15:26] And if we do our jobs really well, the people that show up in that room, they want to do it again and again. And maybe they want to do it virtually. So top of mind for us. And that’s a trend, by the way, I’m hearing from colleagues across. Like, how are you extending these conversations beyond this one day or two days? How are you making sure that this is a year round thing and in a real community that you’re building?

[00:15:46] And so that’s top of mind for us. And we are looking at ways that we can do this with technology. You know, we use Bizzabo, honestly, Rachel, which is great. And I know you guys offer app solutions so that people can meet each other at events and stay in touch. And that’s awesome.

[00:15:58] And we’re definitely looking to explore that. Yeah. And we also have the benefit of having a media platform. So we’re also looking at okay, are there ways that we can have these people, you know, write for us after the fact or interact with us after the fact, even if you’re listening to this and you don’t have a media platform at your disposal. It’s thinking about okay, are there newsletters we can launch after the fact to continue this community or even like monthly email updates.

[00:16:20] It’s anything to help these people connect with each other and make sure that they remember the great experience they had and feel affinity for your brand throughout the year and then want to come back again the next year.

[00:16:30] Rachel Moore: I think that’s super key to o. I do think of event planners, obviously all of you are so great at creating and those moments being able to connect people in real time during the event. But you’re right. Community has not just been a buzzword, but it’s been a new way of doing things for literally all business, right? There has to be a before and after. Our recent webinar, we were talking about sponsorships and all the panelists, who were also experts in that said sponsorships aren’t just transactional now.

[00:16:57] It is about, you know, developing a rapport and a relationship with them and caring about what happens to them outside of asking them to convert, to commit to something. Same thing with attendees, right? You want to get them to an event, but they want more. They want to carry that relationship forward.

[00:17:14] It really feels like that has expanded what event planners have to be good at beyond the event. Did you find that to be true?

[00:17:24] Dan Macsai: I, I have found that to be true. And I think basically post COVID, like we hear a lot about Oh, there’s newfound enthusiasm for events. And there is, I think people are excited to be back together again, but the bar has been raised. People are also more precious with their personal time. And they don’t just want to show up at something if they’re not going to feel that community aspect.

[00:17:44] And so we have really tried to lean hard into that and it can’t just end when they leave, it just can’t like and so that has been a challenge for us, but it’s one that is top of mind for us to work through for this year.

[00:17:57] Rachel Moore: Makes sense. I think everybody’s yep, we are too. Everybody’s got that, on the front of their frontal lobe, but talk to us a little bit about events for TIME itself for this year. Is there a singular experience that you have in the works that you can share with us with our audience and kind of what goals you have for that experience and how you’re planning it and expecting it to perform?

[00:18:18] Dan Macsai: So top of mind for us is basically aligning our events more with our editorial franchises too. It’s really good for community building. Again, the magic formula for us is have a list of people that you’re honoring in some way, invite them to an event so they can meet each other, follow what happens after.

[00:18:34] And what I would say again, this is a lesson that can apply even if you don’t have a media organization at your disposal. Anyone can do a list. Like it is a great tool to provide an organizing principle to why you’re gathering people together.

[00:18:48] It adds an urgency, right? Like I’m not just inviting you to a dinner or inviting you to a summit. Like I’m making you a part of a group and then inviting you to a dinner or a summit or a breakfast or a lunch. So that is top of mind for us. We have a couple lists that we’re really excited about launching this year.

[00:19:05] We just did one in February called The Closers, which is about 18 leaders who are working to close the racial wealth gap in the United States. It’s a phenomenal list and event. We’re doing our first ever TIME 100 Health list in May. That is a list of 100 of the most influential people in health. We are going to gather a bunch of them together in New York City so they can meet each other and hopefully spark ideas and connections and then go do great things together and then we can cover those great things.

[00:19:31] So those are two that were top of mind for me this year. And again, just focused on making our events have as much meaning as possible, giving them a purpose.

[00:19:39] Rachel Moore: Yeah, I have a question and I think this might be something that our listeners would love to know too. I think that idea is amazing to say, let’s create a list. What, how do you go about it? If you’re out there, I want to make a top list of, say, the top 50 health innovators or health leaders, you know, again, for your what you’re planning for later this year.

[00:19:56] What’s your practice, what’s your approach to develop a list, to build your own list?

[00:20:01] Dan Macsai: It’s basically a lot of research and reporting. We have, you know, as we have a lot of journalists at TIME. This is their bread and butter, you know, they call experts in the space. They do a lot of reading, a lot of listening. And then they pitch us names of here’s who we think should be on this list.

[00:20:15] And here’s why. Everyone gets a justification. If you don’t have reporters on your team, I’m sure a lot of people listening to this don’t work at large media companies. There are other ways to do it. Anyone can do research. Number one. Number two, you can start an application site. I’m actually pretty sure Rachel that Bizzabo has the technology to to get applications like we have used. Because all you’re doing is like asking people to answer prompts. You want to nominate yourself to be part of this list here, answer these three questions, hit send. It’s just honestly, it’s just like registration for an event.

[00:20:45] It’s the same user interface. So basically that, that would be my advice is if you’re thinking about launching a list or an accolade or something like that. It’s just a lot of research. A good rule of thumb is you always want to have probably like 5 or 10x the amount of research done for the people you put on the list.

[00:21:04] So that way you can say, I’ve considered a universe that was pretty large, and I can definitively say these are the best of it. I wouldn’t recommend just putting people on a list just when you see them for the first time got to see how they compare to their competitive set, but that would be my sort of here’s how to list make if you’ve never done it before.

[00:21:19] Rachel Moore: Hey, thank you. That’s great advice. On that topic too, like you said you’re really trying to combine that editorial and those lists with how you’re designing these events going forward and, you know, making some more niche events topically, but talk about community again, right?

[00:21:31] Do you find that as you make those lists, do the people who are on the list together? Are they trying to kind of develop their own network with those people who are co listed with them?

[00:21:42] Dan Macsai: Yes, it is instant community building, because what you’ve done is you’ve created a community, like you basically said we are deciding that all of you are special in some way. And you all have a common purpose in some way, like you’re either all influential or you all care about the same cause or something like that.

[00:22:00] And we’ve given you a reason to reach out to each other and connect with each other and a reason for being in the same room together. Right. So this is just formalizing a lot of what I know you as event professionals do. Audience development is also list making your, you do a lot of this research.

[00:22:15] A lot of you listening to this, I’m sure like reaching out who would be right in this room and why list making is the same thing. It’s just a little more formal.

[00:24:23] Rachel Moore: Where can our listeners find and follow you online, Dan?

[00:22:27] Dan Macsai: So I am at DMACSAI, D M A C S A I on Instagram and X or Twitter. That’s where I’m most active. Or you can find me at DanMacsai on LinkedIn.

[00:22:49] Rachel Moore: Dan’s SkillUp tip recognizes how each event planner is very much like a business owner.

[00:22:56] Dan Macsai: I would say build a business plan for what you want to create. Do not be scared of the word business plan. That is just like, I was scared of that word, but don’t be right. All it is saying, it’s you got to be like, here’s what I want to create. Here’s what it’s going to take to create that. And here’s the benefit of that creation.

[00:23:16] What I found so empowering about creating a business plan was like, I had a vision for what I thought our events business could be, but it was very hard to get buy in from senior leadership on that vision. So I had to sort of build a slide deck and a use case for it. And I found that process pretty empowering because it sort of makes you more in control of your own destiny.

[00:23:40] The other thing that it does is it allowed me, like before I had this job, to establish a lot of relationships with the people that I would need to be successful in this job. You don’t have to build business plans and you shouldn’t build business plans by yourself. You should talk to the other stakeholders that you will need to get there.

[00:23:58] If you are an audience professional, but you need insights from production or sponsorship or programming to figure out what it would take to create a good event. This is a great excuse to do that. Just get people involved in your mission. And then when it’s all said and done, it’s very satisfying to see your vision come to life in some way, and it helps you think and learn about lots of different parts of an event. You’ll learn a lot when you do it, and it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be easy at all times. And you might not be successful in everything you ask for, but it will be gratifying if even a little bit of it comes to fruition. 

[00:22:49] Rachel Moore: Thanks again to Dan Macsai for joining us on Event Experience, and thank YOU for listening. 

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