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Episode 53 / May 16, 2022

Episode 53: Orson Francescone, Financial Times: Building Community Through Strategy Events

Orson Francescone talks about investing in a digital-first approach to events, and building community through strategic events.

In this episode, we talk with Orson Francescone about building community through strategic events and investing in a digital-first event approach.

Francescone has worked in the B2B media and events industry for more than 15 years. He has led global conference and exhibitions businesses for Euromoney Institutional Investor, and Haymarket Media Group. Since November 2019, he has been managing director of FT Live, the global event business of the Financial Times

Throughout his career, Francescone has specialized in enabling publishers to monetize their content and drive high-margin revenues via all event formats, from conferences to awards ceremonies to large-scale exhibitions and trade shows and, more recently, digital events. He has launched some of the world’s most successful and award-winning events, including Gastech, the Festival of Work, and, more recently, The Global Boardroom.

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

  • Building community through strategic events
  • Pivoting event strategy throughout the pandemic
  • Executing a webinar with 6,000 registrations in just five days
  • Supporting a team while shifting from in-person to virtual events
  • Investing in a digital-first approach to events

Mentioned in This Episode

Transcript

Transcript

[00:00:00] Erik Fisher: Welcome to Event Experience by Bizzabo. I’m your host, Erik Fisher. And this is 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 biggest events this week. My guest is Orson Francescone. Orson has worked in the B2B media and events industry for over 15 years.

[00:00:29] He has led global conference and exhibition businesses for Euro Money, Institutional Investor, the Daily Mail Group, and Haymarket Media. Since November 2019, he’s been the managing director of FT Live, the global event business of the Financial Times. Throughout his career. He has specialized in enabling publishers to monetize their audiences and drive high-margin revenues via all formats of events from conferences to awards, to large-scale exhibitions and trade shows.

[00:00:59] And more recently through digital. In this conversation, we talk about how he got started in his role at Financial Times and FT Live; building community through strategic events; pivoting event strategy through the pandemic; executing a webinar with 6,000 registrations in just five days to plan; supporting an events team as they shift their skills from in-person to virtual events; and investing in a digital-first approach to events during a return to in-person events.

[00:01:30] Let’s get into it. 

[00:01:40] Hello. I am Erik Fisher. I am joined today by Orson Francescone. Orson, welcome to the show. 

[00:01:48] Orson Francescone: Hi, Erik, how are you? Very excited to be 

[00:01:50] Erik Fisher: Yeah, I am excited to talk with you, and I would love to get started with a little bit of context here. So can you give a brief superhero origin story synopsis of your journey to the Financial Times and what your role is there?

[00:02:07] Orson Francescone: Well, I’m a superhero by the nature that I’m Irish Italian. So I’ll give you that. And so, I started my career at a great company called Euro Money Institutional Investor, which is a financial publishing company, writing content for their events business. And so I come from a, I guess, content background and a B2B media background.

[00:02:23] And these were the years of the digital transition of B2B media from print to online and a lot of advertising revenue that was moving into event sponsorship. And so, there were very exciting years where essentially B2B events were becoming a very profitable part of the media mix.

[00:02:39] And a lot of companies were beginning to look at events as not just a marketing tool for their brand but actually profit-making. Part of their business. So I spent 10 wonderful years there and ended up running a couple of their event divisions, primarily in banking and finance and commodity and energy.

[00:03:00] And so I traveled the world launching and running events that were connecting international bankers and capital markets with local investors. That was kind of our thing. And then I moved into the trade show world. I worked for. DMG Events, which is part of the Daily Mail Group as vice-president. They are running some of the world’s biggest trade shows in the energy and oil and gas sector.

[00:03:19] And so that was a real, kind of completely different world, really conferences and trade shows are always very different, separate worlds. With trade shows, we realized that content was becoming more and more important to their value proposition. And they wanted somebody that was coming from that content background to help them leverage the power of content to grow the trade show and exhibition business.

[00:03:39] But fascinating world gave me an insight into how scale is really important in the events industry. Once you get scale, you really build some very strong barriers to entry. Some of these huge trade shows. Thousands of exhibitors — and 20,000 or 30,000 visitors — that are really incredible cash-generating assets from a business point of view.

[00:04:00] And they’re very difficult to attack. And so, media owners, pre-pandemic certainly liked trade shows very much. And then luckily, I got out of trade shows more or less in time. I worked for a well-known media brand in the UK called Haymarket Media. This is the family-owned company by the former deputy prime minister, Michael Heseltine, and it is a legacy trade show kind of magazine business, also moving into the digital world and also realizing that events was a really a profitable tool for them, but also important leverage to connect their B2B communities. And then I got a call from the Financial Times in late 2019.

[00:04:38] It was one of those calls that you couldn’t say no to really. And so I landed at the FT in November 2019. It was very exciting because it felt like going slightly back to my roots because I had started in financial media and financial events and always see the FT is probably the most incredible brand in that space.

[00:04:56] And so it was one of those calls where I couldn’t say no. That’s kind of how I got to the FT, and the rest is history, as we say, but I’m sure we’ll be discussing it in a bit more detail than then. 

[00:05:06] Erik Fisher: So listeners obviously hear or see a red flag coming when they hear you joined in November 2019, knowing that in a matter of months, the world is going to be drastically changed. for the Financial Times, subscriptions are a main revenue driver, and community plays a big part in that.

[00:05:29] Pre-pandemic. Did you have any idea as to what the Financial Times event strategy looked like to involve subscribers and potential subscribers into that community?

[00:05:40] Orson Francescone: Yeah, that’s a really good question. And so I would say that the events business was quite disconnected from the center of the business and certainly the subscriber journey and value proposition. And so it was very obvious when I joined even before COVID that, and I internally, I call it the long March toward the center of FT Live. It was very obvious that FT Live needed to be much closer connected, first and foremost, with our newsroom operations. We were operating slightly in a siloed mentality before I arrived. One of my big pushes was to work a lot more closely with our newsroom and our incredible talent and editors and really align events strategy to the newsroom content strategy. That’s something we’ve been doing very successfully. And so, now, all senior events, all senior editors in the newsroom, are involved in any new event launches that we create. That is really important. And then there were systems and processes and technology disconnect.

[00:06:41] So that was another kind of long March toward the center of the FT. And the third one, really important for the kind of long-term longevity of the business model, is how to embed events into the subscriber value proposition. That’s a really fascinating journey because it takes us all the way into the back office of our systems and processes and data.

[00:07:03] Up until very recently, working on a segregated database for event attendees and subscribers and not being able to market subscribers with events or finding it very hard and clunky … there’s been a big push in terms of product and technology in terms of emerging databases, merging marketing systems.

[00:07:23] This may sound boring, but as actually there’s a huge value add in making those processes more efficient. Now that we fixed, or we think we fixed most of the backend processes. Now we’re really working on embedding events into the actual subscriber proposition and of course, digital events, which we haven’t come to yet make that a lot easier in the sense that it’s a lot easier to embed.

[00:07:47] Digital event passes or digital event series passes into subscribers, pricing, or packaging. We’re now working very closely with our colleagues and the subscription team and customer acquisition team as to how to price and bundle subscription with event access. It’s a really fascinating piece of work because, we know, and we’ve proven through lots of analysis, internal analysis and econometrics and statistical modeling that there’s a very positive effect on subscriber acquisition and retention of them attending our events. We know that subscribers that attend our events are much more likely to renew their subscription. And that is obviously very powerful when a subscription is kind of our north star strategy. But we also know that non-subscribers who attend events also have a much higher propensity to take out a subscription.

[00:08:37] And so really the symbiosis and the value add there is obvious, but we’ve proved it. And now, we’re working to maximize it as much as possible.

[00:08:46] Erik Fisher: So you step into the role, you’re starting to identify some of these things. You’re planning for FT Live, which was supposed to happen in 2020, correct. Or soon after.

[00:09:00] Orson Francescone: So I came in November 2019, and of course, as part of my recruitment strategy, my recruitment process, I had to present a strategy. And my whole strategy was based on a kind of pre-pandemic world based around physical events and in-person events and how to grow a B2B in-person event business.

[00:09:20] And then, of course, COVID happened on that whole, in fact, that whole deck actually. I presented a version of a dream, my recruitment process, but obviously three months into my new job. I was due to present an updated version of it to the board. And that presentation actually never got made.

[00:09:34] It’s still in my drawer. Because the day I was due to present my FT Live physical events strategy was the day that I got struck down with COVID in very early March of 2020, and this was the very beginning of the kind of COVID wave in the UK and in the world. I never went in that day because I was ill, and very quickly, as you might remember, the whole wave kind of took over.

[00:09:57] So that strategy is still in the drawer, and it’s a piece of history, I guess, but it never got presented. And then, I’m happy to talk you through the next phase, but I guess it was a very looking back on it, exhilarating and exciting, but obviously, at the time was also very stressful time for anyone who worked in events.

[00:10:15] It was hard to even say that to anyone.

[00:10:18] Erik Fisher: Financial Times was one of the first to pivot to virtual. 

[00:10:23] Orson Francescone: correct. 

[00:10:24] Erik Fisher: So aside from you contracting COVID, can you walk us through that shift in thinking and action that you made at 

[00:10:32] Orson Francescone: Yeah. 

[00:10:32] Erik Fisher: What did the annual global event look like prior to the pandemic? And then what did it shift to in 2020?.

[00:10:41] Orson Francescone: There was, I think the timing of me joining was not insignificant in the sense of, I felt there was an existential threat to my job, my division, my business. I very much felt in March and April, crikey, I’ve just joined this company, and for all I know they might just fire me and close down the entire division because an events division that can’t run events isn’t much of a mission.

[00:11:04] I distinctly remember feeling, gosh, I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’ve got to do something cause I don’t want to lose this incredible job that I’ve just landed. And so that slight fear of existential threat was a big driver in the decisions that I then took and turning points. We launched a webinar, or what I say, an “old-fashioned webinar,” which, of course, at the time were terribly unfashionable. And so, people working in live events, big trade shows, or very profitable conferences never dreamed of even thinking about webinars.

[00:11:38] And the only time we used to think about webinars as a bit of content marketing, and we used to more or less leave it to the marketing team, but it was never seen as a key part of our business. But, of course, with our back against the walls and not being able to do anything, that was the only thing I could think on.

[00:11:52] So I said, well, listen, let’s just do this webinar. And we called it the global economic emergency. I think it was the third week of March, and we got our chief economics commentator Martin Wolf. Who’s an internationally renowned and proper journalist at the FTM most well-known, and to, external guests to essentially try to explain to the world what was happening.

[00:12:13] These are times where beginning of March and the world was turned upside down and nobody had any idea what was going to happen. And so we launched it, and it took us kind of four days to market it. So we launched it very quickly. And by the end of that webinar is only a 25-minute webinar.

[00:12:29] We received about 6,000 registrations, which was way above what we ever thought. We hadn’t really set ourselves a target, but we probably thought, well, we get 300, 400 people logging in. That’ll be good. And when I saw those numbers, then suddenly there was a real light bulb moment. I thought, crikey, there’s something in this kind of blew my expectations. By far really. And so that really gave me the confidence and the impetus to push down the digital adventure. And it sounds obvious now, but digital events didn’t; it wasn’t a thing. It didn’t exist. Even the term digital event wasn’t a thing. And so very quickly, and I remember getting an email from my boss saying, that was amazing! Can we do it again but bigger? And the idea of the global boardroom was generated and in partnership with our colleagues at TMW is a media company that the FT now owns, a Dutch media company. I was discussing with one of their founders, and we came up with this idea of this event called the global boardroom, and the global boardroom was an event we then ran on the first week of May.

[00:13:31] So think: This is mid-March. And so six weeks later, we run the global boardroom with hundreds of global speakers, including Tony Blair, Al Gore, and CEOs of most incredible companies. And we convened about 55,000 people at that event. That was an incredible journey because, of course, how do you do that?

[00:13:53] How do you convene over a hundred speakers? And, these were big events. Try to launch in an analog pre-COVID world. We’re taking you probably a year-and-a-half or two-year lead time to convene 50 CEOs, prime ministers, and people of the caliber of Tony Blair and Al Gore, and trying to get these people to commit to speaking at an event.

[00:14:14] These are endeavors that take years, right? But because of the pandemic, we were able to do it in literally a matter of a week. And so, I had the most incredible content. And because we were the first ones out of the trap as to say, the reality is we got, anyone and, the privilege of working with such an amazing brand at the FT is that by and large, when you invite people to speak, you get, very high confirmation rates.

[00:14:34] But at the time, essentially anyone we asked said, yes, of course, we’ll speak. And the whole point of this event was convening the best brains and minds of the world to try and figure out what the hell was happening to this world. And so we had this incredible content team and every day they kept confirming more incredible speakers.

[00:14:49] And I guess I focus very much on the technology and the delivery aspect as to how this was going to happen. And I can tell you; it was scary. Painful and trying to figure out the best system to deliver this event. It wasn’t easy. 

[00:15:02] Remember, these are the days where nobody could guarantee you how many online registered, so you could, the system could cope with.? And I remember having a conversation with some of these technology leaders, and the answers were getting was like, well, we’re not really sure, maybe 5,000, maybe 4,000, maybe 6,000.

[00:15:18] I remember saying, well, what do you mean maybe? I need a definite answer. Right? And I’ve just had 6,000 people registered for this webinar. We’re probably gonna go bigger than that. And I need some guarantees. And the reality is that nobody could give me those guarantees because the technology at the time just wasn’t well-developed enough.

[00:15:34] And so we actually ended up doing a direct livestream on our website. And so, we ended up not using a traditional event registration delivery system. And so we use our friends at Bizzabo to register the delegates, but we then, at the time, decided to livestream directly onto one of our websites.

[00:15:52] And ultimately that was the right decision because we ended, we entered that event on day one with 23,000 registrations. And by the end of day one, it was a 3d digital event, by the way. But by the end of day one, we had reached 55,000 registrations. So throughout the day of day one, the registrations that doubled it was incredible.

[00:16:10] The reality is I would have had to cut the attendance cause I was getting answers like we’re not sure, but certainly not in the tens of thousands. And so, we would have kept the registrations. We probably would have been happy, but we never had; we’d never have known that there’d be other tens of thousands of people out there that wanted to join us and couldn’t have joined us. So I guess we made the right decision. We were lucky. But it was hair-raising and nervewracking. We had two cyberattacks on our event a couple of days before the event, a couple of people were trying to bring the website done.

[00:16:40] Orson Francescone: And so it was hair-raising stuff. I can tell you that. 

[00:16:43] Erik Fisher: Wow. Going back to that first webinar, you said you got about 6,000 registrations. 

[00:16:48] Orson Francescone: Yeah. 

[00:16:49] Erik Fisher: What does that look like in comparison to your regular in-person conferences? Up until that point.

[00:16:55] Orson Francescone: Oh, sure. I mean, listen, these are, these were numbers that were kind of, blowing our brains, right? So, even the 20,000, the 50,000, these were numbers we’d never would have dreamed of delivering. Our average pre-COVID event was probably 150 to 200 very senior executives in a five-star hotel.

[00:17:12] Just the sense of the scale of the transformation before COVID FT Live used to convene. And we had a global event business where we’re running events all over the world, but we used to convene about 25,000 people every year at our conferences in-person conferences, and now a

[00:17:31] Erik Fisher: And that’s cumulative over the course of 

[00:17:33] multiple in-person conferences for the year. 

[00:17:36] Orson Francescone: Correct. And now that number is about 300,000 people. So I always, that includes digital, right? And so essentially, a more than 10-fold increase in the numbers of people that we’re attracting to listen to our content. And that obviously is extremely powerful on lots of different levels, right? For our sponsors, that sponsored events for our subscriber proposition for amazing journalists that want to be heard in every corner of the world.

[00:18:00] And so really, we’re evangelizing the word of the FT now through digital, in every corner of the world. And I look at event registrations, and I can see people from Argentina, Chile, Australia, Papua New Guinea, you name it. There are people logging in, right? And these are people who would never have come to our events. Right? 

[00:18:17] So we’re not, sort of a question of cannibalizing physical attendees with digital audiences. These are new audiences that, pretty conceivably would never have flown from Papua New Guinea to attend an event in London or New York, right? And so, the added value has just been incredible to us. 

[00:18:33] Erik Fisher: That’s amazing. So to go from, you said 25,000 in a year, cumulative from in-person to a single event of 6,000 to a single event with 55,000. 

[00:18:49] Orson Francescone: Yeah. 

[00:18:50] Erik Fisher: Those numbers are amazing. Obviously, with that switch and that initial test and that initial webinar, and then doubling down and saying, no, we’re going to do global boardroom, your team, which was used to doing in-person physical 

[00:19:04] Orson Francescone: yeah. 

[00:19:05] Erik Fisher: shifting to all digital.

[00:19:06] What does that look like for them in terms of skillset and abilities and bringing in extra people in the way you shifted?

[00:19:13] Orson Francescone: Very good question. The honest answers it was really hard. And I would say that the majority of the team embraced it and, I guess came on this journey with me. But it was hard because we were suddenly trying to get our heads around stuff we’d never done before.

[00:19:28] As the months went by, we realized that we did need a long-term solution in terms of technology, partners, and providers. And so, I remember spending most of the summer of 20, 20 speaking to, I don’t want to say hundreds, but probably tens of technology platform providers.

[00:19:43] Orson Francescone: And by the end of it, I, I definitely felt like a bit of an expert. I remember asking them difficult questions because I knew where all the skeletons were hidden with these technology platforms. Back to the question about the team. It was very difficult because some people find it just really hard and too hard; the pressure and the intensity because the pressure and intensity were pretty incredible.

[00:20:01] The reality is the global boardroom meant that over the next few weeks, we were getting inquiries from clients left, right, and center saying, oh my God, we want to be part of this. Can you run an event for us? Can we be involved in your digital events? And so, we had a huge uptick in interest from potential partners and sponsors.

[00:20:20] Orson Francescone: And obviously, in a scenario where essentially our live event business was down to zero, we needed to take it at everything we could. And so, it just meant that the pressure was very intense. The pace was unbelievably intense. Again, it’s like moving from analog to digital. It’s a completely different mindset.

[00:20:35] I remember doing a session with my whole team, and remember we’re doing this all virtually and digitally, by the way. Cause we were in lockdown. Right? We don’t for about 12 months nobody’s meeting face-to-face, and this is happening kind of remotely, which is incredible.

[00:20:50] But I remember doing sessions on what our agile product development was because this was a team that had never heard of agile or never heard of product development; actually, they were essentially used to an analog conference model. As I said, most people embraced it and enjoyed it, but some people really didn’t.

[00:21:04] I didn’t like it and didn’t find it easy, I guess, in particular, our operations team. And so this is the team that is usually tasked with, booking venues and making sure that are onsite experiences flawless and incredible. Well, when you ask a team that is used to doing that to essentially become digital.

[00:21:20] Maybe a production specialist. Some people like the challenge, but frankly, other people don’t because it’s a completely different job. And so, unfortunately, we did lose some people who felt like, you know what, this just isn’t for me, it’s not playing to my skill set. I’m finding it too stressful and too difficult.

[00:21:33] I remember these are days where digital technology also was unreliable. We started running digital events on some of our partners’ platforms, and we would sometimes run events, and suddenly the screen would go to black, or the whole system would come crashing down. And that’s very nerve-wracking; when you’re running an event in a convention center in a hotel, and the room is too cold or too hot, or the microphone’s not working, you can fix that. Everything is fixable in a physical world, right? In the digital kind of TV type world, when the screen goes to black, it’s like, you’re the feeling in your stomach, and the sinking feeling in your stomach is horrific. And if you’re the operations manager who is running that event, well, it’s a horrible feeling, and it’s nerve-wracking. And cause the last thing you want is this for your event to go down. But listen, by and large, most of the team came on the journey, and they’ve just been incredible, to be honest, and the way they embrace the change is something that I’m still unbelievably proud of.

[00:22:26] And unfortunately some people had to move on because they felt it was just not what they wanted, it’s been an incredible journey, and now we have. Probably one of the most skilled teams and running digital events out there. And we’re confident with different platforms, different formats from a webinar to a four day event with 150 speakers.

[00:22:45] And of course, now we’re into hybrid territory. So as we go back to visit. We’re figuring out what a hybrid event is and what it means. And so FT Live is a very exciting place to be at the moment. It’s running very fast. It’s growing very quickly. It’s a much bigger business now than it was pre-pandemic.

[00:23:00] And so, every day is exhilarating and exciting. 

[00:23:04] Erik Fisher: Well, I mean, obviously, in-person and virtual communities don’t need or even want the same things. They don’t function the same. You may have different generational gaps, digital natives, et cetera, with. 52 or, well, let’s say, 55,000 people in attendance at the event. Obviously that’s a lot of customer journeys that are being kicked off.

[00:23:29] the long term strategy look like for and engaging that community both during and post-event? Like what are those points look like to keep attendees engaged during and after?

[00:23:43] Orson Francescone: Good question. I remember this question would have been relevant pre-pandemic, right? So, working in the B2B community media space, one of our biggest questions there was how do we nurture our communities, and how do we make sure that they engage with us —  not just at the event; the famous 365-day marketing plan, right?

[00:24:03] This isn’t new, right? We’ve been talking about this for years and years. But in a way, it’s come to the forefront a bit more with the digital transformation. And I would say that the reality is that the technology is still not complete, and it’s still not there in terms of where I’d like to see it.

[00:24:16] And so we’re at a stage now where the technology in terms of registration and delivering digital events is in a good place. And so, latency issues or capacity issues have now more or less been solved, and you can run a digital event or more of these platforms with hundreds of thousands of people.

[00:24:32] And, and it’ll be fine. But what they’re not still great at is the whole. Online, digital networking and pre and post events, networking and nurturing. And this is something that everyone struggles with — and has struggled with. For these couple of reasons, digital networking and nurturing really need a network effect.

[00:24:52] And so, there’s a reason it’s taken LinkedIn years and years to develop. It’s now doing well, and do you need very big scale to make these things work. Even with a couple of thousands of attendees, I see some improvements in terms of digital networking.

[00:25:05] But it’s very hard to get people to say, come and network on our event platform instead of networking on LinkedIn; I find it hard. When I attend events, I don’t know. Not really. And then, of course, it only works at scale. And so it only works if people reply to the messages you send.

[00:25:20] If you to them. Right? The reality is we’re not there yet because we operate on so many different platforms in our personal lives. We’ve got email Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. And so, oh, and here’s another one from this event that I’m going to attend next week, and they want me to start networking on.

[00:25:34] And it’s a different people got different motivations, right? If you’re attending an event or a big trade show and you need to set up meetings and business development is your key raison d’etre, then you kind of need to get on that platform and really start sending those messages out. But, we know that still, the engagement is still pretty low, and that’s just something that, just don’t know if anyone’s gonna be able to crack that so much.

[00:25:55] Erik Fisher: There’s still steps being taken … 

[00:25:58] Orson Francescone: Yeah. Yeah. And listen, we all know that some of these, the big providers, receive record investments during the pandemic. Right. And that’s a positive, right. Because we’re now seeing them scale up their capabilities and their functionalities.

[00:26:11] I think what we’re realizing now with the hybrid model and we’re returning back to physical. As I’m here in Washington at the moment, where we’ve launched our first U S weekend festival at the Kennedy Center. It’s very exciting to walk into a beautiful convention center and run a in-person event.

[00:26:28] Orson Francescone: But we don’t want to lose those digital audiences from Papua New Guinea that would never have come to the FT weekend festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. And so, for me, digital is still really important. We need to hold onto those audiences, and the only way we can do so is by offering up the hybrid event model, and that’s evolving and we’re learning a lot and what is a hybrid event and what is digital to the physical mix is something that we’re experiencing right now.

[00:26:55] And so we’re looking very closely at the data, what customers are telling us. And I guess it’s a constantly evolving product, which is also very exciting. 

[00:27:06] Erik Fisher: the light of that, now that we are seeing a return to in-person events, and you’ve stated that you want to maintain a digital-first approach as doing your events moving forward, what are some of those struggles and what is the shape of that taking moving forward as your, you and everyone are moving into this post-pandemic phase?

[00:27:26] Orson Francescone: So a couple of the struggles are, think what we’re seeing now is a spike in-person attendance, which, I guess obvious after two years of being locked in at home. And so one of the questions my team and I have is, is this spike going to be permanent, or is it just kind of an initial kind of pent-up demand?

[00:27:46] Is that going to slow down a bit? I also think the global economic situation we’re working in now will play more favorably toward digital events because you, notwithstanding COVID, if we’re entering a time of recession, inflation, and stagflation where marketing budgets are starting to get cut and travel budgets are going to start getting cut.

[00:28:08] Then I have a feeling that digital is going to come back and play an important role yet again, and being able to connect people and also a more cost-effective and faster option for companies to market their products via digital. Physical events are great, but you know, the lead times necessary to convene people in a physical presence or not that conducive to making fast business decisions,right? And so, I want to sponsor a physical event. Well, it’s kind of a six to 12-month project. I need to think of how much are we going to spend on this event, who’s going to go, who’s going to speak, and what level of investment and coordinating diaries and travel.

[00:28:44] It’s kind of an expensive endeavor with a long lead time. So it’s not that efficient actually from a, if you think about, put your CMO cap on, what’s the quickest, most productive and valuable way of achieving the goals that we tend to achieve with events.

[00:28:59] Orson Francescone: Actually physical events tick some boxes, but you know, there are still quite some negatives in terms of time to market, expense ratio, and getting people on a plane and coordinating their diaries. And so, I have a sense that the spike we see in in-person demand is natural. But I have a sense that it may slow down, and digital may pick up again. The trend we’re seeing now is physical is going to buck up, and obviously, digital numbers are smaller than they were a year ago for obvious reasons. But I think it’ll plateau in the next couple of years. And so I think you’ll see that spike from physical coming down and potentially digital being back up again. 

[00:29:37] Erik Fisher: When you said. 

[00:29:38] Orson Francescone: This is second-guessing again. 

[00:29:39] Erik Fisher: Yeah. When you said to check the boxes, I went in my head to; most people are familiar with this. They’ve been on a website, they’ve clicked the pricing tab and they see the different tiers and they see, the free tier has all these boxes checked a point. And then the next tier that you pay more for has more boxes checked.

[00:29:56] Orson Francescone: Yeah, 

[00:29:56] Erik Fisher: of that. I’m thinking of that now in terms of in-person hybrid and virtual and which boxes are checked and so on. And. Fits people in their current monetary state and financial state, as well as convinces the boss that it’s worthwhile and so on.

[00:30:16] Orson Francescone: Yeah. And the way I presented it to my team. And I’ve used this slide at a couple of external events as w take an old-fashioned sales or marketing funnel. And then depending on where on the funnel, you think you are, your product is, or whatever you’re trying to achieve, then there are different events solutions for you.

[00:30:33] If you’re looking for, say, you’re a software or a SAS product, and you’re looking for a lead generation. Well, back in pre-pandemic days, we might organize a dinner or an event and invite some potential clients. But again, what kind of notice do you need to give your clients to come to one of those events?

[00:30:50] Probably two, three months; anything shorter and you’re just not going to get the numbers. And how many people are you going to convene in a room to talk about a piece of technology, 50 or 6,000, if you’re lucky? Well, that kind of activity has, can be completely replaced by digital webinars. Right? And so, if you’re a software provider and you’re looking for lead generation type of activity, well, a digital webinar will deliver you hundreds of leads. And it’ll do that very quickly. We run two types of events at FT Live. We run our own flagship events, which is our preferred business model, but we also the clientele at events business, and that client teller lens business relies very heavily on the digital product because in the example of that lead generation activity. Well, that digital webinar, let’s call it a webinar, it sounds old-fashioned, beats up in-person conferences every day in terms of route to market, in terms of cost. We can spin up a digital event for a client in about four weeks. We asked for four weekly times in terms of making sure that we convened the right audience for our clients, but in four weeks time, and without flying anyone to anywhere, we’re able to deliver our clients with hundreds of leads, depending on what market they’re operating is and is it aligned with our readership, right? And that is hugely powerful. Because good luck trying to convene four or 500 people at a sponsor dinner where someone’s going to talk about their technology. It’s going to take you six months maybe to put that together and lots of expense.

[00:32:18] And so some digital experiences I think, have completely replaced what used to happen before pandemic. And that’s just not going away, but conversely, if you want to sit on the stage. Next to the FT editor or next to a prime minister or next to Tony Blair, or Al Gore, or Joe Biden, or you name it.

[00:32:38] You can do that digitally, but obviously it’s quite powerful to do that in an in-person fashion as well. And so there’s definitely a place for in-person and then back to networking and deal-making, and so, my favorite events or events where I say deal-making, but where business actually happens at the events.

[00:32:55] In the B2B media world, deal-making events are the most powerful and profitable events, right? So your content is what gets people to buy the ticket and gives it gives you the seal of approval that this is a good conference. But actually. And some events, as you will know, a lot of people just are in the corridors, are in the meeting rooms, doing business.

[00:33:13] They’ll dip into the content, the real reason that there is to do business. And those are very powerful event propositions because it gives you pricing power. And in a way, the price of the conference ticket is irrelevant. If I can get a big deal done or lined up at an event, and that’s very hard to replicate on online and digitally, it’s really hard because doing big deals online. It’s just something that that is not easy. And it’s not natural. You do need that face-to-face and personnel element. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve as a client, or as a sponsor, or as a delegate, then think about the marketing funnel and think, is physical the best type of product or maybe digital or maybe hybrid, depending. Sometimes you want a bit of both. You want some lead generation, but you also want some big kind of top-of-the-funnel brand activation. Or sometimes you just want a very intimate dinner with kind of ready hot sales leads, and doing that in a five-star Michelin-starred restaurant very powerful proposition that just isn’t going to work online.

[00:34:15] So it really depends on what you’re trying to achieve by your event experience. And then think about where in the funnel you’re at and think about what it is digital better or physical better or hybrid. That’s the way I tried to explain it to my team. And my team tried to explain the range of options to our clients. 

[00:34:32] Erik Fisher: That’s great, obviously, we’re about a third into the year right now. You’re doing an in-person event right now. I’d love to direct people to where they can find out about your digital offerings as well as your future in-person offerings. What’s the best place to send people to.

[00:34:50] Orson Francescone: Well, Live.FT.com is our website. So that’s part of the best place to see where events are happening. And there we’ve got, physical, digital round tables, conferences. Happy to say, we’ve just confirmed Elon Musk to speak at a FT the car event next week.

[00:35:07] This is the privilege of working for such an incredible brand. I mean, I’m very lucky to be in a position where I’m working with an incredible newsroom, but as able to essentially reach out to Elon Musk and get them to speak at one of our events. So next Tuesday, Elon Musk is going to speak on our event, but, and he’s bringing in digitally by the way. That’s a hybrid event, where Elon was gonna, it’s gonna come in digitally on. Obviously the beauty of hybrid and digital is that it allows us to, to get in speakers that just would have been really hard to get in person.

[00:35:39] Erik Fisher: Yet another variable that has now, I mean, pre-pandemic, physical events, I attended one or two and did have that happen, but it was still very clunky, but we’ve gone through this kind of digital birthing of the technology and the growth and sped up the process to where that’s now going to be something we’re going to see much more often.

[00:36:00] Orson Francescone: Correct. So yeah, live.ft.com, you can see what’s coming up, but you know, conversely, tomorrow the Kennedy Center, I’m going to meet Henry Kissinger, who is our 

[00:36:09] Erik Fisher: Wow. 

[00:36:10] Orson Francescone: And isn’t that incredible to be able to meet him in person. We’ve got Henry Kissinger, we’ve got Bill Burris, the director of the CIA, coming to speak and incredible program of culture, and music.

[00:36:20] And the National Symphony Orchestra is going to play for us at the Kennedy Center. And so, those are in-person experiences that you won’t forget. And so, Could we have got Henry Kissinger to speak online? Sure. We could but could we get the National Symphony Orchestra to play online?

[00:36:34] Well, we did that. So at the peak of the pandemic, we had the London Symphony Orchestra play for us at the FT Weekend Festival, which was amazing going-on for a nice Saturday at the Kennedy Center and being able to bump into Henry Kissinger or Bill Burris, or Tina Brown, or you name it or doing a whiskey tasting or a wine tasting or listening to some live music.

[00:36:54] Well, those are special experiences and memories or moments that we still do want to create. And we still do think that they have value. 

[00:37:02] Erik Fisher: It’s all about creating those events experiences regardless of platform or in-person space. So great. Orson, it’s been awesome talking with you today. I can’t wait to have you back on the show in the future. It’ll be great to catch up again, but thank you so much for being here, and I’ll link. 

[00:37:19] I’ll link up to everything we talked about in the show notes, and thank you so much. 

[00:37:23] Orson Francescone: Great. And if anyone wants to reach out, your LinkedIn’s probably the best place to find me. If you want to drop me a message, I’m active on LinkedIn.

[00:37:30] Erik Fisher: We’ll link up to your profile in our show notes as well. 

[00:37:33] Orson Francescone: Thank you, and best of luck to everyone going through the hybrid digital in-person journey.

[00:37:37] It’s exciting. It’s nerve-wracking, but I think “big” is my takeaway. “Think big” — and don’t be afraid of experimenting. 

[00:37:46] Wow. What a great conversation with Orson. I’m so glad to have been able to speak with him and share it with you. Make sure to subscribe if you haven’t already by hitting the follow or subscribe button in your podcast player app of choice, where you’re listening to this. Also, would you do us a favor and share this episode with someone you know needs to hear it. Just head on over to Bizzabo.com/podcasts and share with another #EventProf who will thank you for it.

[00:38:16] Thank you so much for sharing. Thanks again for listening. And we will see you next episode.

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