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Episode 75 / October 16, 2023

How the Financial Times event team drives growth at scale

In this episode, Orson Francescone of FT Live shares invaluable insights into strategic, scalable event management.

This episode — which aired recently as a webinar — provides a deep dive into the strategic world of event management, spotlighting the strategies and experiences of FT Live, the event arm of the Financial Times

Managing Director of FT Live Orson Francescone and Bizzabo’s Experience Lab Head Oren Berkovich explore the nuances of managing and scaling 200+ FT Live events annually. Francescone emphasizes the criticality of comprehensive processes, strategic scaling through investment, and the willingness to cull underperforming events to maintain a quality portfolio.

Francescone also highlights the indispensable role of content in driving event growth and ensuring attendee engagement, advocating for a content-led approach to event management. He encourages event planners to “Think Big” while emphasizing the vital role of marketing in ensuring event success and advocating for full use of marketing budgets to maximize event visibility and impact. 

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

  • Why strategic investment and scaling are pivotal in amplifying the success of events
  • How to take a data-driven approach for more informed decision-making in event management
  • The power of focusing on content quality and aggressive marketing for maximizing event impact and attendance

Mentioned in This Episode


[00:00:10] 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. 

In this audio version of Bizzabo’s recent webinar — How the Financial Times event team

drives growth at scale — Oren Berkovich, Head of Experience Lab at Bizzabo, hosts a vibrant interview with Financial Times Live Managing Director, Orson Francescone. 

This episode explores the question of event ROI, just one area of focus for more than 4,000 event organizers and attendees from Bizzabo’s recent report on the State of in-person B2B conferences. Keep listening to learn how you can ensure seamless marketing and event strategy alignment, discover new data on event organizer challenges, and translate expert best practices from the Financial Times into your own event strategy.

[00:01:15] Oren Berkovich: Hi. Welcome, everyone. I am so excited to be with all of you. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Oren, and I lead the Event Experience Lab at Bizzabo. My team and I spend day in and day out working with event organizers and marketers on creating exceptional event experiences. But for today, I’m going to be your event facilitator.

[00:01:36] We’re going to have a really, really interesting conversation with one of my favorite partners, the Financial Times, and as we go through this, just a quick reminder on why we’re here. So a couple months ago Bizzabo surveyed over 4000 event organizers and participants about different aspects of B2B conferences.

[00:01:59] The responses really highlighted some really interesting insights on really how business critical B2B conferences are. And so we thought it would be a great idea to have an event series, bring in some of the leading experts in the space, and really talk to them about what they think about some of these findings, what are they up to.

[00:02:20] And hopefully we can learn some tips and ideas from their playbooks. So a couple of insights that I pulled out for today’s conversation that I’m excited to talk about. 

[00:02:31] First, more than 70 percent of organizers who we surveyed said that they struggle to prove the ROI of their events. Frankly, I mean, we’ve run many of these webinars. I’m sure you’ve been in many of our webinars. And this has been an ongoing question that comes through. How do you show ROI? How do you measure it? How do you prove it to different stakeholders? So this came through in the in the survey as well. And I wanted to pull it out and and talk about this today as well.

[00:03:00] We also heard from event organizers that they have a hard time aligning their event strategy with their marketing strategy and really overall business strategy, right? How do you kind of position the events team as an integral part of the business and a great business driver as opposed to a marketing channel?

[00:03:18] So these are really, really two interesting insights from the survey that I wanted to pull out. And it’s part of our three part series that we’ve launched just a few weeks ago. So if you haven’t been to our first conversation, we had leaders from IMAX, Money2020, and Shiloh Events. It was a fantastic conversation about the state of B2B events, really what changed, what didn’t change.

[00:03:41] We learned some very interesting insights and some practical examples from all three leaders that were with us so you can watch that on demand. Today is a deep dive, so we’re going to go deep into one use cases with the Financial Times and more on that in a minute. And then in a few weeks, we’re going to talk about how do you build an overall kind of yearly plan that integrates your events into your marketing and other strategies to maximize the impact.

[00:04:07] So that’s where we’ve been. This is where we are today and where we’re headed. And with that let me introduce our expert for today. Orson Francescone is the managing director of FT Live. This is the global event business of the Financial Times.

[00:04:22] He’s been in B2B media and events for over 15 years. He designed conferences, trade show, award ceremonies, galas, exhibitions. You name it, he designed it. He’s one of those people that you need to talk to about monetizing events and audiences and really how do you kind of leverage different event formats to do different things.

[00:04:46] He’s Italian, he is Irish, he’s an event expert and he’s an economist and most important, he is with us today. I’m thrilled to have Orson with us and really dive into a lot of these topics and learn from his playbook. So Orson, let’s bring you into our show. How are you?

[00:05:04] Orson Francescone: Hey Oren, hello. How are you? Great to see you. I’m dialing in from Amsterdam at the moment. Hello everyone who’s joined. 

[00:05:12] Oren Berkovich: This is late for you, right? What time is it over there? 

[00:05:15] Orson Francescone: It is 6 p. m in Amsterdam. Actually, I thought it was a good moment to announce that today we completed the acquisition of The Next Web. So, The Next Web is a very large tech festival that takes place in Amsterdam every year with 10,000 people and the FT invested in The Next Web four years ago, and today we completed the acquisition.

[00:05:33] And so I’m here to spend time with the team and really embed the business into our operations. I’m wearing my Next Web attire, by the way. Usually I wear like a nice shirt and a suit, but because I’m in tech startup plan, I have to wear a hoodie, so that’s 

[00:05:45] Oren Berkovich: Yes, yes, for sure.

[00:05:47] Are you wearing flip flops and shorts as well or is this just the hoodie? 

[00:05:50] Orson Francescone: No, not so much. Just the hoodie . 

[00:05:52] Oren Berkovich: We’re not gonna ask you to stand up, but I know lots of people are excited about today’s conversation. We’ve got hundreds of events, organizers and marketers. 

[00:06:01] So Orson, here’s the plan for tonight. I want to have an open and honest and practical conversation about how event professionals can ensure that their gatherings are part of the larger marketing plan and overall business strategy.

[00:06:17] This has been kind of ongoing theme that we’ve we’ve been hearing from our partners and clients and other event organizers. So I want to have a conversation about it. 

[00:06:26] So, trust me, I’ve had a lot of time with Orson, I’ll have many more conversations with him in the future. But today, we’re here really for you. I told Orson that I’ve got a few questions ready to go, but I’m ready to throw all of those away and bring in whatever you all want to talk about.

[00:06:43] I want to kind of set the scene a little bit, Orson, so people know why we chose the Financial Times for this conversation, other than the fact that, you know, we’ve been long time partners.

[00:06:52] I know you look at events as a product and as a business driver as opposed to just a marketing channel. So, you know, I wanted to talk into that. You’re looking at video on demand as a commodity. So I know you’ve got some really interesting insights on using VOD. And you’re in front of a lot of the trends that we’re seeing in the industry.

[00:07:12] So definitely something of interest. FT Live in my mind is a true leader when it comes to hybrid events you brought back in person after the pandemic, but you’ve kept virtual and you were using some interesting ways of combining the two. So definitely like wanting to talk to you about that.

[00:07:30] And lastly, you guys have this multi event type model that I think will be very interesting for people to learn more about. So all of those reasons. I wanted to bring you guys in and have a conversation about it.

[00:07:43] And so before we dive in, why don’t you kind of help us set the scenes in terms of the layer of the lens? How many events are you running? How many people show up? How many people are on your team? Tell us some stats on kind of where things are at. 

[00:07:57] Orson Francescone: Sure. Thanks, Aaron. So FT Live is the events arm of the Financial Times. We currently run around 200, 220 events a year, which is a big number. It is what I would describe a relatively complex event business in the sense that we operate lots of different event models. And I’ll come back to that.

[00:08:16] In terms of numbers is about when I joined the FT Live in 2019, November 2019, we had about 85 people. Now the team is quite a lot bigger, about 150 people. We’re primarily based in London. And then a team in New York, a team in Hong Kong, a small presence in the Philippines and Manila. And we’re by and large organized like a lot of the events companies are around the pillars of marketing, sales, content and operations with a few deviations from there.

[00:08:46] And so coming back to the theme of a relatively complex business is because we run lots of different event types. And so, you know, prior to the pandemic, I would have said, you know, running lots of different event types and I’ll come onto the types in a second is a complex strategy and could possibly slow companies down.

[00:09:03] And so, you know, usually you tend to focus on, you know, you’re doing trade shows or you’re doing webinars or you’re doing roundtables. Are you doing conferences? We kind of do the lot other than pure trade shows, which I love, I have a history in trade shows, but I guess The Next Web, which is this big tech festival is the nearest to a trade show, but not really.

[00:09:21] But other than large trade shows, we kind of do all the event models. And so I guess conferences. And our events are all B2B events. So there’s an exception, which is called the FT Weekend Festival. But other than that, they are all B2B. 

[00:09:33] Oren Berkovich: That just happened, no? Didn’t that just happen a couple of weeks ago?

[00:09:35] Orson Francescone: Yeah, we just ran that in London and it’s a fantastic day out. It’s like a summer, English summer festival where the best of the FT comes together and it’s a consumer audience, but that actually is an outlier. 

[00:09:46] Oren Berkovich: Yeah. Can you say, 220 or so events a year? 

[00:09:49] Orson Francescone: Yeah. And so in that I include, the way we’re structured is we have our big flagship conferences, so I don’t know, the Banking Summit, or the Future of the Car, or some of our really prime events where multi sponsored people can purchase a ticket and attend the event.

[00:10:06] And then we have a fast growing, what we call partner event business. And these are single sponsor activations around a bespoke audience and a bespoke topic. 

[00:10:16] Oren Berkovich: We can use, we can use that multi event funnel. 

[00:10:20] I want to kind of stay a little bit at the high level yet.

[00:10:22] And I, I’ve done some research and I, I know you’ve managed to double your events team since you joined. So congrats on that. Definitely. It sounds like you’re, you’re doing a lot. 

[00:10:31] Where does the events team sits in the org?

[00:10:33] Are you part of marketing? Are you part of operation? 

[00:10:36] Orson Francescone: Really good question. Really good question. And so FT Live kind of sits in its own unit. Okay. But it’s deeply connected to the center of the organization. And in fact, I guess my mission over the past four years was really to, I call it the long march, long march towards the center to bring FT Live much closer to the center of the FT.

[00:10:54] Primarily, firstly and foremost with our newsroom. And so we have 600 incredible journalists, a big shout out to our journalists who believe in free and independent journalism. Without fear or favor is our motto, and we lean on that a lot. And so we are very deeply connected with our newsroom, although we have a content team within the FT Live divisions.

[00:11:14] But essentially, we don’t run any events without involving one of our journalists, at least one of our journalists. And so they’re deeply involved in the conferences. 

[00:11:22] Oren Berkovich: And so the events team If I just from our conversation, you’re about 170 or so people, 

[00:11:31] Orson Francescone: 150, 150, 

[00:11:31] Oren Berkovich: That’s a very large advanced team. And so you’re kind of trying to have some gravity towards the center.

[00:11:37] So all the different business lines will see FT live as an enabler, as opposed to just marketing. 

[00:11:43] Orson Francescone: It’s a bit, it’s a business unit in its own right. And so it’s a, you know, call it a profit center or call it a business unit or call it a P&L. And so it’s a business in its own right. 

[00:11:52] Oren Berkovich: How much business would you say that that FT Live business unit drives?

[00:11:57] Orson Francescone: Yeah, it’s a very big, big driver without going into the detail of the numbers, but it drives around 30 percent of the profits of the group. So it’s a very, very big profit driver. 

[00:12:05] And those are the profits. Obviously, we can measure in monetary terms, which are important. But then there is the halo effect, which is hard to measure about the FT brand, which is being essentially broadcast in every corner of the world. And one of the great things about digital events, which I love so much is when I look at the delegate list of some of our events.

[00:12:22] So all our events, even the ones that are back in person are streamed online. And so I guess all our events are hybrid. And this was a big thing. 

[00:12:29] Oren Berkovich: I’m curious. Different people have different definitions on what hybrid is. And so you’re saying all the events are streamed. Why don’t we, let’s kind of go step by step. 

[00:12:38] Orson Francescone: I guess one of the ways I tried to explain kind of our business model is that most of our clients are direct clients are marketeers within large blue chip organizations who come to the FT because they want to achieve a goal and they see events as a medium to achieve that goal.

[00:12:53] And they come to us and say, well, we’ve got this problem and we’d like you to help us with the solution. And I guess the way I like to explain how we can help them is through a variety of solutions on the solutions. They we push them towards or we nudge them towards depends on what they are trying to achieve.

[00:13:11] And so you know, we speak about everyone has seen a sales or marketing funnel on really depending on what that client is trying to achieve. We have a product really that that fits on on that on that funnel. So, for example, yeah, if you’re looking for top of the funnel activation and you’re looking for big numbers, well, we know that, you know, digital is probably one of the most efficient and cost efficient and fast and quick methods of, for example, generating lots of leads.

[00:13:38] And so on our client tailored events business, we get a lot of technology companies that essentially need lots of hot leads. And prior to COVID, we could have organized an in person conference. It probably would have taken us six to 12 months to organize. People tend not to like going in person to sales pitches or to commercial events.

[00:13:59] And so it would be very expensive. They’ve had to fly people. And now, of course, the digital event in six weeks, we can provide our clients with an incredible audience, big numbers, you know, still on average or a webinar is attracting around three to four thousands registrations per webinar.

[00:14:15] So these are still pretty big numbers in a post-COVID environment. And a lot of those, you know convert into leads that then they those clients can nurture. 

[00:14:25] Oren Berkovich: You’re bringing people into the conversation. You’re doing it in a cheap way in a quick way. You can do many of these and you’re basically responding to demand that comes internally of like, we want to kind of bring people into like this service or that product and you kind of quickly spin mostly digital events.

[00:14:43] And that more, that’s kind of that top of funnel. 

[00:14:46] Orson Francescone: Also, by and large, they tend not to just come for, for lead generation. The reason they come to the FT is because they also want some brand association that they, they couldn’t get with like a, you know, an anonymous event organizer.

[00:14:58] So that’s a really important, important part, but, and I guess unique to us. And then you might have somebody who really needs to focus on brand alignment or big com strategy or some big realignment. And so potentially, for example, one of our big flagship events, which is an in person event like the Banking Summit, you know, imagine you’re a Deutsche Bank and you’re breaking into, I don’t know wealth management in Asia.

[00:15:20] And you want to make a big, big deal of this and probably joining a conversation in person at our Banking Summit, which has essentially every CEO of every bank under the sun joins that event or banking editor is there. Our chief editor is there. You know, those are huge big brand alignment exercises and again the power of the brand allows us to do that. So if that’s what you’re trying to achieve one of those events is probably more apt for you.

[00:15:47] Oren Berkovich: So you’re saying this funnel, just to clarify, is kind of both internally focused and externally focused. It might be an FT Live partner that wants to achieve something and they’re partnering with FT Live, like the Banking Summit, to kind of, you know, bring awareness or kind of create partnerships. But it also could be internally in terms of like, there is some other business line within FT that wants to do something and use the events team to drive that.

[00:16:13] Is that a fair explanation? 

[00:16:15] Orson Francescone: No, not so much. So we are self standing and obviously we collaborate very closely, for example, with our ads team. So, you know, some of the way our sponsorship revenue is generated is primarily through our own team, but, you know, we collaborate quite closely with our central advertising team.

[00:16:30] And sometimes there will be an ads and events kind of package put together. And then further down the funnel, we have products such as roundtables or private dinners. And roundtables are 10 people around the table in a Chatham House rules kind of environment with a very senior editor that are discussing a very important topic.

[00:16:48] And so or I don’t, a three star Michelin star dinner with six people around the table, having very high level conversations. And so I guess the best clients are the ones who understand this journey and actually buy multiple products from us. And so who say, well, we’re going to start from the top of the funnel with, with, you know, big top of the funnel activation.

[00:17:09] And over the next 24 months, we’re going to engage with all the different types of events you have. And as we bring people down the funnel, we will, we will pick an event format from what you have to offer. 

[00:17:19] Oren Berkovich: So I like it. Basically, you have a kind of rich toolbox and you’re able to use different tools for different situations.

[00:17:27] And this way you can create some stickiness that some of your partners and clients or whatnot could be with you for. An extended period of time because you can kind of help guide them through multiple different stages of the journey, as opposed to just give them a single tool for a single cause.

[00:17:44] Orson Francescone: Correct. You have a complex business structure, but you know, how do you keep your events focused on a complex event business? Which is a question that I ask myself every day, you know, are we doing too much or do we have too many event models? And you know, the reality is we’re growing quite strongly. And so I guess the proof of pudding isn’t eating, but it’s a highly processed and process driven environment, right? And so we all know that, you know, events are a highly, highly processed kind of endeavor. And as the organizations become more complex, you need to be really careful that you’ve got your processes fine tuned and you’re constantly fine tuning them and the reality is I’m surrounded by 150 incredible professionals who essentially exactly what they’re doing, but I said, you know, there’s always fine tuning to do all the time. But you know, if you don’t have the processes, the wheels fall off the wagon very quickly, right?

[00:18:28] So it’s a quite you know, very tight organization. 

[00:18:31] Oren Berkovich: When I talked to you, you shared with me that there are these kind of four headline objectives that for FT Live’s strategy, right?

[00:18:39] Why don’t you talk through very briefly, if you can Orson, just one or two steps of each of these things. 

[00:18:45] Orson Francescone: I guess we discussed this, and you were quite curious. You know, what are your priorities? Essentially? Exactly. And my priorities are, you know, scale in events is a really important point.

[00:18:55] You know, I started my career in conferences, then I moved into trade shows now I’m more or less back into conferences, but you know, trade shows are an amazing model. Big events, big, large events are an incredible model because they build barriers to entry. And so I’m constantly thinking how we can scale our events and, you know, I don’t really like to have a long tail of small events, and so that’s a big thing for me, and we can go into that in a bit more detail.

[00:19:16] Going by delegate numbers, it’s just, you know, our revenue makes us quite sponsorship heavy, and so there’s… You know, I think there’s an opportunity to push in the delegate numbers and digital product opportunities around VOD and the technology around VOD and what is the opportunity? Is there an opportunity and what is it?

[00:19:31] And really using technology to operate more efficiently a slightly more inward looking kind of topic and this is about back to processes and how can we use technology to make our process much quicker faster and and reliable, I guess. 

[00:19:44] Oren Berkovich: And so how regularly does these four pillars change?

[00:19:48] Is this for this year? 

[00:19:49] Orson Francescone: These have been the same, I think, for the past three years now. 

[00:19:53] So, you know, and this is on part of primarily the sponsors who attend our events, but of course, you know, we have a very large pool of delegates who attend and they’re not always coming from marketing.

[00:20:03] A lot of them come from business development, but a lot of them are coming to learn and to listen to the content. And so depending on which stakeholder, but I think here in the context of sponsors and people who ask us to run events for them, then they are absolutely a marketing channel. Yeah. 

Events as a Marketing Channel

[00:20:19] Oren Berkovich: All right.

[00:20:20] And it also aligns with a lot of what we’ve been hearing, right? Like people have been struggling with kind of proving ROI. So I think that’s why scaling highly profitable events got a lot of attention here. Tech is becoming and has been kind of really big part of events definitely been accelerated through the pandemic.

[00:20:38] So there’s some interest there. I’ll bring down those votes, but I think we should definitely start with highly profitable events. Let’s see how we go. And we’ll, we’ll try to save some time to hit the tech space as well. Right now we’re on scaling highly profitable events.

[00:20:52] I’ll say that for me, when you talk about highly profitable events, the first thing that comes to mind is how do you even define profitable and measure it right? Is it simply bottom line of the event?

[00:21:03] How many delegates? You know how many ticket sales and sponsorship dollars did you manage to raise? Because there’s obviously like a long tail of profit or like revenue that was contributed maybe indirectly through the event experience. Measure it in a way that obviously shows that you’re profitable, but also people feel confident that these are real numbers and not just blown up number by saying we had, you know, thousands of dollars indirectly contributed just because so and so talked to so and so about that thing.

[00:21:36] And six months later, we ended up having a deal, right? Like, how do you actually measure it, attribute it, define it? 

[00:21:43] Orson Francescone: Okay, so I’m gonna have to calibrate my answer here but if we think of FT Live as a profit making division of the FT, well, I’m gonna give you an economist answers. You know people always complain our GDP is really imperfect way of measuring growth of countries but ultimately it’s the one we’ve got right and so the simple answer is that we measure the profits of the event.

[00:22:01] So we’ve got revenues and we’ve got costs and we get profits. I mean, we have gross profits, which are the event profits. And then we’ve got net profits, which are the ones after the overheads. But, you know, back to the to the crucial concept, you know, scale is back to economics. Scale is a huge barrier to ensure this is why private equity firms have been so enamored with trade shows right once you buy trade shows they’re very difficult to attack and assail and that’s similar also applies to the conference industry to an extent and so once you build something big and also there’s a positive network effect, right?

[00:22:34] In the same way, there’s a negative network effect. I always tell my team, you know, once events start declining or taking a dip they can spiral out of control very quickly, and so we’re always very careful at spotting trends. But also, there’s a network effect on their way up, and as an event grows, it gets… bigger, faster. And as you get bigger, faster, you get bigger, faster again, right? And so in terms of what we do at FT Live, we run lots of events, but we have a special program where we have currently five events that are on a super accelerated growth program. And so essentially, in practice, these are events that we, I and my, my senior leadership team have established as, you know, future growth potentials. Can these be the number one events in their respective markets, right? So they might be the number two, but they’ve got potential to be the number one. And what do we need to do to make that happen? And so these come, these five events come out of our normal processes and they have an accelerate, an accelerator kind of program.

[00:23:28] And so extra investment, bigger team, better refined processes, more investment in technology. More investment in data. We might go to a bigger, better venue. So across the gamut of the event on event production cycle, essentially, you know, I describe it as doubling down. We’re doubling down on these five events and we’re essentially and as they grow, we double down again.

[00:23:49] And so these five events over the past three years have grown at about 300 percent over the past three of them. So really, you know, the growth is there. 

Event Revenue

[00:23:59] Oren Berkovich: And where are you seeing this growth coming from specifically? What’s driving most of that profitability? Is that is it sponsorship dollars? Is it ticketing? Where is it coming from? 

[00:24:10] Orson Francescone: It’s both, both is the answer and it did you know of the five events some are stronger on delegate revenue and some of them are stronger on sponsorship revenue. But essentially the program is doing everything 10 percent better. So, you know, can we do the content 10 percent better?

[00:24:24] Can we have a better on site experience? Can we invest in data 10 percent more? Can we have a longer production cycle? Can we have a longer, longer marketing cycle? And so these five events are come out of our normal processes, which are pretty efficient processes, by the way. And now I have a problem on my hands where everyone at FT Live wants their events to go into this accelerator program.

[00:24:44] And obviously, but the great thing is that success breeds success, right? So some of these accelerated production processes start spilling into, I guess, the normal production process. 

[00:24:55] Oren Berkovich: And you bring out you bring up an interesting thing that I think will be, you know, interesting for people to learn about, which are some of the challenges, right?

[00:25:03] So obviously, like you’ve been able to do a lot of things incredibly well and been really successful. But what are some of these challenges? Do you have a couple of events that? I mean, even if they’re on the accelerated path, just it’s hard to make them profitable. You know, maybe events you had to stop doing because you couldn’t make them profitable.

[00:25:21] Tell us a little bit about that side of it as well. 

Event Innovation and Transformation

[00:25:23] Orson Francescone: Yeah. I mean, of the five in all honesty, no, that program is going kind of gangbusters. I’m so, I’m so pleased. We review the portfolio every year. And so our financial years ends in December. We’re right in the thicker budgeting process.

[00:25:34] Now, I love killing events by the way. So I dunno if, if there are any event professionals there that have portfolio of events it’s a very satisfying feeling ’cause sometimes, you know, you get attached to an event or some of the team get attached to an event, and in your heart, you know that, you know, an event’s been declining or it’s not great, or you’ve been to it and you’re like, you know, this is, it’s okay, but is it great?

[00:25:52] And, you know, I only like doing great things, let’s be honest. And so, and so sometimes killing an event, can be difficult because there are internal barriers or, you know, somebody wants to keep running an event for a particular reason. And killing an event is one of the most satisfying experiences because you know, deep down that you’ve, you’ve done the right thing and you refocus the energies on others.

[00:26:12] And so I would say on average, every year we call about 10 percent of the portfolio and we launched 10 percent new products. And so, you know, we’re an organization that’s constantly launching new products and new topics because of the incredible brand we have. And we are unbelievably lucky.

[00:26:26] We could run an event on every, essentially any topic you can think of, we could run on because the FT has this incredible overarching brand that is authoritative in lots of industries, right? So a lot of my day is spent actually pushing back event ideas because everyone’s got an event idea, and I’ve got 600 amazing journalists and they would all want me to run an event on the topic of their choice.

[00:26:46] And so I’m in a very lucky situation, but no, we’re constantly, we’re very self-critical. We’re constantly looking at, you know, event margins, event ROIs, event NPS scores, and as soon as we see things turning for the worst, we try and change them. But ultimately we need to be also quite honest with us and say, listen, you know, it was a good try, but it didn’t work. Onto the next thing. 

[00:27:05] Oren Berkovich: Yeah. I mean, for me, one of the things that stood out in your remarks is that fact that when you think about the experience and the content, all as kind of drivers of profitability. So it’s not necessarily about how can we go cheaper on the food and increase our bottom line.

[00:27:19] It’s more about how can we actually create a more interesting, rich experience and like better processes. That will ultimately lead to better profitability, but not, you know, by cutting costs or you know, scaling down. 

[00:27:33] Orson Francescone: Yeah, I mean, listen, our event business is a highly content led type of business. I come from my foray into events nearly 20 years ago was as a content producer.

[00:27:43] So that’s kind of my background. And I would say for most of the people on this call, content is really crucial. So event people… Running events from the marketing departments of the whatever blue chip organization you’re in, the content is is key, right? And we all know this. I don’t need to tell you but I would say a lot of the growth and the accelerated growth is really starts from the content.

[00:28:03] And so what is our content proposition? Is it excellent? Is it amazing? And so i’ll give you an example actually our Banking Summit. 

[00:28:09] Oren Berkovich: Give us an example, and I want to dive into the technology and digital efficiency. 

[00:28:14] Orson Francescone: Very easy example. Our Banking Summit, when I joined the FT four years ago, used to get one CEO.

[00:28:20] If you google Banking Summit FT now, you will see essentially every CEO of every major bank and investment bank in the world speaks at this event. And so it’s been an incredible transformation. By the way, that hasn’t been easy. And so it doesn’t just happen overnight. 

[00:28:32] Oren Berkovich: Oh, none of this is easy, I’m sure.

[00:28:35] Orson Francescone: But I’m pretty sure that most of the accelerated growth on that event, which is one of the five, whether I can let you in on a secret, has come from the incredible transformation of the content program and the speaker lineup. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. Notwithstanding the incredible improvements in marketing data, digital marketing, paid, social, all the other things we’ve got.

[00:28:56] Oren Berkovich: I mean, I think the group definitely, you know, it’s a mutual kind of win win in a sense of like this incredible event business that you created really drives a lot of the kind of benefit for the group, but also benefits from a lot of that, right? I think it’s, you know, important to call out that, you know, you’ve got access to hundreds of journalists, right?

[00:29:16] That you’re able to, and, you know, tens of thousands of subscribers, right? That you can attract to some of these events. So in some ways, not needing to pay speakers, having access to large databases of subscribers. Like, these are incredible tools. 

[00:29:31] Orson Francescone: But back to measuring success, I mean, obviously profit is very important, but, you know, there’s stuff that we deliver to the group that isn’t just profits. And so a lot of, well, I wouldn’t say a lot, but a considerable amount of substantial amount of event attendees that were not FT subscribers have then turned into subscribers.

[00:29:48] And so that’s unbelievably powerful. And also we have an amazing data analytics team at the FT. They’ve been able to prove that subscribers that do attend an FT Live event have a higher propensity to renew their subscription. 

[00:30:01] Oren Berkovich: Yeah, you know, I was saying, you know, kind of outside the subscription world, I think a lot of events are impacting churn rate and things like that, increasing satisfaction and loyalty.

[00:30:11] It just brings people closer to to your purpose and your company and your brand by showing them and talking to them and having conversations about the work that you do. Let’s spend a little bit of time on the kind of using tech and digital to operate more efficiency.

[00:30:26] This ties into the fact that you, you run such a large events team there. You’ve got so many events. It’s such a complex environment. So there is no way that you would be able to be, and FT Live be so successful without some of this kind of tech efficiencies. So you got a lot of votes. Let’s spend a couple of minutes on it.

[00:30:44] I want to try to get people at quarter two so they can kind of prepare for a meeting or, you know, some people it’s the end of the day. So we can spend a couple of minutes on it to set the scene. I know that the FT Live team is very skilled when it comes to tech. I know that you are heavy users of the Bizzabo API and you’re integrating a lot of the tech stack into other parts of the business, be that logistics or marketing or operations.

[00:31:10] So tell us a little bit about that. 

[00:31:12] Orson Francescone: Obviously, the pandemic was an enormous tragedy, and we all wish it hadn’t happened. However if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, it wouldn’t have propelled us at the speed it has into a digital first organization, right? And so, I described FT Live pre pandemic as a relatively analog organization.

[00:31:30] Not just in its product, but in its way of thinking and in its way of creating products and it’s kind of management and it’s the way that its teams were organized in their processes. The pandemic, you know, essentially forced us to accelerate our digital transition, not just in our product, but also in what we do in a day to day basis.

[00:31:49] And so now we’re a digital first organization, not only in our product, but also in how we organize ourselves. On a day to day basis. And essentially, you know, technology plays an incredible amount of value in what we do at FT Live. By the way, a really interesting stat. We have 600 journalists at the FT.

[00:32:07] Yeah. And we have 600 people in the product and tech team at the Financial Times, which is pretty incredible. 

[00:32:12] Oren Berkovich: Every journalist has their own tech person. 

[00:32:14] Orson Francescone: Well, yeah, yeah, yeah. But I mean, that ratio is incredible, right? It really kind of drives home the point of how a product led organization the FT is, and how we put product and technology in every decision we do.

[00:32:26] And so we’re unbelievably lucky, to be honest. 

[00:32:28] Oren Berkovich: Is there a specific kind of tech, because I mean, you guys have like enormous scale and, and reach obviously, but if there is a kind of takeaway that, or a lesson learned on the, on the digital integration or using digital for efficiency, something that, you know, a lot of the event organizers that are with us can implement, even if they don’t have like 600 people on their team or whatnot.

[00:32:51] Is there anything that comes to mind that you can think of? 

Agile Methodology in Event Management 

[00:32:53] Orson Francescone: Gosh hard to put me on the spot on that because our, you know, our transition was unbelievably rapid. Exhilarating for a lot of us, including me. I found it very exhilarating, but also quite traumatic for a lot of our team. And so I guess my biggest tip is if anyone in your team hasn’t heard of Agile with a capital A to send everyone on an Agile training course. And so I remember asking the question actually, when the pandemic hit, who’s heard of Agile? And I think I stuck my hand up on maybe one other person out of 90 people. And so I realized that there was a real lack of understanding of what a product led organization is.

[00:33:27] And so no matter pandemic or not pandemic, even if you’re doing physical events and hotels, restaurants, you need your team to think in a product led or product centric way. Agile is the language that more or less we all use across the digital world. And so my biggest tip is, you know, if somebody in your team hasn’t heard of Agile, or you haven’t heard of Agile with a capital A, Google the Agile manifesto, get your head around it because it’s really good.

[00:33:51] Agile as opposed to Waterfall methodology and so Agile with a capital A. This is a, a product development methodology. 

[00:33:59] Oren Berkovich: Yeah, essentially a way to have quick iterations of work as opposed to get a lot of work done and present something that’s near perfect.

[00:34:08] And so it’s interesting that FT Live are using Agile as your methodology. And yeah, I think what it enables you probably is to kind of quickly drive decisions and iteration of, you know, your events and achieve that efficiency. 

[00:34:21] Orson Francescone: All our, I guess, flagship events are all… Hybrid. So they are all also in physical in person and transmitted digitally.

[00:34:30] There are some private events that we run that we don’t transmit digitally. So these are private activations for some of our sponsors, but the vast majority. So obviously our digital events are digital, 100 percent digital, and we still run quite a lot of this, you know, it’s probably about 80 or 90 of the 250 are digital only events.

[00:34:45] All our flagship in-person conferences are all transmitted digitally. And so in that sense, I guess we’re digital first, but I guess also in terms of the way we think and the way we, we operate. 

[00:34:58] Oren Berkovich: Yeah, I mean even just the, the fact that using Agile indicates that in some ways yeah. I mean, I’m so tempted to like, unpack the hybrid conversation in terms of how do you bring the digital journey alongside in person, make sure it doesn’t cannibalize one another. 

[00:35:13] But maybe just kind of as we starting to wrap up and obviously people can follow you on LinkedIn and get a lot of your work and follow what you’re doing at FT Live to get additional insight, but maybe as we, as we starting to wrap up, I’ll be curious to learn from you.

[00:35:30] What would you say are maybe one or two of your signature moves? And then maybe you can also share a challenge that you were experimenting a new move to try to solve and tell us how that works. 

[00:35:44] Orson Francescone: Interesting question. So, I mean, I’ll start from the big one. You know, I always say to my team, think big, especially when they want to launch an event.

[00:35:50] They’ve got a great idea and it’s, you know, I think it’s going to work. And I’m always pushing and pushing them to, you know, because they’ll come to me and say, Oh, we think we can get, I don’t know, 500 people at this event. I look at them and say, Is that all? You know, if it’s such a hot topic, why aren’t you getting 5,000 or 50,000 people?

[00:36:06] Right. So that kind of makes them think big, really important. Think big, think big, think big. So that’s kind of a broad one. 

[00:36:12] The other one is, I guess bit old fashioned, but really be on top of your numbers. And so you know, I spend my day on big, big strategy, but I also spend my day on looking at numbers in quite a lot of detail.

[00:36:22] And so, you know, revenues minus cost for profits and margins are what I look at and I’m constantly looking at, and with a portfolio of 250 events, small incremental adjustments to costs and revenues can make actually a big difference. So this is one of the things that I say to my team in terms of constantly being careful about cost control, cost control. Small incremental costs multiplied by 200 become lots of costs. 

[00:36:44] Oren Berkovich: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s a challenge, right? When you try to get people to think big, but you also expect them and expect yourself to be in the details, right? And so… 

[00:36:53] Orson Francescone: The other one is I had a meeting just, just before now is I love spending money on marketing.

[00:36:59] And so I say to my marketing team every now and then I look at an event budget and I see that marketing piece hasn’t all been spent. And I always say there is a small place or a large place in hell for marketeers who don’t spend all their budget, right? And so I’m a big believer in, in marketing spend up.

[00:37:15] And I say to my marketing team unfortunately picked the wrong profession because the answer is marketing is always do more, you know If your event is behind you need to do more and spend more if your event’s doing well you need to double down and do more so we can make more money. I’m, really sorry marketing team, but you got to work harder.

[00:37:30] Whatever however your event is doing. You got to work harder But there’s a small place in hell for marketeers who don’t use their budget because we’re all marketeers, right? You know people in this room, you know marketing is our life, right? And so and so that’s just a funny anecdote, but every now and then like I have to rehash it. 

[00:37:47] Oren Berkovich: I feel like there’s a lot more than we can talk about or send like this has been really fascinating. 

[00:37:52] Orson Francescone: Drop me a line on LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/orsonfrancescone/ if anyone needs some help with anything or advice, please. 

[00:37:56] Oren Berkovich: Thank you for that.

[00:37:58] And, you know, I think the good news is for everybody else as well. This conversation is going to continue. I mean, this particular one with Orson. It was our part two, but part three will continue discussing the state of B2B event. So make sure you join us for that. And make sure you follow Orson if you want to tap into more of his insights and have conversations about what he’s doing and follow his work.

[00:38:22] And with that, thank you so much, Orson. This has been great.

[00:38:25] Orson Francescone: Thanks to all my friends at Bizzabo. Thank you for all. 

[00:38:31] Oren Berkovich: Yeah. Absolutely. And for everybody who joined us, thank you for making the time for joining today. And I will see you in a few weeks for our last part of the series. And until then, keep up the good work and I will see you soon.

[00:38:46] Cheers.

[00:38:55] Rachel Moore: Thanks again to Orson Francescone — and to Oren Berkovich for hosting the discussion. This has been a special episode of Event Experience, and thank you for listening. 

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You can find transcripts of each episode and key takeaways on bizzabo.com/podcasts. You can also watch the webinar on-demand and download the report at bizzabo.com or from the links in the show notes. 

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