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Episode 68 / August 14, 2023

Building Influencer and Partner Relationships While Crafting Immersive Experiences 

Mike Allton talks about being an event producer, building relationships with influencers and brand partners, and creating immersive, audience-driven event experiences.

In this episode, Agorapulse Head of Strategic Partnerships Mike Allton dives deep into his experience as an event producer and his journey from virtual events with influencers to hosting the Agency Summit with more than 3,000 attendees. 

Mike shares insights into marketing tactics and relationship ROI, emphasizing the importance of talking to the target audience to understand their challenges and create events that address their needs.

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

  • Why it’s crucial to focus on your event’s target audience, understand their challenges, and tailor content accordingly
  • How using prerecorded content for virtual events can reduce stress and potential issues on the day of the event — plus its role in content repurposing
  • How collaborating with brand partners can help with lead generation and promotion

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. 

On this episode of Event Experience, we enter the world of marketing agencies with Mike Allton, Head of Strategic Partnerships for Agorapulse. Mike walks us through his transformation into an event producer, from virtual events centering on influencers to this year’s Agency Summit with over 3,000 attendees. Lean forward and listen in for Mike’s expert tips on marketing tactics and relationship ROI as we dive into his Event Experience insights. 

[00:01:00] Rachel Moore: We are speaking with someone a lot of our listeners know as being very well-versed in marketing, shall we say.

I’m looking at his background a bit, Chief Marketing Officer at SiteSell. He was part of the 360 Marketing Squad, he is an international keynote speaker, and strategic consultant for the Social Media Hat, which is the awesomest name ever. And also head of Strategic Partnerships for Agorapulse, a social media marketing platform. Mike Alton, welcome to the Bizzabo podcast Event Experience.

[00:01:34] Mike Allton: Thanks so much, Rachel. It’s always fun to chat with you, whether it’s live, over a recording, phone calls, we can do, you know, smoke signals. Whatever you wanna do. 

[00:01:44] Rachel Moore: I think we’re all on the same page. You know, we’re all trying to think out of the box here when it comes to marketing these days.

[00:01:49] Mike Allton: Every marketing lever and channel you can, so smoke signals are now part of your KPIs. 

[00:01:54] Rachel Moore: Yes. Carrier pigeons are so 2024. Well, Mike, I basically gave everybody a synopsis of your LinkedIn experience.

Tell us more with Agorapulse, Head of Strategic Partnerships, what do you got going on there? 

[00:02:06] Mike Allton: I think the thing to know about me is that I’ve been in digital marketing for over a decade. So the Social Media Hat that you mentioned, it’s a blog. It’s been my side hustle for years, and I’ve used that to talk about social media, digital marketing developments.

I’ve been almost the unofficial historian, if you will, of social media. I can tell you all about Twitter’s purchases and how, you know, Vine and Posterous and Blab went by the wayside. And throughout all of that, I have taken the time to build relationships with people just like those of you who are listening at home right now.

And it’s because of that relationship-building that I have the role that I do today at Agorapulse. My job, what it really boils down to is managing our relationships with influencers and brand partners.

[00:02:52] Rachel Moore: Well you’re talking about relationships. That’s pretty much the bread and butter of our listenership, event planners.

I know that through Agorapulse you all are putting on events.

So I think we’re zeroing in on one of those today. Can you tell us a little bit about which event we’re gonna talk about? 

[00:03:08] Mike Allton: Yeah, and I’ll give you some funny backstory real quick that your listeners might relate to a little too hard. I started with Agorapulse in 2018, and I started by bringing on 10 influencers who were official ambassadors. And I got hired to manage all of them because the CEO did not have time to do that. And I grew that cadre of ambassadors from 10 to about 50 in the first year. And the CMO, whom I was reporting to at the time said, Hey Mike, you’ve got all these great influencers. We should do something with them. He’s like, let’s do something big. Let’s have like a virtual webinar thing. He didn’t know what that was. And I had done live streaming, but I had never done a true virtual event. So in 2018, I put together my very first virtual summit simply because I had access to these influencers who would become the speakers.

Fast forward to today. I’m now doing these same kinds of virtual events every single quarter, pulling together our ambassadors, pulling together external speakers, and now brand partners and that sort of thing. So I was given the role of event producer and manager at Agorapulse simply because I knew people.

The event that I wanna talk about the most today was our third annual Agency Summit. Started doing these marketing agency focused events in Q2 of 2020, right in the middle of when everything else went sideways. And all of a sudden we couldn’t go anywhere. We thought, okay, how can we help our agency customers, which was predominantly the biggest segment of our customers, I should say.

And we knew that their biggest struggle was growing and scaling. They’re agencies, not just using social media or managing social media, but how as an agency owner do I get out of the day-to-day of my agency so I can grow my agency, I can scale it, I can maybe take a day off, which would be a shocking development for many.

So that’s what we did. And last quarter was our third annual Agency Summit with 3,000 marketing agencies from around the world register for that event. 

[00:05:11] Rachel Moore: I really think a lot of our listeners are probably relating to you right now. When you said suddenly I was now the event producer for X, Y, Z.

And particularly, gosh, was it ever shifting? Let’s dig in. So with this particular event with Agency Summit let’s start with, as all event planners should, right? With the goals, what were you setting out to achieve with Agency Summit this year?

[00:05:38] Mike Allton: What I love about our events is that our executive team gives me the freedom to do it this way, which is first of all to have multiple goals. I have a goal certainly of top level signups. We want to see a good number of signups and they’re targeted too. We used to do events that were about digital marketing, and I had great people speaking at that, Jeff Bullis and Rebecca Radice and Ian Cleary, you know, who were huge names at the time, talking about, frankly, whatever they wanted to talk about. So anybody who wanted to learn about content marketing might’ve attended Ian Cleary’s session that ended up being extremely broad. So now with Agency Summit, we said, okay, we’re gonna do this event very, very focused on our target ICP, and I actually split into two tracks: one for executives and one for technicians. We have to talk about AI, we have to talk about Facebook ads. But I also made sure that we were creating content specifically for our target ICP, which is the actual owner or executives within the agencies, not necessarily the people who are working ’cause we realized that while it’s the account reps within the agencies that use AgoraPulse and they love Agorapulse, they’re not the ones with budget, they don’t get to decide to buy Agorapulse. It’s their boss. So that of course was the top level goal. Let’s get 3000 signups and we’re building an agenda and we’re building speakers and messaging, of course that’s targeting the owners and the managers and so on.

The second cool thing is that we understand the benefit of having all that content created by the event itself. So we go into it knowing, we’re going to have a plan to repurpose that content and we’re gonna make sure that we get value out of that content long term. So in this case, we had 40 sessions with this summit. Which is 40 videos. And each session was 30 minutes or less, with the exception of the opening and closing keynotes. I did four panels among those sessions and created just a tremendous wealth of content that we’re just starting now to ramp up. How we’re gonna repurpose this: this can be blog posts, eBooks, videos of course for YouTube, snippets for social media. 

And then the final big benefit to us is that I turn our events into partnership plays. So instead of us just bringing in all the speakers and us doing all the promotion, I bring in brand partners who are going to share with the lead gen and they’re going to share the load in terms of promotion. And we also were huge partners with Meta and TikTok with this past event, Meta in particular, we had a partnership program in place with them where they wanted us to promote one of their ad formats, their direct to messenger ad format. So we had a whole session all about our whole workshop from Amanda Robinson on why you should be using, you know, direct to Messenger or DTX ad format and what it can do for an agency and how to do it, which is cool. And they gave us co-marketing dollars and you know, we’re a platinum sponsor for the event and so on and so forth.

So there were a bunch of different goals that we were able to hit and different bunch of different objectives that we were able to accomplish. 

Shh! Top Secret Event Marketing Tactics from an Event Producer

[00:08:54] Rachel Moore: You’ve brought up something that I am really thankful as a marketer to have heard.

Obviously you’ve got revenue goals and, and some of that might be a very direct conversion from the event, or some of it might be long game like you were just talking about with the brand partnerships. And I love that you were intentional about making that a specific goal of saying this, this is one of the outcomes we are going to design into this event that we come away with that content.

[00:09:20] Mike Allton: In fact, I will share I don’t wanna say it’s a secret because I’m about to share it with you, but just one of the fun tactics that I used with this particular event. It’s a free event. Anybody can sign up for free. It’s designed that way because we want it to be lead gen. There’s a couple schools of thought there.

I wanted to be able to offer additional value to attendees, and b, I wanted to create a mechanism by which I could give something of value away for free to specific communities. So I created a VIP ticket, and the VIP ticket does two things for you. First, you’ve got the normal day. We do like one day or three quarters of a day of content. That’s all the live sessions and the panels and so on; the next day I host Fireside chats, simple Q&A sessions with some of the key speakers.

Like a year ago we had Rand Fishkin was one of our speakers, and then he came back the next day for a fireside chat. So you could come and sit with Rand for 30 minutes and ask him whatever you wanted. We just do back to back to back Q&A sessions.

And then I also bundled in long term access to the content, but the platform we use, we typically shut it off after 30 days so you can register, you can watch the replays for 30 days. You can even come in a week later and you miss the live sessions, but you can still register and watch the replays.

But after 30 days, that’s closed, and you can no longer register and you can no longer access the replays. So I wanted to give those VIP ticket holders long-term access. A lot of people use this as their monetization model. They upsell the ticket holders to get this. I put a dollar amount on it of a hundred bucks, but my intent was not to sell any. 

My intent was to be able to go into communities like the American Marketing Association and Pavilion and Peak Marketing and say, Hey, look, we’re hosting this event next month. I’d love to give your members free VIP access. Here’s the link. AMA St. Louis where I’m a member sent three emails to their members, inviting them to sign up for my event as VIP ticket holders, which was incredible. So now I’ve got this baked in way to show value.

I’ve got my sales team, they’re pitching Agorapulse right to their prospects. But if they’re talking to an agency, they’re like, Hey, let me hook you up with a free VIP ticket to the event that we’re holding next week just for agencies like you. And we do the same thing for our own internal customers ’cause like I said, that’s our number one customer segment. So we’ve got 3000 agencies that are using Agorapulse. We want to take care of them, which reduces churn. So at the end of the day, we’re gonna be able to have metrics, not only for how many new leads and sales and how much pipeline and MRR events like this generated.

But if we’re tracking it correctly, we’ll be able to see how these events impact churn and customer retention. 

[00:12:09] Rachel Moore: Brilliant. I think that’s something so many event designers, you’re designing the experience, but you do have to market it.

Can you describe a little bit, you know, obviously executives and technicians, were they agencies or what was your kind of criteria or demographics for those two target ICPs. 

[00:12:27] Mike Allton: Yeah, they’re all agencies. It’s just different personas within each agency. You know, one of my favorite partners is Robin Diamond at Fifth and Cor, she runs this fantastic agency in South Florida. You know, she’s not in the trenches. She’s not doing sales anymore. She’s managing the direction of the agency. Her number one job is hiring and making sure that the agency itself is running well.

I mentioned Robin because she was actually one of our speakers, right? So she was talking in the agency executive track about how her agency has navigated the past few years of economic issues and pandemic and health issues and that sort of thing, which isn’t something that as an organization Agorapulse can speak to.

We’re not an agency. We’re a SaaS company based out of Paris, France. We’ve got our own weird things that go on, but don’t really apply to agency owners. So I brought in people like Robin, people like Jamie Turner, who is an executive. He’s talking to CMOs and that sort of thing.

So these were those high level strategic tracks. And then the other side of the coin, we had those very tactical tracks. We had Chris Penn, we had Anne Popolizio, we had Amanda Robinson who are speaking to the people who are in the trenches every day. 

[00:13:34] Rachel Moore: Yeah. That’s been an approach for a couple other event planners too, that they’re not going for one particular subset. Is that something different than you’ve seen before?

Where have typically events been mostly like, Nope, executives or nothing or technicians or nothing, but not really mixing the two or three or four. 

[00:13:52] Mike Allton: I’m definitely agreeing with you that we’re seeing more mixing. I think in the past it hasn’t been so much that they’ve been focused on that particular persona.

They’ve been too focused on industries. One of the first things we look at today is, who’s going to be attending your event? Let me see your prospectus before I give you $30,000 for a 10 by 10 booth space. I want to know will there be decision makers in the audience and you’d better have some data to back that up. There’s an event that we used to be a heavily invested sponsor and partner; we barely attend that event now. I like the event, but we can’t go. We can’t invest what we used to invest, because it’s the boutique agency owners, it’s social media managers, which is great audience, but not our audience. They’re our users, not our buyers. 

I actually went to an event in the summer in New York where they had actually promised me executives and decision makers, and that’s not who attended the event. So we had actually put a clause in our contract that said if we’re not happy with this event — we had bought two — we get to get out of the second event. Because it’s that important. 

[00:15:02] Rachel Moore: That’s really an interesting point you just made, which is good feedback for all of our event planners too, because it’s like you should make sure, you know, that’s why all of this marketing is super important because then you’re making sure you get the target people you were promising and looking for. 

[00:15:19] Mike Allton: Yeah. I mentioned prospectus and that’s something that I just started doing a couple of years ago, that I think to this day still a lot of virtual event planners don’t create a simple document. This could be a Google Slides document that shows what are the events you’ve put on in the past and who attended. How is that going to translate into the event that you’ve got planned in the future? I was able to really easily show that our past agency summits were pretty evenly split between executives and technicians. So any partner that I approach about a future event, I can show them we had 3000 attendees and half of them were decision makers and they were from these demographics and these industries and these brands. That’s a pretty easy lift that I think too many people aren’t doing. 

Why To Prerecord Event Content

[00:16:05] Rachel Moore: If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail and you don’t wanna do that. Was there anything particularly special or unique an a unique aspect to this event that you’d like to call out? 

[00:16:14] Mike Allton: One of the things that I tried differently this year was having most of the content prerecorded. First of all, obviously we all know when we’re putting on a live event, there’s all kinds of fun things that can happen that get in the way of that live event. And simply choosing to prerecord the content relieves a lot of stress and potential issues. It saves us from a panelist not showing up at all, which has happened to me multiple times. If you get started on the prerecording well enough in advance, it saves you from having to deal with anything live that day.

The other thing that it does is it allowed me to put all the prerecorded content in a Facebook group before the live event started as a backup. Because if anything happens on the day of the event and people can’t get into the event, I have an easy way to send them. It’s not ideal of course, but it’s better than saying, well, sorry, we can’t get into the venue, or you can’t get in for whatever reason.

So I started doing that and that ends up being where I send those VIP ticket holders. After the 30 days is over, I’ve already got the Facebook group ready. I just dump ’em in there. They’ve got lifetime access to that group. 

One of the reasons why I shifted to almost a hundred percent prerecorded is because for this particular target audience that we’re talking about, our marketing agencies, they don’t tend to engage. They’re one of the least engaging audiences that we have. And we’ve got a lot of different audiences.

So I figured, okay, if they’re not interested in engaging with the speakers, then why do I need to have the speakers there lined up? Why do I need to go through the trouble of, you know, having a host and having a tech and all those things that have to happen in a live environment if it’s going to amount to the same deliverable at the end of the day, which is a 30 minute session without any kind of audience engagement anyways. 

But that relieved a tremendous amount of stress for me. And just word to the wise, that is not something that you can do the morning of your event. 

Because if you’ve got that prerecorded content, that’s great. But however many sessions you have, that’s however many videos you have, probably two to five gigabytes each. That’s gonna take some time. So that was like the weekend before I was, you know, uploading those passively to Facebook.

Leveling Up the Attendee Experience at the Agency Summit 

[00:18:37] Rachel Moore: If I’m an attendee you know, logging into this event, what’s my experience like as I’m coming in? 

[00:18:43] Mike Allton: Well, one of the things that I’ve always enjoyed about our events, once I kind of got into it and learned all the different options I have with venues and technical platforms, is that I’m able to create a very immersive experience right from the start.

As soon as they log in, they know that they’re at Agency Summit. There’s a welcome video from me that kind of walks them around. Here’s your schedule, here’s where you can, you know, update your profile and make sure your stuff’s there. Over here’s Base Camp, ’cause we did this whole mountain theme. 

I know virtual events are not the same as in-person events, and yet, particularly during the pandemic, we wanted a lot of those in-person elements. We wanted to be able to virtually walk down a hallway and decide what session we wanted to walk into, regardless of who the event planner intended it for.

I like having the ability for our attendees to be able to meet each other and have conversations with each other and have a way within the event to take that to the next level.

In fact, I’ll mention our next event is a partnership with IntrovertU, and our next event is the Introverted Seller Summit. This is gonna be September 11th through the 15th, and it’s all about, Hey, you are an introvert and you’re in sales, and that’s a challenge. Here’s how to do it and do it well and use your introvertedness as a superpower.

And so we’re gonna have networking there too. We’re even gonna have a special bonus session from the founder of IntrovertU, Matthew Pollard, that simply says, Hey, you’re an introvert. Cool. Here’s how you can network effectively and get over your uncomfortableness and really have fun.

Because it’s in those networking moments that magical moments happen. I can trace the entire success of my career back to very specific events and back to very specific people that I met at those events, relationships that occurred or grew as a result of events, whether they were in person or online.

So as an event planner, I wanna make space for that. 

[00:20:52] Rachel Moore: Can you name an item that you forgot for a work event that might have caused some panic? 

[00:20:59] Mike Allton: Every month this year, I’m putting in VIP dinners in different cities around the world. I am hosting massive dinners, like 30 or 40 marketing executives, CMOs, CEOs, major influencers, I’m bringing them in for dinner. They don’t know each other, and so they need to have name tags and so on. And the second event that I hosted, I left the name tags at home when I flew to the city. The third event that I hosted, I remembered to bring them with me to the host city, but left them in the hotel room.

Even though I had asked my CMO, Hey, don’t let me forget to bring the name tags and the markers. And we forgot the name tags. And the markers. So hopefully now by this fourth time that we’re doing it, I will have gotten over that mental block. And I will remember to bring the name tags and the markers and have them out.

[00:21:56] Rachel Moore: Is there anything that you’re listening to, watching or reading right now that you cannot put down? 

[00:22:03] Mike Allton: I just finished a novel called Menagerie, and it’s about the AI apocalypse, but it’s not like a Terminator, you know, they’re gonna destroy the world kind of thing. It’s more, it’s still fiction, but it’s more realistic.

Like what if suddenly AI had true consciousness and intelligence. What might actually happen next? Like I said, it was fiction, so it was dramatic and interesting. But as someone who’s studying AI and really paying close attention to how it’s developing, there was a lot of truth. 

[00:22:40] Rachel Moore: Is there a particular social post or a piece of media or a hot take about events that you have found interesting lately? 

[00:22:50] Mike Allton: I am a fan of Julius Solaris, and so for those of you listening, if you’re not following Julius on Twitter, make sure you are, because he is the best source that I have for where the event industry is going and how we are dealing with the ups and downs of the economy and the changes in technology and the changes in accessibility of things like travel.

[00:23:13] Rachel Moore: Speaking of following people on social media, Mike, where can our followers find and follow you online?

[00:23:20] Mike Allton: Well, as a social media pro, I am literally everywhere. I’m on all the major networks. I’m on Threads now, which is fun. Mike Allton with two Ls. If you want to connect LinkedIn, Twitter, probably Threads are probably the best places and easiest places. 

[00:23:44] Rachel Moore: The Skill Up segment is upon us, and Mike’s advice for event planners is foundational, fundamental, and frankly the reminder we all need right now.    

[00:23:54] Mike Allton: Talk to your audience. Just like any business, right? You need to talk to your customers. As an event planner, we need to talk to our audience and we need to understand what challenges are they facing that we can actually help them with through and at the event. Overall, it really is putting together a puzzle without knowing what that puzzle looks like, except if you have a good sense for who your target audience is and what they’re struggling with, that picture becomes a lot less fuzzy, and you’re able to kind of visualize, here’s the event that would really, truly help them. That’s the event that I wanna build. 

[00:24:32] Rachel Moore: Thanks again to Mike Allton for joining us on Event Experience, and thank YOU for listening. 

If you’re enjoying this show, we’d love to hear it!

Connect with us on social and subscribe, rate, and review us wherever you’re listening. Also, don’t forget to share the show with your colleagues and friends. 

You can find transcripts of each episode and key takeaways on bizzabo.com/podcasts.

On behalf of the team, thank you. We’ll gather again soon for a new episode of Event Experience.

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