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39 | Adele Durham, Haymarket Media: Michael Phelps and Driving Value for Virtual Sponsors

  • December 10, 2020
  • 44:25

Adele Durham, (VP of Events, Haymarket Media) opens up about her experience creating engaging events and shares her tips for uncovering what audiences really want, driving value for sponsors in a digital world, and proving virtual event ROI.

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Top Takeaways

1

DRIVE ENGAGEMENT BY FOCUSING ON WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE WANTS: “I had to ask myself the question, if you're pivoting something from live to virtual, what are your attendees looking for and what will they be missing out on with that switch? So I wanted to concentrate on offering as much networking as possible. So we had this fantastic networking lounge where people could chat to one another...You could go into a who's who section...and strike up a conversation with anyone that was in the digital environment at the same time as you.”

2

CREATING UNIQUE AND VALUABLE SPONSORSHIP EXPERIENCES: “Whether [your sponsors] want to do something that is philanthropic or whether they want to do something that's for thought leadership or purposeful, you really have to hone in on what they want to get out of the experience rather than just putting their logo on a step and repeat. So what I did was consider the live sponsorship opportunities and then see whether they could exist in a digital or a virtual event setting.”

3

THE POWER OF VIRTUAL IN PROVING EVENT ROI: “I think that virtual event platforms now offer you the best data possible. The data that you can pull from a virtual events platform will show you not just who showed up, but it was who showed up and what they did...It's really grown from just knowing who's registered and who's attended, to a place where you can look at behaviors.”

ABOUT Adele Durham

Adele Durham has spent over a decade following her passion for media and events from London to New York City. She started at Haymarket Media 14 years ago as a senior sales executive, working her way up, and now leads the events team as the Vice President of events. Haymarket media was well-versed in virtual events long before COVID-19, and Adele is using her digital and live experience to plan engaging and successful virtual events like their recent PRWeek Awards.

Episode Transcript

Brandon:

Adele, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for being here.

Adele Durham:

Thank you so much for having me.

Brandon:

I'm so excited we were able to make it work. Among other things, the day-to-day of dealing with a pandemic and all those challenges. I know that initially we were set to record back in September, but a little surprise came along the way or not so much.

Adele Durham:

Yes, I know. We were going to be cutting it close anyway having had the recording date we did, but yeah, I was pregnant at the time and I went into labor the day we were supposed to be recording this. So I do remember waking up and thinking, "Oh, I'm in labor. I better email Brandon and let him know that we need to reschedule it." So yeah, I'm really pleased that we have had the opportunity to catch up and we're catching up today. And I'm sorry that something else came along, but yeah. The new member of our family made an appearance two days early unfortunately.

Brandon:

No, that's all wonderful news. And who is the newest member of your family?

Adele Durham:

I call him baby Elliot, mainly because my other son calls him baby Elliot. His name is Elliot, and he is seven weeks old now.

Brandon:

Oh, wow. Getting up there.

Adele Durham:

And he looks about three months old. He's so chunky. He definitely likes to eat, this kid. So we're ticking along nicely as a family of four now.

Brandon:

Is there a particular namesake?

Adele Durham:

Not really. His middle name has a namesake. His middle name is Connell and it is for my grandfather. And also, unfortunately I lost my grandmother about three weeks before Elliot came into the world, and her name was Constant. So it has got a jewel meaning there. So Elliot Connell Center is his name.

Brandon:

Oh, wow. What a name.

Adele Durham:

Set him up for life.

Brandon:

Well, thanks again for making the time with everything going on. I'm really excited to hear about some of the work that you've been doing at Haymarket Media. You've been there for quite some time and I've had a lot of experience in the media space. Really interested in talking about some of the ways you're thinking about virtual and sponsorships and all of that. But I guess to start, you've been with Haymarket Media for nearly 14 years, working at both the UK and the US offices and in a variety of different roles. Could you briefly walk us through your career leading up to Haymarket and how things evolved after you landed there?

Adele Durham:

So I really have to admit to something. I got my first job at Haymarket as a media sales executive. And I don't think I knew at that time what media sales was, but I was really passionate about moving to London and starting my career there and going into the big smoke and making my mark. So started a job doing sales. Back in the day, it was 60 calls a day, trying to drum up new business and selling classified ads. I don't even know if classified ads still exist, but it was a business-to-business title at Haymarket Media in the marketing realm. And I really enjoyed sales. It was fun. I definitely enjoyed the happy hours and the vibrancy of the teams that I was working with.

Adele Durham:

And my boss at the time showed me a job that he thought I would be interested in. And it was working for another product that Haymarket Media owned, which was a huge exhibition. It's the consumer exhibition called The Clothes Show Live. And I went on to that team in a sales capacity, worked there for a couple of years, worked my way up through the ranks. I was quite good at sales, but I realized that it wasn't really where my true passion lived, but I really loved events. And I wanted to go and do some training on how to logistically produce an event and the marketing around it. And I went to our HR department and said, "I want to work in events, but I don't want a sales role. What could be available?" And I started work on the awards team within Haymarket Media in London. And at that point, I had to take a pay cut, which was hard when you're in London and you're used to a certain wage, but it was definitely the right decision for me.

Adele Durham:

I started from the bottom as a bank coordinator. I had a really fantastic team around me, a great boss, who I'm still in touch with now, and fantastic mentor. Her name is Helen Horton and she still runs the events business in the UK. And she's definitely my mentor now. I worked there for a few years and really learned the ropes of what has to happen for an event to take place and stuffed envelopes that were mailers that we sent to people for marketing, made telephone calls. I was at the bottom of the ladder, but it was a great opportunity to be in the trenches and see how it all works.

Adele Durham:

And at that point in my life, I wanted to move abroad and really knocked on the door of Haymarket again saying if there were any opportunities in New York. And I was 25 at the time. So that dream of moving to New York was something I really wanted to follow. And again, they were able to connect me with the folks in the New York office. And I just kept banging down that door. Is there anything available? And my boss at the time, Helen Horton, my mentor, was advocating for me and a job became available.

Adele Durham:

So I moved over to New York in late 2010, which feels like a really long time ago. And we were a team of four in the events department at that point. And I got thrown into so many different projects that I really had no idea about. I was somebody that had done a lot of award shows, had never done conferences, and was a really great learning curve for me. So from a team of four, we are now a team of 10. And I think I moved over here when I was event manager level, and now I'm VP of events. So I've had a really, really great career in Haymarket Media in different positions and on both sides of the Atlantic. And I'm so very grateful to the company for always allowing me to learn new skills and to look into other opportunities. So that's where I am at the moment and where I came from.

Brandon:

That's quite the origin story. And I think it's so cool how you put yourself into this role of sales. You weren't quite sure about all the ins and outs of it, but you're doing that for a while and realized, oh, your interests were elsewhere. And the fact that you were willing to start from scratch more or less at the bottom of the barrel and work your way up. I think that's so cool. And I think another thing that really stands out to me is just how you've had that strong support from your mentor, shout out to Helen Horton, and a strong support from the company and making these shifts along the way.

Adele Durham:

Yeah, and I think it is a testament to Haymarket in allowing talent to thrive in different areas, because it must be quite annoying to have to fill a role in one place and to open up a role in a different place. So I'm really grateful to them for the opportunities that they've offered me. And I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have lived and worked in both London and New York, because the cultures are slightly different and I've learned so much. I really feel that my career was accelerated being in New York. And I'm grateful to another mentor that I have over here who's my current boss, John Crewe. He's been a really great advocate for me as well. So I've been very fortunate and lucky in having great managers who have supported me and my dreams.

Brandon:

So here you are today and you are the VP of events at Haymarket in the US. So what do your responsibilities generally entail?

Adele Durham:

A good portion of it is they're being entirely responsible for the event strategy and then the execution of all of the events that we offer to our business-to-business subscriber base. So Haymarket Media is a media company that has different brands under it. Three of them that I work quite closely with are PRWeek for the communications and marketing industry, Campaign, which is a big reputable brand in the creative industry, MM&M, it used to be called MM&M. It's MM+M, which stands for Medical Marketing & Media. And we also have a brand called McKnight's, which services the longterm care and senior living industries, as well as a whole huge medical business as well.

Adele Durham:

So I own the PNL for all of the events that we execute. I'm responsible for conceptualizing them, but I'm also part of the brand leadership team for each of those brands as well, and really have a hand in the direction and the future success of the brands, what we can bring to our subscribers and our audiences, not just with events, but with custom products, with digital products and everything else. So I work very closely with the other VPs and the C-suite that oversee those brands.

Brandon:

So owning quite a bit. And it seems like it's unique situation to be in, especially for some of our listeners who might be more familiar with having to manage like one brand at a tech company or something like that, that as VP of events at Haymarket, you're managing these three separate brands, events for these three separate brands.

Adele Durham:

Yeah, and wearing a different hat can be tricky sometimes, but it also allows you to be really agile. One call you're talking about a subscriber base that is quite different from another. So for the McKnight's brand, you're looking at the audiences in the long-term care field, and then the next moment you're thinking about communicators and marketers. So you're looking at what they want from their events. And I think it's made me be a lot more nimble in my approach to how I produce and execute events and what we bring to each of those audiences and communities as well.

Brandon:

So when we talk about your team, you mentioned before that there are about 10 folks on it now.

Adele Durham:

Yes, I think so. So if I'm on maternity leave at the moment, and I know that because of the volume of virtual events that we're doing, we may have brought a couple more people on board, which is a really, really great thing given the economy right now. So I think we're 10.

Brandon:

With your team, could you tell us a little bit more about how it is structured? Do you have folks who are dedicated to these individual sub-brands or are folks generally working across the board on all of them?

Adele Durham:

The majority of the team focus on event production, which incorporates logistics. They work really closely with the sales team, so their account managers, their project managers. And now that we've hit COVID, they are really well-versed in producing both live events and virtual events. So I have a lot of folks really looking at the nuts and bolts of how an event is put together, but I also have marketers and a programmer. So I have an event producer who seeks out great speakers for our events, she focuses on the content, and then the marketer really heads up the marketing campaigns for each of the events that we have on deck. The event managers though, they are really great at marketing as well and they do dabble in that too.

Adele Durham:

So in a roundabout way, they can do everything. They are extremely talented. And even now with COVID and the concentration on virtual, I would even say that they're IT people because they're dealing a lot with speakers who are trying to use our digital platforms to speak to our audiences, they're trying to figure out different IT problems on the fly. So they're an incredible bunch. I cannot speak highly of them enough. Nothing would happen events-wise without this group of people. So a huge shout out to the wonderful team that are in the trenches right now producing these events for our audiences.

Brandon:

Shout out to the team.

Adele Durham:

Yeah, a huge shout out. And I was saying earlier, because I've been on maternity leave, I have felt slightly guilty about not being there to soldier on through these events with them. I said to you that Drizzly's really making a profit off me at the moment because I feel that I have to send along some Dutch courage and some bubbles for celebration after each of the events, because we're certainly so desperately missing doing live events. They will be honest about that. A big part of why you go into events in the first place, I think is really the adrenaline that you get when you're running an event. And a live environment comes with thinking on your feet and you can enjoy the event as well at the same time. The lights and all of the action and everyone eating and drinking. So we're missing that quite drastically at the moment.

Brandon:

It's tough. Everything virtual, running these virtual events, in some cases, aside from the additional coordination with all the AV production and whatnot, it's just like a typical workday just sitting in front of your computer versus being in the action.

Adele Durham:

Oh yeah, I know. And as much as we would have moaned about it, I really miss sitting putting together goodie bags or popping out photo frame props so that they could be put on tables. I really miss being there and doing things with my hands and being onsite at an event and all of the energy that you get with that. But I think it's a really interesting time given the focus on digital. And Haymarket have always done digital events. So we kind of had the head start when COVID hit because we were well-versed in how to run virtual events. So I think it's been definitely a challenge for me and the team to pivot and pivot well.

Brandon:

We've covered a lot of pivot stories beforehand in our webinars and our blogs and on this podcast, but we've never really covered pivoting an award show before. And at very short notice, you and your team had to pivot the PRWeek Awards to virtual. So I have a lot of questions about it, but first is why is an award show in particular kind of a beast unto itself and a little difficult to adapt to virtual?

Adele Durham:

Yeah, I've always tried to avoid adapting an award show into a virtual entity because I think that it lives and breathes in that celebratory moment where you've come to get that in a space, a beautiful venue that you can eat and drink in with your work colleagues, you get dressed up, you have that moment on stage hopefully where you collect a trophy and the music's going. And it's one of those events which is really hard to consider in a digital format because people enter awards to bring teams together. It's a good way of motivating your team. It's a good way of motivating your staff, and it's a wonderful teamwork opportunity where you can all celebrate the successes that you've had. So I've never really wanted to consider doing it digitally.

Adele Durham:

However, we were 10 days away from putting on the PRWeek Awards at Cipriani on Wall Street, and we realized that COVID was extremely important and could not be brushed off at that moment in time as something that we could just forge ahead with. We knew that the health and safety of our attendees was most important. So we took the decision 10 days before to reschedule it. And at that moment, I still thought, "Oh, I think we're going to be able to do this in July. We'll just push it back a few months." We had the red carpet in the office. I think it's probably still there now. We have a 24 step and repeat ready and waiting to go. We had the trophies ready. Everything was ready. And I could not consider doing it digitally even after we'd made the decision to reschedule. I thought we'll be able to do it in July, and then it became so apparent really quickly that we would not be able to.

Adele Durham:

And we saw the intel of our biggest stakeholders and it just would not have been right for us to even consider doing it in July. So at that point, okay, we're going to do this because we have all of these people that have entered the awards that need to know who the winners are. And this is one of the biggest flagship events that we do for the brand. It's been going for 22 years. We can't let it go by the by. So there was a huge amount of pressure on us to figure out what to do with it digitally. And you think of all of the challenges that you overcome, and this is one that will always stick with me because I had sponsors that were on the line. I had attendees that had bought tickets that needed an event to celebrate at.

Adele Durham:

So reimagining that was a huge challenge, but I think that with the help of the team and the other brand leaders internally, we figured it out quite quickly. And I think my one piece of advice, and I'm sure all of the planners and marketers have realized is to be decisive. You just have to make a decision and get on with it because you have to then plan and execute on it. And that's what we did. So it was a really challenging time for us, but the event came together incredibly well. I'm so proud of what we were able to achieve and I think that we produced something that was very different at that time.

Brandon:

I feel like personally, I'm pretty decisive on a day-to-day basis with things, but with this pandemic and with planned events in my own personal life, and let alone things on the business side, it was a lot more difficult to make those calls, trying to figure out was there going to be more information? Like what's going to happen? But ultimately had to make that call to cancel the honeymoon and things like that.

Adele Durham:

Yeah. Oh, did that actually happen for you?

Brandon:

It did.

Adele Durham:

Oh my goodness, that's terrible. Where were you supposed to be going?

Brandon:

To Guatemala and to Mexico.

Adele Durham:

Oh, I'm so sorry. I just keep thinking to myself, it's going to come back and we're going to have the best party of our lives because we really have, not that we've sacrificed a lot, but we really have put things on hold and made the best of it. But when these live events and travel comes back, we're going to party so hard.

Brandon:

Yeah.

Adele Durham:

We really are. Hopefully in 2021, the latter half of 2021.

Brandon:

Fingers crossed. You mentioned yourself that it was really difficult to translate an award show to this virtual medium, but it sounds like you're pretty pleased with how it all turned out. I know there are specific ways that you were thinking about engaging attendees from badges to other elements. Could you tell us some more about these elements that you and your team introduced?

Adele Durham:

I had to ask myself the question, if you're pivoting something from live to virtual, what are your attendees looking for and what will they be missing out on with that switch? So I wanted to concentrate on offering as much networking as possible. PRWeek Awards is a huge networking opportunity. And we didn't want to just live stream an awards presentation because that doesn't give you the opportunity to talk to your colleagues. So, like I said, we've been doing virtual events for a while and had an event platform, digital platform that we'd worked with quite closely. So we built an event environment on that platform that had a lobby that we called the foyer, the awards foyer. And then you went into the sponsored hangouts, which were... They were sponsored booths, but we called them sponsor hangouts.

Adele Durham:

And so we looked at what would be most important for the attendees, and that was networking, content, as well as celebration. And we wanted to be sensitive and mindful to the time that we were producing this event. People may have lost their jobs, teams that had worked on the campaigns that were perhaps winning might not have a full roster of staff at that point. So how could we be sensitive to what was going on outside of the walls of the companies that we were working with? So we had this fantastic networking lounge where people could chat to one another. You could actually talk to anyone. You could go into a who's who section and see who's in the environment and strike up a conversation with anyone that was in the digital environment at the same time as you. We had these sponsor hangouts. So you could pop into a sponsor hangout and chat with the people at that company or other people that were in the hangout at the same time.

Adele Durham:

We had a live social media wall that would bring in all of the Twitter activations that were taking place during the event. We went hard on the competitions. We had a trivia section that was sponsored where our sponsor of it put together a trivia quiz that you could answer and the person that answered it in the quickest time would receive a prize. We also had a badge leaderboard. We love badge leaderboards within our virtual environments because it encourages people to engage and interact. If you go into a sponsor hangout, if you go into the networking lounge, if you attend a webcast, you get a certain amount of points, and then the person with the most points or badges at the end also receives a prize. We took the content further than we've been able to do in a live setting.

Adele Durham:

So when the event wrapped, when the presentation had taken place and everyone knew who the winners were, we opened up a whole other section of the environment that had videos from our judges explaining why a particular team or campaign won. And it really gave you insight that you would never have got if you were in a live setting because there's really not enough time within a live setting event to be able to have words from the judges and such. We also had this really cool, I love doing it. It was a welcome video from each of the staff members that work on PRWeek. We hadn't seen our community for months, so we put together a video that had Craig Roth saying hello to the audience and explaining what was going to happen during the event, and then Jenn McLaughlin, one of our sales reps, talk to you through how to do the trivia. So that welcome video was a way for our community to see us and to be reminded of what we looked like in here from us at the same time.

Adele Durham:

So I think networking content and just having a real personal touch. And we also were fortunate in that our communicator of the year this year was awarded to Michael Phelps. And I thought, "Okay, let's take that a step further. Let's do an in conversation with Michael Phelps before the awards presentation starts." So we were able to have our editor-in-chief do that conversation with him for 15 minutes to talk through what he's been working on and why we awarded him communicator of the year. And that was so well received.

Adele Durham:

And in general, I think I probably have three or four pages of testimonials from C-suite members of corporate companies who attended as well as the big agencies that we service just saying you took it to another level. We've seen awards being done in the pandemic which are just livestreams, but you gave us an experience. And we're so grateful for that. And that for me was just the icing on the cake. I thought all of the hard work that went into building out the extras that we had to do for this event made it worthwhile because the audience really enjoyed it, but felt that it gave them something different that they hadn't yet seen. So it was a big tick.

Brandon:

That sounds really special. That interview with Michael Phelps, was that not originally planned for the in-person?

Adele Durham:

No, because when you do a live event awards show, you're kind of looking at a five-hour time slot, from 6:00 to 11:00. You've got to eat dinner. You've got to allow opportunity for networking and drinks. You want to make sure that you have enough to party. So your awards presentation is probably only an hour and a half. And that is to go through all of the winners, it's to run competitions if you've got them. So we would never have had the opportunity for him to engage in a one-on-one and give the audience his opinions on mental health and such, which was what he was being awarded for. So it was really well received. And we've been fortunate to have such a great winner this year, and he was such a nice gentleman. I have amazing things to say about him.

Brandon:

So we were just talking about creating really exceptional experiences for the attendees. And I know earlier you mentioned a big component of some of these events is also the sponsors and making sure that you're providing value to them. Now, it sounds like that was the case with PRWeek, but whether we're talking about that, or if we're talking about the MM+M awards event that happened, could you share with us a little bit more background on how you approach sponsorship packages for these virtual events?

Adele Durham:

I think it's important to realize the context around these events. We've always had great support from our communities on the sponsorship and our sales teams have always done a kick-ass job of working with those sponsors on what the activations look like. And the team that they work really closely with internally is the events team. So myself and my team will consider what event we're putting on, and then we will conceptualize with the sales team what opportunities would be available. And I think what has rung true in the last four or five years is that sponsors want to partner with us on an activation that is close to their hearts. Whether they want to do something that is philanthropic or whether they want to do something that's for thought leadership or purposeful, you really have to hone in on what they want to get out of the experience rather than just putting their logo on a step and repeat.

Adele Durham:

So for the PRWeek Awards, we had already got a lot of sponsors that were on board at the time that we pivoted, and they continued that relationship with us in the same vein sponsorship-wise. And we were really grateful for that. For MM+M, we only did that event a few weeks ago. So we had to rewrite the sales opportunities because at that point, we hadn't sold a lot of them. So what I did was consider the live sponsorship opportunities and then see whether they could exist in a digital or a virtual event setting. I'll give you some examples.

Adele Durham:

We have had food trucks at our award events so that when you're exiting Cipriani, you can get a grilled cheese and some tater tots on your way out. A huge hit. And obviously, it's a really great partnership for one of sponsors to partner with us on. Okay, you're not going to be able to do that when it's a virtual event. So we looked at giving away Grubhub vouchers. So when the event wraps, all attendees get a $15 Grubhub voucher to get their late night snack. So that was quite an easy one to pivot.

Adele Durham:

We at live events do champagne giveaways. So at three different points during our events, we will randomly select a table to receive a bottle of champagne that they can enjoy. And people love champagne at live events. They go a long way. So that one always gets sold out from a sponsorship perspective, as soon as it becomes available. How can you do that in a virtual event is you can do the same sort of thing. You can run a competition, whether it is an engagement competition prior to the event beginning. You could run a best dressed competition. And that still can work both live and in a virtual setting. You just have to consider how people upload their photos. And if you have a live social media, well, that's one way that they can do it. So you can still run a best dressed.

Adele Durham:

We always run a selfie competition at our live events. And we typically have photo props on the tables, sometimes we've had selfie sticks that people can take over to them or selfie lights that are branded with a sponsor's logo. You can do the same thing. You might just need to run a competition ahead of the event. We did a coffee and cookie sponsor for the PRWeek Awards last year. When you were leaving the event, you got Cipriani's amazing cookies to take home with you as well as the coffee. And the cookie itself was branded, and so was the coffee cup.

Adele Durham:

We can't do that in a virtual event, so we looked at sending through gift hampers to certain competition winners that had vouchers to a coffee company in their local area and also a small business may be in their area that did the most delicious cookies and send the hamper ahead of time or the next day. So we really were building the media kits looking at what we would have offered live, what we could reimagine virtually, and then if we couldn't bring certain sponsorships back, what we could replace them with. So I considered a caricature sponsor where in the virtual events setting, you could have your caricature drawn by a caricature artists. So a sponsor could come on board and partner with us on that. So there are quite a few that we looked at. Because we were doing the trivia, we could have a trivia sponsor. Because we had the badge leaderboard, we could have a badging sponsor. So just looking at what was available to us and how we could pivot and how we could really incentivize the audience.

Brandon:

I love to hear that combination of finding inspiration from in-person events and seeing like what can be adapted, and then also saying what can be done specifically for the virtual medium and finding things, like for instance, that caricature artists, which I guess could be done in-person, but thinking about it in the virtual settings puts a new spin on it.

Adele Durham: