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22 | David Adler, Bizbash: Caviar, Gummy Bears, and the Future of Events

  • November 13, 2019
  • 49:11

David (CEO and Founder of BizBash) discusses the most unconventional fundraising story that you’ll ever hear, how BizBash developed an event series from their online brand, tips for securing event sponsors and partners, what it means to be a collaboration artist, the value of events in a multi-channel marketing strategy, and restaurants.

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Top Takeaways

1

SHIFTING FROM ONLINE TO OFFLINE: David launched the BizBash brand online in 2000 as a marketplace for event organizers. The brand expanded into live events in New York City and across the US with a focus on the local level. “Events are pretty local when you get down to it...We've been using that model ever since of being hyper-local, hyper-knowledgeable about the market, and hyper-sensitive to the talent in that market.”

2

TURNING EVENT ORGANIZERS INTO COLLABORATION ARTISTS: David believes that the power of events comes from connections. To facilitate those connections, event organizers need to view themselves as collaboration artists focused on sparking meaningful conversations and discussions. “We no longer judge an event by how many people attend, but how many conversations we’re able to curate.”

3

SECURING EVENT SPONSORS AND PARTNERS: An important component to BizBash’s sponsorship and speaker strategy is curating the content and integrating it into the greater event program. Rather than showcasing a booth, David and his event team collaborate with sponsors to bring to life wildly creative ideas. “What we do is we take the people that do business with us and amp up the experience with them.”

ABOUT David Adler

David founded Bizbash in 2000 with the idea of creating the first marketplace for events and meeting professionals, where you could peek over the fence and see what your peers were up to. Since then, the BizBash brand has become a leading voice in the industry—boasting digital and print offerings, and producing the city-spanning BizBash Live event series. 

Episode Transcript

DAVID:

I'm actually doing this special report that everybody wants to be my assistant on, where I go to fine dining restaurants to find out what they're doing and how event planners can learn from going through these great finding dining restaurants.

BRANDON:

It's also a great reason to eat some delicious food.

DAVID:

It's a great reason to eat some delicious food and to really sort of appreciate how crazy it is to spend $1,000 on dinner.

BRANDON:

Hello, and welcome to In-Person brought to you by Bizzabo. In each episode of In-person, we explore the world's most daring events and the people who make them happen. In case you and I haven't already met, I'm Brandon Rafalson. Really excited to share this episode with you where we spoke to David Adler, the CEO and founder of BizBash. David founded BizBash back in 2000 with the idea of creating the first marketplace for events and meeting professionals, a place where you could kick over the fence and see what your peers were up to.

Since then, the BizBash brand has become a leading voice in the industry, posting digital and print offerings and producing this city spanning BizBash live event series. During this episode, David and I discussed the most unconventional fundraising story that you'll ever hear. I guarantee it. How BizBash developed in events series from their online brand, tips to securing events sponsors and partners. What it means to be a collaboration artist, the value of events and a multichannel marketing strategy and food. Lots of food. Caviar, gummy bears, anyone. Let's get to it.

DAVID:

Event organizers need to see this because they're experimenting every single night. When you get your... Things like the ice cream with truffles and caviar and gummy bears together. There's combinations that you would never even thought of.

BRANDON:

That's insane and where can I get that?

DAVID:

Well, you can get that at Pineapples and Pearls in DC.

BRANDON:

Okay. Fantastic.

DAVID:

That's one of these great restaurants in New York. There's a ton too.

BRANDON:

If I was looking for a good sushi spot, lets say in New York City-

DAVID:

Oh my God.

BRANDON:

Where would you recommend?

DAVID:

Well, I just came back last week from Masa. Now, I've never spent more money in my life dining, but it was so worth it. You had like 25 bites for $1,200, something crazy like that. But it was so theatrically done and so brilliant and so beautiful that it was really worth the experience. And I think that there's a big gap now between the clients and event planners who are planning at the corporate level because the head CEO's are going to these restaurants. But the planners don't know anything about it. So we're sort of caught in this little schism of quality. Where you go to an event and the quality is not what the CEO is used to. And event planner doesn't even know it.

BRANDON:

It's not what they're used to. It's not what would really excite them.

DAVID:

Yeah, yeah.

BRANDON:

It really got their attention.

DAVID:

Yeah. So it's really been very interesting and a lot of fun. It's like my new hobby. That's a great hobby. Got to swim a lot.

BRANDON:

I'm going to have to ask you some more about restaurant recommendations afterwards.

DAVID:

Oh, yeah. We'll just talk about experiential.

BRANDON:

Welcome to the food edition of In-Person. Okay, so David, you are the CEO and founder of BizBash, one of the most influential publications out there for events and meeting professionals. In fact, we're coming up on the 20th anniversary of BizBash.

DAVID:

20 years.

BRANDON:

20 years, and that's 20 years of you building this industry defining brand, but way before that at the age of 21 you got your start launching the Washington Dossier is a pretty influential publication itself at that time.

DAVID:

It was really influential and I didn't realize it as much as I realize it today. When people come up to me and say they remember being in the Washington 500 back in 1986 when we picked the most powerful people in Washington and it made their careers because all of a sudden they were being recognized.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

The tie together between BizBash and Dossier is that the politicians, their number one skillset is being an event planner. That's what they do. Their politics is all about creating fundraisers and going to see constituents. So I would have these conversations with senators and Congressman ambassadors more about the events. Then about the policy, nobody cares about policy in Washington is kind of the little dirty secret. They just care about you know who's coming to their event and is it good, can they serve whatever they can serve. And that was really what they got off on. And I did that for 15 years. People thought I was a major attendee because I was in black tie almost every single night.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

And you could tell the caterer by the horderves.

BRANDON:

Now was this part of the uniform?

DAVID:

This is my uniform.

BRANDON:

... Sort of like infiltrate or were-

DAVID:

No, we were like... People loved us to come because we were like friendly to these people. Our whole slogan was to be their friend and to sort of understand what's going on because most journalists didn't go and mix. I was 21 years old and I was doing dinner parties with Rockefeller and Hubert Humphrey, all the people that are dead now. So I kind of feel like I was like this bridge from the past, the future that when you're young in these businesses you don't realize how important it is 30 or 40 years down the road when you are the continuity between the generations. And it's really, really been an interesting thing. And I'm still very active in DC in politics, in government, the state department.

BRANDON:

So how did this beginning kind of mingling with Washington society, how did this serve as sort of an entry to the world of events.

DAVID:

Well I was going to events every single night, but I was mostly at the front of the house. I was with the people and I got kind of sick of going to parties and I did not... I was after like your thousandth party, it's not as exciting anymore especially in Washington. And I really learned that it was kind of the behind the scenes and the strategy around the parties that were really, really important. And I sold my magazine and then I ended up getting headhunted by a British media Lord by the name of Robert Maxwell. And he owned Macmillan. And he owned a bunch of other companies and I actually rose to become the head of corporate communications and I ended up doing all the events as part of the job.

BRANDON:

At Macmillan.

DAVID:

At Macmillan, serving this guy named Robert Maxwell who was Rupert Murdoch's arch rival.

BRANDON:

Interesting.

DAVID:

And so he was a bigger than life figure. He was just completely an event person ultimately. I would spend hours and hours figuring out the seating plans for where you're going to put the people so that you can do the social engineering of the place.

BRANDON:

So you went from attending these events and running this magazine to serving as the head of communications and actually producing events yourself.

DAVID:

I would have to produce events between leaving the yacht and going to the next event. I had to produce a whole event, from the median strip of a highway because there were so many events coming and they believed in events as the secret weapon because contact was... I always say contact is king and we say that now, but it was all... It's always the case.

It's sitting in the room with the right people. And so that's what the smart CEOs understood. And it wasn't necessarily the most important piece of the puzzle from the outside Harvard MBA rule world. But for the street fighters it was still the way to go. Yeah, the hustle.

BRANDON:

Those In-person events.

DAVID:

In-person events where your people connect with each other. That was kind of the entire thing. When I left Macmillan and got involved with a company called Prime Media, where we owned 130 magazines and websites and everything else. And I did all the events for them as well because what we did is... As head of corporate communication for Prime Media, we were a public company and we needed to show the street what we were doing. So we would always invite all of the analysts to come to the events for 17 magazine and New York magazine and soap opera digest.

We even had Hog Farmer and we had Beef and we had Vegetarian Times and we had TV program called Channel One and we had all these things and the analysts really wanted to be part. So we kept the budgets for the events at the corporate level.

BRANDON:

Right. That's a very VIP experience.

DAVID:

And because the brands themselves were not inviting the street because they didn't care. But the whole basis of a company is to raise shareholder value. And by having these analysts touched the company, it was a secret weapon. So I really learned that events are critical, but there was no marketplace for it. I heard this guy's name named Robert Isabel and we did the opening of the 50th anniversary of Seventeen Magazine for example. And I'd have to negotiate palm trees. Each palm tree that he added was $100,000. So I had to say, "Okay, I can use three instead of four," and I saved $100,000.

So I was spending at least a million dollars on an event. And I was told that I was being cheap by these guys. In the 90s, it was pretty go go times. It was when the internet was coming up.

BRANDON:

Today there's a lot of technology out there that can help in attributing ROI and justifying the value of events. But back then when these budgets were as huge as they were, how did you go to your boss and say like, "Hey, that palm tree was worth it."

DAVID:

He was into it.

BRANDON:

Okay.

DAVID:

So we wanted to make sure that we'd spent enough money because it was... When you're at a big company, the top level of the company has more money than the units. So when it was at the corporate level, we were able to spend money because we were showing off what was going on. And when you think about it, an event is actually cheaper than a marketing budget at the time because you can spend millions of dollars on ad campaigns, but $1 million on one event with the hoi polloi of your entire world is really kind of worth it.

The CEO's were competing with each other, the Conde Nast people, we're competing with the prime media people, which were competing with the other publishing companies. So it was a whole different thing. And media though people like to contribute things to media as well. So we had a lot of activations that wasn't called that back then, but it was a lot of really interesting stuff going on.

BRANDON:

So there was a big belief in the power of events and how... As you said, contact being King in these really intimate settings, it could be more valuable than a shotgun blast at campaign.

DAVID:

Until it crashed.

BRANDON:

Until it crashed.

DAVID:

Until 1999, 2000. I would go to an event for a technology brand and they would give everybody $20 in coins to take the taxi to go home as part of the things that they did. It was like, it was crazy, crazy, crazy. And so you had the run up to 2000 and you ended up seeing everything fall apart. So all over a sudden, and right when I started my company in January, February of 2000 things were falling apart in bushel loads and companies were going broke. Big technology magazines that had a hundred pages went down to ten pages and went broke.

BRANDON:

And this is like when you were starting to-

DAVID:

When I was starting, right when I was starting.

BRANDON:

The publication BizBash.

DAVID:

Right when I was starting an internet version of BizBash, which is what we started first. And we found that we wanted to create a marketplace for event organizers to peek over the fence to see what other people are doing because you cannot get into someone else's event. So we believe that the competition of ideas, you had to sort of see what they're doing, otherwise you didn't even know that your events sucked, which is in fact what we did. We sent reporters out, we created a database of all the vendors.

So we went to like a party and we said, "Oh this was the band and this is the guy that did the catering." And we intermediated the event planner in a sense because they weren't just the Rolodex anymore. They had to used talent to create ways that attendees connect with each other. And so we were kind of like, people didn't know what to expect and all of a sudden we were getting more views, we had a newsletter, and we just kept doing what we're doing for the first few months after we started.

BRANDON:

This is 1999.

DAVID:

This is 2000.

BRANDON:

2000.

DAVID:

2000 when we started. 

DAVID:

So this is advice to people that are raising money. I raised my money in the back of a bris because I don't know if Jewish or not, people understand that, right? When sort of the-

BRANDON:

It's like a baptism.

DAVID:

It's like a baptism with knives and all the men... All the men decide to go to another room because they understand the feeling of the poor child that's going to get the circumcision.

BRANDON:

For the baptism.

DAVID:

And so a guy asked me what I'm doing and I raised $4 million in the back of the bris of a very wealthy person. And so even the kid that had the bris is an investor because I finally got the guts up to ask his father. And so that's the best fundraising story ever.

BRANDON:

I'm still trying to figure out what's the advice there to raise funds at a bris?

DAVID:

Go raise funds. You never know where you're going to raise money. I guess that's the advice. Never even... Just when you think it's not worth it, it could be really worth it.

BRANDON:

Yeah, yeah.

DAVID:

So we started the magazine, we put our databases together. It's starting an internet company back then was very expensive. The $4 million that we used probably done for $100,000 today, which is really interesting. And then we started with the internet, this internet thing came around and we thought this will be great.

Then what happens is we had 2001 so everything was going fine. 2001 everything crashed. First, you had the recession in 2000 that kind of 1999, 2000 which when we began, and then you had 9/11.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

Just completely devastated the industry. All of a sudden nothing was working. 

BRANDON:

So all this happened. And then you kicked off the convention exhibition meeting and events initiative.

DAVID:

Right.

BRANDON:

Okay.

DAVID:

And that became a leadership role in helping to bring back the city. And we had about 300 companies that all band together to figure out how to take the city and bring it back to life. We did things like, we lit the empire state building in yellow. So that Snapple, the company that was around then we would do bring a meeting to New York. We had events at Gracie mansion for all the pharmaceutical meeting planners. We did the same thing for the trade show industry. We did it for all these other things.

And you actually got goosebumps because we would bring in Broadway singers at Ray's to Gracie mansion and they would sing New York, New York and things like that. And it literally was goosebumps provoking because you felt so patriotic for the city that suffered so much and it bonded the people that were involved. And I did learn from that, that leadership is probably the key thing. Do something bigger than yourself and it'll pay back in spades. And so I had a committee that had people like American Express on it and American Express decided they saw what we did and they liked we did. So they decided to give us an ad program, but they paid for it all at once upfront. And it really helped save my company during those terrible times.

BRANDON:

Right, so this big setback, this national tragedy.

DAVID:

Yeah.

BRANDON:

This coalition of event organizers and companies comes together to revitalize what's happening, breathe life back into events here, you're doing this, you're putting on these great events, you're meeting people, and eventually you were able to get the first BizBash life off the ground.

DAVID:

We did the Javits Convention Center said, "Hey, why don't you bring all these event planners to Javits?" And so they give us a free trade show for three years. We had our first one right after 9/11 and it was the place that we healed our industry, but we did some really innovative things. We created the world's largest goodie bag, for example, that was 50 feet tall and gave things away and we had speakers and we honored the YMCA guys, the village people.

BRANDON:

It was pretty funny. Were they there?

DAVID:

They were there. Yeah, yeah it was pretty cool. Everybody was trying to help bring the city back. And we had originally planned our event for September 12th, and we had to move it to November because Javits was a morgue for a while. It was really... It was an awful situation.

BRANDON:

Yeah.

DAVID:

And then we had anthrax and we had... The whole industry was completely devastated. And that's where you saw the best of the humanity of New York. The chefs were feeding people down at the pits and the event people were doing all these sort of events to help bring the industry together. And I really learned that the one message that I would have for everybody is that leadership counts. Leadership, you get remembered for leadership. And it really... The giving back is totally true that you get so much more for it.

I've now used that philosophy in everything I do because I now consider myself the mayor of the niche. So I like to deal with it as if it's a political office, and that I can do anything I can to help raise the level of the industry to taking out the trash. That what the mayor does.

BRANDON:

That's great. Right, that's a good mayor. You can take out the trash as well.

DAVID:

Well, they're supposed to take out the trash and fix the potholes.

BRANDON:

I know they don't do that so well sometimes. Okay. So over the years after BizBash premiered in New York City, it has spread to San Francisco, Miami, Washington and DC. Could you share with us some of the decision making that went into saying, "Hey, we have an event here that's really speaking with people."

DAVID:

Well, it happened a little bit by accident. We were in New York for four years before we expanded. And I actually ran into some friends that were doing trade shows and I licensed it for a couple of years to Toronto and to Miami to sort of practice. And it turned out that every time we added a city, we added more people into the entire mix is what we found is that most people are planning events in other places and in many cases. And so the more we broadened it, the better it was.

We also made the decision to stay in major metropolitan markets. So we're not necessarily national as much as we are mega city because we've found in each city there's a whole infrastructure. There's a whole group of planners, the whole group of venues, there's a whole group of local players. Events are pretty local when you get down to it. You're going to one place, you're going to a place and we've sort of been using that model ever since of being hyper-local, hyper knowledgeable about the market and hyper sort of recognizing the talent in that market. Because if you're too global, it's not as much fun either for me because I like going to a city and really meeting the people.

BRANDON:

Right, right.

DAVID:

That's kind of what I did. And we would do certain events in every single market. We did trade shows, we do hall of fame events where we honor people regularly and we do a lot of customized Jeffersonian style dinner party types of things where we have people talk to each other and we learn about what's going on in the market.

BRANDON:

Hosting these larger events in these trade shows, but also some of these more-

DAVID:

Small intimate events.

BRANDON:

All branded under BizBash.

DAVID:

All branded under BizBash. Yes, under BizBash Live, BizBash has become a real brand. And the BizBash brand itself is... Different things to different people.

BRANDON:

Sure.

DAVID:

Some people think we're just a magazine company. Some people think we're a digital online company, some people think we're a trade show company.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

But we do primarily the same thing. They are in all of our products. We give people ideas and inspire them.

BRANDON:

Sure, specifically around events and meetings.

DAVID:

Events and meetings because those are the new town squares of the world.

BRANDON:

Yeah.

DAVID:

That's where things are happening. Media is becoming so disintermediated in many cases that these little areas, when I call up myself, the mayor of my niche, I think that everybody that does an event is the mayor of the niche that they're in at the moment. Because when you're doing a trade show or a party, you're responsible for everybody. We're the first responders if there's an incident, we were not taking it as seriously as we should in many cases. This is serious stuff.

BRANDON:

Definitely the more urgent matters like that, but then also the food and making sure it's delicious. And maybe providing a little bit a caviar and jelly bean if needed.

DAVID:

Well, the thing is, the whole idea of why the fun at an event is not about fun. It's about connecting people. Because the whole...When you think about, there's a great book out there called Social Physics by Alex Pentland and he talks about how ideas spread and ideas spread when people talk to each other. So we no longer judge an event by how many people attend, but how many conversations you're able to curate. So that cool piece of fish that's designed in a way gets people to sort of connect in a little ways to see a centerpiece that gets people sort of jazzed up-it's a common denominator. And that's what we need in most of these things.

BRANDON:

Definitely.

DAVID:

People need to talk to each other.

BRANDON:

They need to talk. And it can be a challenge when events grow really big.

DAVID:

Yeah.

BRANDON:

At the same time, it's can be just as much of a challenge even if you have a small band.

DAVID:

Well, there's a big problem in our country of social anxiety, people are so used to dealing on their phones, they don't want to talk to people. So I believe that you have to be a better host. You have to give people permission to talk to each other and you have to give them a reason to talk to each other and you can't really waste their time and the quality has to be good enough where it's not an issue. The negatives sometime, well how many times did you go to a great event, but you get so disturbed because the parking sucks or the entrance is hard to find or you can't find it or the communications isn't that bad.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

So bad. So you need the little stuff that makes a big difference.

BRANDON:

Sure. Yeah, those instances can definitely tarnish the experience. Looking back at events that BizBash has done in the past that you've helped produce, what have been some of the ways that you have created those conversations and you've helped create a space where people can chat, break away from their phones.

DAVID:

I believe my whole thing now is how do you turn event organizers into collaboration artists? Because yes, the logistics should be perfect and that's a given. But how you orchestrate the conversations. I do. So one of the things I do is I believe in receiving wines. I like to welcome people to come to my events because sometimes that's the only time someone talks to someone else. And so that's one thing. I also believe when I do a speech, I don't say, "Hey here, I'm great." I say, "Hey, talk to the person next to you." You never know what's going to happen when you have a conversation with someone, because the most powerful word in the English language is the word "let's."

Whenever you talk to someone, you want to solve a problem, it's let's get a lunch, let's go to dinner, let's hook up, let's start a revolution, that type of thing. And I say to the audience, meet the person next to you. It's kind of what people do in churches and synagogues every single time you go to them.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

But men especially don't want even have eye contact with the person in the next chair. So you have to actually give people permission to talk to each other. The other thing that I do now is at, when I do a dinner, and let's say there's 50 tables or 25 tables, I go to every table. I believe that CEOs are terrible hosts now. They think it's about them and it's really about their guests. And one thing I learned when I was at the state department, I was a voluntold at the state department. We had a big event for David Cameron. So when David Cameron went around to every single table and the prime minister of England can do that.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

A CEO can certainly do that because you make people feel like they're... You're hospitable. We're in the hospitality business, but half the time we're not hospitable. So we need to be in a...Warmth is like the biggest thing at an event that people don't get. And it's not an ROI thing. It increases the ROI because people feel like they want to come back. So I believe in that. I believe in this, keeping people busy. Sometimes you keep them too busy, you've got to keep the white space. I think the greatest thing about conferences now are in the hallways when people have a chance to talk and rest and not be overly programmed. I think over programming is one of the biggest problems in our industry right now.

BRANDON:

I really appreciate hearing what you have to say about taking it on yourself to be that welcoming, hospitable presence. But something I'm thinking about is as you're saying that is as the events grow, as there are more of them it's... Can't always be that executive presence that you want. So what would be like either from your personal experience or just in general as you're at events and you're thinking about them, how would you suggest that event organizers could scale that experience?

DAVID:

I believe that you mirror the behavior and that everybody becomes an ambassador for their brand, but you have to mirror the behavior of the top guys not doing it and nobody else is going to do it. So I found that all of my people start doing it. The worst thing I see is when I see three or four of my people standing together at an event you want to like kill yourself because you want them talking to other people.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

But if you show that behavior as a CEO of a company or a leader in a company, other people will do it. And certainly the most successful executives are the most accessible executives.

BRANDON:

I want to definitely speak a little bit more on these trends that you're seeing and in events, but before we do that, just a couple more questions about BizBash Live in particular. First one is, aside from growing to becoming a multi multi-city event, how else has BizBash Live evolved over the years?

DAVID:

I think that the whole trade show industry has evolved, so that you're seeing a lot more what everyone calls activations and events. So it's not just, "here's my stuff," it's, "experienced my stuff." And so we're seeing a lot more that you're seeing more spread out, bigger booths and things like that. You're seeing more conferencing and more networking opportunities at events. We're also seeing shorter times. Our event used to be a two day event. At the end of the second day I wanted to basically kill myself because every event has a downtime at the end of the second day.

And so New York City is a little bit different because we want people in our events to come for the day because they live here. Even though we're getting people from all around the world coming to our events, it's meant to be a local event where people can find resources. It used to be too noisy. We tried to tamp it down a little bit because we've had lots of entertainment everywhere until we've calmed it down a little bit because I think people have to have prosaic experiences where there's not much going on. And so we need to go up and down in terms of the way we create our experiences.

We're trying to go for much more convenience. Our technology, we've been using Bizzabo at our events and it streamlines things. It makes you smarter at what you do and it gives you more ammunition to spend your time worrying about the things that create the warmth as if as they're tripping over yourself. You're making technology changes. In the purpose of technology in my opinion is to make what was complex, trivial. And that's what these systems are doing when it's done correctly. You're constantly trying to make it simpler and simpler and simplicity is the most important thing you can get. So we're trying to get to simplicity in everything that we do and we always make it.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

But the world is also moving really fast. So we're trying to showcase different ways that make events work for people.

BRANDON:

That really makes a lot of sense. Shortening and just overall focusing the experience a lot more, whether that's shortening the length of it or the amount of things going on in it. And then also using technology or maybe other processes that can simplify all the logistical aspects so you can focus on making an event successful.

DAVID:

Well, being a collaboration artist.

BRANDON:

Yep.

DAVID:

Do you want the technology to make the logistics perfect? You want the warmth and you want the connections of the people to be the art form and you want to be able to not have to worry about mixing the paints. You want to make sure that you're doing what is appropriate for your audience and know the people in the room and make sure that if a smile goes a long way as opposed to being in the back room listening to complaints because you screwed up something.

BRANDON:

Two other things that I love to touch on around BizBash Live. One is sponsorships and partnerships. You already mentioned one great example I think with Javits Center of making a case that this can be a great place to bring in an event planners and event producers and they gave to you for free for a few years.

DAVID:

Yeah, yeah.

BRANDON:

That's amazing. But how else as a BizBash especially as it's expanded, have you sort of leaned on partnerships?

DAVID:

The way we kind of do it is we'll sell somebody a booth or something like that. Everyone wants to showcase their products with us. And if we did that for everybody, we'd make no money. So what we do is we do take the people that do business with us and try to up the experience with them. And so that's been really an important thing. We try to extend it. One of the things that we do before every event, we do a speaker dinner, but we do them in this Jeffersonian style so that the speakers when they're speaking the next day are warmer because they understand what we're trying to do. And so we partner with the restaurant and we all have this great Jeffersonian style dinner party and the next day everybody is like the best friends with everybody.

And that's kind of what we want to do at the event as well. We try to curate who talks and it's not pay to play but there are sponsorships that can happen that we integrate with everything.

BRANDON:

For sure, that's a great opportunity for sponsors to-

DAVID:

Yeah. It's like how creative can we be? The best thing is, okay, we have a meeting with somebody and they say, "Oh, let's do something really cool." And we'll sit down and figure out what's cool. There's no hard and fast rules anymore like there used to be. And so whatever you can think of, you can do pretty much. And we in our business are... We're magic makers and in many cases, because there's the technology and things like that can make things happen in a much easier way. There's not as many barriers anymore.

BRANDON:

Yeah, yeah. So those are some of the ways you've worked with partners and sponsors, and we're kind of speaking about this right now, but when you first launched BizBash Live, how did you see that as a channel for driving business outcomes for BizBash itself?

DAVID:

Well, we started on the internet, then we went to print and then we went to trade shows. What we found is that the people in the... Especially during the recessions and things like that, we're in a business about live experiences. So we had to do live experiences and that's what our people understood. It was easier to sell a trade show booth sometimes than a page of advertising that you don't get the feeling from. But when you go to a trade show, when you go to a BizBash show, you could see all thousands of your customers in one day. So there was like a big ROI when digital advertising came around. Everybody thought, "Oh you just put digital." Everybody will respond. People respond, yes. But it's part of the surround sound. What we found is that our industry is about surround sound that you touched them in a live event.

You'd see a digital ad, you see a magazine page, you see a conference, you see different things. And it's all about the lifestyle of the event organizer. Because we get all these things that people love our brand. That's the... One of the most satisfying things when everyone says, "I love BizBash." And the first thing they grab it and they want to look at everything and they're like they're completely thirsty for the information and the ideas that we've been covering. Because we're the only ones that cover the creative side of the business. And we're not as much concerned about how much vodka it takes to create a million vodka sodas or something.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

But we're all about what makes different that when you go home you're going to say, "Oh my God, that was really great." You're seeing such wild ideas that people are doing at events that you would never expect. And every time you see that wild idea, it makes you think of something better as a professional.

BRANDON:

Yeah.

DAVID:

That's the whole idea and you get jazzed. This is a great business and we are the new town squares as I mentioned in the world. And so we're more important than anyone else used to think. I used to say that event organizers were sitting at the children's table for Thanksgiving. Now it's not that case at all. We're now the center of strategy. We're now where most campaigns start and where most campaigns either crescendo because a whole organization is doing an event and the whole place is going to be geared up for that one moment. And when you see people getting the Olympics, it's not forgetting the Olympics of it. It's the city. It's for creating an atmosphere in their city that gives people a deadline for progress.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

It's really interesting.

BRANDON:

I'd love to sort of speak more about these larger trends that are shaping the industry. We sort of talked a little bit about technology. We've talked a little bit about how events are becoming more of a focal point for strategies. What are some other emerging trends that you're seeing?

DAVID:

I think there's a definite tendency to smaller events or smaller events inside big events. You're seeing a lot more of a really focused, focused events. People are really concerned about the elements of an event. There's a great documentary out recently called eating animals and it was about how badly animals are being treated and a lot of planners don't like to serve that kind of food. So there's going to be transparency in the supply chains, especially in hotels and things like that, that they want to make sure that, that really is good.

There is a tendency towards inclusion. Look at the whole pronoun thing. I mean people, it's the MeToo Movement is has changed a lot. The event organizer is much more professional now. That's one of the biggest things. It is a profession. It was not a profession years ago and I think we're helping to stimulate that.

Our whole thing is to turn it into something where people's self esteem is raised because they see that they're doing something important because the answers to the questions of when people talk to each other and get to the "let's" like I talked about earlier, you don't know what impact you're having. It's an important industry and you're seeing more and more people who want to go into it.

BRANDON:

I also am simultaneously seeing so much more placed on the shoulders of event organizers from having to do a lot of the marketing and promotion to having to curate the amazing programming to getting in touch with speakers, managing sponsors, partners.

DAVID:

Oh yeah. At the same time there is a lot more importance in it. I don't think people respect the elements of it as much and so I think one of the biggest problems I see is when you speak somewhere, nobody even looks at your speech, so you're not really curating it to that level. We do because we're a media company, so we're looking at everything in a much cleaner way in a sense. I think you're also seeing social media. It has been the reason that the budgets have gotten bigger, but I think that we're in a point where social media is getting exhausting. I don't know if you see that or not but social media. Instagram is no longer...It's still focal point. I won't sort of put that down. It's hard to be a content creator.

You go to an event, you spend your time creating content, you're not enjoying it. So I think that you want more people that are going to create it. You're seeing the rise of things like TikTok, things like that I think are going to be where in a visual business where people will be able to combine music and visuals in a much more creative way. It won't be just for 12 year old boys or whatever anymore because I think that those 12 year olds become 24 year olds in no time based on my experience, because I've seen it over the last 20 years. So I think that we don't even know where the social media piece is going to go, but I think it's going to be a little different. There is a trend towards that... I interviewed these three women who talk about how there's three different types of people at an event.

There is the person at event that's texting under the table, "This speaker sucks, this guy is so fat or whatever." Then there is the polite at the table where everybody's all dressed up. And then there's a social media game where everyone who thinks they're like Queen Elizabeth and so they all have this fake brand. So what's real. But an event organizer now has to go and focus on all three levels of those communications that are going on. Not just the one be polite thing. And I find myself doing the same thing. I'm sit in there with my executive vice president and saying, this guy is really a bad speaker. I'm doing the snarky stuff, too.

BRANDON:

That's so interesting. We talk about personas a lot on this show and it's interesting to think potentially there are these personas.

DAVID:

Multiple personas like we're all-

BRANDON:

Multiple dimensions of personas.

DAVID:

Oh yeah, Oh yeah. Because that same person that's social media perfect is like the biggest troublemaker.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

And the texting side.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

So it's really interesting to see. So we have to navigate all these different areas and I think that people have to recognize that they're there. I was the oldest person at the Teen Vogue Summit, and that's an interesting little world because they don't believe that the decor piece. You can photograph one thing like an Instagram moment, but the rest of it then you don't need carpet at the trade show. You know, you don't need the carpet, your whole thing. You don't need to have center pieces every single place. Nobody really cares. So there's a whole aesthetic thing that's changing between the generations as well.

BRANDON:

Interesting.

DAVID:

Big trend.

BRANDON:

One other thing that we think may be getting out a little bit earlier is this idea of the parasocial interaction.

DAVID:

Okay.

BRANDON:

Yeah, what does that mean to you and how are we seeing that reflected in events?

DAVID:

I believe that the whole thing, the social media piece, it sort of brought up this whole parasocial relationship. That parasocial relationship is a two-way relationship with a fictional character. And so it could be Kim Kardashians or it could be Comic-Con. The fictional character could be the event and in many cases it is, because you have a fictional relationship if you go to Ted, you think you're smarter. If you go to Comic-Con, it's like you want to go every year because they're your buddies.

Taylor Swift and things like that does this all the time because she's a big celebrity and people think they know the celebrity better than their best friends. You see this on YouTube that these guys that do YouTube channels, you know everything about them. People want to have these parasocial relationships where they're friends with their fictional characters. I've never come to experience that.

BRANDON:

Well, it was interesting hearing you say this because I think one of the often mentioned bright sides of events, one of the amazing benefits of it, is it can bring people together and it's often this beautiful opportunity to connect. As you said, the contact is king. It's an opportunity to build relationships and expand what you know about a given knowledge area. But it sounds like there also is sort of a sinister side of that as well.

DAVID:

It's called propaganda. You can create, you have to be careful that we're dealing with a very powerful thing.

BRANDON:

So, I mean-

DAVID:

How to forget and bam.

BRANDON:

Yeah, so how do you sort of negotiate that day to day, we're in the events industry, we're putting on events. How do you-

DAVID:

I think authenticity, that's why you have those three levels of the way people talk to each other. You just have to make sure that you're always consistent in many cases that you're not a fake brand or you're not just being polite and you're not being snarky at the end of the table. So it depends on the character. It comes down to... What I think it still comes down to in the world. My personal is character and character. When you do an event, you want to make sure that the event has the attributes of with the good person that has all the right skills that you're attracted to that type of person as opposed to...Because an event is a personality too. It has attributes and so people do want it so they want to go back every year. Like you went to summer camp, you probably liked going back to summer camp every year if you were a summer camp person and a lot of people were so.

BRANDON:

I'd love to end our final moments together. Pivot the conversation to you and specifically some of your perspectives throughout your career, some lessons learned and to start there, I'd like to ask you what are the skillsets that are going to be needed for the event organizers of the future?

DAVID:

The one thing I've had a lot of conversations on, people don't understand what the strategy is. They start with, "Let's plan the event." You may not even need an event depending on if you're doing a corporate thing or you're doing a business thing or whatever. I think that there has to be a much more thinking about strategy, understanding your audiences, what you're trying to accomplish. I think that people jump right into events. You're seeing the smart planners like the smart collaboration artists and things like that, know what they're trying to get into first. They're not just jumping in.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

That's definitely one thing.

BRANDON:

It's a strategy.

DAVID:

Strategy is one thing. I think that understanding the business, understanding the business models. I think that there's a going to be a huge shift in this whole commission model where people are getting a piece of the action and they're adding to the price. So one guy will sell you rentals and the planner will mark up the rentals and someone else will mark it up again. And so I think that there's going to be much more transparency in pricing and things like that, but you have to understand the business owner to do that.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

And it's a very fast moving business and it's a lot of relationships, so it's hard to navigate that. So I think that you're going to see a lot of that. We have this thing called Event Leadership Institute and we do a lot of training. We think that the biggest companies, and we just... I just had lunch with a woman from Bank of America today. They have an exhaustive training program. And that training is one of the things that gets short shrift in our business. And that whether you're getting it from your company or you're doing it yourself, you should learn what the hell's going on and understand and go to events and participate in events.

And the other thing is when you host an event, you should have at least someone going to the event as a guest because I think that's where I see a lot of people, they never go and see the rooms, they never go participate. They're all in the back of the house, but nobody's watching it. But they're then making all the decisions what worked and what didn't work without actually seeing it.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

And so there's got to be a way to make the critical judgments about what's going on. Really interesting. The other thing, I think surveys suck, although I think that people should be doing observational research. There should be interviews and qualitative research rather than just quantitative because a lot of times people don't respond to surveys in an honest way. So I think that that has to change a lot. I don't think the industry pays enough yet. You're not going to get really rich in this industry. And I think that the economics have to change. It's still a small industry, so I think that's going to change.

But as we get more into marketing, you're not seeing event tech anymore, you're seeing more tech, marketing technology because ultimately it comes down to how do you translate the attendance at an event into a goal.

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

And we're still way far away from the ROI. 40 years I've been doing this now. The ROI question has not been solved. Everybody thinks they have the answer because they're doing it themselves. But there's no general thing that the whole industry has rallied around, I believe. I may be wrong, but I've not seen it in my years.

BRANDON:

Yes so a lot of work still to do.

DAVID:

A lot of work to do.

BRANDON:

Around figuring out that ROI. And how does that event action relate to a larger business outcome?

DAVID:

Or is the ROI about just sort of the feelings? I always... Every time I've had an interview with somebody, it still comes down to Maya Angelou. "No one remembers what you said, they remember how you made them feel."

BRANDON:

Right.

DAVID:

That is what events do. And how do you put an ROI on feelings is also the anti Harvard Business School sort of argument. It makes us sound trivial, but is it more important than ever? We're sort of caught in this never, never land.

BRANDON:

When you think about the events industry, the event marketing industry, who's someone that you think is doing a really good job?

DAVID:

That's a hard question because I see a lot, but I see people not consistent. They'll do one thing great and then they won't be consistent on other things. I think Dreamforce, I think C2 Montreal, there are conferences I went to talking about these big annual events. SAP, those big, big guys are getting it right because they can put the resources against it. In the trade show world, I think that they're starting to realize that these are experiences. The consumer shows are really kind of more interesting than ever. The cement show is really interesting.

BRANDON:

Really, why is that?

DAVID:

Well because they have a million square feet in Las Vegas and they're making it. They're trying to make it fun. If you look at every piece and we're in a room, there's probably a trade show for every single thing in this room. I like their own trade show. I was helping the people on the Trucker's Association come up with the way they should handle their trade shows. And what I think you're seeing is more people connecting and relating to their audiences as people as opposed to just people attending an event.

BRANDON:

Sure.

DAVID:

So I think you're seeing that. The ones that do that I think are going to be really good.

BRANDON:

Okay. If you could give yourself one piece of advice earlier on in your career, what would it be and why?

DAVID:

It's interesting. I would have done more studying of the humanities and not been such an entrepreneur because I spent most of my life working on solving business problems and not solving life problems. I think I would rather have spent more time in the classroom and more time learning about things and going and reading and things like that rather than just business books and how to succeed. I think the well rounded person is a better event person and also as a better human being.

And I really think that being an entrepreneur was limiting, looking back over 40 years that if I had studied more, learn more about, had more hobbies, things like that. But you know, as an entrepreneur you're like so busy worrying about... I had payrolls when I was 21 but I had to worry about, people are not going to cry for me, but if I had to do it over again, in fact, my next part of my life is going to be all about learning.

BRANDON:

Yeah. Have you already started to sort of take steps?

DAVID:

Oh yeah. I'm learning all about different wines and learning all about different foods and I'm learning all about reading poetry and things like that.

BRANDON:

Any good poets that you've come across.

DAVID:

No, I don't want to go into it. I'm not ready to reveal my things yet, but I'm learning. I'm seeing old movies that I never saw.

BRANDON:

Sure. Any favorites from there?

DAVID:

Yeah Hitchcock. I saw one of his movies. A lot of the criterion strives. You just watch all of those old movies again. It's really, really great. Now that I'm in the movie business now so it kind of makes it interesting.

BRANDON:

Yeah. If people want to find out more about you, about the amazing things that you've done both with BizBash and outside of that and where can they go? I know you have a podcast.

DAVID:

I have a podcast called GatherGeeks and you can get it on iTunes. We do that every week. We do one at least once a week, which I love doing because you have conversations like this with fabulous people. My email is dadler@bizbash.com. I love talking to everybody. Have a group on LinkedIn called event planners gather with about 80,000 people. We have groups on Facebook too. We have about 200,000 people go into BizBash every single month, which is really kind of satisfying and we're just beginning. We're just beginning and I think this lifetime learning and our business is really the key to it.