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24 | Helen Stoddard, Twitter: Driving Revenue with Events (#PinkSweats)

  • December 4, 2019
  • 51:13

Helen Stoddard (Head of Global Events at Twitter) discusses what it takes to create buzzworthy events, why B2B and B2C events aren't really that different after all, and how events help drive Twitter's revenue strategy. #PinkSweats

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Top Takeaways

1

BLURRING B2B AND B2C: In order to take an audience-centric approach to events, Helen encourages events organizers to see the human element, which is the common denominator between B2B and B2C events. “If we look at events from the human perspective, we say, ‘Okay, who is this audience that's going to be there, what story are we trying to tell them, and what are we asking them to do?’ You can then eliminate some of the perceived silos of is this a B2B event versus a B2C event.'”

2

DRIVING REVENUE WITH EVENTS: At Twitter, Helen focuses on two things to drive revenue: delivering memorable moments at a regular cadence. Over time, Helen's team realized that the most valuable part of events for Twitter's sales team was meeting brands and customers in a warm and friendly environment where they're more receptive. Regular events helped transform transactional relationships into deeper, more meaningful connections. “We've realized that a huge part of our revenue strategy is to have these regular touchpoints and check-ins with our clients and sales partners, and that there is value to that...being smart about those regular touchpoints is what's really driving our business very successfully."

3

LAUNCHING YOUR OWN EVENT COMPANY: Helen launched her events company after a decade working at incredible brands including The Tonight Show with David Letterman, Toys "R Us, and the Oscars. To successfully launch an entrepreneurial venture, Helen focused first on defining what skills and offerings to include and articulated clearly what differentiated her business. “First you need to figure out how to be really clear about what you’re offering, because you can't be everything to everybody all the time; that's just not sustainable.”

ABOUT Helen Stoddard

As Head of Global Events at Twitter, Helen leads Twitter's presence at large happenings like South by Southwest, Cannes, and CES. Prior to joining Twitter, Helen led events at Toys "R" Us and Nickelodeon, founded and managed her own event production company, and spent several years working with David Letterman as his assistant on the Tonight Show. #PinkSweats

Episode Transcript

HELEN:

If you had told the 20 year old me that I would have this amazing trajectory, and have the opportunity to work with all these incredible people and brands I wouldn't have believed you, because growing up I didn't think that was possible.

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.

Time is running out, we still have some remaining seats for the upcoming IN-PERSON collected half day event, December 12th in New York City; but it is filling up. If you enjoy listening to this podcast, if you enjoy connecting with, and learning from your peers, you are going to enjoy the heck out of this event. It's an exclusive gathering of events leaders, there will be panels featuring former IN-PERSON guests like Alyson Griffin from Intel, and Eleni Thomas from KPMG, in addition to newer faces from Frost & Sullivan and M&T Bank.

I'm also super excited for our live IN-PERSON podcast conversation with Monique Ruff-Bell, Event Director at Money 20/20, which organizes the largest global events around the intersection of finance and technology.

On to today's episode with Helen Stoddard, the Head Of Global Events at Twitter. Helen leads Twitter's presence at large happenings like South by Southwest, Cannes and CES, in addition to orchestrating a number of other experiential campaigns around the world.

Prior to joining Twitter, Helen led events at Toys“R”Us, and Nickelodeon, founded and managed her own event production company, and even spent several years working with David Letterman as his assistant on The Tonight Show.

Throughout our conversation, we discussed what it takes to create buzz worthy events, why B2B and B2C events aren't really that different after all, how events help drive Twitter's revenue strategy, and the challenges and rewards of launching your own events company.

We also discussed Broadway musicals, SpongeBob, and Pink Sweats; lots of Pink Sweats. Which reminds me, whenever we say, "At Pink Sweats," the real Twitter handle is at @realpinksweats. Might not make sense now, but it'll make sense later. Okay, let's get to it. Welcome.

HELEN:

Thank you, nice to be here.

BRANDON:

Yeah. I understand that you are a Broadway fan?

HELEN:

I am. I'm a little obsessed.

BRANDON:

A little obsessed?

HELEN:

A little obsessed.

BRANDON:

I know that you got some of your first exposure to events back when you were volunteering backstage at a community theater in your hometown of Orem, Utah.

HELEN:

That's right.

BRANDON:

And when you move to NYC, you first started working for a nonprofit that was founded by the star, Bette Midler.

HELEN:

Indeed, oh so much fun.

BRANDON:

Yeah so there's-

HELEN:

She's crazy in the best possible way.

BRANDON:

So you got to meet her in person?

HELEN:

Oh absolutely, absolutely. I fell out of a tree for about Bette Midler.

BRANDON:

You fell out of a tree?

HELEN:

Like actually true. She sent me up a tree to grab a plastic bag, and I was climbing down the tree, I fell out of the tree. She had to pick me up from the ground...That's right. I fell out of a tree, and was then rescued by five foot one, 98 pound Bette Midler.

BRANDON:

And how did that feel?

HELEN:

You know, she was the wind beneath my wings. So I just popped right up and we kept on moving.

BRANDON:

So I'm curious, you like theater, you like Broadway, what are, say, your top three shows?

HELEN:

Top three Broadway shows.

BRANDON:

It's kind of tough, it's a tough question.

HELEN:

It is and it isn't, right? It's a little bit about the show, but mostly about the memory associated.

BRANDON:

Very true.

HELEN:

First sort of Broadway show I understood was, when I was little, my father was a huge fan of A Chorus Line. So we would play the cassette tape while we drove around town singing at the top of our lungs, which I thought everybody did; apparently not. First Broadway show I saw in New York was Stephen Sondheim's, Passion, which-

BRANDON:

Interesting.

HELEN:

Was completely inappropriate for a 17 year old to see, based on its content and material; but to this day, happens to be one of my favorite musicals ever. And then, recently in the last couple of years, I've fallen madly in love with the Broadway show, Waitress, with music by Sara Bareilles, all female creative team. It's actually ending its Broadway run, but it's still on tour and playing in London if you'd like to go see it; plug for Waitress. Just such a great story, amazing music, really bright, fun. I've seen that like 10 times over the last few years and-

BRANDON:

Fantastic.

HELEN:

I'm sad that it's closing but-

BRANDON:

Wow that's amazing.

HELEN:

The soundtrack will live on in my head, don't worry.

BRANDON:

I still got to see Waitress.

HELEN:

Oh so good.

BRANDON:

My wife is a big fan.

HELEN:

Yep.

BRANDON:

Sondheim, definitely familiar; have not seen Passion yet. And-

HELEN:

It's a very specific show; doesn't get a lot of revivals.

BRANDON:

No, not too many revivals.

HELEN:

And a 17 year old from a very conservative upbringing in Orem, Utah, was a little shocked by the subject matter. But it's kind of incredible, lyrically beautiful, and-

BRANDON:

Yeah.

HELEN:

A couple of amazing actresses, Donna Murphy and Marin Maisie, who's since passed-

BRANDON:

Yeah.

HELEN:

Were in the show, and that was an amazing first Broadway experience to have.

BRANDON:

And it helps that you grew up listening to A Chorus Line?

HELEN:

Absolutely, absolutely-

BRANDON:

Which has-

HELEN:

Also-

BRANDON:

Challenges and-

HELEN:

Terribly inappropriate for young people to be singing in the car; KIDZ BOP was invented then, so we were all Broadway, all the time. I could do all of Les Mis, Phantom, Chorus Line from those days driving around.

BRANDON:

Speaking about buzz worthy, shows buzz worthy happenings-

HELEN:

Mm-hmm.

BRANDON:

I understand that you are the head of events at Twitter.

HELEN:

I am, I am. They haven't kicked me out yet.

BRANDON:

Yeah-

HELEN:

So-

BRANDON:

So I think most of our listeners know what Twitter is, at this point. But I'd love to start off by hearing a little bit about what some of the key initiatives at Twitter are right now, and how your role as the head of events is aligned with those initiatives.

HELEN:

So the first thing I will say about Twitter and, for me, certainly coming into the organization, I knew Twitter, I used Twitter, I was a big fan of Twitter before I started working there, it's part of the reason why I joined when the offer came to me.

It's such a unique platform, because it's the real world all talking, in real time together, about real and crazy things. And sometimes that is a little chaotic, sometimes that's really inspirational, sometimes it's a little heartbreaking, sometimes it's really, really funny, and a lot of times it's all of those things all at the same time.

For us right now, one of the things that's most important to us is really leaning into our superpower, which is our users and the conversations that they're having; that's what makes us different than everybody else. It's the real time conversations between real users, or people responding to news and information that's presented from our fantastic content partners.

So on the event side, we have to figure out how do we be most current, most up to date, and most conversational in what we're presenting. And, truthfully, creating events that people want to talk about, and share, as well as moments within those events for them to talk and connect with each other.

And it sort of seems like that's an easy, simple thing to do but, from an experiential marketing perspective, it actually takes a minute to sit back and say, "Who is the audience for this activation, or this activity, or this moment, or this event, and what do we really want them to do or get out of it?"

And that takes a minute to sort of sit down and think, because I think on the event side, certainly in my career, we all get in a sort of hamster wheel of like, "These are our 10 events, and these are the things we're doing, and we always do these things at them." But Twitter isn't like that as a company, a platforms or an event program, because the things that are happening are happening and changing so fast that if you make a decision six months from now about what you're doing, and you're not actually paying attention to what's happening on the platform, people show up at your event and you're already out of touch, so our ability to stay nimble and be really conversation focused is really important on the event side.

So for things coming up, it's just how we lean into these conversations, how we lean into the tweets, how we lean into our users and our brands that are using the platform. So happy to talk more about that but, at the core, we're just leaning into these conversations and figuring out how to really energize the users that we have to keep talking to us and to each other.

BRANDON:

I would love to get a little bit more context on how you ended up at Twitter.

HELEN:

Sure.

BRANDON:

I know that you worked beforehand, leading the events at Toys“R”Us, and the Public Theater. You also lead your own event production company for some time, and you served as the VP of Event Marketing at Nickelodeon.

HELEN:

I did, SpongeBob is my best friend.

BRANDON:

What about Patrick?

HELEN:

Oh, you know that guy, he's a little whiny sometimes.

BRANDON:

You even spent several years serving as the assistant to David Letterman-

HELEN:

I didn't.

BRANDON:

On The Late Show, which I'm very curious about. Could you walk us through how each of these different steps led to where you are today?

HELEN:

When you lay it all out and look back, you go, "Wow, that's kind of an accidentally awesome career path." And, certainly, as I was moving through, it didn't feel as intentional as you would expect it to be. But what I realized as I moved through was I was getting key learnings, and key skills teach one of those opportunities that built on each other to make me qualified to be able to do the work I do and Twitter.

So I grew up in Orem, Utah, which is a tiny, conservative town in a very conservative state. And I really was excited about media, and entertainment, and movies, and music, and television. I was the kid addicted to TV as soon as I got home from school, and all the Saturday morning cartoons, and then the teeny bopper magazines, and going to, at the time, record, then cassette tape, then CD stores to buy the singles.

You used to be able to buy a single on a cassette tape for like 99 cents; that was how we got our music. There was no internet, there was no streaming, there was no podcasts, Halo. So I loved that, and I did community theater when I was growing up, again, really was just always at the movies at the mall for the record store.

I was attracted to getting out and getting into entertainment, which is what led me to the David Letterman opportunity. I came to New York for an internship after freshman year of college at Rolling Stone Magazine which, at the time, was sort of the hottest thing in music and entertainment. And I got to meet lots of cool people, and bands like Weezer were just sort of launching on the scene, and what that sort of meant to promote their tour and things like that.

And then the following summer I did an internship with David Letterman and, after that internship, a job was offered which I was really excited about. And when you're 22 years old, in New York City working at the time, the top late night television show, constantly winning Emmys as a show, great resources, every person in Hollywood, music, entertainment wanted to be on that show; it was fantastic.

And those five years were just a tremendous boot camp for how the business works. Because it's really shiny on the front, but really sort of messy, and complicated, and chaotic on the back. And so how do you navigate your way through that, and what are the resources you need to do it?

And after doing that for about five years I realized, as his assistant, when he retired I wasn't going to get promoted to his job; it wasn't that kind of career path. But the skill set that I had learned there, and the opportunity to work in a really fast-paced, multifaceted environment where there are things that pop up constantly.

An idea at 9 a.m. is thrown out on the table, and it's on the air at 5:00, and you have to figure out how to do that, and there's not really a net for that. And so that was really exciting, but I didn't know what to do next.

And, believe it or not, the next opportunity was with Toys“R”Us who, in New York, was opening a big international flagship store which has now since gone. It makes me sad when I go through Times Square now and I don't see the giant Ferris wheel that was there for 15 years.

But they wanted to create a toy store which was also an entertainment center, and a place for people, companies, and brands to launch new things. We sold the very first Xbox by Bill Gates. I handed Bill Gates the Xbox to sell at the register to the very first person that ever bought an Xbox. Launching Halo, launching Harry Potter, working with all the brands like Nickelodeon, Disney, all the entertainment companies for directive video; things like that.

So six years in a retail environment, but not doing retail, doing events, and programs, and entertainment, and production, I did parades in Times Square. Things like that you're just like, "Well that is crazy to have Wonder Woman and Batman walking down Times Square waving at kids." We did that.

Again the skill set of how to produce something in a really quick-turn, fast-paced environment with limited production availability, taking that to a retail store and figuring out how to do the same thing in the kids and family space, was a really great next iteration for me, and I learned a ton; sometimes good, sometimes bad.

You don't expect when you shut down Time Square that some of the challenges that will come up, even down to the fact that you're getting yelled at by the sanitation department because they can't get to the garbage cans to empty them because you built a giant stage at 4am in the morning, and no one really sort of like thought about moving the garbage cans before we built the stage; stuff like that that you have to kind of work through.

And after being there about six and a half years, I really wanted to try something else, and I had an opportunity to go work on the Oscars. And for the event professionals, sort of like the Super Bowl and the Oscars are the biggest scale thing you could possibly do.

And I went, and I was the most incredibly low person on the totem pole, because people that have worked on that particular program and event have been doing it for decades. Not even years, but decades. They're like, "Oh 20 years ago when we did that." And you're like, "Okay."

And so I just wanted to observe and learn, and that led to me forming my own production and consulting company, to then come back to New York and help brands figure out, in a very specific environment ... Because it was after 2007, 2008, which was a heavy sort of a recession environment. Brands still wanted to do events, and event programs, and event marketing, but they didn't have full-time staffs that they carried anymore, because a lot of those positions in industry were some of the first to be cut because they're non-revenue generating roles.

They were still looking to do that work, but not carry in-house, full-time folks. So my company filled a very specific need, where they may have one or two programs per year that they didn't want to cut or lose, because those companies and brands wanted to keep that momentum in the event space, but they didn't have the ability to carry full-time staff for a whole year just to do those programs. So we were able to really work with amazing clients, anywhere from sports, to luxury, to entertainment, to publishing, to allow them to keep those annual programs that they had developed going.

And got to work on the New Yorker Festival, Bon Appétit Magazine's Food and Wine Festival, the US Open, programs with Lloyd Hennessy. And that was really exciting because suddenly it's like, "Okay, how do we take these annual things and elevate them to another level in a time where there was a lot of constraint based on budget, and the environment, and a lot of perception too?"

In a recession environment, you don't want to be throwing a giant champagne party, because it doesn't look good. But, at the same time, to throw that same event, but focus on people who are giving back, or doing good, and toasting them with a glass of champagne allows you to still stay in the mindset, but change the perception of how you're showing up; and that was important for those brands.

From there, continue that consulting work at the Public Theater, and then went deeper and wound up doing probably 10 different projects at the Public Theater over about a three and a half, four year span. Which was really great because you know I love theater, and I love storytelling, and I love watching the development process of work. And then to be able to help them promote that work, and share what was happening for a very specific time for them, which was the revitalization of their downtown home.

They had been under construction for about five years in their location down on Broadway, so they needed to make sure everybody knew they were back open, and fully open, and that all six theaters; five theaters and Joe's Pub we're in business, and great new productions we're launching. The same summer, they celebrated the 50th anniversary of Shakespeare in the Park; which many people didn't know that the Public Theater was in charge of. And in New York, Shakespeare in the Park is this sort of iconic moment.

If you ever have the chance to go see Shakespeare in the Park, even if you don't like Shakespeare, like here's the hint, even if you don't like Shakespeare, to sit in those seats at the Delacorte Theater overlooking the stage with Belvedere Castle and the moon behind you, and sort of the sweet summer smell, it actually doesn't matter what's on stage. It's amazing that they also have award-winning, incredibly talented people on stage telling stories too, but just that experience is like the most incredible, immersive theater experience ever.

So I was really happy to be with them and proud of that work. When Nickelodeon called, and because I had six and a half years in the kids and family space, and I already knew the Nickelodeon brand well, and was in a place to be sort of a leader in the event marketing world, the VP of event marketing job there at Nickelodeon was really interesting to me. And I got to contribute a lot in the short, two years that I was there before Twitter called, and now here we are sending tweets far and wide events at events and activations globally.

BRANDON:

Thank you for breaking that down. I definitely can see now that you've gone through each step that, if you look at it on paper, it's like great a through line through events; maybe with a little industry bent. But to hear about how the Late Night led to eventually Toys“R”Us, and the different experiences that you've gathered at every single step; it really makes a lot of sense.

HELEN:

Yeah and, again, if you had told the 20 year old me that I would have this amazing trajectory, and have the opportunity to work with all these incredible people and brands I wouldn't have believed you, because growing up I didn't think that was possible.

But when I started to move through it and realized that it was about building the skills, getting the experience, and being able to dig in deep to understand really what was needed to make an amazing experience that, again, is the accidentally awesome part right?

BRANDON:

Yeah.

HELEN:

So I'm very happy to be in the seat that I'm in now, and grateful for the experiences, good and bad, along the way that brought me here.

BRANDON:

I really respect also how you took the time to create your own company, and really put what you learned to the test. Could you tell us a little bit more about what it was like taking that first step into founding-

HELEN:

Sure.

BRANDON:

Your own organization?

HELEN:

Yeah, the first thing I will say it was scary-

BRANDON:

Yeah.

HELEN:

It was so scary. Every day you have a general imposter syndrome of like, "Can I do this?" But I guess I can, because a company has faith in me, and they've hired me, and a paycheck comes every one, two, four weeks; whenever it comes for you.

But you're betting on yourself to not only be able to do the work successfully, but that someone out there will pay you to do that work. And once you kind of get your first few clients, or your first few projects under your belt, all of a sudden it's like, "Well what's the sustainability of this? How do I make sure every month I have projects that are interesting to me that I can add value to, and that a client will pay me for?"

Because there are a lot of times where you can be really great at something, but the budget to pay you isn't there. So it's like when do you say, "I'll do this for a smaller rate because I know the larger implications of this project, or this relationship are worth it?" versus, "My rent is not negotiable, it's a fixed amount that I need to bring in."

So for me it was, at first, figuring out how to be really clear what I was offering because you can't be everything to everybody all the time; that's just not sustainable. And if you're honest with yourself, you do some things better than others.

I can do 10 things, but five of them I do really well, and five of them I do okay. So how do I be really specific on what I'm offering so that they are getting the best out of me, and that I'm doing the things I'm best at?

Because the things I'm best at are easier for me to do, which means I can do more of it faster, it's not as hard. The five things that I can do okay, I'm going to spend twice as much time on because I can only do them okay. I am not the person that'll give you some word/math equation, but the thinking is if you're focused on what you do really well, you can do more of it than if you spend time on the things you don't do very well, which means it'll take you twice as long so you can't do as much work.

So first it was being clear on that and then, second, finding ways to clearly communicate that to potential clients or people I was working with, so that they were hiring me for the right things, and I was doing the right work for those people. Because then you're going to have a great experience, they're going to have a great experience, and that's going to continue the relationship. And there's just a big amount of hustle with it right?

BRANDON:

Yeah.

HELEN:

Which is, some months, all of a sudden you're billing a significant amount of money. And other months, because of when everything, falls you're billing zero amount of money. And are you disciplined with the money that's coming in to say, "Okay, this month I'm making $35,000, but for the next two months I will make zero dollars which means, on average, each month I'm making $10,000."

Okay, when that $35,000 comes in, you can't just spend all of it because you think you have $35,000. So there was a discipline to it, there was a very intentional what I was billing. And then once I got some momentum, people kept referring, projects would come back year over year, and suddenly you have a business. And you can hire more people, and you can pull in others for more long-term instead of just for the one week you need them on site, and it snowballs from there.

But yeah, discipline, intentionality, and being really clear on what you're offering, and staying focused on that. Because you'll go into a room and they'll want you to do 10 things, when you really should only take on five-

BRANDON:

Right.

HELEN:

But you feel bad, so you take on all 10, and then you put yourself in a big hole because you can't actually do all 10 in the same way that you should. And then you deliver a bad project, and they don't hire you again and-

BRANDON:

Yeah.

HELEN:

So then you should have just said the five things that you can actually do really well, and then they love you and they'll hire you 10 more times.

BRANDON:

I think that's some great advice for listeners who might be contemplating making that step.

HELEN:

Yeah.

BRANDON:

But I think it's also very valid to those who are working in-house, especially finding your niche and then also not over-promising.

HELEN:

Absolutely. I mean, and I get pitched constantly by agencies for our work at Twitter. Luckily we work at a high profile company that a lot of people are excited to pitch for. And every time we have a pitch meeting, I let them do their spiel, and then I say to them, "Okay, I get pitched all the time, what's the one thing, literally, the one thing you do better than everybody else? Because everybody tells me they can do everything, and I'm sure you can figure it out by subcontracting other teams, or bringing in new resources. But what, in your DNA, makes you better at that one thing than anyone else?"

And when they can answer that, and they have a clarity of what they're exceptional at, I am much more likely to go down the path with them than anyone else. Because I know that, again, they have that clarity of what they're exceptional on, and I can lean into that. Then they are a tool and a resource for me instead of just an agency that said they can do everything. I know that nobody can do everything.

BRANDON:

Nobody can do it all.

HELEN:

Right? Because I can't do it. If I can't do it, I know you can't do it. That's a big motivator for me when I hear pitches, is that they have real clarity on what makes them different, or what their differential is, or what the thing is that they do better than anyone else. And then we go from there, and I think it's the same for everyone starting their own business.

BRANDON:

Another thing you mentioned is that, historically, events and event organizers are not really seen as revenue generating.

HELEN:

Right.

BRANDON:

Do you think that is still the case? And I ask this in the context of looking at some of the events at Twitter right now.

HELEN:

Mm-hmm.

BRANDON:

When you think about Twitter's events, what are often the primary goals that you are trying to drive?

HELEN:

Special events, events, event marketing...Insert whatever title, different organizations-

BRANDON:

Right.

HELEN:

Use here. There are some roles very specifically related to integrated marketing, which are revenue drivers. You create a program that then you go out and sell to brands, and that money covers the event plus.

But that model, which really kind of took hold in the publishing world and then sort of spread over the years, is starting to retract. So then for us, at Twitter, we've actually looked at it like, "Do we do integrated marketing, and what does that look and feel like?"

We realized that what was more important with our event programs, specifically related to revenue, is that we create more moments for our existing sales team and sales relationship to talk to people in an environment where they're really receptive, and to either hold the revenue we have, or exceed it because we've built that relationship positively, than it is to turn it to a very transactional relationship; if that makes any sense.

So at Twitter, the approach very much is how are we creating moments where we're interacting with our brands and our revenue partners in the best possible way that is not transactional, that is more relationship centric?

Because we do know, and we see it regularly, that having opportunities to meet us at a regular cadence, and for us to continue talking at a regular cadence, brings enormous value to our sales team. So from an event standpoint, that's what we focused on is what does a calendar look like that allows us to talk to the same brands, or companies, or agencies repeatedly and are we sensitive in each event execution that we're creating a new experience?

Something deeper about Twitter that they didn't know, something funner about Twitter that they didn't know, an artist, or musician on Twitter that they didn't know, but we're going to bring it to you with an amazing concert.

We've really realized that that is a huge part of our revenue strategy is to have these regular touch points and check-ins with our clients and sales partners, and that there is value to that. We still struggle, I think a lot of companies do, with the true measure of ROI, and metrics, and throw out all the words here that make us all nuts because, I don't know, it's like the people came and they had a nice time. But, for us, being smart about those regular touch points is what's really driving our business very successfully.

BRANDON:

You've mentioned in the past that, at Twitter, the events are all about the audience, and you gave some examples right there. How do you think about making an event audience centric when you have often to speak to those who are on the B2C side-

HELEN:

Mm-hmm.

BRANDON:

And also the B2B side?

HELEN:

We can use all the letters like the B2B, the C2B-

BRANDON:

Sure.

HELEN:

The A2G to whatever.

BRANDON:

Right.

HELEN:

At the core, they're all human beings, everybody's sort of human. And if we break it down to a more storytelling approach, which has always been the way I've done it; because, again, I'm a community theater nerd. As a kid I'm like, "What's the story arc, what are we getting them to do, how do they feel?" It's like that's always like, "How do they feel?"

If we look at it from that human perspective, we say, "Okay, who is this audience that's going to be there, what story are we trying to tell them, and what are we sort of asking them to do?" And then you can eliminate some of the perceived silos of this is a B2B event versus a B2C event, versus an A to B to C to A, B event.

And that's been a really important shift for us, because it's not just, "Here's our business events and here's our consumer events." We are pushing...In the three years I've been there, I've been a big driver of this. We are pushing to blur it all.

So even if I am having a business audience event at Cannes Lions, I'm also opening it up with a live broadcast that anyone can see. So this year at Cannes Lions we were lucky enough to have Chrissy Teigen, who's the unofficial mayor of Twitter, and someone who just can use the platform better than anyone else.

She was in Cannes and joined us for a couple of things, including a conversation on the Beach. So the people in the room or, in this case, on the beach were all industry people at Cannes Lions talking about marketing and creativity, and it was an exclusive invite in the room; there's about 100, 115 people in the room. So far I think the broadcast is up to like six and a half million views.

So how do we take those opportunities to completely blur the lines and say, "Here's a unique opportunity for people in the room to hear directly from Chrissy Teigen about how she uses the platform, and how Twitter has sort of really powered her voice in the world, and what that's translated to."

But for those that are like Chrissy fans, or pop culture fans, or just love to see crazy spectacle on the platform, we offered that too. And that really shorten the distance between our audiences, because it was one audience, it was one experience, it was one engagement.

And we've tried to do that more and more with CES, with Cannes Lions, and now with some of our things like Tweetups, and our Twitter Is campaign, which were events that were more generally consumer focused, but we made sure to partner with and include Brands in, if we can just sort of break down some of those silos, and approach it as audience first, "Who are these people we're trying to reach, what is the message we're trying to share with them, and what is the action we're asking them to do?"

Then you are much better positioned for success than saying, "Here's our business audience, and this is what they'll do, and here's our consumer audience, and this is what they'll do because they're all human beings."

BRANDON:

I totally agree. But we think about they're the same people, and we're still delivering this amazing experience to both of them, we're telling the story. How does the follow up differ, if at all if somebody is, potentially, going to be using...It's a business, going to be using Twitter versus an individual?

HELEN:

I think that's where we can get a little bit more nuanced in how we're tracking people, and the tools that we're using. Because, again, if I have a list of everybody that's checked in, and who are participating, whether it's a South by Southwest badge holder who I've scanned, so I have the list of general badge holders, but I also have the list of Twitter invitees who have our wrist band for Twitter House for the week, and I know who they are.

They're both mingling together, and they're both having the same great cocktails, and hearing the same great performance by Pink Sweats on music night. But afterwards, the follow up from our sales team, and how they say, "What was your experience like? It was great to see you, I hope you liked Pink Sweats. Now we should talk about how we can work with you and your brand to engage that audience more on Twitter."

Versus the badge holder list which is, "I'm so glad you liked Pink Sweats, and you had a great time at our event. Did you know he's going on tour, he has a new album and, by the way, he's one of our artists to watch, because he's awesome, and he just wears pink sweats."

If you don't know who Pink Sweats is, I'm telling you ... It's going to take another year for him to explode, so everybody knows...This is November 19, so by November 20 you'll be like, "Oh that guy in pink sweats."

Because a year ago I was like, "Pink Sweats, who's this guy?" But it gives us a chance, again, to sort of follow up. In the space, in the moment, you treat everybody kind of the same but, again, if we're looking at the overall story arc for any experience, that experience starts the moment you get the invitation; it doesn't start when you walk in the door.

So what does that feel like for attract for a business audience, or a general audience? Then you get a little bit more nuanced. And that's an important thing to remember, the experience starts when you find out about what the event is, whether you're invited or not. And you hear that Twitter House is open, and you really want to go because being Pink Sweats is going to be there. What is every step of the way, and that's how we can be more differentiated for specific follow ups.

BRANDON:

That's.

HELEN:

Can I say Pink Sweats a few more times?

BRANDON:

Yeah sure.

HELEN:

@pinksweats is his ... Pink Sweats.

BRANDON:

Pink Sweats?

HELEN:

@pinksweats.

BRANDON:

@pinksweats.

HELEN:

Pink Sweats.

BRANDON:

Check it out.

HELEN:

There you go.

BRANDON:

Shout out to Pink Sweats.

HELEN:

Artist to watch, Pink Sweats.

BRANDON:

2020, check it out.

HELEN:

That's right. Pink Sweats 2020, that's the new presidential campaign. I like talking very close, okay.

BRANDON:

Okay, so I feel like we're already looking at some examples of your event strategy, Twitter's event strategy in practice. You've mentioned a couple of campaigns already like Twitter House, the Twitter Beach. Let's go to-

HELEN:

There's a theme here, we seem-

BRANDON:

Yeah.

HELEN:

To put Twitter in-

BRANDON:

In front of-

HELEN:

Front-

BRANDON:

Things, yeah.

HELEN:

The things, but yes.

BRANDON:

That makes...I'd love to take a look at 2019 South by Southwest.

HELEN:

Sure.

BRANDON:

Twitter has long had a strong relationship there, you had your global debut, of sorts, back in 2007.

HELEN:

Yeah.

BRANDON:

Could you tell us a little bit more about this Twitter House that you've mentioned-

HELEN:

Yeah.

BRANDON:

And maybe a little bit about some of the other activations or events that were happening there?

HELEN:

South by Southwest is one of my favorite things that we do for a very specific reason; it is a general audience that is very specific. Regular people don't go, "Hey I'll go to South by Southwest because I heard it's a thing."

My mom's not going to call me up and be like, "I want to go to South by." She doesn't know what that mean. It is a rarefied audience, but it's also a general audience. So for us, we came back to South by in a big way about three years ago. And one of the people on my team, at the time, fantastic producer named Michole Martinez, really wanted to put the stake in the ground, and come back in a big way, and have a lot of fun.

And really test the idea that what would happen if you can bring Twitter in real life to South by? Twitter as a platform, Chrissy Teigen could be talking to a lady about banana bread, could be talking to another celebrity, could be talking to a sports star, could be having a conversation about gaming at the same time that somebody chimes in about NBA, and the brand new TV series that everybody loves and, "Oh look there's BBQ." That's our platform.

So what does that look like in real life? And in 2019 I think we sort of really hit our stride with one, focusing on a really great environment. The thing about South by is it's awesome, and it's ridiculously overwhelming. You have the giant conference center where there are a lot of conversations and things like that, plus you have a ton of pop ups from different brands and activations all over Austin.

Plus you have a whole series of parties, plus you have just a great music and food scene in Austin that's happening anyway. Last year I accidentally stumbled upon the Kacey Musgraves concert at Stubb's Bar-B-Q, and I was like, "Wait, what? Kacey Musgraves is like...What." Because that's Austin and South by. She wasn't even there for South by, she just was booked for Stubb's at the same time and that's why it's amazing.

So we focused on a few things, one creating a really great home base environment which was Twitter House, #TwitterHouse; again everything we put Twitter in front of. We always like to be an oasis in larger chaotic environments, a place that you can come, you can sit down, you can go to the bathroom, you can charge your phone, we have something to drink, we have something to eat.

It's a central place where you can meet up with people just to sort of create an oasis in a chaotic world. The value of that is incredible, and it sounds really basic, but if you give a place for people to hang out, they'll hang out there.

And while they're hanging out there, they're not hanging out somewhere else. So that's a win for us, because you're hanging out a Twitter House, you're talking about what you saw at Twitter House, you're meeting your friends at Twitter House, you're having a drink at Twitter House. Did I mentioned Twitter enough? And that's the point, because while you're there, you're not checking out all the other competitors engagements; so that's the first thing.

The second thing is we always like to be in and have our time in place. So it feels like what Twitter feels like if you went to Austin, Texas. It doesn't feel like a cold, corporate, sterile environment. There's no pristine white leather chairs, we've got Acapulco chairs, and we've got juice, and we got beer, and we got sliders, and all the things.

We make sure that we're really in and of our time and place, and celebrating what's happening at South by, which leads to sort of the programming piece. We want to make sure we're talking about the most amazing things that are either previewing, or debuting, or just are in the cultural lexicon of that population.

So we set up a great programming stage and, over the course of the day, had really strong presentations from the newest movies that were coming out. We had the only panel at South by with the cast of Us. So they premiered the movie the night before, but they came to Twitter House to talk about it. Because, again, our superpower's that conversation.

Besides having a great conversation in the room, we were able to livestream that conversation. So you can't be at Twitter House at South by, but you can certainly participate in the conversation there. We've got these great conversations through the day that range from technology, and innovation, to arts, entertainment.

We had a great panel with Arlen Hamilton, who's a fantastic woman in the venture capital space with Mark Cuban, who is sort of the old guard of digital and investing. And you put the new guard and the old guard together; that was an amazing conversation. To an improv class with Henry Winkler and Darcy Cardin from Barry, because his character on the HBO show Barry is a guy that teaches improv classes. So he came and taught an improv class at South by.

BRANDON:

Were you able to participate?

HELEN:

I was in the back making sure that microphones were working, but a couple people from Twitter who were in the audience did and it was hilarious. I mean when Henry Winkler tells you to like pretend you're steam, you got to go ... It's like the Fonz. The Fonz is telling you to just go for it and you're like, "Go for it." So it was pretty fun.

But that also then, sort of, segues to some very unique and serious conversations. Last year, International Women's Day fell on one of the first days of South by Southwest, and we were so thrilled to bring in the Lupita Nyong'o to the stage to have a great closed door conversation where we invited some very strong women at South by.



But we also reached out to the film school at the college and invited all their female film students to come as part of a conversation with Lupita Nyong'o about the state of the industry, and the power of women, and the things that she's doing to make sure that her voice and the voice of many others that she can represent is heard.

So South by, suddenly in a programming standpoint, looked very different depending on which stage you joined or listened to. And some of those were for our invited guests, some of those were for badge holders.

But then at night, we turned into a party house, because I'm not gonna lie, one of the best parts of South by is the parties. So yes, Lupita Nyong'o dropped major props and knowledge in the morning, and then Fear of the Walking Dead had zombies cruising through our space with scary red lights, and ridiculous music at night. And that is the whole spectrum of what the platform is, and that's the whole spectrum of what that audience enjoys.

And, again, you have a wristband to Twitter House for four days, you can see all of it, so you're going to keep coming back. From a marketing standpoint, that's huge for me. So people are talking about what's happening in the space, it's being shared by those populations, there are very specific things we're sharing on the platform; the improv class with Barry, the US panel. We did one for Booksmart, which, if you haven't seen it, it's just ... It's on airplanes everywhere right now; I highly suggest you watch it.

BRANDON:

It's ridiculous.

HELEN:

I keep watching it as I fly back and forth cross country; that and a Star Is Born. I don't know why, I've seen Star Is Born like 400 times because I just keep watching it every time I fly. So it felt like an amazing execution and then, finally, in a designated part of the space, we had a Content Capture Studio.

Our digital team, at Twitter, who's responsible for a lot of the great videos that you see coming out from the Twitter handles like @TwitterMusic, and @TwitterGaming, and @TwitterSports and @Twitter, we're able to talk to a lot of people. And then create packaged content that, over the next few months, rolled out. If someone was there talking about a movie, we talked to them then, packaged it; when that movie came out that was content that pushed out.

And you would see that content and didn't know it was filmed at South by Southwest, because it wasn't about where it was filmed, it was the fact that we got to talk to lots of people about lots of projects. And it was really fun, one of our junior staffers got to teach Kevin Costner how to tweet-

BRANDON:

That was great.

HELEN:

So that was a big highlight like, "I'm teaching Kevin Costner how to tweet." And when you put it all together, and sort of the cocktail of it, it represents who we are in the best possible way. It represents these incredible conversations that are happening.

We extended what the 'room' was because it was a whole house, plus a whole stage, plus a digital aspect of it that you saw in real time with the livestreams, as well as content later that was pushed out around the various properties that people were talking about.

So that was just the best version of Twitter in real life you could possibly come up with, and I have no idea how we're going to top it in 2020; wish me luck. But that one we're really proud of for all those reasons. We were very audience focused throughout, and made sure everybody found something that was interested in engaging to them, including Pink Sweats.

BRANDON:

#PinkSweats.

HELEN:

#PinkSweats.

BRANDON:

Or @pinksweats.

HELEN:

At PinkSweats.com. At hastagpinksweats.com/TwitterIRL; just kidding, none of that is real. Except the @PinkSweats part. So everybody got something out of it, and that was a win for us.

BRANDON:

You mentioned the content programming for Twitter House. How do you think about it, how do you approach it? Obviously, one of the days fell on International Women's Day, it's a big textual happening to program a talker conversation around. Us was premiered, but I also remember seeing that trending on Twitter, with the golden scissors.

HELEN:

Yep, yep.

BRANDON:

So are you looking at what's trending in Twitter, or is there some other data that you're pulling from to see like, "This is the conversation that's happening on Twitter, let's bring it higher up?"

HELEN:

Yeah. I would say that we think of it a few different ways. First of all, if we recognize exactly what Twitter is, and our messaging that we talk about all the time is that Twitter is what's happening, it's a place to see and share what's happening in the world, and it's where people are talking about what's important to them.

When we think about these conversations, you've got to look at two buckets which is, how are we listening to the conversation on the platform and then expanding on that, sharing that, adding to that spotlight, and then focusing on it. That's sort of one bucket which is it's already happening so how do we dig in and help expand that?

And then the second is how do we start a whole new conversation? Are there things that we think are interesting and important, or things we're excited about as people who work at Twitter that we may want to share and build something around that?

I will tell you one of the funny things, just going back to South by, we had an opportunity to hosted event with Garry Kasparov. And a lot of the young people, as I like to call them because I am a little older, didn't know what I was talking about when I got so excited. I'm like, "Garry Kasparov is coming, Garry Kasparov is coming." So it turns out back in the-

BRANDON:

So is that the full name of the snail in SpongeBob?

HELEN:

Yeah, that's right. Little known fact, Gary the snail is actually Garry Kasparov. No, he was a guy that back in the Cold War was famous in Russia as being a chess player, and played various computers, and played world champions, and he was bigger than actual chess because of the political climate and things that were happening. But in that space, which chest is like the original gaming, it's pretty impressive.

So he came in and he played 12 people at once. And, by the way, every person that stepped up to play him knew they were going to lose. It was a question of how many moves can you survive before Garry Kasparov takes you out.

So I said, "Listen Twitter gaming is a thing, gaming is a concept that we're really leaning into. And one of the old school games is chest. Let's eventize it, let's make a moment of it, let's set up a Coliseum like environment where he's in the center, and he's jumping around boards."

That's where I say it's in those two buckets, and we have a great team that we have just brought on recently to focus on this, our live content programming. They are watching trends, they have dossiers that they keep of voices, both on the platform and off, that really have some interesting things to say.

And then we lean into those conversations because you never know who is going to spark something like, "I can't believe these people are talking about this." Or, "I thought this conversation was about this, but it's really about this." So we'll put it in the two buckets, either making sure we're presenting stuff that's already hot on the platform, ... The golden scissors that you mentioned; what was that movie? And then there'll be other things where we say, "You know, this is an opportunity for us to lean in and really talk about something unique that no one's focusing on yet."

Especially when it comes around points of activism; that's important to us. Things that showcase diversity of thought and diversity of groups; all those things are something that that's really top of mind for us. So we'll look at it in those two buckets, and then you play the talent Tetris of who's available, when, for what at this place? But we've been really lucky with it, the people that are willing to talk with us. And that's one of the great things about being Twitter.

BRANDON:

There are other campaigns I was hoping to talk about, as well, including Twitter Is that you mentioned-

HELEN:

Yeah.

BRANDON:

That out-of-home campaign that's going on. I don't know if we'll have time to talk about it right now, but in case folks aren't familiar, I mean there's tons of coverage, I think, on it at this point.

HELEN:

We don't do a lot of out-of-home campaigns for our brand or our platform very often. It's interesting, it's hard to break through what everybody else uses tweets to tell their story when you're Twitter and you're also using tweets to tell your story.

But we found a really fun angle where we kind of went in and found tweets where people describe what Twitter is to them, and some of them were sweet and heartwarming, and others were not as much, but very funny. So we created a whole out-of-home campaign, and then an experiential activation in New York, that was a lot of fun speaking to that really small percent that loves Twitter, in a really crazy, amazing way.

And we did it for them it wasn't a mass campaign, it was sort of for the people that are already on the platform and that they get it. They get the memes, they get the emojis, they get the hashtags and conversations, @PinkSweats. They already get it so we were celebrating them in the program, so always happy to talk more about it.

BRANDON:

Who do you think is somebody else in marketing or events, who is really doing a great job?

HELEN:

Who's killing it right now?

BRANDON:

Who's killing it?

HELEN:

Who's killing it right now? There are a few folks that I have been watching. I know that sounds really weird, but eBay is doing some cool stuff.

BRANDON:

Really.

HELEN:

And you're like, "Wait. What, eBay?" But some of the programs that they've been rolling out the last few years based, specifically, on the challenge they have for their business case has been kind of cool. So kind of check out and see what eBay is doing, and I know that sounds like a weird answer.

BRANDON:

Yeah-

HELEN:

But.

BRANDON:

I've definitely seen some of their new ads that they've been pushing.

HELEN:

Yean and their experience is ... Because, again, they have some unique things to communicate and things to share. And then I've been really watching a lot of what arts organizations, like Lincoln Center, are doing. Because they have a really interesting challenge in terms of audiences, and programming, and how that facility as an organization works, and then how they individual arts groups within their collective work. So they've been doing some kind of cool stuff in New York. I just try and keep open all the time to see the crazy things that are happening.

BRANDON:

If you could go back to a younger Helen starting off in your career and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say and why?

HELEN:

I would say, "Relax." I ran, in the early part of my career, with such a sense of urgency that I think I left a lot of knowledge on the table, because I was so busy trying to get there. I didn't really know where there was, but I was so intent to get there, that I wasn't really paying as much attention to the journey that I was on.

And when you get to a leadership role, part of what makes you a leader is you have a mastery that others don't, and the only way to get mastery is to learn. So if you're so worried about getting there, you're not taking the time to actually master the journey to get there, because when you get there, if you're not prepared, you won't stay there very long.

BRANDON:

Mm-hmm.

HELEN:

So for me it's sort of relax, enjoy the ride, and pick up that mastery. Because if you don't have that mastery, you're going to top out at a certain point.

BRANDON:

Yeah.

HELEN:

And when you were young, especially for me, I was so interested in getting there. There being the title, the company, the salary; whatever the there was, and those are all important things. But I think I could have learned a little more. And I learned a lot but I still-

BRANDON:

Yeah.

HELEN:

Think I could have learned a little bit-

BRANDON:

Yeah.

HELEN:

More. So that mastery, and the quest for that mastery, instead of the quest for getting there would be the thing I would tell my younger self.

BRANDON:

Well, obviously, things turned out pretty well.

HELEN:

Yeah, so far so good.

BRANDON:

Yeah. Do you think there was any point earlier on where you kind of took a second to relax, or maybe it was that opportunity when you founded your own company? Was that an opportunity where you stopped thinking about there?

HELEN:

Yeah I actually do think that is true. To have the confidence to say, "I can step away from this guaranteed job in this guaranteed paycheck because I have enough knowledge, information that I could be valuable to somebody else." Or, in this case, multiple clients. I definitely think that it was a super big risk, but I felt like I had enough to offer; that was a big turning point for me. And I'm glad I did it, I'm glad I jumped.

BRANDON:

If people want to keep up to date with amazing things that Twitter is doing, that you're up to, where can they learn more information?

HELEN:

Well, Twitter, Twitter, did I mention Twitter? My handle is my name, @helenjstoddard everywhere. Find me anywhere @helenjstoddard. I think actually helenjstoddard.com is even mine too.

BRANDON:

Wow.

HELEN:

I know right? So yeah just reach out to me, but Twitter's a great way. Anybody wants to talk to me, my DMs are always open. But lots of great things coming up, and I'm always excited to share them, you'll see them on my timeline as we go.

BRANDON:

Perfect. Thank you, Helen.

HELEN:

You bet thanks for the time @pinksweats.

BRANDON:

@pinksweats.

HELEN:

Pink Sweats. @pinksweats.

BRANDON:

At-

HELEN:

#atpinksweats.

BRANDON:

Pink Sweats.

BRANDON:

A big thanks to Helen for joining us. And you know what? Thank you for listening. Helen's career trajectory, in addition to her career advice, really got me thinking about goals, the theres that we set for ourselves, and how we'll decide to chase after them.

As Helen mentioned, these goals can be a title, a salary bump, working on a specific event, or joining a really great company. While having these goals are absolutely essential, no debate there, I find myself thinking about that balance between sprinting forward and taking that moment to relax, learn and, as Helen put it, pick up that mastery of whatever it is I'm doing.

So flipping the mic to you, what's your there? What are you trying to get to in the next stage of your career, and how are you balancing your quest for there while also being here? If you have any feedback for the show, or any theres or heres to share, please drop us a line at in-person@bizzabo.com, we always look forward to hearing what you have to say, and definitely appreciate any guest suggestions. You can also find full transcripts of the show, along with key takeaways at inpersonpodcast.com. Until next time, I'm Brandon Rafalson. This has been IN-PERSON. And remember @RealPinkSweats.