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40 | Stacey Gromlich, Siemens: Highlighting the Value in Virtual and Hybrid Events

  • March 11, 2021
  • 35:08

Stacey Gromlich, (Director, Audience Engagement and Global Events, Siemens) shares her experience working on both the agency and corporate side of events and her tips for delivering engaging hybrid experiences.

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Top Takeaways

1

HELPING ATTENDEES ENGAGE WITH CONTENT IN A PERSONALIZED AND FLEXIBLE WAY: “We've really transitioned the direction of our events...to be very consumable on the attendees’ own time so that they can consume only the data they want in a personalized manner as it relates to them and the challenges that they're trying to solve and in the timeframe that most works for them based on their time zone, their business day, and just where they are consuming that information. ‘Are they on the bus? Are they on the train?’ We know most of us are sitting at home these days. So, just really trying to give them the best experience in the most flexible format that we can.”

2

COMBINING DATA WITH ATTENDEE RESPONSES TO UNCOVER WHAT THEY TRULY WANT: “When we're looking at crafting these experiences, we're asking our customers and/or our audience, ‘What worked? What did you like? What didn't you like?’...Their patterns of behavior when you're just doing a survey sometimes differ drastically from what the data behavioral patterns are showing you...So we're looking at that and saying, ‘Next time, how can we take what they say to us, what they show us, and then what their actual patterns are and marry those together to craft the best possible experience?’”

3

GETTING EXECUTIVE BUY IN ON THE BENEFITS OF VIRTUAL AND HYBRID EVENTS: “Getting buy-in is two-fold. One, they have to believe in it and you have to have support from upper management. And, you have to be bringing the best practices; the rationale as to why this is such a key component going forward…That strategic insight is key as you're developing presentations internally and educating internal constituents on the value of these digital and/or hybrid events...Depending on your objectives, it always goes back to what's the value? What's the value for the person engaging and coming to this particular experience and/or event? And then, how does the value that they are getting out of it provide you the value you're looking for as an individual company, corporation, division, business unit?”

ABOUT Stacey Gromlich

Stacey brings 25 years of experience in the marketing and events industry and is a big believer in prioritizing engagement and events as part of an integrated marketing plan. With a focus on strategically aligning audience needs with brand go-to-market strategy and desired outcomes, Stacey leads teams from ideation through implementation while identifying transformational efficiencies and improvements. Stacey is currently Director, Audience Engagement and Global Events for Siemens Digital Industries Software, and previously held leadership account roles on the agency side.

Episode Transcript

BRANDON:
Stacey, thanks so much for coming on the show today.

STACEY:
You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

BRANDON:
As some of our listeners may know, I typically like to start off with a question that isn't as directly related to the day-to-day of events. Now, in your case, it somewhat is. But, I understand that you have sort of a passion for flowers?

STACEY:
Indeed, I do.

BRANDON:
And you've managed to parlay this into some experience, organizing, flower arrangements, et cetera, as a side project.

STACEY:
Yes, absolutely. I do love flowers, always have. At some point in life, I decided that I would start arranging them. I was getting married. I decided to do my own flowers for my own wedding.

BRANDON:
Oh, wow. That was the big moment?

STACEY:
It really was. People thought I was crazy. I worked in New York city. There's a flower district in New York city. That's a wholesale flower market and it's an entire block. They sell to all the florists all over the tri-state area. Someone introduced me to it and I thought, "Wow, I can do this for my own wedding," which I did, which slowly but surely it turned into a side business. I had done it for probably 15 years on and off whenever I could throughout my corporate job and travels for friends, friends of friends of friends, really through word of mouth. It led into doing weddings of all sizes from a few thousand dollars worth of flowers up to 10,000, 15,000 $20,000 worth of venue of flowers, and then showers. And it led to some other hotel business, that I would do flowers for hotels. But again, I really could only do it dependent upon my career's schedule and when I was, or wasn't traveling and had to take time off to do it.

BRANDON:
Wow, that's amazing. What would be one of the most overlooked flowers in your opinion?

STACEY:
I would say carnations are probably the most overlooked flower. They're used as filler. Most people can't stand them. It wouldn't at all be what they would choose for a wedding. But there's so many different varieties of them where they can look like roses and they really create a lot of texture and movement in a bouquet and/or in flower table arrangements and they're really, really inexpensive. So don't discount that.

BRANDON:
Who would've thought? Carnations, they're the support player.

STACEY:
They are. They're really like the poor stepchild of flowers, but they really do provide great filler and greenery. You can make amazing cascades and textures and colors with just greenery, not using any flowers at all.

BRANDON:
Pro tip there that I'm going to pocket for the next bouquet I have to put together. Thanks, Stacey. You have a background on the agency side of events. You've worked at both Freeman and InVision Communications where you planned unique experiential programs. Now, today you're heading audience engagement at Siemens. Could you walk us through these different steps of your career and how they have led to where you are today?

STACEY:
I started out as a journalism major in college thinking that big news was ahead of me. What I recognized through that process and as I started on early in my career was that I really liked designing the experiences. I really liked gathering the information and insight and editing it together to be able to tell an overall story that evoked an emotion in somebody, or that influence, or to get somebody to think about something in a different way, and that essentially was through news and news stories.

STACEY:
It then evolved into the agency B2B space, where, as a video editor and a video producer, I was able to understand what the corporate goals and needs were, looked at where any of the videos that we were producing fit in to that greater story and the greater need to tell a story and influence someone and evoke an emotion. That slowly but surely led to then producing the overall events, then into sales and marketing roles. Essentially, the underlying piece in everything in my career and each of the stepping stones has been understanding what an audience needs and how we're going to either influence those needs, connect with those needs, solve a particular problem based on the engagement strategies we choose to engage them with.

STACEY:
And so, coming from the agency side, that's what we did for our clients and our customers. Siemens, having been one of those customers in my agency experience, I'm really trying to understand how they were going to market the different audiences that they had to engage and in what ways and then what were the outcomes that they needed out of engaging those audiences, and then, designing programs, whether it was communications, continuums, or campaigns, or actual physical event strategies to engage those people in order to get them to do think, feel, know what the corporation needed them to at the end of any given engagement or touch point.

STACEY:
And then, on coming to the client side or to the corporate side has been a whole different experience for me because now, I'm seeing it from a different perspective. And while we're all going at our engagements looking at it from the audience's perspective or the customer's perspective, or the internal group that we have to influence their perspective, essentially, we're all still trying to figure out how we solve a need for the groups of people we're bringing together and what that looks like and what's the evolution of engagement, so that we're doing it the right way with the right outcomes and they're getting the value out of any of these experiences that we're providing.

BRANDON:
Wow, it's quite a journey. I can't help but remark on just those origins on the video side, on the journalistic side in just how relevant they are to today's virtual world that we're in.

STACEY:
They really have been. It's really was a great foundation coming up through this industry. When people ask, "How did you get in to this industry?" The majority of us, now, I think there's actual college programs that prepare you for this kind of a world, but when I was coming up through school, that wasn't the case at all. It was sort of, you got out of college and if you weren't going to do the journalistic piece of it and be a writer and be on the news, you looked to say, "Well, what else is there?" and then you kind of fall into this category of agency world, but then, it's intoxicating. It's not something that you really want to get out of ever once you're in.

BRANDON:
And then you're caught. Currently, you're caught over at Siemens where you're producing a number of different events for this huge technology powerhouse that's been innovating for more than 170 years. When we think about your team, Stacey, what type of events are you running? How do they fit into the organization's larger business goals?

STACEY:
Our particular group is responsible for three types of global events. Those are global events that fit within the digital industry software division of Siemens. We're responsible for external customer facing events that are proprietary to Siemens, Siemens owns. We run them as DISW. And then, the other type of external event is our third party events, which are really the trade show events hosted by other organizers. And then, the third category of events is internal events. Those are focused on enablement, our sales and marketing audiences and how we're getting them most prepared to go out and excel in their roles, and then work towards the company's go-to market strategy.

BRANDON:
So we have these three different event programs. How has Siemens adapted them to this virtual era?

STACEY:
Very quickly, like everybody else in the world. The virtual area was an area that on the agency side, my teammates and I had tried to get Siemens to recognize as an essential part of their go-to market strategy in their overall campaign and communications continuum many years ago. But it was too early for them at the time. It wasn't yet a priority. The pandemic forced them to have to make changes and forced us to have to make changes now that I'm here at Siemens. That change really was driven by leadership.

STACEY:
The leadership now is focused and 100% behind the digital future. And so, with that backing, it was very easy when the pandemic came around, quite frankly, to make the shift whole heartedly into selling digitally, marketing digitally and transitioning our events as part of these overall go-to market strategies into virtual, because it was just... we had to. There wasn't a choice. And as we look for the future, we feel that digital will remain a very large part of how we engage internally and externally as we look over the next three to five years.

BRANDON:
That's huge. And I think it's great to hear that you and your group have so much backing from the leadership team when it comes to these digital experiences. What else have you found to be successful and working with the rest of your group and pivoting to virtual and getting buy-in from leadership?

STACEY:
One of the things we're really focusing on now is education and being thought leaders within the organization on how everyone now starts to transition into digital or virtual, depending on what terminology your organization is utilizing. We're talking about virtual engagements, and we talk about digital as either the modality in which you're going to get information out there.

STACEY:
We think education is really the most important. We have to start looking at these engagements and/or events from a customer-centric perspective or an audience-centric perspective. We have to begin designing them with the outcomes of that particular audience in mind, instead of going forth, trying to craft these events with all of the things we need. We need multiple tracks. We need it to be multiple days. We need all these bells and whistles, rather looking at the event from what you're trying to achieve and what the overall outcome is and then backing into the tools, the technologies and the tactics to support the overall message objectives, key performance indicators you're looking for based on any one of these given engagement.

BRANDON:
Amazing. I know that one of the biggest challenges I've heard from organizers time and time again is this idea of attendee satisfaction, or this question around attendee engagement. I heard you just mentioned there that suddenly, that's been really valuable for your team as like really thinking about that customer perspective, that end user, that attendee perspective, and incorporating that into the design plan.

BRANDON:
From your perspective, what have you found to be successful in designing those customer-centric experiences? What are your thoughts on how organizers can drive experiences for their virtual audiences for virtual experiences?

STACEY:
Sure. There's so many avenues and places to go for insight into how people are consuming information in today's day and age. So what we're looking at is really, "What are we doing in the consumer space? How is the consumer space in the virtual world engaging us from buying decisions?" How are they personalizing content to us on a regular basis, whether you're on the internet and Amazon is pinging you with all the things that are related to the last grouping of things you've just bought. We're looking at all the data that we have available to us from our own events that we've run or our own experiences to help guide us.

STACEY:
The data is a gold mine. It's a gold mine to all of the consumer businesses out there, and it should be a gold mine to the corporate world. The problem with the data sometimes is that there is so much of it. So, you really have to understand what you're looking at when you're mining that data and what's resonating with your audiences and why. Their patterns of behavior when you're just doing a survey or you're just asking them what they like and what they don't like, sometimes differ drastically from what the data behavioral patterns are showing you.

STACEY:
So, when we're looking at crafting these experiences, we're asking our customers and/or our audiences, "What worked? What did you like? What didn't you like?" as well as matching that up to the data and showing us, "Well, are they actually doing what they're saying or do their behaviors in the data show us something very different than what they are saying and wanting and asking for?" And then, we're looking at that and say, "Okay, well, the next time out of the gate, how can we take what they say to us, what they show us and then what their actual patterns are?" and marry those together to craft the best possible experience.

STACEY:
An example of that would be, again, when we all first got into this virtual world or this virtual event world, a lot of people were just lifting and shifting their events, taking what would be days worth of content in a physical space and moving it to the virtual space. And we all know as we watch Netflix and a lot of our other chunkable consumable shows that we're all binge watching, that's how people consume information.

STACEY:
And so, we've really transitioned the direction of our events to be some engagements, some interactive, some live streams, some you can't miss particular points in time. And then, the rest of it to really be very consumable on the attendees own time so that they really can consume only the data they want in a personalized manner as it relates to them and the challenges that they're trying to solve and in the timeframe that most works for them based on their time zone, their business day, and just where they are consuming that information. "Are they on the bus? Are they on the train?" We know most of us are sitting at home these days. So, just really trying to give them the best experience in the most flexible format that we can.

BRANDON:
For sure. We were just talking before this conversation a little bit about some of the programs over at Siemens and the ones that you've been working on. We're coming up to a year, depending on how you're marking your calendar since we've all had to make this shift to virtual, since we've all had to live with a pandemic in our day to day. And with that, it sounds like in May, another huge event is coming up on the calendar. This year, you're not only going to have this big flagship event, Realized LIVE, but you're also going to be co-locating some other events with it. Could you tell us a little bit more about how these learnings around data and around these other virtual events are sort of informing your team's approach to this upcoming event?

STACEY:
Absolutely. This all goes back to what our longer term go-to market strategies are, what fulfills the Siemens business objectives. But again, looking at the data, looking at who our customers are, what best fulfills their particular needs? So, we've had a number of acquisitions over the years in the digital industry software group who had separate events in the past. What we're looking to do now is really build our community of users and prospects and customers. In doing so, we've recognized that instead of talking to these audiences all individually, that we have a better opportunity for them to build their networks with one another, for them to leverage information from one another and best practices and learnings if we bring these groups together. So this year, while Realize LIVE has been the flagship event for one division of DISW, the user to user event was another area of our DISW group that would go to market to a different set of users based on different segments and products.

STACEY:
Well, now that we're all a team and we're all under one umbrella, we really have the opportunity to bring those two groups together, along with our Executive Leadership Summit that we do. We've got a group of executives that really like to hear from each other, share customer insight and customer stories with one another at an executive level, because they are trying to solve different problems, and some of our hands-on day-to-day users are. But by co-locating these events together and allowing them to live in the larger community of the Siemens environment, allows them access to very specific information that's individualized for them based on their particular needs, but allows them to see and have access to the greater breadth of the overall community that we're building and that we have.

BRANDON:
Wow. It's something I remarked on previously as well, but it just seems like you and your colleagues are really capitalizing on some of the unique advantages of virtual and have very much moved past that sort of lift and shift, shift and lift mentality before of like, "Great. Let's get these events online." Now, it seems you're creating these experiences that really could only exist in a digital forum like this.

STACEY:
Yeah, it'll be really interesting to see how everybody's doing it as we go back to the physical space and what hybrid essentially will mean to each of the different organizations out there. The way we're looking at it, is really the crossroads between the virtual space and the physical space. I think as we go back to that world and we inched toward going back to physical events, we're really going to have to look at, what are the audiences getting in a physical space that they don't necessarily get in the virtual space and how will we create and craft experiences differently for each of those modalities but with a crossroads of audiences and communities still coming together where the physical and where the virtual space meet, crossover, connect.

STACEY:
And while virtual and/or digital is new in the capacity that we're all doing it now to the majority of the world and the corporate space, the associations for a very, very long time have actually been employing the virtual component into their events, essentially the hybrid model for a very long time. They create learning and certification opportunities and programs online for folks that can't attend.

STACEY:
If you're looking at a pharmaceutical or healthcare conference, or any of the educational conferences that you would be going to in a particular industry, they really have figured this out. They figured it out how to engage people for a lesser price point or a different price point online and in the virtual space, and then how to entice them and engage them and show them that there are can't-miss opportunities to continue to help them grow in whatever space they're in by coming to the physical event. That, ultimately has created sponsorship opportunities and additional revenue stream for many of these associations, which ultimately they then are providing more value and opportunities to reach a larger group of their constituents over a shorter period of time by crafting these hybrid events.

STACEY:
So, as you're moving back into the corporate space, and we're looking at what do hybrid events look like in the future as we start to go back to physical, I know many of us can't wait to get back to physical events, it's where we draw our excitement, our motivation. Sitting down with someone and truly having a conversation. For many of us, it's exhilarating. However, for lots of other folks, the hybrid model or the virtual space provides us the ability to really reach out to people who maybe we wouldn't capture in that physical space. So it allows us to reach more people, more of the right people. It's not just about growing an audience and how many people attended or registered, but it's about reaching the right groups of people in the right moment in time, solving for the right needs of those particular customers.

STACEY:
It's a lot of complexity there, but if you're thinking about your experiences in that way, then you're looking at, "Wow. Well, we've got a physical opportunity to bring a certain group of people and craft an experience that leads them to this particular outcome or these particular objectives, or this particular value. We've got the opportunity to also capture the people who can't come, and provide them perhaps a similar experience or a different experience." It also creates a secondary revenue stream for a lot of people, where in the corporate space, that's not really been thought of in the past as an opportunity. Again, the associations have been doing it for a long time. We certainly see it as an opportunity, again, to reach more of our customers and our audiences more often throughout the year, more intentionally in where they are in their journey with us and the problems that they need us to help them solve. The virtual and digital space allow us to do that much more easily than the physical space did.

BRANDON:
Definitely. Yeah. I think one thing that's particularly exciting is, as you mentioned, it's opening up access to larger audiences. There are a huge revenue and bottom line benefits there. From your perspective, what do you think is helpful in sort of getting that buy-in or proving that potential ROI to leadership?

STACEY:
Some of the challenges that I think we're all facing is how to educate the people on our teams, the leadership above us on really what the opportunity of engaging people in the digital space is. We are very lucky at Siemens that we have an upper management team who really buys into the opportunity of digital and virtual and how we really are very intentionally connecting with the right audiences at the right time through the right modalities and really support this whole transition, pivot, if you will. I know everyone hates that word, to digital.

STACEY:
It increases costs for sure. While it lessens costs in some areas, it increases costs in other areas, but it does allow for these very intentional touch points and more so than ever before. So getting buy-in, I think is two-fold. One, they have to believe in it and you have to have support from upper management, which we are very lucky to have. And, you have to be bringing the best practices, the rationale as to why this is such a key component going forward. Gartner and Salesforce and the Freemans of the world, InVisions, a lot of the agencies out there, the ad and PR agencies have so much insight into what is happening in these spaces.

STACEY:
That strategic insight is key as you're developing presentations internally and educating internal constituents on the value of these digital and/or hybrid events and the way in which to approach them, to look at them, to understand them and recognize the value that you can have in all of these different touch points with your customers and the value that that is providing your given audiences. Again, depending on your objectives, it always goes back to what's the value? What's the value for the person engaging and coming to this particular experience and/or event? And then, how does the value that they are getting out of it provide you the value you're looking for as an individual company, corporation, division, business unit?

BRANDON:
Again, I know you have this experience on the agency side working at InVision and Freeman in the past. I also know that currently at Siemens, you are working with agencies to realize some of your virtual event programs. I guess my question is, what have you found to be successful having been on the other side of the fence or that partnership, so to speak, in working with agencies?

STACEY:
It's really interesting to see it from both sides. From the agency side, really, truly getting our customers to be our partners and not just a vendor is so, so important. I was curious to see what that was going to be like on this side, not on the agency side and on the corporate side. I bring that value from being on the agency side with me. Your agency partners are so important. And while yes, you've got budgets to manage, you have efficiencies to work through, you have to use your internal resources to the best of your abilities, partnering and truly having integrated partnerships between your internal teams, your executive teams, your stakeholder teams, and your agency partners is key.

STACEY:
We partner with Bizzabo. We partner with the other agencies that I've come from. The beauty is, you can sit down and figure things out together. You're not giving up secret information to them if you don't know something. I mean, they have all this knowledge and experience. So, having them be your true partner, understand your business model, understand your strategies, your go-to market approach, your taglines, your branding, and why all of those things are so important, your true, truest partners in the agency side understand all of that and they become almost like team members to you. They become an extension of your team versus there are many times where on both sides, I've seen it where the agencies are viewed as almost a threat like, "Well, we're only going to engage them for this thing or this thing because otherwise, we should be the experts internally."

STACEY:
Now, having the experience on both sides, it is really working with those partners to grow together, change together, pivot quickly, evolve quickly. And those are the people who, A. Get the business for a very long period of time, who truly grow with their customers. It's also on the corporate side, same thing. We grow with our customers because we provide a value. We're not just selling them a product. We're providing them solutions and services that are helping them grow their businesses. And when we look at our agency partners, it has to be the same way. People who value us, who are looking to help us grow our business while we're helping them grow theirs.

BRANDON:
That's a beautiful perspective. Especially during times of uncertainty, it can be sort of tempting to just heads down, be a little bit protective of your proprietary approaches to things and so on, but to hear how beneficial you've seen firsthand it can be to just collaborate with your partners, be then on the agency side or the vendor side and leaning into that.

BRANDON:
You mentioned the importance of looking at data and reports and kind of really keeping abreast of different trends out there for guidance and again, communicating internally. If we just take a step back and take a look at your perspectives, who's someone you look up to on events, marketing or business in general?

STACEY:
There are so many people that I have looked up to or gone to for insight or who have influenced me in my particular career. I can answer this a few different ways. When you're just looking at insight and inspiration and what the overall industry is doing and you're looking for specific insight on events or engagements or experiences, we look to our agency partners a lot. We look to the associations out there, MPI, Event Marketer. We look to the consumer space. What's happening with concerts, especially during the pandemic? Are groups of people getting back together in the consumer space? They're not. That drives a lot of then what we feel comfortable in the corporate space doing. Then, there's the personal perspective who has influenced me most as I've moved up through my career and where I go for personal support and/or inspiration.

STACEY:
And really, every company that I have worked for, I have chosen to take the job or make the leap, because there was either an immediate or direct person that I'd be reporting to that I knew I was going to learn something from, that I was going to be able to grow and better understand a particular piece of the industry from that particular individual. And we're very lucky in this industry that everybody wants to see other people grow and evolve. And the information, whether it's industry specific or it's consumer specific, or it's your own personal career driven specific information, so many people are willing to help and we all are very driven individuals. The pandemic has really shown us that we can cross pollinate a lot easier than we have in the past. We, as industry executives and/or leaders, and/or divisional managers can go out and talk to people in our positions in perhaps even competitive industries to gain insight and information. It's really opened up so many doors to be able to cross collaborate and to learn and to share, and to grow than ever before.

BRANDON:
Awesome. What's one piece of advice you would might give yourself, say, if you're earlier on in your career just forging ahead and your path to where you are today?

STACEY:
If I had to tell my younger self something, it would certainly be to take more risk, have less fear. I think right now, if you're just starting out in this industry, or if you've been in it for a long time, the pandemic and our current situation has given us the opportunity to take risks when it comes to experiences in the events world. We have had to do different. Going virtual has allowed us to try things we never would have tried before because we were on a good trajectory, things were working. But this has given us the opportunity to try things, to fail at things, to learn from the data and the insight on things and then to be able to very quickly do something differently the next time out of the gate. So as we continue on this process, we should just be less afraid, less afraid to ask why less afraid to keep things the same and certainly, less afraid to not know what it's going to yield and take more calculated, good risks than just throw caution to the wind.

BRANDON:
I think that's definitely words that a lot of our listeners could relate to and find some empathy with as we navigate this period. Well, thank you so much, Stacey. Really, really great speaking with you. How can our listeners keep up with Siemens and all of the great work that you and your colleagues are doing?

STACEY:
You can go to www.siemensglobal.com, or for our particular digital industries software group, sw.siemens.com. All of our events are listed, our external facing events are listed on the website. You can follow us on LinkedIn, anywhere you see the #TodayMeetsTomorrow sign. I am on LinkedIn. People are more than welcome to reach out to me directly at stacey.gromlich@siemens.com.

BRANDON:
Fantastic. All right. Well, thanks, Stacey.

STACEY:
Great. Thank you so much.