Since our partnership last year, (C) and etouches have spent many hours exchanging information about our respective markets. We’ve spent time outlining the governance of 501 3(c) orgs and complexities of how associations and non-profits operate and their technology infrastructure. In turn, etouches has taught (C) about the event planning industry – not necessarily just the technology platform and how it’s used, but the art form that goes into planning face-to-face events, whether they be large sprawling, massive conferences a la CES (Consumer Electronic Show), or small intimate meet-ups or Board Meetings.
As we’ve continued our dialogue over the past year, we’ve not only talked about event technologies but how events are planned, marketed and hosted. What’s notable (at least to us since we have a tendency to focus on technology) is how much the technical user-experience impacts the face-to-face, physical presence and overall identity of an event. After all, let’s face it, weren’t people perfectly fine with filling out a paper form and faxing it in way back in the day? If the fax didn’t go through, did we really get upset and think the event itself was going to suck?
Maybe we had lower expectations back then – what’s clear today is that in an economically challenging and competitive environment, meeting and event planners (and their organizations) are fighting tooth and nail to get in front of a potential delegate or attendee and make sure they spend their professional development dollars on attending their event over others.
This thought process I just outlined above makes me laugh, yet it’s exactly what I thought a few months ago when I purchased tickets to attend a big fundraising event. New Orleans is a strange place – don’t get me wrong, I love it, but it took a while to get used to everything down here…from calling trolleys “street cars”, to Mardi Gras to Who Dat nation, this is definitely a unique place. One of the notable things about NOLA is its access to celebrities that you normally would never get a chance to see up close, let alone have a conversation with. In a town as small as this, doing a high visibility fundraising event builds lot of interest. Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to rebuilding the lower ninth ward one house at a time after Katrina rolled through, is a relatively new and fledgling non-profit. To build some awareness and engagement, Brad Pitt announced in late January that he planned to host an extravagant fundraising gala event to raise additional funds. Now if we were in NYC, LA or even DC this would be interesting but nothing new – in NOLA? This was big news – something this city had never put on before or seen on such a large scale. Big name celebrities were expected to attend the newly opened Hyatt Regency (closed after Katrina wreaked havoc) and be served by celebrity chefs for $1500 a plate… not exactly access…BUT, an after party hosted by Aziz Ansari and featuring headliners such as Seal, Snoop Dog, and Kayne West was priced at the much more affordable and accessible rate of $150 per person – all funds going to the Make It Right Foundation.
So I decided to purchase two after-party tickets – and bit the bullet and used a competitor’s software system to register – my first problem (apart from it being a competitor)? I couldn’t buy more than one ticket at a time…it wouldn’t really have been a problem except that when I tried to buy my second ticket, my credit card was refused since PayPal has already processed my card once and refused to take it again – I was stumped…no information online on what to do, no instructions about multiple tickets or guest registrations…in the end I registered again under my own name and sent in a check hoping that I would get a ticket in the mail (and didn’t tell my fiancé that he was kind of on the wait list) and if I didn’t get in it would suck but at least the money was going to a good cause.
Another month passed and no emails or acknowledgements of my registration until the week before the event – at that time, a massive download of information to process and figure out how to pick up tickets at Will Call, etc. I was still a little doubtful as to the quality and legitimacy of what was going to happen at this event – the night before, at the airport didn’t help when I saw foundation volunteers standing with handmade signs welcoming attendees– this was supposed to be the extravaganza promised by Brad? What happened to the VIP, exclusive feel and treatment that was promised for those $1500 per head attendees?
The event went well and I forgot about my hesitancy and doubts – but working with etouches and talking to organizations about putting on high caliber and professional events brings home the point that your technology solution needs to invoke a feeling of confidence, ease and legitimacy. If you feel uneasy about the whole registration process and it was frustrating and a pain to do, how likely are you looking forward to attending the event and enjoying yourself? Online registration is one of those first very transparent steps that is all about the event user experience – if it doesn’t go well, you are that much more behind the ball when trying to build user engagement or pursue additional ask campaigns.
If Make It Right had used etouches, they not only would have made the process easier, but could have collected additional donations (maybe participate in an advance silent auction for a signed photo of Dr. John?), collect additional information to recruit more volunteers and kept me updated on how the organization was doing with regards to the next house being finished in the 9th ward…
Our time with our partner has really taught us to recognize that the event experience doesn’t start when a delegate or member picks up their badge on Day 1 of the conference, but well before, in those online interactions and relationship building activities that all member-based organizations already specialize in. So take note – whatever you are planning, whether it is large or small, don’t dismiss or diminish the impact that your event technology framework will have on a potential attendee or delegate!
~Maneesha Sharma, Director of Marketing & Business Development