In this episode Josh talks with Rich Brooks, President of Flyte New Media and organizer of the Agents of Change Conference. They discuss the power of live events and things you should consider when putting one.
Rich Brooks is the founder and president of the new media, a digital agency in Portland, Maine, that’s been in business for over 20 years. He is a nationally recognized speaker on entrepreneurship, digital marketing, and social media.
He founded The Agents of Change, an annual conference and weekly podcast that focuses on search, social & mobile marketing. He recently co-founded Fast Forward Maine, a podcast and workshop series for growing Maine businesses.
In today’s episode you will learn:
- How your business can put on events to generate leads and improve client retention?
- What are the benefits of putting on events for SMBs?
- How do you market your event to attendees?
- How do you get started if you’ve never done this before?
- How to position yourself as an expert?
Narrator: Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful. Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.
Josh: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick, and you’re at The Sustainable Business and our guest today is Rich Brooks. Rich is the CEO and founder, I’m going to assume flyte new media is based in Portland, Maine, sort of like a sister city to Burlington, Vermont but a little bit bigger, and has that Maine personality instead the Vermont personality.
Today we’re going to talk with Rich about why use a mainstream business might want to be thinking about doing live events. Since I love live events, I’m interested in learning as well as you guys are. Let’s bring Rich on we’ll start the conversation. Hey, Rich, how are you today?
Rich: ‘m doing great. I was just in Burlington a few weeks ago for the first time in like maybe 15 years. 20 years and you’re right. It does feel like a sister city. The biggest difference is we get the ocean. You got that beautiful lake.
Josh: That’s true. That’s true. I haven’t been in Portland, gosh, in probably 10 years.
Rich: It’s completely different.
Josh: Yeah, mostly.
Rich: That’s all I can say. You got to come and check it out.
Josh: Same thing in Vermont, by the way, it’s really different now than it was 15 years ago. Let’s talk about events because I’m not sure many people are interested in Burlington or Portland.
Rich: It should be, but Ok.
Josh: Ok. So why live events? Let’s start there.
Rich: Sure and just to be clear, like when I’m talking about live events, these are live events for my business. I am looking to find new ways to generate revenue, new ways to generate leads for my company. I am not an event planner by trade. So really, anybody can get started with this. I think one of the big reasons why I like events for kind of separating yourself generating leads generating business, is because it’s not easy to do.
I mean, it’s like all these businesses, all your competitors, they’re on Facebook, they’re on LinkedIn, they’ve done some SEO. They’re doing what you’re doing. It’s easy to create another Facebook post or a tweet or whatever it is. It’s a lot more work to try and bring people together at a specific time in place. Because of that, you’re less likely to see your competitors in that same space.
Josh: How do you get people into the room? How do you pay for it?
Rich: I have what I now call the three assets of events: speakers, sponsors, and seats as in how to put butts in them. We can definitely start with the seats part. As always, I think it comes down to having a good list, a good email list and any sort of audience, but I just find that email is really successful here. If you are just getting started, if you’re brand new business, I think it’s going to be tougher. What I recommend to everybody getting into the space is just be okay with starting small.
Right now, I’ve been running the agents of change digital marketing conference, which is our annual event, and that has 300 to 400 people to show up. But when I put on my first event, I think they were like 12 or 15 of us around the table at the Chamber of Commerce. As long as those 12 or even six people are the right people, then that’s fine.
It’s just about putting together an event that feels full no matter what size of the room, or what size of the conference hall or whatever it is that you want to do. So creating good valuable content and making sure that you understand your audience and then saying like, “We’re going to be putting together this event. Here’s what it costs or here’s what it doesn’t cost it, here’s what you’re going to get.” Those are some of the basics that you need to do.
Josh: Going back to the first event you did where you had 12 people in a room with the Chamber of Commerce. How long did it go for? How much did you charge?
Rich: That’s a good question. I’m working on faulty memory here, I think we only charge like $25 at the door. It was me and a partner of mine. I think we both did about 45 to 60 minutes of content. I did something on SEO and she did something on marketing in general. That was it. We didn’t make a whole lot of money. It didn’t cost us much. I think I was a member of the chamber so we got to use the chamber for free. I think we may have paid for donuts.
It really wasn’t a big outlay of cash right then, but it immediately got me thinking about like this is a really good opportunity. Maybe we could charge more or maybe this is just a lead generation tool to get those people in the door. We didn’t do much more than send out some emails to our customer base, and also put up some signs of the window because at the time, we actually had some window space on commercial street in Portland.
Josh: Oh, cool. Now today you have 300 people coming and if I’m not mistaken, I read your material correctly. It’s a three day event.
Rich: The conference is one day and then because we had a number of people from away, we thought we bring in a lot more people from away when I first started this. It turns out that people just aren’t going to travel for a one day event. We started adding pre-conference workshops, which are a little bit different.
All of our sessions are 45 minutes long during the conference day on Friday, but on Thursday, we have two sets of three hour workshops that are much more hands on and for the serious marketer. People who want to take their interest in the next level, or they want to learn Facebook ads inside it out. It’s much more hands on smaller classroom type setting.
Then this year, because I always like to really scare myself at least every year with one new thing. I’m trying a mastermind that me and Dan and Mel [inaudible 00:05:52] who’s the boss mom. We’re going to put on actually at my house. We’re going to limit it to like 10 to 12 people. We’re just going to have a marketing mastermind that takes everything you learn from the previous two days. We’re going to work together to kind of tailor that for your own specific business.
If you’re experiencing growth, but it’s just not happening for you as quickly as you’d like it to. We’re going to try and work together as a team to really get you going. That’s where the three day event comes from.
Josh: So with the mastermind, I had this really bad habit, digressing.
Rich: That’s fine. That’s how I run my show, too.
Josh: Because I think it’s really kind of an interesting thing to go down to, is that what I’m seeing is a lot of these internet stars are using their events to build high end masterminds out of.
Josh: So after you do your one day mastermind, are you going to have any follow up? Because in my experience, masterminds are great and the problem I have with most masterminds is they don’t have a good accountability section. You need to have a monthly or regular ongoing session so people actually do the stuff that you’ve talked about?
Rich: That’s a great question. At this point, we don’t plan on having an ongoing mastermind, but I guess it really depends on the people in the room, if they say or if some of them said, “This is great. Could we meet once a month virtually?” Then I think I’d be up for that. I’m actually part of two different masterminds right now. I do agree that the accountability is a big part of it. Knowing that you’ve got a mastermind coming up in the next couple days, means you got to look at all the things you promised to do a week or two weeks ago and get things done even if you’re just rushing to get them done. It definitely holds you accountable.
Josh: Yeah, I’ve actually got one where I’ve got some work to do today, for our mastermind meeting on Wednesday because I promised two weeks ago, I would have this piece done.
Rich: Yeah, I know that feeling.
Josh: Hopefully I’ll actually get it done. That’d be nice thing to do. What are you charging for your event now?
Rich: The day of tickets are $349 and each of the workshops are $250. Right now we’re running early bird tickets so it’s about $179. I know that this is not going to launch today, but the tickets will probably still be discounted if people want to go check them out. The mastermind includes every single thing, so two workshop, the conference and full day mastermind with Dan and myself and a lot of meals and entertainment included in that. That’s $1500. Although it’s a little bit less during the early bird discounts.
Josh: That’s a great deal, by the way. Hopefully, you see us on Facebook Live, unfortunately, this is going to be way past the early bird when it airs as a podcast, but if you see us on Facebook Live, that’s a really, really inexpensive price. My experience is you pay a lot more from a lot of other people and get a lot less value. So just out of curiosity, what are your two longer sessions going to be for your pre conference?
Rich: You get a choice. There are actually eight different ones four in the morning, four in the afternoon. I don’t know if I’ll remember all the titles off the top of my head, but I know that Dan is doing one and it’s called “How to Build Buzz for your Next Product Launch.” We’ve got one on podcasting, one on LinkedIn. I’m actually leading a mini mastermind for agency owners, because last year, I noticed that we got a lot of people who are just like me who are fans of my podcast, and actually traveled. I’m like, “Well, if you’re going to travel, let me make it worth it.” So I’m doing an agency mastermind is one of the sessions. We’ve got Facebook ads. We’ve got chatbots. We’ve got Instagram, and there’s one other that’s podcasting. Oh, wow, that was pretty good. I remembered all eight sessions.
Josh: You did podcasting twice, but that’s okay.
Rich: Oh, then I only did seven.
Josh: In my opinion, you could skip the chat box. I think somebody should just blow all chat bots up.
Rich: Really well, I have to let you— I’ll give you a report when we get closer to our conference, because we’ve been starting to do this. We’re getting a lot of good people interested, but we’ll have to see if we actually end up selling tickets with them.
Josh: Yeah, I just find chat bots the most annoying things of all times, but that’s me. I’m old.
Rich: All right. I feel the same way about stories and so I don’t do them and I don’t use them. The bottom line is I do know people are successful with them. Sometimes you just got to decide what you’re going to use and what you’re not going to use to market your business or event.
Josh: So when you say stories, what do you mean by that?
Rich: Like Instagram stories, Facebook stories, which were stolen from Snapchat, so I can’t get into it. I’ve tried to a number of times I get like one part of my story done. And then I’m like, nobody cares about my bike ride and I just give up on them.
Josh: Right, I agree with that. People are interested in what kind of value can you bring to them to the party. Let’s go on and talk a little bit about speakers because obviously for your event, you’re not the only speaker. How do you [inaudible 00:10:27] speakers and do you compensate them or not?
Rich: A lot of good questions there. I would say if you’re just starting off, you do not need to share the stage, but sometimes bringing in the right speakers will also give you more things to talk about at your event. Plus those speakers may have their own built in audiences so they may do it and you need to work out with them whether or not you’re going to compensate them. I will say at agents of change, we don’t pay our speakers. I would say in almost every case, we don’t pay our speakers. We do put them up in a really nice hotel. We take them out for speaker’s dinner. And of course, lobster is a big thing here in Portland, Maine, of course, where they’re allowed to order lobster if they want to.
We try and make it as fun as possible. I do understand I’ve had speakers come to me say look, “I’d love to do your event, but I need to be paid.” It’s got to be 5,10 $25,000. I say I totally get that because when I’m on the other side of it, I like getting paid for my speaking gigs. It’s part of the way I make money. I respect that, but we don’t have that for our conference. Sometimes they say, “Okay, good luck.” Sometimes they’ll say, “All right, well make sure I get two lobsters” and we’ll cut a deal like that.
Josh: If it was me, I would say, “Oh, let’s make sure we go to a lobster pound.”
Rich: There you go, exactly.
Josh: Because the only place the lobsters is a lobster pound.
Rich: True. True.
Josh: The only time I ever eat lobster is when I’m in Maine at a Lobster Pound.
Rich: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. The speakers thing though, being serious about it’s like you do need to decide how you want to— you should give something to your speakers, even if it’s just a gift box or something like that because if you’re not paying them, admittedly, they’re getting the opportunity to speak in front of your audience. One of the things that I do make sure that every speaker knows is that they can’t pitch from stage. Now there are ways that we’re totally cool with to get around it. But I don’t like those events where somebody’s pitching to you from the back of the room or something like that. That’s not the kind of event I wanted to run.
I’m very clear with speakers not to do things like that. I do allow them to say, “Hey, listen, I’ve got all the slides and I’ve got these other resources available. Just give me your business card, and I’ll follow up with you.” I’m totally fine with something like that.
Josh: Yeah or get them to sign up for some sort of a report or a conversation or—
Rich: I think you can build a lead magnet into your presentation without coming across as too salesy.
Josh: Yes, I do, too. I’m with you, by the way, where there’s a guy out there who was teaching people to do public speaking. And his whole shtick is to actually scam the promoter into [inaudible 00:12:54] on the stage and then you sell from the stage.
Rich: Yeah, that would be horrendous. I know, my audience, they would revolt against that. You would end up never speaking again, and you probably would have lost a lot of goodwill with the people in that room because that’s how what they’re expecting. I know, their conferences that everybody who walks in understands are going to be sold to and that’s totally fine. Just not my model.
Josh: Right, right. By the way, in my opinion, every time I have done a public talk, and it’s with the right audience, I’ve walked away with at least one high level client out of it.
Rich: There you go.
Josh: I mean, for people who are doing this sort of thing, or thinking about doing this thing, I’m going to tell you from having spoken for over a 40 year period, the only time I’ve ever had a bad experience doing a public talk was when I was running 104 fever, and I was recovering from cancer treatments.
Rich: Those are two very good excuses, by the way.
Josh: That was the same place by the way, same time. But other than that, literally every time I’ve ever done a talk, whether it’s for my 10 person seminar I did to speaking to 1,000 people as someone else’s program. It’s always been a good thing for me. Frankly, if you become the sponsor, it even becomes better for you. The stuff that we’re talking about with Rich today, I really want you to pay a lot of attention to because it’s really, really important. We covered speakers. We covered—
Rich: We filled the seats, hopefully.
Josh: Hopefully we filled the seats. Now, how do you actually go about filling the seats? I mean, I think you brought up a really good thing is you make sure that your event is going to be oversold at whatever size it is.
Rich: So every year it changes and evolves. I used to say the one thing that you could always rely on is emails, like we could send out emails and I knew every time I’d send out an email, we’d sell 20 to 30 tickets easily. I found that that’s just not the case now and I’m not sure— this has been the last couple years, this has been something that’s happened where certain emails go out, and there’s been no response.
I’m not sure if it’s because we’re too far away from this date. For us, right now we’re recording this at the end of June and the conferences and until late September. I think people are slower to pull the trigger these days. They’re not as sure about doing this. One of the things that I’ve seen is there’s a lot of free events going on. Part of our job these days is to differentiate ourselves from a free 45 minute workshop that we see out there all the time. We put some of those on, too, but part of the challenge is to really differentiate ourselves.
We have a live feed from the conference. We do virtual passes. We’ve got photographers, videographers. We bring in speakers that have never been to Maine, some of the biggest names in the industry when it comes to digital marketing. That’s what we’re trying to present. In terms of getting the word out, it’s a culmination. We’re definitely relying more on advertising than we’ve done in the past. Because this is a digital conference, we’re also looking to bring in people who maybe we can’t reach through digital, because we can reach most of the people in Maine and beyond through digital. We know how to advertise to them, a lot of them are in an email. We know all that sort of stuff. Now we’re going back to some of the traditional methods too. You get the people who really should go to the agents of change conference, but have never heard of it. They’re not spending a lot of time on Facebook or even LinkedIn.
We’re going with some traditional ads and doing things like radio bits and other stuff as well and even talking to the local TV stations. Luckily, I’m the tech guru on the NBC affiliates here in Maine. I usually get an opportunity to kind of pitch the conference with about two to four weeks to go every year. That’s been helpful as well.
Josh: Oh, sure. Cool. A lot of people are doing what’s called Virtual conferences. Have you ever done one of those?
Rich: I have never put on one. I’ve certainly been involved with a few of them. The model is interesting, but for me, I kind of like a party. I just like bringing people together. For me, the live event is different and it’s a very obviously tactile thing. For me the virtual events, “Hey, that’s great, it’s a lot less worry. It’s I assume less work.” You don’t have to worry about catering, for example. The bottom line is, it just doesn’t have that same impact that I’m looking for right now. It’s certainly something that we have thought about the past and may investigate in the future again.
Josh: My experience with virtual is I love going to live events, because I’m actually going to sit there and pay attention—
Rich: And networking.
Josh: Yes, if I’m doing a virtual event, I will promise you that I’m only listening with half an ear.
Rich: Yeah, I know. I’m the same way especially like when you get all the video from an event, you buy the virtual pass. I’ve spent like $200 $500 sometimes on a virtual event that just feels so right when I’m paying for it. Then I just never find the time to actually watch those videos.
Josh: I went to digital marker this year, I bought through virtual, the replays of everything. I haven’t watched one yet.
Rich: I know, what I sometimes will do is I’ll strip the audio out and then put it on my iPhone so at least I’m listening to it in the car. I get something out of it, but not the video itself.
Josh: That makes perfectly good sense to me. What was the third thing, Rich?
Rich: Sponsors which is probably the most challenging part and not every conference or event needs a sponsor. I know for us, we look at agents changes. We’d like to break even because it’s a great marketing opportunity for flyte new media. We almost always get business out of it. Again, looking at that opportunity for leads, if we can get some sponsors, then we know we’re going to break even. It’s a challenge. There’s a lot of things I’m good at selling. Sponsorships never been one of them, but luckily, I’ve been able to rely on some of my personal relationships with people in terms of their vendors or friends of ours and getting them to contribute something in trade for tickets.
Sometimes it’s a speaker sponsor deal. Also, I’m a huge fan of barters. Like for example, we have a networking event at the end of our conference, like many do, and we get pizza from Otto Pizza, which was rated the best pizza in the state. So free pizza, free beer from Shipyard and then free cocktails courtesy of my friend who owns a distillery called Split Rock Distilling. For the cost of a few tickets, which was really not expensive for us. We’re getting thousands of dollars of product that then keep people around and keep them eating pizza and drinking beer and having cocktails like the agent teeny and the hashtag highball that we make especially for the event. Everybody has a good time and it doesn’t cost us a lot of money. If you’re just getting started, even barter sponsorships are great sponsorships to go after.
Josh: When do you start trying to get your sponsors?
Rich: There’s a woman out there named Linda Hollander who I’ve met, and she is like the sponsorship queen. One of the things that she got me thinking differently about is sponsorship should not be for an event. It should be for like a period of time, like a year. We had a sponsor who had given us a little bit of money, and then all of a sudden really wanted up there spent a local bank, which is Machias Savings Bank, actually.
They’ve been an amazing partner for us. They were looking— they did a year and then they really upped it. Then they’re like, “We want to do more.” And I said, “Well, you know what I want to think about this is a yearlong thing.” We decided that we were going to do is create a Facebook group and have a three in person workshops, where they were strongest around the state. Free workshops for people. We did that for a year. That actually evolved and became its own spin off.
We’re now it’s called Fast Forward Maine, which is we never did the Facebook group. We opted to do a podcast instead. But with the help of Machias, we’ve actually turned this into a— Fast Forward Maine is now a bi-monthly in person workshop around the state and then also a weekly podcast where we interview people in the business ecosystem here in Maine. Again, that’s a relationship that just developed over time. I wouldn’t think of it just for the event. It’s nice, great. I’d also think about trying to develop these relationships for somebody who might want to do a series of workshops or sponsor your podcast or something like that. That’s kind of the relationships we’re looking for now, especially because I don’t want to be out there selling sponsorships to new people every year. I want to find a relationship, somebody who believes in what we’re doing, and who can benefit from that relationship.
Josh: Machias, they are a benefit corporation, aren’t they?
Rich: It’s a saving bank. Is that what you mean, or—?
Josh: No, no, no, there’s a type of corporate structure called benefit Corp. I think they just opened up next door to our building here.
Rich: I can’t speak to that.
Josh: Yeah. At any rate, I’m going to give you another hint about getting sponsors.
Rich: I’d love to hear it.
Josh: You have to start before the fiscal year.
Josh: In other words, if you’re going to sell an event for 2020, you better be in their face by September 2019 at the latest, because most people who do sponsorships make that decision about what they’re going to sponsor and how much money you’re going to spend before the year actually start. Even though your events in September, they are going to make decisions, companies and your sponsors will be making decisions a year in advance of when your event is.
Rich: Yeah, I hear you. We’ve definitely run into that tip. They’ll say, “Oh, well, it’s too close now, but talk to us next year.” Then we talked to them next year and it’s like, “Oh, we haven’t even started thinking about that.” They probably have, but—
Josh: Well, what you need to do is you have to say, “Okay, I want to make what’s your budget?” A question becomes, at that point, is asking you some good questions of a potential sponsor. First of all, is this the type of event they might want to sponsor?
Josh: And if they say, “Well, I don’t know enough about it.” Then you get to tell them and then next thing is, “Okay, we are the type of event you might want to sponsor, what’s your decision making cycle?” then they’ll tell you what the process is, as you’re making decisions about who you’re going to sponsor?
Rich: Yeah, that makes sense.
Josh: I helped put on a couple of relatively large non-profit shows. That’s the thing we’ve learned about sponsorship over the years, is it’s really a very, very, very long lead time.
Josh: To get organizations like a Merrill Lynch or Wachovia or People’s United Bank or whatever larger organizations to make a decision about whether they want to sponsor or not.
Rich: Yeah, I hear you.
Josh: Rich, we’re almost out of time. Do you have any final parting thoughts that you would like to leave us with?
Rich: I think just when it comes to putting on live events, and when we talked about some of the benefits, I would just be very clear on what you’re looking to get out of this. You can certainly try and put on events specifically just as a revenue opportunity. But, if you’re looking at it as a way of generating leads, you have to be willing to think about what would I spend for this lead?
For us, we’ve gotten to the point now, where depending on how we build ourselves for own time, we always break even or make a little bit of money. We’re good with that because even though it’s a big project, it always ends up getting our company business. Just really be clear on your goals for any event and don’t overextend yourself, when you’re just getting started. I guess those are the things that I’d really want people to walk away with.
Josh: Cool. So Rich, I’m going to bet people a.) Would probably want to go to your event and b.) Might want to talk to you about working with him about their company. How would they find you?
Rich: Well, thanks for that opportunity. I certainly hope you guys would love coming to the Agents of Change Conference. It takes place on Friday, September 20 2019, with the pre-conference workshops the day before, and that VIP mastermind I mentioned the day after. You can get all the information which a highlight reel from last year at https://www.theagentsofchange.com. If you are interested and you need a little help with your own digital marketing, head on over to https://www.takeflyte.com/. That’s my company website. If you just want to reach out to me to talk, ask a question. I am therichbrooks on every social platform, so I’m not too difficult to find.
Josh: I also have an offer for you, too. One of the things that I know is true about every private business I’ve ever dealt with is they’re always worried about cash flow, or cash or having enough cash. What I’ve learned is that there actually is a success path that what I call sustainable businesses goes through to go from having no cash to having excess cash, no business in their life. We call that Cracking the Cash flow Code. I did an infographic and it’s free to get. It’s easy to get. Just go to www.sustainablebusiness.co/cashflow that’s www.sustainablebusiness.co/cashflow. You’ll be brought to a page just click on the button and we will get you that infographic. This is Josh Patrick. You’re with Rich Brooks. We’re at the sustainable business. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around a hundred years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.