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Customer Service in an Evolving Events Industry

Dianne Devitt is an executive producer of events, a keynote speaker, a consultant, and author of “What Color is Your Event?”

Dan Gingiss: Hi Dianne. Tell us how you got into the events industry?

Dianne Devitt: Well, the short story is that I fell into the events industry before it was an events industry and and started my career in destination management, grew that into focusing on event production. And now as we all evolve, going into more consulting with the creative experience. So I’ve been involved with many associations and mostly my work has been corporate over the years.

Dan Gingiss: Interesting. All right, and so what has the last 15 months been like for you?

Dianne Devitt: Well, it’s been an interesting ride for all of us and and there are so many different perspectives. The way to look at this, is I helicopter myself above it. What I see is all good. The reason is because prior to the pandemic and for the past 20 years, I’ve been standing on a soapbox. I’ve been preaching to people the power of the event as a medium to deliver a message not unlike advertising, not unlike PR, but a marketing tool.

Right now, many companies fast forward or omni channel marketers that use the event. But now, after the pandemic, we’re all in the same sandbox, aren’t we? So I look at this advent and the importance of what I learned is more needed than ever before. So, the expertize of event planners – the expertize of people who are meeting planners and event planners who know how to combine logistics and objectives and design into that real life experience is more critical than ever. 

Dianne Devitt

Dan Gingiss: And I think this comes down to human interaction, right? That’s what we’ve been missing for so much of the last 15 months. Zoom and StreamYard and other platforms have allowed us to stay connected. But, it isn’t quite the same as shaking hands, or giving a hug, or having a cocktail together, or whatever it is that creates that kind of lifelong engagement. So I’m definitely looking forward to it. How do you think events are going to be different when we start showing up to them again?

Dianne Devitt: Well, I’ll answer that question, but I want to go back and make a comment on what you just said, because you’re absolutely right. Like I’ve met you, right? We met online. We would have not bumped into each other except at a bar had it not been for this platform. I encourage people, for the people you’ve been meeting online, meet them in person.

Just last week I started that. I met one person and you’re not used to seeing someone’s physical persona. And yes, we connect through our eyes. All right. Our eyes are the mirror to our soul, how we communicate. But meeting in person, it’s a very different dynamic that’s going on. Now, what has been evolving and what is clear in the events side, there are two things. One is that meetings are starting local. Many meetings have been planned local, up to date. Local, regional, national, and then, of course, international will be the last.

There are many countries still in lockdown right now, so I think that’s the reality of the global experience. The hybrid experience is fixing that in terms of people being present. And of course, now I’m looking at all the trades and seeing meetings come back and different associations having their meetings this month. I mean, as we speak, they’re having them, but they’re all done with with the respect of keeping with the protocol with which is what we’ve been living with. So I think it’s a transition. But also, from what I’ve spoken about with people, this has given companies a time to think about how they want to meet and what they really need to discuss.

Dan Gingiss: For sure, now, you mentioned hybrid events. Do you think that hybrid events are going to stay even after the pandemic? That these event planners are going to figure out that it’s a way to get more people involved, maybe at a lower price point, but higher quantities. Do you think this is something that is permanent or something that will just be here for the bridge as we as we emerge?

Dianne Devitt: Yeah, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is a permanent new category of events and meeting. And I don’t think it will be less in cost, because the value will still be there and there’ll be ancillary benefits to it. You know, just as you said, if you ordered the book live, then you get the downloaded version. So what is the what is the balance going to be?

What this opens then, Dan, is a cadre of discussion for companies, because, for example, if you’re the the the CMO of a major company and you have a meetings department reporting to you up to date, you might have had the people who are experts in logistics. You know, there’s a real engineering component to the event planning function very by the book, step by step. That same element goes towards the meeting producer. So when covid first hit, I’m like, oh, my gosh, this is a whole new category, “meeting producer.” And that is not always intuitive to the existing meeting planner skills. So what it’s allowing is these two disparate worlds to come together. It’s a very interesting time.

Dan Gingiss:  Yeah, I definitely agree. And I think the only reason I thought it might be lower cost is that so much of the cost of putting on an event is the meals and the entertainment, and all the giveaways, and all that sort of stuff. But, to that point, I definitely participated in a lot of virtual events that still have really fun giveaways or that have the other day with a client. We had a barista teach us how to create latte art and we got sets in the mail and we could do it ourselves. I’ve been to cocktail hours, et cetera.

So I do think that piece of it was really neat, kind of, the real world meets virtual. I just think it’ll be really interesting as the as the event goes back to being real world. Now, what happens to the virtual world and how much attention is paid to it? And you’re right, it’s different types of skills that are required to run a good virtual event versus a live event. So it’ll be fascinating. I know from a speaker’s point of view, and I know you’re a speaker as well. You mentioned looking into people’s eyes. There’s nothing like seeing the response of the audience and getting that instant feedback. I know it definitely jazzers me up, and that is so hard and virtual to just be staring right at this camera.

Dianne Devitt: Isn’t it, though? I know, you’re like, do you hear me? Do you see me? Feel me? Right. But, you know, Dan, this is the the business of meetings and events. What you’re bringing up now is that the marketer, has a whole new set of categories to think about when the stakeholder comes and says, “hey, let’s have a meeting.” Well, let’s discuss the objectives, the goals. But now with this strategy, who’s involved? Is this going to be streamed, is this going to be live on-demand and it’s exciting, but it’s more demanding on the planner to really get to the objective and goal.

On the flip side, it’s making the value of meetings and events far more intrinsic to a business culture than ever before. And as a speaker, your role will be as important because you might be seeing live, but that might be taped and then that might be on-demand. And so it’s you know, it could be the the gift that doesn’t stop giving type of thing, right?

Dan Gingiss: For sure. So what do you think we’re going to have to do about the fact the company is now over a year plus, so it’s an entire budget cycle, have gotten used to their travel and entertainment costs being almost nothing? I’ve got a sneaking hunch that a bunch of them are not going to want to go back to where they were because they never probably realized how much they were spending until they stopped spending it. So do you think that’s going to be a challenge for the events industry?

Dianne Devitt: I think that there will be a balance because when you ask about budgeting and how companies are going to say, “jeez, I saved so much money” and all of that, well, if you don’t have a really good production company who can troubleshoot when the CEO is speaking and the Internet goes down, you better have Plan B going. You know, twenty five thirty years ago, again, we used to say bring to light bulbs for the projector. Because when one went out, you put the other one right here. And let me tell you something. I’ll wear my meeting planner hat, three seconds when your CEO is speaking and the lights go out is ten hours of torture. 

Dan Gingiss: Of course. And and that’s not to say that things don’t happen in real life. Also, obviously, I remember one event where pretty much everything that could go wrong went wrong. My slides didn’t show up. The lights went out, the microphone went out, and I just had to kind of stand up there and laugh it off. 

Dianne Devitt: It’s show business. I mean, the bottom line is this, that, yes, money has been saved. But to your point, just what you experienced, the cost of a promotion products, the cost of shipping has gone up, sending things to 50 people online to receive at the same time. So what I see happening is this evolving role where if you’re the CMO or you’re in charge of a department, you will have a live planner, a planner who plans in real life logistics, working in tandem with the meeting producer so that that script and think of how complex that could be.

We’re talking two, three, four-day meetings that could be produced. So your expense of having the right equipment and the right team there supersedes the savings. I’m not saying in all cases and yes, there is, but it forces the stakeholder and the planner to really look at the cost investment of that particular meeting or event, right?

Dan Gingiss: Yeah, it’s so interesting you say that I hadn’t quite thought of it that way. It’s almost like the award shows the Academy Awards or something like that, where you have to create a great experience for the attendees and the red carpet and all that. But then the actual viewers are all on watching on television at home. And so you’ve got a producer that has to create a great virtual experience, which we never really thought of it that way. But that’s really what it is.

We’re attending the Academy Awards, we’re just attending it from our couches at home. So I think that’s really an interesting way to look at it, that hybrid events have been around for a long time. It’s just maybe not in the conference industry that they have been around. And so that’s going to be the the new part of it. But it is going to require that producer to have the AV skill set as well. 

Dianne Devitt: You bring up an Academy Awards or another awards show, Oscars or whatever. All of the recipients were sent production kits. Lights, microphones, backgrounds, plus they all needed rehearsals. So where is the live event you get on site? You have a rehearsal one day. For the virtual event, you might be rehearsing the week before. So this is what people and management and a lot of people need to understand the cost value.

Dan Gingiss: So one of the things I also think we need to talk about is the safety and security of events and how that has become a much more in the forefront. I believe that safety is going to be a major element of both customer experience and employee experience for years to come because of the pandemic. And I don’t just mean safety from the virus, I mean overall safety and kind of all of its definitions. Is that something that you’re seeing event planners having to focus on? And what are the kinds of things that they’re looking at?

Dianne Devitt: Yes, is the short answer. And I say this to you. And in all my career, Dan, as a producer, as a planner, all my teaching, because I’m an adjunct at NYU for too many years. The first thing I teach my students is that when you go into and you start the planning process, the first thing you focus on is what could go wrong – what is the risk management involved. Then you worry about the linen color and the branding and the delivery.

But is the venue safe? Is the timing safe? Is the location safe? It’s like you said, yes, it’s the pandemic and it’s the physical illness, but it’s far more than that and it’s cybersecurity and it’s someone and that is a whole other show that we could talk about. This is an eye opener for many people who don’t understand the true role of the planner, its logistics. But you work hand in hand with your director of security all along the way and CIA and Secret Service and et cetera, et cetera.

Dan Gingiss: So what given that, what kind of advice do you have for event planners that are maybe working at a company and their job is to put on the company’s annual event and it’s a different job than it was 15 months ago. So what do you recommend to them in terms of how they need to adapt to the post pandemic world?

Dianne Devitt: Well, look, there’s there’s different level planners. So the seasoned planners know that they have to go in it from a from a business point of view, more than ever, understand the value, the choices of the three different types. But the one word that is associated with events more than ever now is data. And you say, what do you mean data? Well, any live experience can be measured for its success, and the results, and their return. And more than ever, people want those numbers, that data for post-event marketing.

So I would say to the seasoned planner, keep doing what you’re doing. Just make sure that you hire the right people to support you, because it’s not a job that can be done by one person. And planners have been ahead of that for years. For the new planner entering, I would say a similar thing. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Understand that it is a business and it is akin to advertising and PR and the key thing is to develop a good team who can bring the vision and deliver the objectives and goals.

The other thing that I’m a big proponent of is a theme for an event. And I think more than ever, that theme and name has to be treated as if it were the same as an ad copy. You know, when you read an ad and you say, “wow, what a cool ad,” the visual goes with the words, right? There should not be a disconnect in an event, whether it’s live or virtual. The visual makes just as an impression as what that theme is, because that theme brands the whole event.

Related: Being a Keynote Speaker in a World of Virtual Events

Dan Gingiss: Absolutely. And I’ve talked before about some of the ways to make your event more shareable, to get more people talking about it. And you’re one of my favorite examples. I’ve seen a couple of events that purchased these gigantic blocks that spell out the hashtag of the event. And what I love about that is that a shareable experience. You don’t have to tell somebody to take a selfie in front of those blocks. They’re going to do it, right? You put them out there, they’re going to do it and they’re going to use your hashtag. You don’t even have to teach them how, which is awesome. And yet some events, you don’t find out the hashtag until the day of the event or it’s not in any of the materials.

These are the simple things that I think often get missed. Hashtags, as well as the speaker’s Twitter handles make it easy for people to share about your event. “Oh, wow. I just heard Dianne say something amazing and I want to tweet it out. I have no idea what a Twitter handle is because it’s not listed anywhere,” right? And so I think that’s one of the things to add to me that connects with the theme. Because your hashtag sort of represents that theme. And then you’ve got this visual identity that gets shared out into social. That’s the part you can’t control unless you can control it. If you give people the right tools that stick with your event theme and the design, I think then it spills out into the social world. This will, of course, give you the promotion for next year.

Dianne Devitt: Yeah, no question what you’re saying, Dan, but here’s what you’re bringing up to which is which is a loaded question is that many companies do not give the support to their planners that the planners need to do their job. Hire someone who can focus on social and hashtags and the marketing element if it’s appropriate for that event. But we’re talking in context. And that is what I think is affecting what the meeting and event department needs are and bringing in the experts who can help fulfill that. Just as you if you were in an advertising department, you have creative and you have fulfillment. You know, there’s two different things, isn’t there?

Dan Gingiss: Definitely makes sense. Diane, I love it. I feel like we could talk for hours. How can people get in touch with you if they’d like to continue the conversation?

Dianne Devitt: Well, thank you so much. Well, obviously, is my website. It’s under-construction like I am right now. And I’m on Instagram. I’m on different platforms as yourself. And can I just mention this for your audience, I’m just part of a new book myself. And so anybody who is watching your show, Dan, you know, Called to Lead. I collaborated with 17 other of your friends, 17 authors, it’s success Strategies for women, so I’m excited about that.

Dianne Devitt: Available on Amazon and I’ll be doing a formal launch soon. So anyone who watches your show, I’ll be giving a special code to.

Dan Gingiss: Fantastic. That is wonderful. Well, thank you so much that it’s been a pleasure talking with you. I’ve definitely learned a lot and I look forward to seeing you out in person at an event sometime soon. That’ll be a lot of fun, too.

Dianne Devitt: Thank you so much again.

This interview was edited for length and clarity. Watch the entire video interview on YouTube

Related: Why Customer Experience Trumps Traditional Marketing

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