20 min read

Nimble Event Strategy in Electronics

With travel and supply chain uncertainty, it's more important than ever to adopt a nimble, adaptive approach to events.

 

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Garrett Burnett, Head of Global Events at Silicon Labs, says that one of the most important traits of an events professional is adaptability. It's not IF something will go not according to the plan, it's WHAT. An effective events person is ready with plan B and C without skipping a beat.

Never has this trait been more important (and more put to the test) than in these early post-Covid times. Between airline staffing shortages, new Covid outbreaks and supply chain issues, there are a lot of external forces impacting events as normal. There's also lots of room for learning, growing and retooling. 

During the episode, Garrett walks us through SI Labs approach to industry events in 2022-2023, their user conference Works With, and innovative approaches to webinars and workshops. You'll hear the outcome of his recent trip to Embedded World in Germany, and how SI Labs is bringing live and interactive elements to their virtual developer conference and tech talk webinars. We also debate event success metrics, how to extract more value from event content, and basically geek out on all things events -- one of my favorite marketing topics. 

 

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Transcript

Well, we're a little bit past the halfway point in 2022, and if you're a marketer trying to decide how to approach your events and trade show strategy, it can be pretty confusing times. It's a very dynamic environment with travel coming back to normal, but still some covet scares here and there. And you're seeing a lot of innovation in hybrid events where you have a user conference, for instance, that's half in person and half virtual. You're seeing events like inbound mimicking that style of events. And so I'm bringing on a guest today who's the global events manager at a large tech company to talk about a few things. One, how they're approaching industry events these days, and also how they're approaching their own user conference and what they may do in the future as a result. Let's do this.

Welcome to Content Marketing, Engineered. Your source for building trust and generating demand with technical content. Here is your host, Wendy Covey.

Hi and welcome to Content Marketing, Engineered. On each episode, I'll break down an industry trend, challenge or best practice in reaching technical audiences. You'll meet colleagues, friends, and clients of mine who will stop by to share their stories, and I hope that you leave each episode feeling inspired and ready to take action. Before we jump in, I'd like to give a brief shout out to my agency, TREW Marketing. TREW is a full service agency located in beautiful Austin, Texas, serving highly technical company. For more information, visit trewmarketing.com. And now on with our podcast. Hi, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Content Marketing, Engineered. Today I'm joined by Garrett Burnett. He's the head of global events at Silicon Labs. Thanks for joining me today, Garrett.

Thanks for having me. Really excited to be here.

You know, I thought you would look a little bit more tired, but you look bright and spray, and I say that only because you just got back from Germany in a really big show at Embedded World. So let's start there. How was that?

It was great. I think the time zones are working in my favor, coming back and getting some time back. So I woke up really early just because I was excited for this. The show went really well. It was our first kind of big trade show in Europe. This is a show we've been part of for many years in the past, so it's good to be back. I think we learned a lot, but we had a big presence and a lot of team members were able to join us, so it was good to be together face to face.

Nice. I attended that show back in, I want to say 2017 maybe ish. And wow, it's a very large industry show, very important, very global in nature. I'm curious, was attendance up, down, stagnant? What does that look like?

Yeah, I think the attendance numbers were definitely not where they probably were in 2017. I had a chance to speak with a few of the conference organizers and they had kind of expressed that expectation, really. And there's a lot of uncertainty, obviously, around how live events look today, and that may be very different from how they look tomorrow. But I would say the quality of the conversations that we did have were very positive. There were a lot of really good meetings, there were a lot of great customers that we've had for a long time that we were able to shake hands with again. So there were a lot of good things that happened, good quality conversations overall. So that's something we're excited about.

Excellent. And going into that show, if you know that it's going to be maybe a smaller year, more focused year, what do you do on your booth footprint? Or are you already committed? Do you make some adjustments there?

It's a great question and I think one that a lot of event folks are thinking through right now. Embedded World is one of those shows that's been around for literally 20 years. This is the 20th anniversary, and so a lot of the layout on the show floor has been very fixed for a number of years. I think a lot of sponsors are looking at, okay, do we go smaller as a little bit more of a conservative approach and hope for the best and maybe save on a few dollars that way? Or do we take the opportunity to add an additional space playing a long term game to increase the footprint, which I thought was interesting. We chose to kind of remain consistent in our booth, which I feel was the right decision for this year and definitely have new ideas and are excited to be back next year.

Yeah, well, as a former trade show coordinator and events manager, I can geek out on seven to seven all day. So I'm really excited about speaking with you today. And before we dive in any further, just to give context, I think it would be great for our listeners to just hear a little bit about your career journey, including an overlapping company that we both worked at and what you do today at Silicon Lapse.

Absolutely. So I would say from an event perspective, my career really started back at National Instruments, which I know you're familiar with now in I, and I loved my time there. I'm still very close friends with several colleagues who we've left and come back and some boomerang. And the tech community in Austin especially is quite small. So I have enjoyed kind of had a foundation built there, which I loved, and then from there I moved over to a smaller software company called Spice Works, which is more in the It space and led the events charge there. It's different kinds of definitions for different roles. Right. It was really the only events guy in the entire company, so that was much more of a start up feel and kind of creating and developing the strategy from the ground up, including our own user conference at the time. And then I moved over to indeed enjoying kind of the events leadership team there and a vastly different scale, much larger organization, a lot more to think about there. And then most recently joined the team at Silicon Labs. And I'm very excited to be here. We're doing some amazing things, and especially at this time with coming out of the Pandemic and kind of relooking at how we're doing things, how we're investing, how we're kind of thinking about the goals that we're going after and making sure that we're kind of laser focused on what that looks like.

Boy, the diversity of those companies is so interesting to me because you have software companies and hardware companies and a hybrid and indeed, I guess you call them more technology services. Later it's onto software, I guess. So each event strategy has to be quite different as a result, even down to how you showcase a product physically on the show floor. So we'll have to unpack that. But before we do that, I can't believe you're just coming off this trip in Germany and then right around the corner is your user conference called Works With. So tell me, how long has that conference been going and why did it start?

Yes, I feel like as event planners, we feel like things are always so far away and inevitably they creep up on us, which is kind of what's happening to us right now. We're about two months away from Work With. Oh my gosh. The event started about three years ago and kind of the genesis story there is. We needed a way to be able to showcase both a fundamental technical training, like a very hardcore technical training for developers. In addition, we wanted to showcase our own new products and innovations, but in a way that wasn't necessarily a sales pitch. And so the name Works With comes from the fact that we work with so many great ecosystem partners and tech brands. And this conference has kind of evolved into being that foundational conversation and joint effort and kind of highlighting and showcasing and celebrating all the accomplishments of not only what we've developed in the last year, but what we've done with those partners as well. So really exciting stuff.

Neat. Very cool. I had always wondered about that, why it was called that. And you say it real fast, works with. It's like, wait, what? It started a few years ago. It sounds like it started almost right before Covet yay. And then so during COVID, what did you guys do with the conference?

Yeah, it's only been virtual up to this point and will remain virtual this year. I joined the team this year, so the team from previous years had to carry the torch and kind of getting the foundation set, which I'm so thankful for. They did a great job. But the kind of leverage that we're getting, we're learning more and more each year. Right? And coming three years out of this pandemic or year three for the conference this year we're having to think through new challenges. Right? There are new challenges around how long people are willing to spend on a computer, how long they're willing to dedicate to something outside of their job when they have families and things that are way more important. So how do you create content and a compelling reason for them to choose you? Right. So I think in this year we were hoping for the best. We were hoping we could be altogether in person, but based on kind of the data and the feedback that we're seeing in people's risk tolerance for travel and things like that at a global scale, we decided to remain virtual this year.

I see. So you had to kind of shift your strategy from your original intention. So walk me through what's the duration? Will it look like a physical conference in that there'll be sessions all day long that people can hop in and out of? Are you limiting the time to shorter time frames or something like that?

Yeah. So we are trying to make this as accessible as possible wherever you are in the world. And so we've actually created an agenda with five individual tracks based on what your subject matter interest may be and they feature kind of mix of technical trainings in addition to hands on workshops that you can actually be a part of. That we'll send you a kit in the mail and you'll be able to kind of work through this in real time and get your questions answered through our team of subject matter experts on those individual courses. So really cool mix and of course keynotes and being able to kind of showcase the big news and really exciting speakers that will have lined up. But the unique factor about, again, the accessibility. We've broken down the agenda in two parts between the US and Europe as kind of a segment and then we also have an APAC set up so for timing and I feel like some of the other regions get the short end of the stick inevitably. And so we are trying to make that as accessible as possible, which has worked well for us in the past.

So is it a live event? Simulated live or recorded, but everybody gets together in a certain time frame?

Yeah, it's a little bit of all of it.

I got you.

The keynote will actually be live. They don't live streamed from here in Austin. And then the actual sessions, most of them will be pre recorded but they also have live Q and A. So those session owners, you can still as an attendee go in and get your questions asked by the presenter, things like that. But just to accommodate the numbers of risks that we have to accommodate across 50 plus different technical sessions happening simultaneously. The planner in me is like, let's get as much of that out of the way as possible in the front end.

Absolutely. I would do the same thing. Very sound strategy. So obviously, usually at the end of a conference, you say end next year, mark your calendars, and it'll be out on this date, at this location or not. So how are you going to handle 2023? Do you know yet?

I can't wait to find out. Obviously, we would love to be in person. Right. There are so many, like, people again, they want to meet. We learned this at Embedded World. People were so excited that they could schedule a meeting with us face to face. And I'm a firm believer that those interactions are so much more impactful when you can be face to face. If I had any control, I would say we are for sure going to be in person next year no matter what. But because things are changing day by day, we have to kind of put the health and safety of everybody as the top priority. And I think, again, we're always looking for ways to kind of meet people where they are and allow them to participate. One of the aspects of the virtual components that is really great is truly global accessibility. The barriers to attend, the barriers to participate are slim to none. Our conference is a free event to attend online. All you have to do is register ahead of time. So there are some benefits and perks to both sides of the equation. But I think I'm optimistic that we are headed in the right direction and hopefully we'll be able to get together as soon as possible.

Yeah. And these in person events, I mean, it's a former event planner for Mi Week. They're expensive, and even if you charge, you're not turning big profits or anything. It isn't like putting on a concert, right? Yeah. So those are some big decisions I'm sure you'll be making and surveying people and can imagine even some focus groups. So you'll get some great feedback from this year's attendees about how to handle that.

Absolutely.

Yeah. Well, turning back to industry events, I'm curious what your event schedule looks like this year. So we talked about Embedded World, but other than that, when you reflect back on, let's say 2019 to now, are there fewer industry trade shows that are being held that you're attending? What's your philosophy right now?

Yeah, I think it kind of points back to what are we trying to accomplish? And I think even now, compared to 2019, 2020, for us, that has evolved. And I am looking at kind of the holistic portfolio of what are we sponsoring? Inevitably, not all trade show planners talk to each other. And so we are having to make some tough decisions on events that are super close together. How the budget is shaking out where we can be because we can't all be in everywhere at once. So I think there's a number of different ways. I think looking into 2023 CES is a big show for us that will be planning for in January. We also have some smaller regional events in Asia that we are regular sponsors of that will. As long as it's safe, we'll be planning to be there as well. But as far as the number of trade shows that we do, we're very selective, and I think we're seeing different ROI come from different initiatives and event activities. We also are a little bit unique in that our sales cycle is so long. And so to be able to in the traditional trade show planner mind of saying, hey, this deal was influenced in this trade show is just not a TREW reality for us.

So it kind of forces us to have to think differently about how we're defining success and making sure that the shows that we do invest in, again, to your point, they're not cheap to go and be a part of that the ROI is there and that we're able to prove that.

Yeah. So, because you can't track ROI on, like you said, influence sales, long sales cycle, all of those things, what are your key metrics, particularly for industry trades?

Yeah, we do look a lot. I mean, obviously, sales at large is a big one. Understanding the kind of account focus level relationships that we have. Horizontal business. Right. Is there a new business being developed in other areas of the business? I enjoyed I watched Joe Quinn's segments of this podcast recently, which he was always an expert on the account based marketing. I thought that was really great. And I think moving into next year, we're kind of looking at some of those strategies, moving forward, and thinking about how do we make a bigger impact on the relationships that we already have and going where they are. I think that could be a really good opportunity for us. But depending on the show, we actually have a few different audiences. We have to kind of look from that lens as well. And the types of products that we're offering are very different by trade shows. So the message and the kind of overall strategy for each show has to kind of be looked at individually.

Yeah, they have a pulse and a badge, and I scanned it.

Exactly.

These days are long gone, but there was a time when it was I.

Gave them a water bottle.

Exactly right. Well, what I love so much about industry trade shows is there can be so many goals that are accomplished in that one space, in that one week. And like you mentioned, sales appointments and account based strategies, and you may have co marketing with technology partners and conference presentations and media appointments, and it's just a rich field of opportunity. And I also love that the industry shows that there's a beginning, a middle and an end and a measurement and it's wrapped up versus kind of this ongoing evergreen campaign say so. I've always been a big fan of this style of marketing.

You're so right. And I think the meetings are crucial. Right. And I think we have more tools at our disposal than ever to try to front load that. And I could say we have X amount of meetings prior to Embedded World, which our sales were ready to walk in the door. The last thing that you want, especially at a big trade shows, everyone would just be standing there waiting for a conversation to come to you. Right. So I think it's the people, the more proactive we can be, the better case you're going to be able to set up for yourself.

So is sales receptive to collaborating with you so that you can help facilitate some of that or what does that look like?

Yes. We are very lucky. We have great relationships with sales, which I think is invaluable in a company, sales and marketing has to be hand in hand. And in my experience, they've been extremely receptive. I kind of provide the tools and the foundation for them to be able to book whatever meetings that they'd like. And they've been very proactive in their own kind of customized outreach. At the end of the day, especially as marketers, we think that we know the customers, but the real relationships lie with the sales team. So thankfully, I've been in other organizations where that was a little more challenging. But here we've done a great job and our customers are receptive to being.

Able to meet cool and being on the sales side and attending industry events. It's hard to find even just a quiet place to talk and a way to meet. And some of those logistics, they may sound, on the surface administrative, they're highly important to make sure that this time can be as productive as possible with this, again, this rich field of opportunity and all these people there. So everyone playing a role in facilitating that just helps the ROI of your presence there.

Absolutely. And I think even in the last five years, the importance of thinking about the actual structure of your booth and thinking about what is most important. So, for us in a better world, we had three full size meeting rooms built into the booth.

Wow.

Yeah. I mean, it's like building a whole house, right. In like three days of set up. But there was plumbing, air conditioners installed, like carpeting wall, all of it has to be thought through and kind of built from the ground up. And I was very thankful for the booth team that we worked with. I would hire them to build my house in no time. It was great.

That speaks very highly of that team. Tell me a little bit about you. So we coming back full circle to software versus hardware. What are some of the nuances or secrets you've learned for an effective demo for both of these style products?

Yeah, well, I would say planning wise, software is much easier. It's typically web based. You might need a hard line, but you are on the Web, you're just able to pull up a browser and kind of walk through whatever the problem may be. Hardware is a whole different beast. And I saw this and I am seeing it right now. Silicon Labs, it's not just a box that we send out, and it's just like a little tinker. Every single trade show that we do with Silicon Labs, there is a custom demo created with a key message in mind, and our team is integral in being able to kind of think through, okay, what are the customers really want to see? What's the latest and greatest can we get that produced in time? With all of the different challenges we're experiencing with shortages? And can that be shipped and will it arrive on time? Right, so all of these oh, my gosh.

Supply chain. I didn't even think about that in relation to demos. Oh, goodness, yes.

So, I mean, we had team members flying with demos in their suitcases to get to Joe. Yeah, exactly. Those lucky team members.

Right.

But thankfully, it worked out for a better world, and the demos were very well received.

Cool. Well, I love what you mentioned about for your webinars, how you ship kits to the customer that actually tries that out in sort of a workshop style. Do you do that separate from work with as well? Seems like I recall you have another series of something where you do that. I forget.

Yeah. So actually, webinars have been a really great kind of test case environment for us to see how things work before we take it to prime time. And so that we do have tech talks that we have specific programming around that require a bit of hardware to be mailed. And so we've tested that out, we've got great feedback from it. And I think more importantly than the live component of the tech talk, the on demand components of the tech talks are equally important. And we've learned that while you may not have a ton of registrants up front, we can still capture their information and send them a kit for whenever they want to take care of that on demand. And that's been really good. Again, just meeting people where they are and when they have time to participate.

So someone can attend on demand, and you're doing that fulfillment to get that kit out to them. That sounds logistically very interesting because you're becoming order fulfillment as a marketing department, or do you have literally, order of Fulfillment help you with that?

We do have a fulfillment house that helps us out with the actual logistics of everything, which is invaluable, but thinking about working with and doing this on a much larger scale. It is presenting. I mean, when you think about your user conference, you want to be showcasing the latest and greatest and for some things those are not even created yet. Right. And so you have to think through, again, will this get to them in time? How do we validate all of this is correct. All of those systems have to be in place. So certainly adds a number of layers. But I think at the end of the day, the user experience is kind of a wow factor, that they understand that you went through all this work to do this for them and they're always quite receptive.

Yeah. When you think about conferences and industry events, I always also think about the presentations, like in the technical aspect, and there's so much value there. Are you lucky enough at Silicon Labs to have some go to presenters that are tapped often to do these? Or is that separate from events where people from R and D just submit papers or tell me about just generally speaking, what that looks like when it comes to presentations?

Absolutely. I would say our strategy is all hands on deck. We have great relationships with the product teams, with kind of the business unit segments, which are thinking about the overall strategy and platform use cases. And we meet with them almost every day to kind of help us refine and create this agenda for what's relevant, what's coming down the pipe, what's feasible, what's realistic. And so, thankfully, from them, we've been able to tap specific presenters who are, again, to the end user experience, very valuable because these are the people actually developing this technology and they're the ones creating presentations, delivering the message, answering the Q and A questions. So, thankfully, the whole company sees the value in our user conference, works with and puts all the work into it. And it's been a great kind of collaborative effort.

Cool. And I could see almost every single one of those presentations. There's a webinar and there's a webinar.

Yeah. That is such a key. I'm glad you mentioned that. I think looking at all the work that goes into producing a user conference, you'd be missing a huge opportunity if you did not leverage the rest of those sessions for the long term. I think actually even contributing to the success of previous conferences, looking at the long tail numbers of views, impacts and conversations generated after the events are almost more impactful than the actual event itself. So as events people, it's really good to, of course, look at their real time impact, but don't give up after that. Right? Keep looking and keep reporting on that because there's a lot of good success to be having.

Yeah, and I've seen that done multiple ways. Right. Sometimes people film that presenter, or at least recorded their audio, and then they repurpose and then others say, hey, presenter, that was great. Let's make some tweaks. Let's change it up a little bit and then have it be a webinar so as to protect the paid attendees content versus the free stuff, if you will, which no matter how you slice it, right to your point, just utilize that long tail and leverage all of that effort into other things.

Yeah. And the name of the game is quality. Right. I think there's a number of different if I'm giving a presentation, it may be very different than a developer of a technology giving a presentation. Right. So we have to make sure all of those different checkpoints are in place to understand, like, hey, do you have good lighting? Hey, do you sound good on your mic? Make sure that you have a clean space behind you. That type of stuff is always really important and I think quickly forgotten all the other logistics, but I think in producing a good quality experience that comes across from the video, especially in virtual event, that's crucial.

Yeah, well, wow, busy times. I feel like I need to give you some time back in your life and start to wrap things up. And I'm having so much fun talking about this subject before we sign off here. A lot of the people listening are trying to figure out how to navigate this time. There's so much uncertainty around travel and events and you're probably already signing contracts for 2023. Like, you can't wait till into the next year planning it's now. And so what advice do you have for these marketers?

I think overall we have to remain adaptable. I think advanced people in general are among probably the most adaptable people on the planet. I think we're always having to just take what's coming and the only thing inevitable in events is that something will go wrong, right?

Absolutely.

And so being able to kind of have the plan BS and CS ready to go if in case of the worst, that is our jobs. And I think the value that we can provide in kind of our self care, if you will, is always be learning. I think there are new technologies, new platforms, new ways of doing things that are always worth being questions. And I think from that we can learn even different areas of events that we may not be as familiar with, that we can grow our careers in and find different opportunities that better align with our interests. And I think kind of right now is the moment where it is great to reskill upskill, learn new things, take a course on different technologies that you're less familiar with and that will definitely serve you well in the long term.

Oh, great advice. And you're a model of that and looking at your career path and all the different things that you've done and you seem happy and challenged and I'm so excited to watch works with and see how that goes. Where can. People go to learn about Silicon Labs and connect with you.

Yeah. So our website is Scilabs.com silabs.com, and our Workswithconference website is also live and that is Workswith Scilabs.com.

All right, very good. Well, thanks for your time today, Garrett.

I really enjoyed it. Thanks for the opportunity.

Thanks for joining me today on Content Marketing engineered for show notes, including links to resources, visit TREWmarketing. Compodcast. While there, you can subscribe to our blog and our newsletter and order a copy of my book, Content Marketing Engineer. Also, I would love your reviews on this podcast. So please, when you get a chance, subscribe and leave me a review on your favorite podcast subscription platform. Thanks and have a great day.