adtech

Make a Big Splash without Spending Big Cash

April 22nd, 2008   |   by Frank Addante

I was in the process of writing this post, and then I got this comment from a reader challenging my last post (particularly, our presence at ad:tech San Francisco.) While John and I likely disagree on management style and approach, we do agree on the right questions to ask (not the way of asking, but the questions themselves). Interestingly enough, we asked ourselves at the Rubicon Project these same questions prior to committing to the event and the launch. So, I have rearranged my post to directly address his remarks.

Here is John’s comment: “A few comments/observations on this disturbing post:1-Sending your entire team is crazy..some of them are very very junior in their experience level. How could they possibly engage with prospects in a meaningful way? Would be better off and save money hiring local booth talent.2-Carpooling in large SUV’s with gas over $4.00/gallon? Quite expensive, and what a huge carbon footprint! Please, go hybrid. That is just shameful.3-Visit MarketingSherpa or other similar resources, they all say that trade shows and event marketing will not deliver the biggest bang for your buck. Those marketing dollars can be put to far better use that will deliver much better ROI and build your client base. Gimmicks like this don’t.Maybe these things don’t matter since you are flush with cash right now or maybe you are stuck in a time warp from one of your former gigs. Two words for you: BURN RATE” – John

Short version: this was by far the most successful event I have been a part of. Net results: 1,800 leads (and reached an estimated 3,000 prospects and 250 ad network partners.) It was a very high ROI event for us.

The only concern that I did have about our presence at ad:tech was that people might have the perception that we spent an excessive amount of money. Despite appearances, we did not. The team did an absolutely amazing job creating a strong presence, a presence that looked a lot more costly than it actually was. However, our budget was not out of the norm for a typical show presence. We spent wisely and were able to squeeze a lot out of the areas that we did invest. We only spent about 10% more on this show than I had with prior companies and we yielded 5X the results. It proved to me that a little extra effort, unique thinking and a passionate team can make a HUGE difference.

Bottom line: The show exceeded our expectations and goals and likely accelerated our business an additional 6 months.

As for John’s comments, here are my responses:

“John: A few comments/observations on this disturbing post: 1-Sending your entire team is crazy..some of them are very very junior in their experience level. How could they possibly engage with prospects in a meaningful way? Would be better off and save money hiring local booth talent.”

This is a team that pulled all-nighters for 3 weeks trying to get this release out. So, I wanted them to see the direct results of their hard work. It was a motivator on one hand (they had to be there in front of prospects and stand behind the product they built) and it was rewarding on the other hand.

There is not a single person in this company that I would not (proudly) put in front of a customer. And, I’m happy to say they proved me right. Every single person in the company meaningfully engaged with prospects. They were well trained and knowledgeable. The results speak for themselves. Not only did they do a fantastic job engaging and bringing home a wealth of leads (avg. of 50 per person,) they also learned a lot more about our customers’ needs. We say that our customers are our #1 priority. And while we do speak to them on the phone every day, it was very valuable and impactful for our team to meet with them face to face. Even the engineers were able to engage with real customers and prospects about the product, and to see them using it first hand. How often do you see engineers in a booth? That touch point was priceless and the end result will be a better product.

Local booth talent? No way. Never. It’s the worst thing you could possibly do. We do not believe in hiring local booth talent, we believe in engaging with our customers directly. In fact, we received many compliments for doing just that at ad:tech SF and ad:tech NY. Myself included… someone stopped me while I was passing out water bottles in NY and asked what company I was with (assuming I was hired to pass out water bottles), I said, “I’m the CEO”… It resulted in a customer (and set a an example for the rest of the company.) Engaging directly with our customers – that kind of ROI cannot be beat.

“John: 2-Carpooling in large SUV’s with gas over $4.00/gallon? Quite expensive, and what a huge carbon footprint! Please, go hybrid. That is just shameful.”

The environment and cash management are very important to us. We carefully considered these factors as well. We do our best to be green, though, admittedly, we could do a better job, but we do the best we can. As an example, we did away with water bottles in the office and instead have glasses and a Rubicon Project re-useable water bottle for everyone on the team (saving thousands of hours of energy every month). In this particular example, the carbon footprint of flying everyone on airplanes was greater than actually driving.

As for cost, originally, we were going to bring 20 people (sales, marketing, business development) to engage with customers and partners. Flying 20 would have cost about $350 per person (between flights, taxi’s and parking,) approximately $7000. The cost of driving 40 people was $6700 (less than the cost of flying 20.) With more than 9,000 people attending ad:tech most of the ad networks that we partner with were going to be there already and thousands of prospects. As a whole, it is a huge cost savings play for us because we don’t have to fly to see them individually in their respective cities – having them all in one place is much more efficient. And, because of the efficiency of meeting many of our customers and partners in one place, we were able to reduce our travel budget (to meet with customers and partners) for the rest of the year by at least $5,000 (estimated ten trips times $500/trip including airfare, hotel, taxi and meals).

Further, having teams of 7 in cars together was highly productive. Not only did they bond (great for productivity) but also it was 12 hours (6 hours each way) that the teams had a chance to talk about important business-related issues. Brainstorming led to great ideas being generated during the trip. We believe very strongly in active communication, in fact, I think it has been the largest contributor to why we have been able to do so much, so fast.

Oh, and by the way, even though the carbon impact was less than flying we did purchase carbon offsets to counteract the impact of those vehicles. (Would you believe the carbon offset cost was less than $200 for the whole trip?! I paid for it personally, not with company funds.)

“John: 3-Visit MarketingSherpa or other similar resources, they all say that trade shows and event marketing will not deliver the biggest bang for your buck. Those marketing dollars can be put to far better use that will deliver much better ROI and build your client base. Gimmicks like this don’t.”

Interesting. This is the third company in which trade shows have been the single largest source of leads for us. The key is to execute well at these shows, however, I would agree that most companies do not. The key is to measure and metric the success of these shows like you would any other lead generation activity. We had a goal for this show of 500 leads. We brought back 1,800 and probably touched another 3,000 indirectly.

“John: Maybe these things don’t matter since you are flush with cash right now or maybe you are stuck in a time warp from one of your former gigs. Two words for you: BURN RATE”

Given that we spent half as much money as our original plan and accomplished twice as much in half the time… We understand this well. We are a highly metrics and ROI driven organization. When we spend, we spend wisely. We consistently exceed our top line targets and have spent less than our plan. But, thank you for the reminder, it is always important to remember.

To summarize…

Things we did to make a big splash without spending big cash:

1. Designed a slick booth –ourselves– Marwan, our VP of Brand and Creative, literally designed the booth on the back of a postcard at a restaurant in NYC after ad:tech NY. He did an amazing job! (see pictures below)
2. Do NOT hire local booth talent – it is expensive, ineffective and insulting to your brand (see: Why Booth Babes Are a Mistake)
3. We brought 40 people gave them branded clothes – it was like having 40 walking billboards (avg. cost per person: $200)
4. Shared hotel rooms (cut costs in half), stayed at the Holiday Inn (budget hotel), carpooled instead of flying (less expensive)
5. Threw a party, largely sponsored by StrongMail Systems, Clearstone Ventures and Om Records (big impact, low cost) – thank you to our sponsors!
6. Re-used materials (such as the video from our website)
7. Did very little printing (saves trees and cost.) We kept collateral to one half-sheet which featured a “free music” card (which, by the way, the free music was sponsored, no cost to us – thank you to our partner, Om Records!)
8. Focused on the primary goal: get leads (we brought home 1,800 leads in 2 days, almost half of what we acquired in the past 6 months)
9. Trained the team well (our people, engaging with real customers and prospects) – priceless.

Thanks for teeing up this post, John! I was having a hard time getting it started – sometimes it is hard to get motivated to write and finish a post. I appreciate the thoughts and am glad to hear there are other people out there that are passionate about the environment and the success of other businesses.

Today’s lesson(s):

1. When you spend, spend wisely.
2. Make sure everything has a goal and measure against it.
3. And… do not ever hire anyone that you wouldn’t feel comfortable putting in front of a customer.



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