An Interview with Uncle Chris

chrisbrownChris Brown, the EVP of the NAB Show and uncle to our own Samantha Lee of MDG, has a history of success in the trade show industry. We took the opportunity to dig deeper into his brain to learn more about his path and some of the best practices in event marketing that have worked for NAB…

What challenges has NAB faced staying fresh and keeping pace with a constantly evolving industry?
Over the eight decades of NAB, the broadcast and related media industries have undergone significant change, and in the more recent era that pace of change has increased exponentially; so the challenge just seems to intensify. In the early days, the focus was pretty tight, around a well-defined set of buyers and sellers; but over time that construct has evolved to become quite complex, with a media landscape that covers a broad cross-section of overlapping sectors. This makes identifying new pockets of buyers and sellers, and making sure they properly align, a constant challenge. We also have to work to make sure the exhibit floor and conference programs reflect the state-of-the-art and beyond.

The most recent focus of the show has been on the importance of content and interchange between technology and content. What caused this shift?
We introduced a new branding approach about 7 years ago, with the focus on the “content lifecycle.” This reinforced and communicated that the NAB Show had evolved beyond a technology event; and more specifically, a broadcast technology event. Because we are owned by the broadcast industry association, it is assumed we have a narrower focus. It is therefore important to clearly communicate that we are a broad-based media industry event. And “content” is the one unifying element that runs across all media and entertainment, regardless of technology or platform – it is ultimately the deliverable; ultimately what every company in our business is trying to create, manage or deliver, which is what the content lifecycle is all about.

What goals do you have for NAB 2014 and how does your marketing strategy drive these to attainability?
We all know that the quality of the audience is as important as the quantity. That was reinforced in a big way during the most recent recession when our sheer numbers dropped to their lowest levels in years, yet we received extremely positive reviews from our exhibitors. But to grow any exhibition, you must deliver both quality and quantity. So we have goals for our 2014 NAB Show to grow overall attendance as well as attendance in certain categories, such as international, paid conference or particular job functions. We have yet to fix the final target on the overall attendance goal, but it is likely going to be in the 4-5% range. Our exhibit floor grew by 10% last year so we need to continue to grow our attendance at a healthy clip – the ideal would be to push total registration up over 100,000; which would take a little more than a 5% jump. Our marketing strategy will be dictated by the final goals that are set; in particular by any key targets that are identified.

The 2013 NAB Show launched SPROCKIT, which gave 10 market-ready startup companies the opportunity to present their product or service directly to influencers in media and entertainment. How effective was this new program? What was the response?
SPROCKIT was a great new launch program that generated buzz on the exhibit floor and good media attention. Generally, it reinforced the NAB Show’s place as THE launching pad for innovation in our space; and it showcased companies that are truly challenging the status quo – again, something people come to our show to discover.

MDG and NAB have both been honored by Trade Show Executive with its Marketing Genius Award. In general, to what do you attribute your success?
Well, honestly, most of it has to do with having good people around you. Our marketing team is the best in the business, and our team leader, Michelle Kelly, is a big part of that. She and I have worked together through a couple of companies and a lot of years. I wouldn’t want anyone else handling the marketing for the NAB Show – she knows marketing and she absolutely knows just about everything there is to know about marketing events. She also has a good team around her. Collectively, they are constantly pushing the envelope and driving one of the most comprehensive campaigns in the business. There is not a stone they leave unturned. So I don’t know that I could point to one or two keys to our marketing success; I think there has been a combination of factors.

It has been said that today’s data-rich environment exposes the limits of intuition in marketing and that marketers must increasingly use a scientific approach to understand their audiences. Do you agree with this thinking? How does your team utilize a scientific or data-rich approach to understanding your audience?
As much as I have talked about the importance of gathering data, I suppose I have to agree with the statement; although I must say, I do still think it is important to lean on your intuition every now and then.  Marketing is a really fun discipline, and still one that plays to emotion.  In the world of events we are selling an experience as much as we are selling information or networking. And selling an experience requires us to paint a picture, to point to the less tangible benefits of attending or exhibiting in an event. People may ultimately make decisions based on data, but they are drawn to those things that deliver positive emotional experiences.

What advice do you have for young professionals getting into the business of marketing trade shows and conferences?
Have fun with it. And don’t be afraid to get outside “the box.” I think there is a big opportunity to approach the marketing of events in a very different way; and not just in terms of the graphic treatment or copy, but also in terms of the tactics employed. Don’t be afraid to experiment, to test new ideas – aggressively. There is new territory to be charted and an opportunity to lead. New generations are consuming information in an entirely new way, at home and in the workplace; the challenge is to meet that trend and use it to advantage in the context of event marketing. Now doesn’t that sound like fun?