Transcript: Planning a Foolproof Live Event with Rich Brooks

July 29, 2015

AMY PORTERFIELD: Hey Rich, Amy here. Are you ready to go? 

Rich Brooks: I am ready to ignite! 

Amy:  We’re not on John Lee Dumas’ podcast. This is Amy Porterfield. Do you know who I am? 

Rich: Wait, what day is this? 

Amy: You are so terrible. Thank you so much for being here. John Lee Dumas will love the fact that you love his show more than mine. But I’m really happy you’re here. 

Rich: I’m happy to be here. 

Amy: So we are talking live events. I am excited about this because my audience is constantly asking whether they should do a live event. They think it might be good for their business but they don’t know how to do a live event. And you are not a live-event planner but you’ve got an amazing event! 

Rich: This is true. 

Amy: That was a question and a statement. 

Rich: I will leave it to other people to say whether or not I have an amazing event or not. But it is true that I have been putting on events now for over seven years. I am not an event planner. I have certainly learned a lot but I am a small business owner. I run a web design and internet marketing company and I have been putting on events starting with just a simple lunch and learn about ten years ago now, maybe longer. 

I have now moved into an annual full-day conference that we put on in Portland, Maine, and live stream around the world. That is now called The Agents of Change. But I have been doing The Agents of Change now for four years. 

Before that I did something called Social Media FTW for three years. It has been something that I just find is a great way of establishing my credibility, getting my name out there, generating leads for business, and turning a profit at the events themselves. It has been a big differentiator between me and my competitors out there in terms of getting out there and getting new clients. 

Amy: The first question I have for you is: Who do you think should put on an event? 

Rich: Really, anybody can put on an event. I think they are great, even if you are a small, solopreneur or if you are running an organization or if you are a small business owner. Obviously anybody can put on events. But if you are looking to kind of change up the way you engage with people, a live event may be the perfect thing for you. 

I’m not going to pretend it’s not a lot of work because it’s certainly easier to post something to Facebook than it is to put on a live event. But you can get some amazing return on your investment. 

Obviously, I know you love Facebook and you are a big Facebook person, Amy, and so am I. But you, I am sure, have seen the newsfeed is getting more crowded. It is more difficult to get noticed there. So a live event could be that thing that really separates you and raises you above all of the other people out there in your industry doing similar things. 

Amy: For your business, you are a service-based business. It makes me really happy to talk about that because I think I’ve got a 50/50 audience. Half of them have online training programs or are working on putting together online training programs. The other half are service-based businesses, designers, consultants, coaches, all that good stuff. 

Because you are a service-based business, why did you want to put on a live event? 

Rich: Because I am an egomaniac and I need to be on stage at all times. 

Amy: You are. That is very true! I am glad we are speaking the truth on this podcast today. 

Rich: Yeah, you put me on the couch for sure. I mean, seriously, it did start off because one of my favorite ways of sharing information is being in front of an audience. I like to see somebody’s reaction to see if they are getting it or if I am going over their head or if I have completely put them to sleep. 

It started with me just putting on some presentations. Long story very short, I noticed when I started doing social media presentations the rooms would sell out because I was doing them for other people. They would collect all of the money and I would really get nothing out of it. 

I decided to put together my own event with a couple of friends thinking, “How hard could it be?” 

It turns out there are a lot of things you need to learn along the way but hopefully today I can share some of the things you should be thinking about so that you won’t make all of the mistakes I made when I first started out. 

Amy: The last time you and I talked I was on your podcast. At the very end you were saying you have a training you do about doing a live event and it is broken up into three parts: Speakers, sponsors, and seats. 

We are going to get into each one of those. But before we do so, my question to you, and others can kind of relate to this if they are in a service-based business, or if they are not, but did you think about putting on a live event so you could make a lot of money? Was money a big part of your decision to do a live event? 

Rich: Yes. I definitely didn’t do it out of the goodness of my own heart. I did it because I am a businessperson. I am certainly not trying to fleece anybody. 

Amy: Time out. I kind of asked that in a weird way. What I really meant was, did you do it to make money at the door from tickets or was the end game to actually attract more clients into your service-based business, or both? 

Rich: Amy, I would say it has to be both, for me personally. You can be successful by using your conference as a loss leader. You can be successful by putting on a conference and not having anything to sell after it. But for me I just knew that for the energy and time that I was going to need to put into this conference I wanted to teach it like a project. 

If a business comes to me and tells me they need a new website and some SEO (search engine optimization), I need to make a profit on that project. I felt the conference should be treated as a project within my own business. 

Through doing all of these events I have started to figure out the places I can make money at this event. Because it always takes money to put on any decent-sized event, I also needed to find ways of saving money. If you can save $3,000 somewhere, at the end of the day that basically means you have just made $3,000. 

I am looking at different ways of basically monetizing (although I am not a fan of that word) these events. 

Amy: Okay. I don’t know if we are diving into speakers, sponsors, or seats just yet with this question but my real first question is: What kinds of things do you need to plan for when you are setting up your first event? 

Rich:  If this is my first event or if somebody is listening and it is their first event, you need to come up with some basics. The #1 is that you are putting on an event for people. Who is this audience? What do they look like? Who is your avatar? What kind of information do they want to consume? What are they looking to accomplish? What are they looking to do? 

Once you kind of have a sense of who that is then maybe you start to think about (especially if this is your first conference) how many people you will get. You may have no idea. 

Even giant conferences like South by Southwest, for example, started off very small. There is nothing wrong with an event that has 12 people as long as it is the right 12 people and they are paying you enough money to cover your expenses. 

The next thing is, how many people am I going to expect and; therefore, what kind of space do I need? 

Actually, I almost forgot about this…years ago we had a little conference room here at Flyte. I used to just move the conference table out of the way and we used to sell tickets limited to ten people at a time. I would just do little presentations right here in Flyte. 

I would make $500 just doing things like that. It wasn’t a lot of money but it was $500 I didn’t have at the beginning of the day. That is another thing you need to figure out, what is the physical space going to look like? 

There is a lot more that goes into it, how am I going to sell tickets? How am I going to promote this event? Then we get into finding speakers. Am I going to be the only speaker or am I going to get other people as well to present at my conference or event. 

Amy: I think one of the number one questions that comes up the most is: How am I going to fill the seats? That’s a big fear, I think. 

Rich: I was telling you, I put on a beta class about trying to teach this information. One of the first things I did was interview a lot of people who were interested. I asked them what was keeping them from putting on their event. The #1 answer was basically the fear of failure. They had the fear they would throw an event and no one would show up. 

I can tell you, that is a terrifying fear and every year I kind of go through it because people love buying tickets at the last possible moment. This is why I am a  big proponent of starting small. My sweet spot tends to be the one-day conference. 

Look at someone like Mike Stelzner and he has the two- or three-day conference and other events that go on multiple days with multiple tracks. But, if you are doing this as a way of raising awareness and raising funds for your company then you can start with a lunch and learn or a half day. 

Even full-day conferences started as a half-day conference so I wouldn’t have to worry about breakfast or any other meals. I just had to get coffee from the cafeteria. 

Amy: Well that’s just rude. 

Rich: You have to start small. I recommend starting small and having a plan in place. What was your question again? 

Amy: Filling the room. 

Rich: It helps if you have a list. I know you are a huge fan of list building. This is where it comes in handy. I discovered over the years that nothing sells tickets like email. It really does make a difference. 

Every year we try new tactics and new ways of reaching people but the bottom line is opt-in lists that you have been building over time are definitely going to be your #1 asset. People do like live events…live, in-person events. That can be one way of definitely getting people to attend. 

But I have done a number of things over the years. You always want to be leveraging other people’s networks. My events tend to be about 90% people within 50 miles. So one thing I have done over the years, and I continue to do this year, that tends to be successful, I have identified almost every business organization in the state from the Maine Small Business Development Centers to Score and the Center for Entrepreneur of Development and I have formed relationships with them. 

I say, “Here’s an email that you can send out to your audience and give them $25 off just for being a member of your organization. You are saving them money. They are learning new information. You look like a hero. I get more people. Everybody wins.” 

I basically craft these emails and send them out to them and because I have done this for a number of years, and in part because they have come to realize the event I put on is pretty awesome, they are more than happy to share it. 

I further incentivize them. I ask them to include my email in their monthly newsletter and give them a discount code. I also tell them if they send a one off blast that is only about The Agents of Change I will give them a free ticket worth $300. 

I am sharing some numbers here, but we have done the math. It is $30 for us to bring someone into the facility. The $30 covers the security, room deposits, and the food which, by the way, is the most expensive thing. I rent space at a local university. I know you have been there. 

Amy: It is beautiful. 

Rich: It is a gorgeous space so I was lucky. It is much less expensive than maybe going to the Westin and getting a corporate room or something like that. And, it is just visually more attractive but I know my number is $30. 

So, for $30 I get access to 500 emails, 5,000 emails maybe. That is a no brainer in my book. Bring them to the website by giving them that discount offer and then we use retargeting, which I am guessing you have talked about on your podcast at one time or another, so that we can follow the people who don’t buy a ticket around the web and nag them until they do. 

Amy: I love the word “nag.” That’s the word I use all of the time, of course, when I teach this. 

This is good stuff. I like that you mention that yours is a very local event. I think you said 90 percent of the people are 15 miles away. 

Rich: Something like that. Maybe 50 miles. 

Amy: Great, but the one thing you don’t do is keep your speakers local. I have been there before. You have gotten some huge, awesome names there: Chris Brogan was there when I was there, Derek Halpern has been there, Rick Moretti, John Lee Dumas. Right? 

Who are some other people you have had at your events? 

Rich: Mike Stelzner spoke. Jaime Lee Tardy, The Eventual Millionaire, spoke. This year we have Marcus Sheridan from Sales Lion. He is amazing. 

Amy: He is one of my very, very favorite speakers. I cannot believe you got Marcus. That is awesome. I didn’t know that. 

Rich: Again, getting back to the nagging, I just kept on asking. 

Amy: Perfect. 

Rich: We can actually talk about that. 

Amy: Let’s talk about speakers. 

Rich: Let’s talk about speakers because one of the things you will discover is there are three ways you get speakers. One is by paying them. One is by getting them to do it for free because they want the visibility. The other is that they pay you. 

Amy: Oh wow! 

Rich: Exactly. 

Amy: That’s a new one. 

Rich: That sounds great and a little bit of this goes a long way. It’s kind of like salt. The reason they pay you is because they are sponsors. One of the many things that sponsors want is to be seen as thought leaders. They want to get up there and present. 

I have been to events that were fully funded by sponsors. Everything seemed to be a panel filled with sponsors and was an awful event. So you can really go overboard on this so don’t just chase the dollar. I do think it is a nice mix to bring in some sponsors, especially ones that have products or services that really, and I mean really, are going to benefit your ideal customer, the one you want in the seats. Then it is a really good mix. 

For us, if we get somebody who does marketing automation software  or  email software or any of those things small businesses need in order to do digital marketing, that makes a lot of sense. So to bring in a speaker to talk about building a list or setting up an auto-drip system or whatever it may be, that’s a natural fit for me so I feel good about giving them the stage and, of course, about getting that sponsorship in return. 

Amy: I understand. 

Rich:  Sometimes it depends on your budget. If you want to get Seth Godin for your event that’s great. I hope you have $25,000 to $50,000 or maybe even $100,000 to get him to show up. But for most small businesses that is just not going to happen. 

In that case you might have to go smaller. When we first started out I had a relationship with Chris Brogan and he also lived in the State of Maine when he was growing up so there was a natural connection. 

Amy: Good point. 

Rich: You and I have been friends forever. I have those incriminating photos of you so you said, “yes.” Then Derek Halpern was just getting started so it happened to be that I got very lucky and got a guy that was about to explode to come to me. 

Amy: Very great points. I will say something about Rich. He is a natural connector kind of guy. He is a networker. He is very, very outgoing. He talks to anybody. I don’t know if you really know a stranger. So there is that about your personality. 

Not everyone is like that, including me. So, what do you say about those people who feel a little intimidated to be going after these people? 

Rich: That’s a great question. Of course, it’s hard for me because I don’t think of myself as a natural networker but I’ve been doing this long enough that I don’t notice that some of this stuff is a pain point anymore. 

I will tell you, it never hurts to ask. When I say ask, you have to get in front of the right person. I will tell this story and hope I don’t get in trouble. 

I ran into Chris Brogan the night after my Social Media FTW’s third year and I swore I would never put on another event. I was just done with it. I ran into him that night and he happened to be at a social media breakfast in Maine that was going on at nighttime because it was about the local beer industry and he was moderating the panel. 

I said, “Hey, Chris. How are you doing? It’s Rich Brooks.” 

He said, “Rich, seriously, we’ve met 27 times. You need to stop introducing yourself.” 

Amy: That’s good. 

Rich: I promised I wouldn’t do it anymore. Then he turned to me and asked how my event was the day before. I thought, “Oh my god, Chris Brogan knows I had an event.” 

Luckily that was my internal voice so it never came out. I told him it was great. We get a local NBC station to come in and film it and all that sort of stuff. I told him we had 400 people. He said he would love to get involved with it one day. 

My jaw just dropped. Are you kidding me? He said he wasn’t kidding me and I told him, “To be honest, I actually reached out to your people and asked if you would want to be involved in our previous conference and they said I couldn’t afford you.” 

He said, “Oh you cant, but I’ll do it for free.” 

That’s kind of how I got Chris Brogan. You will find those connections. Maybe it’s somebody who has a tie to a business. I know from talking  to  sponsors  that sometimes they will only sponsor something if one of their board  members  are involved or something. 

Sometimes it’s about finding the right person to connect to in order to reach that person. Sometimes it may be about paying that person. Sometimes somebody has a book coming out and you may have to agree to buy a certain number of books on a certain day to get their book sales up so that they hit the Amazon Top Ten or something like that. 

This is just negotiation. That is not something I am a special master at but you need to understand what that person is looking for. One of the most difficult things I find is getting sponsors. 

Right now most of my sponsors are based on personal relationships I have and not being able to actually sell new sponsors. I always ask sponsors, “Why do you want to be involved?” I ask them what would make them call me up the day after  the conference and renew for next year. 

Amy: That’s a good question. 

Rich: Then they just tell me. A lot of times they tell me they just want to be associated with the brand. When people see Agents of Change they want people to think about their bank or whatever business the sponsor is with. 

Other people want to be thought leaders, they want to have a speaker. Other people want lists. It is an important question to find out if there is something the speaker might want that you can provide that won’t break your bank. 

Amy: We are using sponsors and speakers a little interchangeably. You are doing that because usually when you get a sponsor they might want a place on stage to speak about whatever they are involved in. 

Rich: Sometimes yes. Other sponsors shy away from the stage. They just want to be associated with your brand. Another thing I just kind of want to throw out there, especially when you aren’t an event planner, per se, and this is just something you are doing as a side thing for your business, you want to find other sponsors that you can do barters and trades with. 

I do a lot of barters with local media to get advertising  in  their  newspapers, magazines, TVs. I actually got the local NBC affiliate to make a commercial starring me that ran during news shows and during prime time. It was 15 seconds of me just explaining what the Agents of Change Conference was. It was huge for my visibility and for the visibility of the conference in the state. 

Amy: What did you need to do to get that? Keep this PG, please, I have children listening. 

Rich:  Actually, this is kind of a culmination. I have been the tech guru on a local TV show for a while. That kind of just came about. They asked me if I wanted to do it and I did it. I basically just formed relationships. I always try to do good work for them. So when this opportunity came up and I took it to them they were open to trying it. 

I knew I wanted to be on TV more than I already am, again the ego thing. Basically I finagled that. Last year John Lee Dumas was speaking at my event and I called the show that I am usually on. They don’t usually like when I am doing self-promotional stuff so I told them I had a conference coming up and they have been involved in the past. What if I put together a panel of people from Maine speaking at the conference? John was there and there was another speaker I was going to bring on. 

They loved that idea because I could tie it into being from Maine. That was something they liked. In terms of bartering, one of the things I got the school to agree to was we would buy breakfast, lunch, and all of the break food from them. That is what they require. But they let me bring in pizza during the networking event that wasn’t going through them. 

I talked to the pizzeria across from the university and got them to become our pizza sponsor. They gave us $500 worth of pizza for free. Their cost from this was probably $200 or less. They got all of the promotion through us. We talked about them and thanked them for the pizza. It was good pizza. We got $500 pizza for free. That is normally about $1,000 of food I would have normally had to buy from the university. So that was me making $1,000. 

We worked with a local brewery to provide free beer. A buddy of mine, who is actually in my mastermind, is opening a distillery. This year we are going to have a spirits sponsor as well. It’s not going to cost me anything and he is going to be able to roll out his brand new product at The Agents of Change Conference. 

These are the kinds of things I try to work so that I can create a really memorable experience, a very Maine-based experience, because that’s one of our differentiators in the conference space. I provide an amazing experience and also don’t break the bank. 

Amy: There are so many good points here. The one thing I keep hearing over and over again, although you aren’t using the word, you are definitely networking. You are finding different ways to connect people to your great brand and what’s in it for them. That is a great question I think you need to keep asking when you are doing an event, ask what’s in it for them? 

I also think people need to get themselves out there whether it be just locally and I know you go to a lot of events all across the U.S. I think if you are sitting in front of your computer and you don’t step out of that comfort zone and you don’t go to live events it would be a little tough to fill an event. Would you agree or disagree? 

Rich: Well, yes and no. The bottom line is you could fill an event by having the right message at the right time and keeping it very hyper local and; therefore, you don’t have to leave your place. But I will say, Amy, I know you think I am some master networker and I am out there all the time. 

Amy: I do. 

Rich: I will tell you I used to be super afraid of talking to people. 

Amy: Really? 

Rich: This isn’t one of those coming-to-Jesus moments or anything like that, but I really struggled having conversations with people. Even now I do. If I went to a conference where I didn’t know anyone I would still struggle. I am not an amazing networker. 

But what I do now, as I have my group of friends that keeps on expanding, and as I get to know you, you introduce me to the next person and the next person and the next person, I have definitely expanded my circles of influence, as they say. I am able to make connections that I wasn’t able to make before. 

It wasn’t really any sort of plan that I had but, absolutely, making connections in real life is a very powerful thing. 

Amy: I agree. I have a question for you. Have you had a situation yet where you reach out to a speaker that you didn’t really have a connection with, you hadn’t met them in person, maybe you had connected with them over social media, but you pitched them to come speak to you at your event and you were not paying them? 

Rich: Yes. 

Amy: Okay. Tell me about that. 

Rich: Sometimes it is funny. Maybe it is because I have been doing this for a while or maybe this is what just happens naturally, but I get people all the time who say, “Hey Rich, I would love to speak at your event.” 

Some people love to speak at my event until they find out I generally don’t pay my speakers. Then they are seemingly less interested. But I have had people call me up and tell me they are willing to waive their $20,000 speaking fee because they like me so much or they like my event so much. I don’t know if they really charge $20,000 or not. 

I do get some speakers in that way. I don’t know if I did this because Mike Stelzner told me to or if I was just doing it on my own, but I have my podcast and anybody who wants to be in my conference has to have been interviewed on my show. That’s one of the ways I vet new people. 

The other thing for me this year, I wanted to make sure I tackled all of the important digital marketing platforms, especially ones we hadn’t talked about in the past. I knew I wanted a LinkedIn speaker. That is ironic because I didn’t actually end up with one. 

I knew I wanted an SEO presenter as well. I couldn’t find somebody local who I really wanted to have up there. Hopefully none of my friends who do local SEO are listening to this episode right now, I just realized that. 

The SEO guy approached me. He said he would love to come to my conference. I told him, to be honest, that I didn’t know if I had any room but I would love to get him on my show because it had been a while since we had talked about SEO. 

I interviewed him, his name is Thom Craver. I loved him. He did a great job of explaining SEO at any level and I told him I would love to have him and we worked out a deal. 

Another woman, who will remain nameless, was found on LinkedIn. I wanted  a LinkedIn expert. I went to LinkedIn and reached out to her. We  had  a  great connection. We had a great interview on the podcast and then I told her I would love to have her come to my conference and present. She said, “Absolutely, my day rate is $3,000.” 

Amy: And then? 

Rich: I told her I totally respect that because it is actually $2,000 less than my day rate. I respected the fact that she needed to take time out from work and all of that sort of things. The bottom line is the only money I had in my budget for speakers was to take a person out to dinner, give them a free pass to my conference, and giving them two nights at a luxury hotel in Portland, Maine. Either we can do it or we can’t. 

You know we couldn’t. And I don’t blame her at all. That is part of her business. I am not upset about this at all. I would have liked to have her. Maybe she will come next year. Maybe next year I will have a bigger budget or next year she will feel it is really good for her business to appear at The Agents of Change Conference. 

Amy: One thing I will say, when I spoke I obviously didn’t get paid either. However, I did it because I love Agents of Change. I love what you have created. I love your event. I know you put a lot of effort into making it an awesome event. I also really appreciated that it was just one day. 

To me, one-day events are fantastic. You are in you are out and you get great value. You also took great care of me. Like you said, you put me up in an awesome hotel. Maine is absolutely beautiful. I had my first lobster where your wife showed me how to do it. It was a little bit messy but we went to a really fun lobster place where you took all of your speakers. 

There is something about taking great care of your speakers, especially if you aren’t paying them, to make them feel you think they are important and that you are glad they are here. It made the event extra special. You do a great job of that and I think it is a great lesson to teach people as well. 

Rich: I appreciate that. Obviously, we loved having you. I ask you every year when you are coming back and you tell me never because you hate speaking publicly. 

Amy: It’s not that I hate it. It is just not on my agenda this year. 

Rich: The day you decide it is on your agenda just call me up and tell me and you are back in. 

Amy: Thanks. But you definitely took great care of me and that was a lot of fun. I think people need to remember that some way or another they need to figure out when your speakers get in town if there is something in the room for them and whether you are going to take them out that night. 

We all went out the night of the event as well and that was a lot of fun. It was a great experience for speakers so thanks for that. 

Rich: Absolutely. It is also a good opportunity for you to bond with other people who are doing speaking who you may not have known as well. 

Amy: Yes. 

Rich: For us, Maine is a big selling point and September is my favorite time of the year here. So all of those things kind of work together. Amy, I don’t know what your timeline is like and I know there were a couple of things I absolutely wanted to share with your audience if they are thinking about putting on their own events. 

Amy: Yeah, we’re not done. Do you have to hurry and go? 

Rich: I have nothing to do except at some point I am going to go camping this weekend but that can wait. 

Amy: Ok good. So I have some more questions here. We talked a lot about speakers. You have definitely talked about sponsors. I want to talk about butts in seats. Were you going in a different direction? We can keep on. 

Rich: No, no. That was kind of one of the big things I wanted to make sure we talked about. Let’s talk about seats. The other thing I want to do as I frame this is, like you said, when I talk about this and try to share this idea with people, one of my ideas is the idea of speakers, sponsors, and seats. The other one is before, during, and after. 

A lot of that comes down to selling seats. One of the things you are going to struggle with is what to charge. 

Amy: Yes. 

Rich: What do I charge for this? I wish I had an answer but it is a huge “it depends” answer. It depends on how long it is. It depends on what your costs are. It depends on the value. I will tell you when I first started putting on lunch and learns I charged for it. 

I charged for it because I found that if you have a free event people will be excited about it and then they don’t show. They don’t have any skin in the game. You have to charge something even if you are just getting started and even if this is more about lead generation than it is about making money at your event. You have to charge something so people understand that there is a value to what they are getting. 

One of the things you might want to do is sit down and calculate what it is going to cost. Like I said, I know mine is $30 a head. That is what it cost me to put on this conference. Everything above that could be considered profit – although not really because I have a lot of other expenses. But, in terms of getting people in the door. 

That is one thing you really have to keep in mind. You are definitely going to have to do some promotion. One of the things I have found over the years, having an editorial calendar is very helpful. Then you know when you are going to send out nagging emails to all of the people who haven’t bought tickets yet to let them know ticket prices are going to go up and that sort of thing. 

Included in the pricing, are there any other upsells you could sell them? I have a physical pass and we have a digital pass as well. We videotape everything. We have a live stream and you can get the conference OnDemand. 

One of the things I try to do is get people who are buying a physical pass to grab the digital pass so they won’t miss any break-out sessions and they will be able to watch everything OnDemand when they get back to the office. Those are the type of upsells you might want to think about as well. 

You also want to talk about promotion. How do you get people to buy the tickets? I mentioned earlier that people want to wait until the last possible minute to get tickets because something else might come up. You need to install that FOMO (fear of missing out). 

In this case it is the fear of missing out on a discounted price. First of all, we have a crazy one-day special that is only $99 for the tickets that are ultimately $300. One year it was so successful that we have limited the number of crazy one-day tickets since then. 

Amy: Oh wow. That’s good. And when do you offer that? 

Rich: That’s already gone. 

Amy: I know, but is it the very first day? 

Rich: Yeah. Our tickets usually go on sale on May 1 for a September conference. I know some conferences, especially bigger ones, start selling tickets for the next year the day after. We’re just not that organized. 

Amy: That’s pretty impressive. 

Rich: Bottom line, it’s still not the focus of my business. It is just kind of this thing I love doing. So we start selling tickets in May and we have a crazy one-day special in part to get the word out. We usually send out the email before that telling people to get ready for the crazy one-day special. 

We do that only to people who have gone in the past so that kind of gives them a thank you. We appreciate that they went in the past so we give them a heads up that we have 50 tickets that are only $99, they are going on sale at midnight on a certain date, they will hear first, and then we don’t tell anybody else. They may find out but we’re not going to tell them. 

Amy: That’s great. 

Rich: Then we have what we call our early-bird discounts. That lasts May and June and ends at the end of June. Tickets are a little bit more in July and a little bit more in August. In September they are a little bit more. And then the last week they are full price. 

We do this so that we always have something to talk about and the idea of scarcity. We can say, “The $199 tickets are only on sale for another five days. If you don’t buy them now you will be spending more money on it later. Go talk to your boss right not. Pull out your checkbook or whatever you need to do.” 

Why would you pay more money next week when you can get the same event/ experience for less money now? We can continue to say that every single month. 

Amy: I love that. I think that’s something I learned from Mike Stelzner of Social Media Examiner. He was telling me that was working for their event as well. Every week or so they have some kind of new opportunity that they get to mail out and it is usually related to price. The scarcity thing is a big one. 

Rich: Absolutely. There is only so much you have to talk about an event that may only have one, five, ten speakers. People don’t need to hear from you all of the time. So this gives you something you can talk about. We will talk about some other fun things like ten places to eat in Portland, Maine; ten places to stay in Portland, Maine; ten thing to do in Portland, Maine; that sort of stuff. 

But that’s really filler because at the end of the day we need to sell tickets. I really need to sell probably 200 tickets but I really expect to sell 350 and I would really love to sell 400. 

Amy: I like goals like that, setting goals for what is a necessity, what’s a really good thing, what will knock my socks off kind of number. I think those are important to put out there just internally so you know where you are going. Speaking of promoting tickets, do you have a sales page? 

Rich: We have a sales website. But that’s an interesting thing, we have actually talked about this. It’s funny. We are doing Facebook ads and we just started doing paper click ads but I’m not 100% sure, it’s embarrassing to say in running an agency that we do what we do for our clients. We may just be sending them to our register page rather than to a specialty page. 

Actually, now that I say that, I think I asked them to do that last week because we weren’t. I don’t know if it exists yet but if not today then probably by next week we will have those specialty squeeze pages for both Facebook, paper click, as well as retargeting ads. 

Amy: In the past have you just sent them to a registration page? 

Rich: Yes, or a home page that has a video. The nice thing about having the whole thing recorded is we also pay a few extra bucks and have the video production team put together a highlight reel for us, or a sizzle reel as it is called in the industry. 

Amy: That sounds so sexy. I love it. So you have a little sizzle reel and that would be on a page, you would click a button, and you can sign up? 

Rich: Yes. 

Amy: Ok, I’ve got it. So you don’t necessarily need a full blown out sales page about every single detail of the event. It would be nice but I think that is overwhelming to people just getting started with anything. You can kind of build up to it over the years. 

Rich: That’s an interesting point. For both Social Media FTW and for Agents of Change we built out a website. When you talked about it being a little intimidating to have a sales page, we actually did. Obviously with both of us being heavily influenced by Michael Stelzner, this is more on the Marketing Agents brand, which I have since folded into Agents of Change, but he told me he loved the characters I created for Agents of Change. 

If you haven’t seen them and are listening (I know you have seen them, Amy), they are three special agents. One represents search engine optimization, one that represents social media, and one that represents mobile marketing. We have these three kind of cool-looking agents and that is the vibe of the show. It is something a little unique. 

I spent time and energy even before I made my first dollar on creating a brand that was memorable. A lot of people are not going to do this and I am not saying you have to do it. But if you want to differentiate yourself that’s the way to go. 

If you already have a company…I could have easily created a conference called Flyte School and just had it with the same kind of thing. I would have already had the branding ready to go. You could, and I think this might be a much more affordable way to go, create an event directly off the brand that already exists for you. That might be another way to go too. 

Amy: You went with Agents of Change, which is totally separate from Flyte (your service-based business), and you have a blog as well, right? 

Rich: The Agents of Change website has a blog and it now has a podcast because we basically took our old Marketing Agents podcast and rebranded it as the Agents of Change podcast. 

Amy: Great. So if you wanted to down the road you could add more elements to Agents of Change versus just a live event where that is the profit right now. So, it’s its own brand that stands alone. 

Rich: It absolutely is. Right now I really have two brands, one for my day job (Flyte New Media, the digital agency), and one that is a resource for digital marketers who may not be looking to hire a company like Flight New Media but still want great advice. 

Agents of Change is now not just the digital marketing conference, it is basically your source for digital marketing knowledge, a podcast and conference, and then down the road it may be more things. Again, that’s the long-term plan and much bigger than just saying, “Hey Rich, I would like to create an event so I can build my business.” 

Amy: I asked you if you had a sales page for the Agents of Change event and you said you had a website. When you say you have a website where do you see a difference between a website and a sales page for a live event? 

Rich: If I am one of your listeners and I think this sounds good and want to get started I would be thinking that I didn’t need to build a new website. I already have a website. It’s going to be about me so I am just going to create a sales page on my website. That is probably what I am talking about. 

If you want to do an event that will repeat, if you really are going to build a brand (that brand may be a brand you already own or it may be a new brand like I did for Agents of Change) then you might want to be thinking about creating its own website. 

By the way, Agents of Change, although there is no other conference called that, there are lot of other things called Agents of Change. I didn’t know that at all when I first started. We were getting creamed for the first two years in Search. Last year, for the first time, when people searched for Agents of Change, most people in the U.S. were getting our website as the #1 result. That was great to see, obviously. 

I certainly couldn’t have done that if I had a page on my website of Flyte New Media called Agents of Change. So I think you can start small, maybe just one page off of your website. But at some point if you decide it is going to be an annual event or a twice-a-year event and you want to keep on repeating it and building on the success, that is when you might want to think about  building  out  a  separate  website specifically for the event. 

Amy: That makes sense. Are you wrestling around in the background? Are you moving around a lot? What are you doing? 

Rich: I am pacing as I always do. Do you need me to stand still? 

Amy: No, you’ve done it the whole time now so I am totally cool with it. But I am wondering if there is something weird going on in your office or what are you doing. No, you can pace. I am just going to tell everyone you are pacing without pants on because before we started this podcast I had some audio issues. He had to wait forever until I fixed it and he told me he was so hot in his office that he couldn’t handle it and he was going to have to take his pants off for the interview! 


You all can just picture Rich in his underwear, pacing, and doing this podcast. And we’re not done yet but we will hurry because I know you are hot. 

Rich: I am pretty sure this will now be your lowest-rated podcast. 

Amy: Probably so. Hopefully people will stay with us here. I have two more questions. The first question I have for you is what can you do the day of the event to just knock people’s socks off? 

Rich: For part of it you will have a plan. You want to do something different. In years past we have done something a little bit different. A couple of years ago we had Roderick Russell, a professional sword swallower among other things. He swallowed a 26-inch sword during his presentation about how to be remarkable. 

You can imagine that on Twitter and Instagram that was all over the place. That was pretty amazing. 

Amy: So having something fun that people will want to put on social media is cool. 

Rich: Very important. Having a #hashtag, of course, you want to promote a #hashtag for the event so that people will start talking about it. Mine is more social media oriented so I am going to have a higher percentage of people on Twitter. But you can incentivize people. 

During the opening credits we always give the Wi-Fi login but also post the #hashtag and ask them to use #AOC2015. One year we got ten gift certificates from L.L. Bean and handed them out randomly to people who used the #hashtag. 

Other years we have given tickets out for a beer bus tour to people who have used the right #hashtag and stuff like that. We try to incentivize people to start sharing it so that it will build upon itself. 

I also have one employee who works under the Flyte New Media Twitter account and another one who uses the Agents of Change account. They were tweeting their own stuff and retweeting a lot of the other people’s stuff. That really increased the noise and visibility. 

This year I would like to get one of those boards up there that shows everyone’s tweets so you can kind of see it in real time…until somebody decides to put up the most disgusting thing ever with your #hashtag and then you have to shut the board down. Hopefully that won’t happen to us. 

Amy: Speaking of things that might happen, what could possibly go wrong? I was laughing because when you said you first met with Chris Brogan (when he said he had met you 26 times before that) you said that was going to be your last event. Did something go wrong? What could go wrong? 

Rich: In that particular case it was just the fact that I realized personally that I am bossy. At the end of the day I decided after having two partners for years that I needed to be able to make the final decision. I run my own company and I pay very close attention to what my employees say. In some cases I give them what I call 51% ownership of something. But at the end of the day I am still the boss. 

Amy: You were doing a conference with partners? 

Rich: I had done Social Media FTW with two partners who were friends of mine. We put on three successful events but they were stressful. The second year, which was our first full-time event, we had breakfast and lunch planned.  In  the  emails  we  told people not to eat anything because we would have breakfast and lunch for them. 

I got there and wondered where the breakfast was. My contact had not even come in yet. People were registering and were looking around for food. I was about to go on stage. Who needs that stress? 

Ultimately, I tracked her down and she said breakfast wasn’t in the contact. I told her we would work it out later but meanwhile I have 400 people who are not going to eat until noon. They had to get us some food and they figured out something. They brought in giant bowls of yogurt and had Clif Bars and stuff so that people got fed and taken care of. 

Can you imagine the stress I was under at that moment ten minutes before I had to take the stage in front of all of these angry people. 

Amy: After that I went to my team and said going forward we need to have an event coordinator there so I don’t have to deal with these things. They weren’t sure that was a good use of our money. I felt it was because they didn’t show up on time. They weren’t the ones stressing out. 

Because of that I just decided I couldn’t work with anyone else. I felt I was putting in more of the work and not getting back all of the results. That is when I decided it just wouldn’t happen. But then when Chris Brogan wanted to do my event I decided to create a new event and call it the Thank You, Chris Brogan Conference! 

Amy: That’s good stuff. What else can they look for that are red flags they want to be aware of? 

Rich: I think one of the things that is very helpful is to have written agreements with all of your speakers and all of your sponsors that spell out, in great detail, without being a full-on contract (though some people prefer contracts). The agreement tells the sponsors and speakers what we are going to get. I tell them they are going to show up and do a non-promotional thing and what they get in return is to be flown in, put up, or paid an amount of money, or I will buy their books, whatever the agreement may be. That really helps. 

If this gets to be a slightly bigger event like Agents is now, having somebody on your team who is handling that sort of stuff makes your life a lot easier. Some of you will only be doing your own thing and that’s fine. That’s why you want to start small to see what your tolerance for extra work is when things go wrong. 

Have an editorial calendar so that you know when things are coming up is good. You know when you have to get an email out or a blog post or anything else. Those are some thing that can go wrong. We have had snafus about parking. We had a traffic jam outside the event on the highway and it prevented a lot of people from getting in on time. 

I delayed the start of the conference by 20 minutes but after a certain time it is not fair to the people who are already there. So we just had to start and some people missed the first presentation. 

Here’s another thing as I am just ranting, no matter how well you do there will be people who tell you the information went over their heads and people who are in the same session who ask why you had beginner stuff. 

You cannot make everybody happy. You can put everything in a position so that they are most likely to enjoy your conference but you cannot make them enjoy your conference. You have to let go of that a little bit. It is very difficult. 

You also need to realize that some people are just cranks. I remember one year I got the highest reviews of any of the speakers. That makes me feel awesome. But there was one person who said they didn’t understand why I was speaking, “I guess it’s his conference but with all of those experts out there, who does he think he is?” 

It is a good thing that was anonymous. I swear I wanted to figure out who that was. I had 99 good reviews and one complaint and that is all I could hear. I don’t know if you have ever experienced that. 

Amy: Yes, it’s the worst. 

Rich: Exactly. I think one of the things is to prepare, start with a smaller event, a smaller venue, a smaller time period. Find out what your tolerance is for this sort of thing and bring in sponsors as early as you can. 

Right now about 1/3 of our profit margin comes from sponsorship deals that we have struck. 

Amy: Wow, that’s awesome! That’s fantastic. Okay, so start early and really focus on the sponsors if that is the way you are going to go. I feel like this has been so very valuable. I knew it was going to be a fun interview because you are just kind of a fun guy. But this has been really good. 

You have to tell us, you have this event coming up. When is this event, Agents of Change? 

Rich: First of all, thank you for saying all of that because I felt like I was all over the place. But I appreciate we did it and thank you very much for the opportunity to talk to your audience because I really do love this topic. 

The fourth annual Agents of Change will be Friday, September 25, the last Friday in September. We have it here in Portland, Maine. We get up to about 400 people in the audience and have the digital pass so a lot of people all over the country and even all over the world buy digital passes to the conference and either watch it live or watch it OnDemand. 

Some people watch it ten or 15 times over the course of the year to make sure they get every last bit of information out of all of my speakers. 

Amy: Who are some of your speakers? 

Rich: This year, the two keynotes I have are Marcus Sheridan and Dave Kerpen (who started Likeable Media). I don’t know if anybody in your audiences likes Instagram but we have Sue B. Zimmerman coming in to talk about how to build a raving audience on Instagram. 

If anybody likes YouTube we have Steve Dotto who will come in and talk all about YouTube. I actually saw him speak at Social Media Marketing World and right off the bat I knew I wanted to have him at my conference. 

Ryan Hanley is amazing. He talks about blogging and content creation. He has a new book called Content Warfare. He reminds me of me except 20 years younger, a lot smarter, and better looking. Otherwise we are literally the same guy. He created a blog about his Albany, New York, based insurance company and he is crushing it. If you can write about Albany insurance companies and crush it you can teach anything to anybody. 

Amy: That’s so true. That is a good lineup! 

Rich: Vince Ng is coming in to talk about search on Pintrest. There are no weak links. We have about 15 speakers this year. It is all up on the website so people can go check it out. And Amy, because I love you and all of your audience I want to give you a discount code that you can share with them. It will be good whenever. They can use it at any time but, obviously, the sooner they use it the more they will save. 

When you are registering whether you want to come to Portland, Maine, (I would love to meet you) or if you just want to watch online because you can’t make it to Maine that time then go to the website and just use AMY as your promo code and save and extra $25 off the tickets. 

Amy: I love it! Thanks for doing that. Guys, this is an excellent event. Like I said, I have been on stage at this event. The speakers are phenomenal. Rich does not miss a beat. He has everything. He is a control freak. He is bossy like he said. 

Rich: I am not a control freak. Don’t believe her. 

Amy: He is, he is! He’s got everything figured out and it is an exceptional experience. If you can make it live Maine is a great vacation spot. But if you can’t make sure you check out the digital opportunity as well. Rich, thank you so very much for being here. 

Rich: Amy, it was great. I really appreciate it. Honestly, any time you want to come back to Maine and any time you want to present we would be blessed to have you. 

Amy: Thank you so much. You have a great day. 

Rich: Take care. 

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