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How AdventHealth Leveraged a Virtual Hospitality Event to Engage its Partners

Hospitality is an important piece of the sponsorship puzzle for NASCAR’s brand partners, affording them the opportunity to both thank and interact with key stakeholders and VIPs. Typically, the sponsor provides clients with unprecedented access to the track, the garage and the talent. But for the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race on May 24, the pandemic out-ruled the possibility of in-person engagement. For sponsor AdventHealth, forgoing the chance to provide its clients with an exclusive experience wasn’t an option, and so the brand’s plans for a virtual event were set in motion. Leveraging a mix of pre-recorded and live content, AdventHealth ultimately delivered a personalized hospitality experience for 35 partners that blew the standard Zoom event out of the water.

“We invite people like strategic partners, influential community members, donors and board members [to NASCAR events], and we use hospitality to foster relationships,” says Anna Donaldson, director-sports marketing and strategic partnerships at AdventHealth. “When that piece went away and we were no longer able to interact at track, we were forced to think about new ways that we could leverage our partnership assets and still be able to continue to grow those important relationships.”


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THE PLATFORM

Using a platform-agnostic virtual event platform that could pull in feeds from anywhere on the internet, AdventHealth delivered a “recorded for live”-style event with some live elements woven in that served as a 45-minute pre-race event, with programming continuing through Stage 1 of the competition. (The site was then kept live for the remainder of the race, giving attendees further opportunities to interact with one another through the platform’s chat feature. )

Kicking off the hospitality strategy was a video from AdventHealth driver Ross Chastain inviting the brand’s VIPs to the virtual event. Then, on the Friday before the race, attendees received branded home viewing kits featuring tune-in information, a hat, a NASCAR hero card signed by Chastain, snacks and other trinkets, like a mini diecast car.

PROGRAMMING

The virtual event programming ran the gamut, but every element of the experience was designed to provide attendees with exclusive content that no one else could access. Like a virtual tour of the team hauler, the truck that carries the race’s vehicles and tools to the track, during which the driver detailed all of the car parts and instruments involved in race day. Attendees additionally got a personal tour from the pit crew coach, who ran the team through a practice pitstop then explained what each crew member’s role is. There was also an up-close and personal look at AdventHealth’s car before it hit the track, along with information on the vehicle’s unique modifications. And then there was the brand’s social media call to action asking attendees to share their race viewing set-up. Some of their posts were shared on the event platform’s social feed, which also pulled in content from team and driver accounts.

ENGAGEMENT

The digital engagement continued on through the first stage of the race. During commercial breaks, attendees played trivia for exclusive prizes. AdventHealth also developed a driver pool, matching each attendee with a driver other than Chastain for the chance to win an official, signed NASCAR diecast if their driver won the first or second stages of the race, or the overall race itself. The brand credits the driver pool with keeping attendees engaged for the duration of the competition. In addition, AdventHealth recruited a few NASCAR media members, most of whom were not allowed on-site at the track due to the pandemic, to offer live mid-race analysis from their homes. Attendees also had access to the scanner that hosts communications between the drivers and crew chiefs. Although the scanner was made available to all consumers in the wake of COVID-19, AdventHealth’s clients were specifically encouraged to tune into Chastain’s channel for a live, unfiltered glimpse into the driver’s strategy. And finally, the element of the event that garnered the most engagement: A Q&A with Chastain himself. Attendees could submit written or video questions, and Chastain answered each and every one of them. He also sent custom post-event videos to each guest, personally thanking them for attending.

“With a virtual hospitality platform, I can invite people from our multi-state division and they can still feel the benefit of the partnership,” says Donaldson. “They can still engage with our senior leadership team. They can still meet and greet with drivers and they can still understand what the partnership value is without having to leave their home.”

So, what’s next for AdventHealth and sponsorship? With an ever-changing set of health guidelines to abide by for in-person events, Donaldson says this is only the beginning of the brand’s virtual hospitality strategy. Off to the races. Agency: Bespoke Sports & Entertainment (virtual event platform, production, creative).

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Failure to Launch: Everything We Learned From Hosting Two Unsuccessful Virtual Events

If you’ve been in the event business long enough, you’ve probably got a couple of painful “fails” on your resume that you’d rather forget.

There are the “epic” fails, like when a demo crashes and burns at a pivotal moment in the multi-million dollar launch event. There are the A/V fails, when the sound or video craps out with a high profile speaker on stage. And then there are the fails that may not be quite as noticeable to attendees, but that haunt your dreams nonetheless (you know the ones).

Virtual event failures are not new to the event landscape. But 2020 has brought new focus to the digital conferences and experiences that were once “add-ons” to the hybrid events of the past decade, but are now the only events of our pandemic era. Indeed, the stakes are higher now than ever before for virtual events, and when some part of a virtual event fails in 2020, often the entire event is a failure as well.


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When the U.S. went into quarantine in March, we at Event Marketer jumped headlong into digital events with a series of panel discussions featuring a wide range of perspectives from all across the industry. These were discussions we knew the community wanted, and we wanted to help make them happen.

On the day of the event, and after a thorough technology rehearsal with my panelists the day before in which everything worked as intended, I clicked the “go live” button on the platform (we used Crowdcast), and then waited for the green light indicating that we were live. Needless to say, despite multiple attempts, getting dropped from the platform and calls to tech support—we never went live. All we could do was watch as more than 4,500 people from all around the world, who were clearly excited to “see” and connect with one another for the first time since the world turned upside down, were confused and disappointed. A few people even compared our virtual event to the Fyre Festival—ouch! (And also, come on.)

Our second virtual event was called the “Virtual Event on… Virtual Events,” and if you think the irony was lost on us that our own virtual event—on virtual events—ultimately failed, you’d be wrong. We got it, and we got it good.

The problems on this one ranged from massive registration issues that prevented more than 1,000 attendees from getting in, to problems with the chat functionality, to our sessions running one on top of another, and more. In this case, we got through the first of seven sessions planned for the day before we decided to call it quits, ultimately offering the entire event on demand afterwards (the platform was 6Connex, and in fairness, we have since held several successful webinars and events on the platform without issue).

While no event marketer can solve for the backend technology issues that ultimately plagued us, and have plagued many of you across the industry these past few months, we do have a few tips that we have employed at subsequent events that can help you reduce the chances of being part of a virtual event that fails to launch—or at least reduce your blood pressure if it does. Here’s our punch list:

REQUEST SERVER UPDATES

Ask your platform provider to send you “server health” updates the day before and the day of your event, by the hour if necessary. These updates can give you a heads-up if they’re experiencing a high volume of traffic or other issues that can impact your virtual experience. One of our providers sends us a red, yellow or green light indicator. If we’re on yellow prior to the event, we’re on the phone with the platform’s team and troubleshooting, and we’re poised and ready to address problems should they arise.

 

FIND OUT WHO ELSE IS LIVE

Ask your platform provider who else is having an event the same day you are. We found out after the fact that Twitter was also having an event the same day as us for more than 10,000 attendees and that ultimately impacted our provider’s server bandwidth at the moment when our attendees should have been logging in.

 

CREATE A DECISION TREE

A clearly outlined document explaining what happens if the event is not working properly and who makes the decision to pivot or ultimately cancel the event is critical. Email communication is too slow for virtual events. A Slack channel or group text with all critical team members keeps everyone in the loop in real time.

 

DRAFT YOUR ‘CANCEL’ COPY

You don’t want to be figuring out what to say to your attendees in the heat of the moment when you have to postpone or cancel the event. Write allllll the copy you might need in the days before for every possible outcome so all you have to do is cut and paste.

 

CALL IT QUICKLY

The universal law of virtual events is this: If the event doesn’t work in the first 15 minutes, it’s over. (Or, at least, that session is over. You can still try and salvage a day-long or multi-day event.)

 

CREATE A CONTINGENCY PLAN

It goes without saying that backup plans are critical for any event, but in the virtual space, it can mean having a completely different technology solution lined up. We hosted our Ex Awards virtual gala on 6Connex but were prepared to push the entire thing to YouTube if we had to on a moment’s notice.  All of the testing for that pivot was done in advance and the email for that scenario was pre-written as well.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to use it—this time.

Photo credit: erhui1979

 

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Six Brand Ambassador Roles for Events—Plus, How to Keep Staffers Safe

Brand ambassadors have always been a valuable part of the experiential ecosystem, and perhaps now more than ever, their ability to manage crowds, give direction, add context to an experience and make people feel at ease is essential. We’ve come a long way from recruiting “warm bodies”—these days, brands and agencies seek out intelligent brand ambassadors who can effectively relay their messaging. And while, as Larry Hess, ceo and owner at Encore Nationwide, puts it, “there’s no glossary that everybody abides by” when it comes to the types of staffers surrounding events, it benefits event marketers to understand some of the key roles that fall under the definition of brand ambassador. Here, we outline six you should know about.


engineer-ai_teaserCheck Out These Brand Ambassador Strategies:

The Standard Ambassador

Outgoing and energetic, the standard brand ambassador’s job is to represent the brand in a polished manner. You’ll find them greeting attendees at the entrance to an event or experience, luring people in and “selling the experience,” as Dayna Gilchrist, founder and ceo at The Hype Agency, puts it. This staffer is a champion at working a queue and keeping attendees entertained and interested in the experience at hand.

 

The Sampler

Serving as one of the most prevalent brand ambassador roles, the sampler delivers. Literally. Their primary purpose is to distribute a brand’s product to its target demo. Sometimes it’s a simple hand-off, while for others the job requires a more in-depth explanation of the product’s benefits. “Their whole goal is pushing product as fast as possible and getting as many products out there as possible,” says Joe Wroblewski, president at Assist Marketing.

 

The Product Specialist

Of all the brand ambassador types, the product specialist is the one that requires the most extensive training. This staffer knows the ins and outs of a product or service, can expertly speak to its benefits and answer any questions an attendee might have. And today’s product specialists have to be more knowledgeable than ever, according to Gilchrist. “Consumers today are researchers, so brands need a staffer who’s an open book,” she says.

The product specialist is always willing to take a one-on-one deep dive into the product at hand, according to Hess, who recently staffed a campaign for a new wine brand. “It’s a much deeper education process,” he says. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, here’s a wine. Do you like it? Go buy some.’ It’s, ‘Here’s this wine, and here’s why it’s healthier for you.’”

 

The Promo Model

The term “booth babe” has rightfully been deleted from the industry’s vocabulary, but the concept of having a polished staffer who can draw people in with a certain look (and charisma) is still relevant. Some brands might be looking for a clean-cut look, while others might be seeking out something glitzier. In any case, the desired appearance is what defines this role. And these days, the position is taken on by both men and women. “The great news is there’s a lot more diversity than ever before as far as promo models go,” says Wroblewski.

 

The Spokesperson

Knowledgeable and well-trained, the spokesperson is an emcee of sorts, often found on a microphone delivering key taglines and brand messaging. At an auto show, for instance, this staffer might be found giving 10-minute presentations at the top of every hour to ensure messaging is delivered to as many attendees as possible. It’s also worth noting that this role sometimes overlaps with that of the product specialist.

 

The Safety Lead

It will come as no surprise that the pandemic has given rise to the importance of having a safety lead at events. Now more than ever, it’s critical to have staff on-site that can oversee the security and sanitation elements of an experience, and ensure their fellow brand ambassadors are adhering to all guidelines. In the current climate, aspects of their job might encompass ensuring everyone is positioned six feet apart from one another or administering health questionnaires.

“We feel like every program needs someone to make sure that people are staying on their social distancing decals, they’re using the hand sanitizer down the line, people are taking the breaks when they need to, to wash their hands. Because otherwise it’s going to get lost because you could be at an event and it’s 10 hours later and you don’t realize that you haven’t left your spot,” Gilchrist says.


 

KEEPING STAFFERS SAFE

There are a number of measures event marketers are taking to keep their brand ambassadors safe on-site. Across the board, PPE is being provided, and staffers are being required to wear masks (and in some cases, face shields), take their temperature leading up to, and on the day of, the event, and fill out health questionnaires. But there are other steps being taken to ensure the safety and well-being of brand ambassadors.

Breaks

Giving staffers ample breaks is important in the current climate. Not only does it offer them a chance to wash their hands—something many staffing agencies require at various intervals—it provides an opportunity for a mental pause.

“The good news is that our clients are giving a lot more breaks than ever before to make sure that people stay hydrated, that they’re able to step away on their own and take a mask break when no one else is around,” says Wroblewski. “I think the guidelines are a lot stricter, but there’s also been a lot more understanding of staff needing a little extra time to make sure that they are taken care of.”

Training

According to Gilchrist, providing brand ambassadors with the proper training up front in order to outline what their roles and responsibilities are, and what health guidelines are in place, is paramount. That includes establishing clear lines of communication.

“They should know, when they get on-site, who to talk to,” she says. “If you aren’t feeling well, who do you call? If somebody comes up to you that isn’t wearing a mask and you don’t feel comfortable, who do you tell? So providing that training and knowledge up front is super important.”

Following Up

Certain staffing agencies, including Encore, require their brand ambassadors to essentially quarantine themselves for 14 days prior to an event, and confirm that they haven’t had COVID-19 symptoms during that period. What some of these firms don’t do, however, is follow up to check on their health, and “close the loop” on the event after it has taken place—something Hess says is a miss.

“After 14 days, we follow up with the same staff and we make sure that they’re not showing symptoms,” he says. “And if there is anybody showing symptoms, we ask that they go get tested. If they show positive, then we go through a contact tracing scenario.”

Photo credit: Hilton

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Case Study: Inside a Hybrid Press Conference for Bosch Rexroth

When it came to showcasing its innovative, award-winning ctrlX AUTOMATION in a hybrid press conference, Bosch Rexroth turned to an industry leader known for its technical expertise and extensive inventory of leading-edge technologies—SmartSource, an ABCOM Technology Group company.

Read the full case study here.

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Ford Takes the Media on an Off-roading Adventure to Launch the New Bronco

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Part of Ford’s storytelling strategy involved an archive tent where attendees could view relics from the Bronco’s history.

Automotive launches often feel homogenous, but following the Bronco’s 24-year hiatus, Ford knew a standard press reveal for the vehicle wouldn’t do. So on Aug. 11, the Bronco’s 55th birthday, the automaker delivered a series of small, COVID-friendly ride-and-drive experiences at the Holly Oaks off-road vehicle park in Michigan. In groups of no more than 12, members of the media experienced a keynote address, off-road rides in new and heritage vehicles and journeys through two tents showcasing Bronco memorabilia and merchandise. The objective: To highlight the capabilities of the all-new two-door, four-door and Sport models, and to introduce Bronco as Ford’s outdoor lifestyle brand. In other words, buckle up.

Having halted production on the Bronco since 1996, Ford started formulating the vehicle’s comeback campaign in January of 2017. In November of 2019, the brand began to build buzz for the big reveal, debuting a racing prototype at the Baja 1000, a competition that the original Bronco had won 50 years earlier (fun fact: it’s still the only production four-by-four vehicle to win the race). And by August of this year, Ford was prepared to reveal its new family of vehicles to the press (Imagination handled).


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The launch event kicked off with a keynote that focused on the Bronco’s revival and its deep roots in the American automotive space. The address was followed by the big reveal moment which showcased the three all-new vehicles in their “natural habitat” via a choreographed sequence in which they raced down a steep cliff face and back up the other side of the canyon to greet the audience.

Next, it was time to experience the vehicles first-hand. In pairs, attendees rotated through six stations that gave them a chance to ride in various Bronco models through rugged terrain. Vehicles included the new two-door, four-door and Sport, the Baja 1000-winning Bronco, the Bronco R and a classic 1971 model. (The race-edition vehicles were driven by professional racing driver Shelby Hall and off-roading expert Cameron “The Desert Assassin” Steele.) Each of the featured vehicles was outfitted to simulate different customer scenarios, including fishing, extreme off-roading, towing and a taste of a forthcoming Bronco “Off-Roadeo” experience.

“We wanted to keep everything engaging and at every 15-minute interval, we rotated so that everyone’s getting this very immersive experience that’s not just about the vehicle, but about storytelling,” says Jiyan Cadiz, North American icon communications and media relations manager at Ford.

Outside of the off-road experiences, the media could explore two safari-style tents. One served as an archive tent hosted by Ford’s archives and heritage brand manager Ted Ryan, and his team. The space featured never-before-seen concept designs and other relics from Bronco’s history. The second tent showcased a full-size foam model of the Bronco R, along with customized Bronco merchandise that will be available for purchase.

It’s worth noting that Ford had its social distancing ducks in a row throughout the event. Masks and temperature screenings were mandatory, social distancing was in place and vehicles were sanitized after every ride. “It should have been a very catered experience and come across very thoughtful with respect to our current state of affairs,” says Cadiz.

In the wake of the pandemic, Cadiz says the team had to ask itself things like “do we really need to spend that kind of money” and “ do we really need to design a program that way?” Having to reimagine its event campaigns has helped the brand align its priorities and step outside the norm.

“Everyone wants to do things a certain way because that’s the way we were comfortable doing them before,” Cadiz says. “But it’s nice to have this moment to really rethink our priorities and decide what can we live without. If you don’t take advantage of that, it would be a miss.”

ford-bronco-media-event-2020_3

Attendees rotated through six stations that gave them a chance to ride in various Bronco models across rugged terrain.

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Experts Weigh in on Setting the Stage for In-person and Virtual Events

The general stage experience is a moment in a show that sets the tone for the event, that spotlights leadership rock stars and conveys messaging that leaves attendees with a clear roadmap for the event and the brand. Through the rise of LED and livestreaming, how these stages are designed and operate is evolving rapidly. Throw in a little pivot with virtual and hybrid events in the mix, and the concepts, builds and execution of these environments becomes even more nuanced.

To get a clear picture on what it takes to set the stage in modern events, we turned to three experts in the space for their perspectives on what’s trending and how what we know about design is changing in the virtual landscape. Your peek behind the curtain begins now.


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Less clutter, more dynamic technology.

Over the last few years, the green movement has infiltrated not just show operations but stage and design, too, as clients aim for fewer physical builds and set their sights on technology that is immersive and reusable. The result is a cinematic, rather than a scenic, backdrop.

“We have this outrageous resolution of LED now—it is so bright and so beautiful—and we have this expansive playground, because we can do custom sizes,” says Robin Gold, head of production at The XD Agency.

 

Designing for an active audience.

Presenters are getting closer to their audiences on stages that stretch out into seating and satellite stages and they’re interacting with them through smart medallions, wristbands and devices that allow audiences to get involved through polling or lighting effects.

Anamorphic illusions are also helping to activate the audience—special effects that, for example, make the audience feel as though a wave is going to crash into them from the screen.

“For the live event especially, we like to think about an aesthetic that’s going to evolve and develop as the presentation goes on,” says Julie Schneider, executive creative director, The XD Agency. “You get that big moment in the opening, but midway through the keynote, something is happening that will raise the anticipation level.”

 

Focusing less on scale in virtual.

While an enormous theater calls for expansive screens, when designing a main stage for a virtual experience or a broadcast, bigger is not always better. The bigger you go, the smaller your speaker will be—and their presence and delivery is important.

Everything you do must be designed in the context of the 16:9 screen ratio at home. But that’s not to say you can’t have any fun. LED cubes or LED floors that interact with physical movement on top of them can add drama to a presentation broadcasted through a screen.

“Think about camera angles and the placement of the content at home. A TV director is really critical versus a live show director. It really is a different animal, and TV is a closeup medium,”  Gold says.

 

Keeping the (virtual) interest level up.

Embrace various short-form content, backdrops and cameras angles to keep your virtual viewers interested and engaged. A few techniques that could help elevate a main-stage presentation: Green-screen effects that allow the presenter to be part of the total image, and mixed reality graphic overlays with animations that float in and around the presenter.

In the months since the pandemic hit, many event teams have returned to production studios to film main-stage experiences, but don’t discount “remote” staging or backdrops completely.

“Apple did their World Developer Conference in their campus and included beautiful shots, and it was somewhere that we could never get to go, which made it very interesting, compelling content,” says Mark Shearon, founder/managing director at Proscenium.

 

Embracing the nuances of LED. 

LED stands for light-emitting diode, and it’s easy to forget that screens can serve as lighting features as well as canvases for content. An effective, LED-inspired experience should involve a mix of experts and skillsets. “People, like animators, scenic and environmental designers working together as a team, and understanding how those things can work together, is super important,” Shearon says.

And don’t forget that with LED, new media servers are being used all the time and new plug-ins and add-ons for being invented. “It’s keeping up with not only the actual LED product but what drives that product is super important as well.”

 

Storyboarding the shoot.

As live events make a come-back, the backdrop behind presenters will be just as critical as the full set—just like they would be in a close up IMAG shot in the room. Camerawork becomes even more critical to tell the complete story, according to Chris Simmons, vp-creative at Leo Events.

“Unless we are delivering the experience in virtual reality, the set must work through a series of camera moves and cuts. We want to maintain the sense of theater, but program for the frame,” Simmons says. “For instance, one view might be of the entire set, but then you can cut to a close-up of the set with the presenter and a content window over their shoulder. Then we follow that with a full screen video to make certain the message is of the most importance.”

Photo credit: Walmart/Leo Events

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Roundup: Superfan Experiences for Movies and Shows Crop Up Again

In the age of COVID-19, traffic flow and timed entries are critical elements to creating an environment that supports social distancing and safety. It’s no surprise then that ticketed pop-ups and drive-ins for consumers have been among the first event types to kick off successfully this summer. Among them: entertainment-inspired superfan experiences that show no signs of hitting their peak. Here’s a look at a few programs that cropped up over the summer.


pop-ups-saved-by-the-max-2017_teaserRead More on Superfan Pop-ups:

Honey I Shrunk the Kids

The Sixth cocktail bar in Chicago has transformed its space into a “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”-inspired Instagram environment dubbed “Honey, I Shrunk the Pop-up.” The pop-up, which opened Aug. 26 and runs through Nov. 1, offers seating outdoors or indoors as well as 14 movie-themed cocktails and food by The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group chefs. The space is decked out in oversized décor, large-scale movie scenes and socially distanced photo ops. Reservations are required for 20 guests inside and 10 guests outdoors at a time. More info here.

 

Stranger Things 

Coming this October, Netflix will immerse fans in a “Stranger Things” experience following the delay of the series’ fourth season with the Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience. The event will transport Los Angeles-based consumers to the year 1985 from the safety of their vehicles. Activated in partnership with immersive theater company Secret Cinema, the event is taking place at an undisclosed location in Los Angeles and will accommodate groups of 24 cars that will navigate through replica sets and scenes enhanced by live actors, A/V and other special effects. Tickets go for $59 per car. Read more here.

 

Saved By the Bell

The “Saved By the Max” pop-up restaurant platform launched in Chicago several years ago by an event planner who recognized the superfandom surrounding “Saved By the Bell” has returned. In August, the pop-up announced its reopening with locations in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City. Over five days, fans could reserve takeout meals for $22 of the “Bayside Preppy Pack,” which included the “Bayside Burger with The Tigers Tator Tots” as well as themed to-go cocktails. The L.A. location offered outdoor seating. Read more here.

 

Fresh Prince of Bel Air

Airbnb is back with another immersive fan experience, this time with the actual mansion filmed for “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Starting Sept. 29, residents in Los Angeles County have the opportunity to book a one-night stay at the mansion in October for a group of two for $30—an homage to the show’s 30th anniversary this year. During their stay, guests will explore rooms decked out in series-inspired décor. Fans who can’t make a reservation can sign up for an Airbnb Online Experience featuring DJ Jazzy Jeff himself. Read more here.

Photo credit: Airbnb

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