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The true power of events lies in building a loyal community to engage with your brand.
Making that happen, however, requires opening your eyes and ears to the world and people around you. We spoke with Event Marketer B-to-B Dream Team honoree Kelsey Schimmelman about the power of events, the importance of inclusion, and where she finds inspiration.
Q Kelsey, as a member of the B-to-B Dream Team, you are a champion and advocate for the events industry. Why do you think events are so powerful?
Kelsey Schimmelman: Events are fun — at least they should be. I want attendees to walk in the door and be transported to another world where this brand they already love is brought to life. I want attendees to be in an open-minded, playful frame of mind when they’re at events. That’s when I think they get the most out of the conference, because they’re completely immersed.
Events are so fleeting and ephemeral, which drives my desire to build really strange, unusual, and beautiful things on site. You’re creating this perfect, encapsulated moment in time for people and bringing them into your culture.
Q Speaking of culture, talk to me about your initiatives to make events more inclusive.
KS: Accessibility and inclusion are near and dear to my heart. I was working on an event in Berlin during Ramadan, and Berlin has a massive Muslim population. So, I was committed to making sure there was a space for prayer breaks, and we sent out push notifications at sunset inviting people to come and break their fast with us. It’s also so important to keep in mind people who have dietary restrictions or preferences. Get their information ahead of time, make sure they don’t have to spend time tracking down their meals, and work with a caterer who enjoys creating imaginative and delicious food that’s vegan, or gluten-free, or halal.
It’s also important to remember that many attendees are parents, and life doesn’t stop for your conference. Offering a nursing parents’ room with a fridge and comfortable chairs is such a great gesture. Children’s play areas solve the problem of attendees not being able to find childcare. When you take the time to make everybody comfortable, they can relax and immerse themselves in the event instead of worrying.
When you take the time to make everybody comfortable, they can relax and immerse themselves in the event instead of worrying.
Q We’ve talked about your vision and passion, but what about the hard numbers? How do you approach measurement and ROI?
KS: That’s always a tough one. I firmly believe that having a beautiful, memorable event makes good business sense. But asking to provide ROI on why I want a 50-foot-tall inflatable cat is a bit harder to break down into quantitative data points. Fortunately, there are ways to do it.
Gauging attendee satisfaction is always a good approach. And if you create something with enormous visual appeal — like a 50-foot-tall inflatable cat! — you can measure the social media engagement you’re getting from it. You want your event to have a robust social media presence and for people to share their excitement and delight, which strengthens their engagement and makes non-attendees want to avoid missing your next event.
Q Kelsey, your most recent role (besides that of Dream Team member, of course!) was Senior Event Producer at GitHub. Tell us about the role of events at GitHub.
KS: GitHub, if you don’t know, is a collaborative platform for developers to write and share code, track changes, and accept pull requests. It has a really engaged community of developers who tend to evangelize the product without being asked to. So, GitHub’s events are a natural extension of that, acting as a place where the developer community can get together, meet in person, chat face-to-face, and share new ideas with each other.
My idol is Alexandre de Betak, who owns the event agency Bureau de Betak, and he does the most incredible things in the fashion and luxury retail event spaces.
Q What are some unique things you’ve done with events, and where do you get your inspiration?
KS: At GitHub, we offered some pretty wild sponsorships over the years, often using art installations. For one sponsor named GitKraken, we installed an enormous rubberized kraken — it’s like a giant squid — in the middle of the show floor. It drew in people and created fun, organic conversations that produced much better leads than if the sponsor had just been standing there, scanning badges.
For inspiration, I look to other events, but it may surprise you to learn that I typically don’t look at tech events. Not because there aren’t amazing tech events out there, but because they tend to be sleek and minimalist, and that’s not my aesthetic. I like to create a visual spectacle and a sense of playful wonder. My idol is Alexandre de Betak, who owns the event agency Bureau de Betak, and he does the most incredible things in the fashion and luxury retail event spaces. For Dior, he covered the entire glass pyramid of the Louvre with lavender and then held a fashion show around it. It was pure magic.
Q All right, last question: Was there anything you learned in your first job that you still apply to your career today?
KS: My first real job was when I was in college, as a baggage handler at Santa Barbara Airport. When people travel, they’re stressed out, and there are so many unknowns and variables creating a high-pressure situation. I learned how to keep a cool head and always be ready for the unexpected.
With events, even if you’re meticulously prepared, you have to expect the unexpected and be able to handle it when it inevitably arrives.
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