This is part of my Makin' Bacon podcast, you can check out all the episodes or subscribe on your favorite podcast player.
Mike La Charite is a sous vide cook and conference planner, and he comes on the podcast to talk about how a blogger can create and host an event, how finding partners can make all the difference, and what you can use to attract sponsors to pay for the whole thing.
If you want to read some more about this, here are a few helpful links.
Today, we're going to talk about the types of events a blogger can host, how to attract sponsors to pay for that event and why having a partner is just so valuable.
Today I'm really excited to welcome Michael La Charite to the program. He's a co-founder of mine with the International Sous Vide Association. He's an event planner, and I think he has some amazing information that a lot of food bloggers would be really interested in.
Jason Logsdon: Mike, welcome to Makin' Bacon.
Mike La Charite: Thank you. Glad to be here. Anything bacon related is always a winner in my eyes.
Jason: One thing I like to start with is what is it generally like around your dinner table.
Mike: These days a little empty. My wife's working 16-hour days. She's a resident at Johns Hopkins, so it's, it's chaos. I have a five-year-old and a six-month old, so there's usually some semblance of food getting thrown and or. This meal that I slaved away over, you know, I don't want this, and I wanted it yesterday, not today, or drowning the filet mignon that I so painstakingly cooked well in ketchup, which hurts my heart.
It's a little chaotic at the moment. But when we could all get together, you know, lots of just great food, great conversation. We have friends over a lot and do a lot of just meals in our little community here of friends. So that's probably what brings me the most joy in life is feeding people. I try to do that as much as I can.
Jason: That's awesome. I think a lot of us food bloggers can relate to that, that we really like cooking food and making people happy, and there's a lot of love in cooking for people, I think.
Mike: Yep, and then a time when you know, we're so divided, it's the one thing that brings everybody together, which I love about food.
Jason: Everyone can agree that a good pizza is a good thing.
Mike: Especially when the best pizza in the world is here in Baltimore.
Jason: You can give a plug for your favorite place if you want.
Mike: All right. Little plug for Joe Benny's Focacceria in Little Italy. best pizza in the world.
Jason: I'm going to be down with Mike doing a demo in Baltimore this weekend, so I'm looking forward to a post demo, Joe Benny's run. I've never had it yet, but I've heard a lot over the last few years about how good it is, so I'm excited.
So you are an event planner. You're not really a food blogger though you've been getting into it a lot more lately with the International Sous Association work. How did you get into event planning originally?
Mike: You know, it's a very interesting journey that I've been on, starting in retail, worked for my dad's construction business, and then when my dad passed away, my mom wanted to get out of construction and really give back to veterans in particular. They, our family has always been very supportive of those who those who serve, who serve our country.
I started working for a nonprofit for vets with post-traumatic stress up in Napa, best foodie town in the country. I enjoyed that immensely, but did a little bit of, you know, therapy project creation and at the same time was, you know, tuned in to some events, some trade show booths for them.
I started a Southern California golf tournament that made about 50 grand over 2 years from them. And that is really what was the catalyst for, you know, me falling in love with the world of events.
Fast forward a little bit. I interned with a, now a friend of mine who has an event company in SoCal, and she did mostly business conferences, seminars, that kind of stuff. And I really just fell in love with that side of it. I'm not a social event person. Fundraising events are fun, but I enjoy more the business and brand building events. I think that was in 2013, 2014, something like that. Just then kind of digging into it more and more ever since.
Jason: What is it about event planning that really draws you to it and has kept you doing this for so long?
Mike: I think seeing the results at the end, like it's, as you well know now, after a year and a half of planning our own event, the work that goes into it is intense and nonstop. But seeing the satisfaction at the end, both from my client, but also just from the attendees who gets to come and have a totally new experience.
And that makes every moment of it worth it and that that's my favorite part of the processes. You know, once the event starts getting the feedback and just seeing everybody having a great time. It's, it's just awesome.
Jason: What is the biggest event you've done and the smallest event you've done?
Mike: The biggest event I've done, I did a couple of years in a row for a nonprofit in California. It was an education foundation, and they had a gala and fundraiser for about 500 to 600 people at the Culver Studios. So those who know me know Mel Brooks is one of my favorite actors and Blazing Saddles is just an awesome movie, and I actually got to meet him. While I was there, I was just walking around the day before the event on setup day. And, "Hey, what are you doing?" And I'm like, ah, "you're Mel Brooks!" Yeah, that one was fun. I did that for a couple of years.
The smallest event I've done. I mean, you know, I don't know if a one-year old's birthday party counts, but now there's this group I'm a part of called Dads Married to Doctors. It's exactly what it sounds like. I helped them start a retreat. Which it's an online community of about 3,600 people, and they wanted to put, do something in person, to allow people to build relationships. In the first year it was in Vegas and it was about 20 people. That's probably the smallest I've worked on. And then, you know, a multitude in between that.
Jason: What is your favorite event that you've worked on?
Mike: The Sous Vide Summit, of course.
Jason: Of course.
Mike: You know, it's really funny because this sounds super boring and, and it's probably more about the client than anything, but I do this sustained plan in seminar every year in Southern California, and they're just a blast. I mean, it's a bunch of attorneys and CPAs and they're just a blast to work with.
And funny story, I was there in Southern California last week, and we had an in-person meeting, which usually it's just conference calls ended up everybody called into the meeting except me and the last board president. It was just two of us there. But after the meeting, we start talking and he just bought a sous vide device. So, we started talking about that. And so I mailed her a copy of your Modernist Cuisine, Made Easy Sous Vide book, which she got today and called me and was very excited. I love working with good people.
I mean it, you know, it's all about the people for me. And the event can be ho hum, but if the client is awesome, you know, the Dad's Group is always, I mean, I get to work that one, but I also get to attended it, make friends and stuff. So that one's always pretty awesome too.
Jason: And you did that one in Louisville, Kentucky last year, is that right?
Mike: Last year, yeah, the first 2 were in Vegas. Then we were in Louisville last year, and then we'll be in Vegas next month for the other one.
And then I actually did a smaller one than that, I did a couples retreat for them. I forgot in February. That was in St. Lucia. And that was 9 couples from the group, 18 people.
My wife was working, so I did not go to that one because I didn't want to be the only non-couple guy going. Yeah. They've been, I've watched them sort of have this concept of, you know, this is why events would be helpful for us. And just strategically, every year we're adding a new event and so they're ending up with this portfolio of three or four a year. Um, just, it's pretty exciting to see, you know, and it's just continuing to grow from there.
Jason: I love hearing about all the different events that are out there and the different types of organizations that use events to grow their brands or to make money in some cases. What are the main reasons you've seen for a brand or an organization to put on an event or a conference?
Mike: Yeah. I think there's really 3 reasons that, and there's a lot of sub reasons within the us, but there's sort of 3 main categories for me. Brand building would be one. Obviously. Which is getting yourself more known, getting their brand, giving people a favorable view of your brand, in some cases. Money making is another. And then the last one is community building, which is something more like what we're doing with the ISVA or what the Dad's Group is doing is taking this online community and really making it personal.
I think those are the 3 main categories to try to decide between. And it can be a combination, but you really have to have, you know, you have to pick, here's, here's our most important goal, here's our most important target, and then we can, you know, fit in the others as they need. But this is, you know, this is our most important goal with it.
Jason: Prioritizing goals is a huge pet peeve of mine, that it's something that having put out a lot of different cookbooks. People ask, well. When I put out a cookbook, what should be in the book or should it be a hardcover or a paperback or all these different questions around it.
And my first question to them is always, well, what is your goal? Do you want to make money? Do you want to expand your brand? Do you want to get this in the hands of as many people as possible? And once you decide on that, then you can make those trade-offs that. You know, doing a hardcover is going to cost you $5 in profit per book, but if you're using it to expand your brand and impress other brands that are out there that you want to work with, and it's a portfolio, almost, then you don't care about the $5.
If you wanted to get into as many people's hands as possible, then you might want cheap paper and a paper back so you can charge $5 for it so everyone can buy one.
Mike: Yeah, absolutely. Something I've noticed in the event world, in general, client too, you know, event planner, there's always a visionary.
And that's the person with all the ideas, right? And then there's the logistics guy who in this case is me, and it's constantly, and we noticed this with our own event, right? Like you're constantly throwing out different ideas, which is great, and it gives you. It gives you sort of a road map for growth in the future.
But my job is really to take that visionary that has the million ideas and sort of pare them down a little bit and back them up and okay, so here's 50 ideas. What are the five that are most in line? And let's talk about those goals again. And you know, once you decide that every decision that you make, like you're saying with the cookbooks, every decision that you make needs to be in that lens.
How is this helping me reach my goal? If it's not, it's not what you want to do in this particular case. You know? And it doesn't mean, you know, obviously you publish 1 cookbook that you want to go viral and get into everybody's hands, right? It doesn't mean every cookbook has to be that way. They can you, you can mix it up going forward.
So as your event grows and as you learn a little bit more about it, you can pivot, you can adjust things, and the goal is very, may very well change at that event. But really streamlining at the beginning is, is crucial to being successful, I think.
I think for any new endeavor it's really important to, it's better to do 5 things really well then 10 things okay-ish.
Jason: When a client is interested in throwing an event and they get a hold of you, how does the process work? How does one work with an event or conference planner and kind of flesh out this stuff?
Mike: Yeah, so. This is something I learned from my, my old partner, um, with the event company I worked at before. She has this mega-jumbo, like 15-page questionnaire.
And that really is what I use and what we used on the initial call. And there's a couple of reasons for it. Like I want to know what should, what you already have in your head. Like that, that is the first thing is figuring out, okay, what's your vision? What's actually in your head? I also want to start introducing you to the ideas that maybe you haven't thought of yet, which that questionnaire does.
The other aspect of that is that it really helps me to look, you know, to look like the expert in the field that I'm in. And it helps the client to have confidence that I'm going to do a good job. I know what I'm looking for, I know what I'm talking about. So if you are calling somebody to help with your events and you don't get a feeling that like they're asking a bunch of questions up front but the other way, like before, before I make any recommendations or decisions on how to go forward or whether this is even, you know, it, whether it even makes sense for us to work together. There needed to be 15 million questions asked to figure out what, what the actual vision is. So that's part one is really just figuring that out.
Jason: I would say I was shocked when we having done the conference with you now you've gone through the whole process of just how many details and questions and there's just so many decisions that need to be made that I can't imagine not having a hundred discussions with the, with the planner to figure out what needs to be done. Everything from what shape of tables do you want to, what type of decorations and food and timing. There's just, there's so much that it was, it was really eye opening to me that I didn't realize. I knew it is complicated, but not just how complicated it actually was.
Mike: Yeah. Well, and I mean, the world of corporate events is so different. I don't do social events. I don't. I planned my own wedding, and that was enough for me, you know. But a wedding, all the goals are the same. I mean, you have different budgets and stuff, but the goal is ...
Jason: It's all about making money, to make lots of money, it's all about the gift registry.
Mike: This is where the nest egg comes from, you know? And that's the thing. And there's different, different decisions that needed to be made, but really it's fairly cookie cutter. They're all, you know, the process is fairly cookie cutter.
With a corporate event, it's totally different. I mean, every single event is its own animal, and my old partner did this series of how to run your event like a business. And I thought that was brilliant, like looking at your event as its own business and going through the process in that way.
And most of us who are food bloggers or bloggers really in general, we have some sense of it. I mean, this is the business that we're running for many of us. So using that sort of know how in the process is really helpful. But, there's a lot of details and there's a lot of little things that, you know, it really is an industry where, you know, just to use a coin phrase, the devil's in the details, you miss a couple of these little things and, and it drastically affects the, you know, experience for your attendees.
Jason: I think it's one of those things too, that people only notice generally when things go wrong. That if they should know, the attendees should never notice any of the event planning because it should be going so smoothly and they're just in the moment. When the videos don't play or power cuts out then it's now it's, they're kind of jarred out of this world that you've created for them.
Mike: Yeah, absolutely. And, and really that's a lot of my job is anticipating, you know, thinking ahead of time before the event, before we even get on the ground. Okay, what could go wrong. Let's put solutions in place so they're there if we need them, and hopefully we don't. But you know that, that's why I advocate so much for working with a professional in some sense, who's done this before because they're going to have that experience that, you know, will be able to drive that. And if something, God forbid, does go wrong, um, you know, the solutions right there.
And I mean, we had a couple at the first-time event with the Sous Vide Association. And we had a couple of things that it was really encouraging to me, in talking, you know, cause I'm very honest with people and you know, some of the attendees as we were chatting at the reception like, oh yeah, this happened. And they were like, Oh, we'd never would have known. You know, and, and that means we did our job very well. Like that, that's, that's, you know, that's how it should be.
Jason: What are some gotchas that people putting on events don't really foresee that you've seen come up and be issues time and time again?
Mike: Doing a rehearsal is paramount. Like, even if it's just a simple program, people forget where they're supposed to be. They, you know, I've had, we had a famous actor at one of those, uh, education foundation events. And, you know, I had talked to him ahead of time and went through what he was going to say, and it was, you know, all of 3 minutes, and we get there. The client didn't have time to do a rehearsal, so we just went and this guy talked for like 20 minutes and put the entire thing. And then, you know, of course, the superintendent did the same thing. So we're like 45 minutes behind.
So the next year what we did, and, and this was a really cool thing for me. We videotaped the entire, uh, award ceremony that that's what the program really was, was a teacher award ceremony. So we videotaped all the sponsor messages ahead of time so we could edit them, cut them. And man, it just went so smooth. So doing a rehearsal is huge.
Things, you know, depending on where you're having your meeting. Like the hotel that we had the meeting at the logistic staff was awesome. I mean, everybody was really impressed, you know, as far as the attendees go. So making sure that your team knows where they're supposed to be and when, you know, whether it's the hotel people or your own people, a lot of times there's not, not enough coordination done. Making sure everybody understands.
I mean, we assume that certain things are common sense, and I think we've all learned in different ways that in this world that is just not the case. So don't assume anything. Make sure everything is written and detailed. If you know, if you go over, you know, somebody needs to go and take a piece of paper from point a to point B at this time ... write it down.
And I guess the last sort of little, little thing there that that's, I guess a helpful tip in dealing with some of this stuff is making sure every day of the conference you have a, you know, a little 10 minute time before everything gets going to meet with your team. Even if it's just a, you know, Hey, how'd you sleep last night? At least have that time, and, and plan that into your schedule and make sure everybody knows that this is important, that you need to be here.
Because I've had lots of little issues come up that way. That hey, I experienced this yesterday. Oh, well nobody told me. Let's figure out how we can fix that, you know, for today.
Jason: I love your point about the details, that no detail is too small. I think as recipe writers, we can all relate to that, that you get comments on your bog like, well, the skin of the onion was really tough. It's like, well, you're supposed to put, I told you to chop the onion, but I didn't mean, leave the skin on like, isn't that obvious? It's like, well, you never said to remove the skin. Oh yeah, I didn't, I thought you would have just assumed that you didn't eat the inedible part of the onion, but apparently not.
Mike: Yeah, exactly. Or you know, like with, with some recipes, you'll see that it calls for like, you know, what was the one we were looking at?
It's like, you know, 60 milligrams, the sugar, and it's like, that's a hundredth of a teaspoon. Ah, this may be, you know, maybe we should double check and make sure this is right. So all those little details, they really do add up and they can, they can have just a massive effect on your success.
Jason: As a person when you're putting on a wedding or a birthday party, you write a check for 5 grand or 20 grand or 300 grand, whatever, however big it is. As a food blogger or someone that's interested in putting on a conference, it's very hard to write a check of any size before you get started. How do you, how would someone pay for one of these events if you're just getting started in this space?
Mike: The first thing I would say, and I think this is something that you and I can probably both attest to, is find a partner. Like find somebody that you'll work well with, like obviously make sure it's somebody you're going to work well with, like have some conversations first, but find somebody that has the same motivation.
Maybe they're not a blogger, but maybe they have some reason for wanting to get in front of the bloggers or the audience that you're in front of. I mean, sharing the load can be just huge like that, that would be number one.
Jason: I think that's super important too. Just from the different ideas and mindsets that people come from, that you and I had a lot of conversations on both sides were, I felt very strongly about something and you disagreed. And 3 or 4 months later, you finally convinced me that you were right, and I had done the same thing with some things that you felt strongly about. And it's like how does opposing mindsets like, know, now that I have thought about this time and time again, and it made the conference a lot better where, yep, either one of us had just done exactly what we personally wanted at first, it would have been nearly as good.
Mike: I guess that kind of goes back into one of the caveats that we were talking about a second ago. That's a really good point. You've got to remember; this event isn't for you. This is not your event. It's an event for your people. Your people are not all like you. And so, that's the, you know, what I like is not necessarily going to fly with this, you know, with, with the audience or vice versa.
So I think that is definitely another way, even if it's not a money sharing partner or something, of having some sort of an advisory committee like we've put together. Then your able to bounce ideas off and, Hey, what do you guys think? You guys depend on this. Preferably people with some experience in what you're doing. That's super helpful.
Jason: I would say too, that if you're a food blogger, we're looking to put on a conference that putting together an advisory committee. I think both Mike and I were very surprised how easy it was that we reached out to these big names if they're interested in just being a part and being up to date about what we're doing, and almost all of them said yes because they're excited about, in our case sous vide, and they're wanting to be a part of an organization that's excited about sous vide. And it was really helped grow our network and our personal brands in that. So don't feel intimidated, like who would want to be a part of my conference? Probably more people than you would think.
Mike: Absolutely. So another point in this, in this vein of how do you pay for this and how do you put it on? We were kind of an, an anomaly, I think in how we started.
We went straight to the 3-day conference and there were reasons for that and obviously we had the network and we had the people behind us to make that happen in our situation. But I would say it looks really daunting if you have never done this before, which I know you and I spoke about a lot. To step up and do this whole 3-day, Hey, we're going to just go all out.
So I would say, do something small, local in your area. Do a half day workshop, a half day seminar, do a series of things. And really what I call that as proving the concept. And that will give you a lot more confidence. First of all, that what you're doing is something that people will come to, pay for, whatever your goal is for the event.
But it also gives you a way to start building relationships. Now you have some demographics and you know, obviously as bloggers we would all have our sort of blogged demographics, but those aren't necessarily the same as the people that are coming to the event, it may only be a subset of those demographics.
So doing some smaller things in your area to prove the concept and figure out the interests, will get you demographics, which will you're then able to use to leverage, to bring in sponsors and advertisers and people that wonder the cost of the event. That's a really hard thing to do, especially for a first-time event because everybody's, you know. I think one of our sponsors that cracked me up when, when he wrote back, he was like, Oh, I didn't know if this was going to be the fire festival or not, but it ended up being, you know. That is, that is like real world honest thinking.
These businesses and sponsors are getting pitched all the time, sometimes 10, 15 requests a day, you know, hundreds a week. And you know, you need to set yourself apart. And you do that by having proved the concept and saying, look, I've done this. I have demographics. I know who's coming to the event. I know that what I'm promising you I can deliver in terms of return on investment, you know, and on your dollars coming in.
So with that, just survey, survey, survey. I mean, we did that at the beginning before we did this. Make sure what you want to do is actually something people want. Put a few surveys out there and you know, be flexible enough that if the results you're getting aren't what you want them to be, that you can pivot and you know, say, okay, well maybe it's not exactly what I, what my vision was, but this is what my audience is telling me they want so let's go in that direction instead.
Jason: And to your point about starting small and finding like-minded partners, I think as bloggers, we have a lot of people that we know that are in similar niches to us that aren't competitors really. That if you can find some in your area that are within 5 hours of a drive, which is a lot of covers a lot of land. Find some of those people.
A 3-day conference is really hard. An afternoon that you rent out an event space for 3 or 4 hours for $500 or $1,000 and maybe another $500 for food is easier. You can find another 3 or 4 bloggers to split that cost. You're only in a few hundred dollars and you have all this combined marketing effort and a lot of people on your side that are trying to get this event going with you. You're not on your own kind of on this island.
Mike: Absolutely. I think we tend to look at things as competitive a lot. And I feel in the food industry, in many industries, it's just exaggerated. And you know, let's say you and I were competing in bloggers doing sous vide stuff. If we do something well, we both win. You know, and I think that is just, especially in this market, you know, where, where there are, there is some crossover. I think it's really important to remember that, that community aspect of it and that, you know, if we do this well, we win and you know, guess we still are, are trying to sell different things and you know, we, we want to be an expert in this way or not, but people are also going to gravitate to you way more if they know that you're a team player.
If they see that you're working with other people, like that's just cool. And I as an attendee go into things, I enjoy seeing that. I enjoy seeing some of my favorite chefs who are, you know, have conflicting restaurants across the street. I mean, look at, look at our conference and our sponsors, right? And I heard from multiple, multiple that like hey, yeah, we're, we're competitors but it was like a family. Like everybody was just having fun together and supporting each other and you know, Oh, Hey, we don't have that. But you know, I go over to this exhibitor right down there, and they've got it for you.
Yeah. Cause we had four or five equipment manufacturers that all developed for home cooks a lot. Also developer, professional cooks, and they were all sponsors and exhibitors within a small room. It could have been a cage match of people fighting for attention with the attendees. But instead everyone was very complimentary of each other, got along well, and that made every attendee I've talked to has talked about how nice the brands were that were there.
Jason: And I think that's something to keep in mind as you do look for sponsors too and partners and speakers, is finding people that you would want to have a drink with. Whether that's a beer or a coffee that you want to get together and you enjoy spending time with them because it will set the tone for the whole event. And.
Having a speaker that's a big deal to the people that are at the conference speak, and then afterwards talk to attendees at lunch is huge and makes, that's the type of thing that you can't plan really at a conference that you just need to get people that are willing to do that.
Mike: Yeah, and having a space that fosters that is really helpful as well. We were in a hotel, which, you know, side note for all the food bloggers here, hotels can be very difficult if you're doing a food service event where you're wanting to bring food in, just want to throw that out there.
Jason: They want to use their set menus, that's for sure.
Mike: Yes. And there's a lot of rules and things behind that, so, but being where we were, conference space, people staying in the hotel. They had a lobby bar and every night, you know, you would see the speakers and the attendees just hanging out, having drinks together. And so, so putting yourself in a place in, in a, in a venue that fosters that is also really helpful in that regard.
Jason: They have a few partners now. They have found a space that looks good. They have 30 to 50 people that have signed up. All right. Okay. I'm ready to get some sponsors. Yup. How do they go about them? How do you approach them? What information do you need to show to most sponsors to get them on board?
Mike: Yes. So timing is really important, believe it or not. And, and this, this probably the thing that gets overlooked, I think the most, so companies set their budgets in the fourth quarter, like September to November is kind of the sweet spot. And if you want bigger money or you want to be built into their budget, that's the time when you want to get your proposal into them.
That's hard if you're doing an event in September to November that you really want to think ahead. And I tell all of my clients, like first-time event, you know, if it's a little seminar or something and you can do it in 6 months or whatever. But if you're, if you're really serious about putting on a killer event, give yourself a year.
Like we started, what, 15, 18 months ahead of time for the first one. And it makes the process a lot easier and it gives you that time to get in front of the sponsors at, at the best time to, to, you know, even have the better, the best chance of getting the most, you know, buy in from them at that time.
Doesn't mean they won't later. But what it means is if you go to them and you know in the summer and you're asking for the same year, they're going to look at their advertising budget and say, Oh, well, you know, we've only spent half of it. We can put a couple of hundred bucks at it and we'll still be under budget for the year. So that, that is really important. As far as.
Jason: I was super surprised when we reached out to some people and we had 1 or 2 in, I think March for a July conference, or it might've been even been earlier in the year, say, well, we've already booked all of our conferences for 2019 and they were like 3 months into the year. Like, wow, that's way ahead of time.
Mike: Yeah, it's crucial, it's really important.
As far as what to say. You know, especially if you're in a nonprofit setting, but I think even for-profit, we have this tendency to think, oh, businesses are doing it just because you know, they want to be nice and they want to support things, and that's true in a sense for sure. And I think for, you know, we noticed that with our conference, some first-time event, they're taking a risk, but because of the relationships they bought in. But by and large, these companies are getting so many requests that they're not going to typically just do something out of the goodness of their hearts, you know. As much as they would like to, it's just not feasible and it's not business.
So having data is, is crucial. And you get that from surveys. You get that from knowing your audience, who's coming. As much demographic data as you can collect on who's attending the event. Why they're attending, what they spend their money on. Any data like that that you can get where they're located is helpful in in making your pitch.
Because they're basically, what a company is doing when they're deciding to sponsor your event is weighing their other advertising efforts against the return on investment that you're getting. And so if they're giving you 1000 bucks for 100 people, that's $10 a person, right? If they know those are quality buyers and they know 25% of those buyers are going to spend money and it's going to equate, that's a lot better return on investment than a newspaper ad or something like that.
So. Everything. They're looking at dollar for dollar on what they're putting in versus what they're getting back out. In most cases. I think there are cases, and, and again, with ours, this was some of it, where it was, uh, this is important for us to be a part of this mission.
So make sure you can tell your story the right way. Like, craft your story, figure out what it is. Don't just go in and, Oh, you know, I want to do this event. No. This is what I'm doing. This is the vision. This is why we need this event. This is why it's important to the community. This is why it's important for your company to be there. You know? I think those are the main conversation points that you want to be having.
Jason: I love your point about the return on investment is, is really huge. And we tend to think about that as being financial, that if you give us $1,000 we need to, our attendees need to buy $1,500 worth of stuff to make it worth your while. But there is that other return on investment, like you were saying, that is, it's branding for the company.
At the ISVA conference, one of our title sponsors was CREA and Cuisine Solutions and they do like Starbucks egg bites and Panera's chicken and oatmeal. They're really, really big deal. And for them to take a risk on us. They weren't looking at it as if we put in thousands of thousands of dollars to hosting receptions and being a huge part of the conference.
They weren't looking at it as we're going to get, 1.2% of that money or times that money back that we put into it. They looked at it as, we are the sous vide company, this is a sous vide conference, therefore, we should be front and center during the conference because that's who they are, and that's their brand. So part of their return was them being at the forefront of this big conference, being talked about the entire conference.
Mike: Yep, absolutely. That, that's huge. You know, and it depends a lot on what you're doing and what your industry is. But again, this is why I kind of advocate for proving the concept with smaller events, because then you have some data and you can tell these people like, this is who's here, and this is why it's important that you've, you'd be there whether it's a monetary, you know, whether it's for them to sell or it's for their, their branding purposes.
Jason: So we've been talking about sponsors and that you can bring on sponsors. What does that actually mean? How can, if you have a brand that says, I want to be a part of your conference, how, what different ways can they be involved in the conference or options can you give them.
Mike: Sure. Of course, there's financial, underwriting the cost of it. Just writing a check, which you can use towards whatever.
In-kind sponsorship is also super helpful. Allen Brothers killed it at our conference with that. They provided just amazing product for some of the demos and then the Friday night reception.
Jason: If you're looking for amazing meat, I love Allen Brothers, they were a great sponsor and I've had their product several times now. It's just some of the best steak I've ever had.
Mike: Yeah. I don't think I can get flank steak anymore anywhere else. That Wagyu flank steak is just out of this world and everything was.
Jason: And real quick, this has made me think of something that, depending who's going to be involved in your conference, this is something else that Allen Brothers, they got something out of being involved in the conference and the people that are talking about it, but they also knew that there's going to be chefs there.
There are people who were food bloggers and people like me that I've now mentioned them on multiple podcasts. I know other people who were there have mentioned them on their blogs and articles, and they're getting this residual branding out of the conference because they had a good product.
So that's something else you can keep in mind that yeah, there are 20 people there, but these 20 people are influencers or know these people or the committee involved all have blogs. You're also going to get all this exposure in all of their blogs. It's another thing that you can pitch to kind of bring these companies in.
Mike: Absolutely. Well, and don't be afraid. This was that. I don't know that this was something that really helped us, you know, get them committed. Um, but, you know, we found out after we had started talking with them as we're sharing with them our speaker lineup, that a couple of our speakers buy from them.
So asking the people involved in your event, who their relationships are with. I didn't, I didn't really mention that, but so the average with a cold call, the number of touches it takes to convert a cold call, even into a conversation, there's somewhere between seven and nine touches. That's emails, phone calls, voicemails, working through your relationships and you know, figuring out, that's the other part of building a committee and figuring out who people know and who they can personally introduce you to. That's huge. And that's on the sponsorship side. That's on, you know, speakers and attendees basically all the way around the event. A personal relationship is going to be just hugely beneficial.
Jason: Yeah. CREA. wouldn't even have picked up the phone probably if we would've just sent them an email. But we had Dave from PolyScience was one of our speakers and we said, Dave, you believe in this conference. Who else do you think would benefit from this conference?
He said, CREA. We said, will you send an email? He said, yep. And they came on as a title sponsor and provided tens of thousands of dollars' worth of value to us just from that 1 introduction.
Mike: Yeah, just the relationship value of knowing them, and I mean, they're just the best people. Just a little plug for them, they just landed, I think it said Emirates Airlines, they're doing the catering for Emirates, which is pretty unbelievable. I mean, the high-end quality and they're in Dubai right now doing that launch. So they just, they just blow my mind with, with the incredible stuff that they do.
Jason: Like Mike was saying, that's what a personal relationship can do. People that are working with Starbucks, Trader Joe's, Panera, Emirate Airlines decided to, Delta, decided to take a risk on 2 pretty much nobodies compared to companies like that, that are billion dollar companies, take a risk and help us with our event because of a personal connection.
Mike: Yeah, absolutely. Huge.
An in-kind sponsorship is anything that they would provide in lieu of a cash donation. So they're giving you X amount of product or consulting or, I mean, it could be the sun, the moon, and the stars. It could be anything.
Jason: That's a good way, if you're looking to do as a at a food conference, if you're looking to do really good food. Allen Brothers provided all of the steak for our reception, so enough steak, Wagyu steak in this case for 150 people to eat. We got a serve and put it on a really amazing reception for free, basically from the food standpoint because they provided it. It's a good way you can leverage your sponsors or brands that are out there.
Mike: Yup. Absolutely. There was something else I was just going share on that and I got distracted by the meeting again. But yeah, so in-kind sponsors can be awesome. Also, media sponsors sometimes they pay for advertising for you. Or if they're an advertising company, they, you could have a magazine that's your media sponsor and they do all this. They'd give you free advertising and promotion in their programs. That can be huge depending on your audience and especially if you're doing a local thing and working with some of the local papers.
You know, and obviously all of them have online services and stuff now. So that could be another type of just really beneficial help. The other thing I was going to say for in-kind is even things like gift bags, gift items to put in you swag bags, things that people can take home with them.
All of that adds value for the attendee. My client's going to laugh when he hears this because he's, he's going to know that I'm talking about him. But I have a client who loves Oriental Trading. It's a constant conversation of like, no, don't, you know, he has these midnight shopping sprees that, uh, then become the swag bag items for attendees.
And, you know, for the most part, a lot of events give away just cheap swag and people don't care. Like at that point, to me, you're just wasting money on something that really isn't going to have an impact. Than finding a sponsor like Amazing Food Made Easy that is going to give you this awesome Sous Vide Ruler that everybody gets to take home.
We had Foodsaver bags that people actually use. Even the bags that they come in, you know, that's another really good way to leverage an in-kind sponsor.
Jason: I think it's good for a lot of the bloggers have probably been to blogging conferences and think about what stood out to you in the swag bag.
It wasn't the pens and the notepads. It's the, the pancake mix that's in there that everyone's talking about, especially when they get when TSA doesn't let him go through the check in line. But it's, it's those types of things that if you can talk to companies, they can provide some of that, that you don't have to pay for any of that yourself, which can be really nice.
Mike: Yeah, absolutely. I think the big three with sponsors would be a cash, media and in-kind.
Jason: And sponsors are slightly different from exhibitors, right? That show up and have a booth at an event, which is generally for larger events, or is that, can you do that for small events as well?
Mike: I mean, you can really do it for anything depending on it. All that changes are your pricing and the setup. Even for our conference there were table tops. So we didn't have the space this first time, and we didn't plan on having the space for big 10' by 10' setups. So exhibit booths can be very simple. It doesn't have to be crazy. You just have to communicate what you're giving to people so they know.
But in my experience, that is one of those things that really gets people on board. So a lot of times what I'll do is the bottom couple of sponsorship levels don't include that, but anybody that like level three and above or depending on what your packages are, includes the exhibit booth.
And a lot of times that will help get sponsors to step up to the biggest level, bigger levels, because they're getting face-to-face time now in front of people, and they can actually come and network.
You can also just sell the exhibit booths and they don't get the marketing benefits that the sponsors get. Um, but it's a lower investment and it's just, Hey, I, it's essentially, I have something to sell, I want to be there and sell it, you know?
The important thing especially with exhibitors, is to look at related products. Like you don't have to just stick in your, your wheelhouse. Like we didn't just have sous vide companies. We had a cast iron company, and we've had spice companies. We had Noon Day, who is selling these awesome bags and jewelry made by a fair-traded country, items that are made by people that are being treated fairly and given a fair wage and all that good stuff.
So it doesn't necessarily all have to be exactly on point with what you're doing. It just has to be something that will give value to your attendees and that the company will find value getting in front of your audience. So look local.
Jason: I think that's 2 really good keys. One is the products that are around it, like Stargazer cast iron pans were huge and so many people talked about him because they were different than what the conference was about, but it applied to everyone that was at the conference.
And then I think looking local, like you're saying, is a good way you can harness different things. I know the International Food Bloggers Conference always does a local taste where they bring in a bunch of local places that contribute food. And they help them put on a, basically a free reception, and it's great food, great product, and it's all by local places that want to be involved because of the people who are going to be there.
Mike: Absolutely. I mean, we had a local charity that does really cool stuff. They have an internship program for people that want to get into culinary arts and stuff, and we gave the bar sales, uh, the one night to them as a donation, but they were able to come in and get in front of people.
And that corporate social responsibility is really important now. It's a big thing in our world and all of us want to feel like we're doing good in the world. We want to feel like we're giving back. So finding a local partner doesn't have to mean you're giving them a lot of money, but just giving them some exposure, then you're saying you support. I think that's huge. And if anybody wants to look them up, they're called The Crop Foundation. Really, really cool program in Delaware too, and they're into some awesome things.
Jason: I think it's really good too, to keep in mind that when you pitch, originally you're pitching to the business and once the conference starts going and the people, the accompany has decided to work with you, you're working with people that you are not, you haven't, they didn't spend their money to be there the exhibitors and the people that are working in the booths. So treat them, be generous to them, be very nice to them, make sure they have a good time and yeah. Make sure that they're going to look good to their boss too. Yeah. That's what's going to get you, I think, repeat vendors coming back year and year because they're going to see the value there and they're going to have had a good time. You can't just argue the metrics at that point.
Mike: Absolutely. They're the people that are going to go back and be your champion and fight for you. So definitely make sure you take care of people. You know, that's in everything. I mean, every part of the event, just make sure you're taking care of your people, like whatever that looks like for your audience and your subject matter like that ,that to me, you know, event goals, the side, everybody needs to be happy.
It changed the, it gives such a different energy to a conference when everyone's generous and yeah, just really cares about everyone having a good time.
Jason: I think we've gone through most of it now. This is a kind of side subject, when you're bringing in speakers, what are your thoughts on paying for speakers versus only having people that are there for free.
Mike: I see it's very industry dependent. Most of my clients who I have worked for in most industries, there has been some form of payment for the speakers typically. And if they're traveling in, all of that's required, obviously for, in our experience, that was very different.
Jason: For the ISVA conference?
Mike: For the ISVA conference, the speakers were willing to come and be a part of it for their own brand building. And a lot of it was also because they felt our content was very interesting and they would grow, and it would help their companies.
So I think finding speakers that will get benefit out of being at your event is a huge help. I'm certainly not opposed to paying for especially keynotes like the, the important ones that, I mean, they're all important. I shouldn't say important, but you know, the ones that are making larger time commitment, it's a lot more work to plan for an hour presentation than it is for 20 minutes.
And there are some that just won't be able to come if you don't. And I think that's on a case by case basis. If you've budgeted for it, there's no shame in saying, you know what, I'm just not there yet, but next year, let's plan this. And you know, I really want to work with you.
With the estate planning client that I work with, they usually pay one or two larger speakers who are traveling in, but then everybody, they are half day events, so they have 4 or 5 speakers and everybody gets an honorarium ,you know, as part of it. And some will choose, you know, Hey, I don't want it. You know, they, I don't need it. You know, I'm just coming to do it. So I think it's really dependent on your market, on what you're doing for the event.
I do think starting small and you know, doing the little few hour, half day ones, you're going to have a lot more luck finding people who are not, you know, you're going to be pulling more local people and finding people who are not going to charge you right away. But it gives you an opportunity to build a relationship and test people out, and then you know, you sort of realize who, who you want or need to pay for the future as well.
I think especially in food too, it's good to find people that would be interested in your conference. Yeah, I think we had a lot of, we covered a little bit for some of the keynote speakers and that's, everyone else came to speak at the ISVA for free and a lot of people came because we gave them the $300 ticket to the, to attend the ISVA a as part of them speaking.
And that was almost like what we, the honorarium we were giving them. And that's the way it works for a lot of the food conferences, food blogger conferences I speak at. I don't get paid, but I do get a ticket to the conference itself. So that's something you can pitch speakers as well. We can't pay you money, but this is a $200 event or $100 event and we'll give you a free ticket to it and we'll, you know, you're also getting in front of the these, the people that are in your target audience and build your marketing.
And also doing things like recording the sessions, assuming that the speakers are good with that and hosting that somewhere that people will have access to, whether that's paid or not in the future.
That gives them residual, you know, opportunities to get in front of more people and grow their brand. You know, and in ours in particular, and many events outside of just the educational content, I mean, there was a lot of good food they got to eat. I mean, the, the, the price of the conference was pretty well worth just the food I feel like, you know, with the quality and, and you know, the chefs that were cooking it. So looking at really all the value proposition that you have with your event. That'll sort of dictate what you can do there.
Jason: I think that answers all my questions. Do you have any other tips or things that you wanted to hit on.
Mike: So the only other thing I had mentioned, there's one question that I think every event organizer needs to ask themselves so at the beginning. And this is, you know, goals, a side, whatever your goals are that you decide on, you know, this is why I'm doing the event. What are the measurable results at the end? Like what can you measure and what, what do you need to see at the end of this that's measurable, that will tell you in your eyes that this was a successful event.
I ask every one of my clients that the answer is always different, but what is the most important thing or a couple of things for you to be able to look at?
And you know, it's really easy to just go with these, you know, very. You know, lofty, very world goals I guess, or I just want people to have a good time and I just want everybody to be happy. But how do you measure that? I mean, certainly feedback results, but, you know, pick something.
Is it money? Like, do you need to make a certain amount of money? Do you need to see X amount of connections between people happening? Um, do you need to get a certain, you know, maybe take that that goal and quantify it, that you want to see 90% satisfaction. You know, that's the number that lets you know you're successful.
And I think asking yourself that question at the beginning and continually asking that throughout the process is, is really paramount to just putting on a great event and making sure that that's the focus of everything. And you know, that will help you when things go wrong because. I mean, let's face it, with every event, things go wrong.
It's, it's always going to happen, I don't care if you have the most expensive, most polished event planner in the world, things are going to happen. And at the end of it, as long as you can look at those few things that you said at the beginning, you can work around the rest, you can deal with the rest, but you can still feel like you had a successful event.
Jason: I love that. Well, thanks Mike. Thank you so much for being on Makin' Bacon. I really appreciate you coming on and hopefully the audience got a lot out of this.
Mike: Yup. Absolutely. And anybody has any questions, feel free to, Jason knows where to find me. My company is called Top Mark Events with an "s". So just Mike@TopMarkEvents.com. Happy to answer questions. I'm happy to make connections with different people. I have a decent network around the country, so, always happy to help.
Jason: Well, thanks again. I really appreciate it.
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