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“Focus on what matters. There are more than 1,000 things you can do better or differently every day. “

David Saef is the executive vice president of the MarketWorks division of GES, a global event marketing company with over 80 years of experience connecting people through live events. David’s team is focused on strategy development and marketing initiatives that help businesses drive more success. He’s a frequent industry speaker on strategy, sales and marketing alignment, measurement, and growth strategies.

Businessinterviews.com: Tell us more about your role with GES.

David: I lead our MarketWorks service, which includes creating compelling strategies, marketing campaigns, branding, and organizational transformation. Our clients — for-profit and nonprofit show organizers and corporate marketers — are always looking to improve their performance. We provide the advice, creativity, analytical firepower, and ongoing support to drive results.

I enjoy getting personally invested in all of our clients. I listen to staff, attendees, and members to understand their views and concerns; dig into data to understand key trends and insights; and work with colleagues within MarketWorks and throughout GES to provide innovative and compelling solutions.

I attend many trade shows and events throughout the year, and I enjoy gathering the latest trends, research, and experiences to share with our clients to make sure they stay competitive.

My second hat is heading up strategy at GES. Like MarketWorks, this involves a variety of initiatives, such as initiating and creating GES’ Expresso online ordering platform, introducing a new e-literature offering to clients, and identifying and developing plans to grow GES’ scope of services and geographies.


Businessinterviews.com: You work with a variety of clients across the globe. What are a few pieces of advice you can offer other business professionals on how to manage multiple global relationships?

David: Understand your customers. Whether it’s attendees, members, colleagues, or vendors, think with their point of view in mind first. We always ask these two questions: 1. “What’s the current perception of the target audience?” 2. “How do you want the target audience to perceive you?”

It’s also important to listen and learn. Talk with other people who have worked in a similar role or who have worked in the particular regions you’re working with. Understand local customs and expectations, and adapt your style to the culture rather than the other way around. I’ve lived and worked in many countries, including the former Soviet Union and England, and it’s critical that you understand the culture and expectations at a local level.

Finally, seek input. The phrase “it takes a village” is so important for success. Especially when working across borders, make sure people feel like they’ve been heard, and contribute ideas to a final solution. When I was working in the U.K., I came across a more hierarchical culture in management meetings. I learned to first ask for my direct reports to suggest their ideas, and then I would share my own ideas on how to proceed. The junior staffers felt more invested and engaged in working toward a successful outcome.

Businessinterviews.com: Business events have a lot of moving parts. What are a few tips you have on how to manage all of them?

David: Focus on what matters. There are more than 1,000 things you can do better or differently every day. Figure out which two or three initiatives matter most for reaching your goal, set a few smaller goals within those initiatives, and focus on the actions needed to achieve those goals.

Before a trade show, I often have my clients sit down and imagine a scenario where three weeks after the show concludes, an interviewer asks an attendee or exhibitor about his experience at the show. Then, I have them write down the response they’d like the attendee or exhibitor to provide. We really focus on iterating that quote. Once they have the quote they like, the contents indicate the most important initiatives.

Also, keep regular and relevant communications. Find a way to update the event team, yet really think through what needs to be communicated to whom and when. Too often, we see multiple meetings where everyone is on a call or in a room, yet many people aren’t engaged because the majority of the meeting isn’t meant for them. Craft agendas, set timelines, and respect people’s time. A good way to help with communication is creating a site on an intranet where regular updates are posted for people to access and review. Also aim to end meetings early. People always appreciate when you give them time to address other matters.

Finally, set clear expectations, and hold people accountable. Setting expectations is hard in this business, so it’s important to convey what someone is expected to achieve, not necessarily what he should do.

In other words, if a leader delegates creating information desks at a show to a staffer, he should say: “We need to create key points of information in and around our show. In the past, we’ve had X desks staffed by Y people. But many things have changed. I’m looking to you for recommendations and a plan to provide timely, relevant, and complete answers to our attendees/exhibitors. Feel free to speak with other folks, then let me know your proposal to provide information and assistance at this year’s show.” He shouldn’t just say, “I need you to set up X desks staffed by Y people.”

Businessinterviews.com: How do you see trade show participants continuing to reinforce the value of face-to-face marketing?

David: First, we make the experience compelling. Our world is filled with technology and other tools to make it easy for people to access information and meet people. We need to create live experiences that attendees can’t get anywhere else and that make them feel like they have to be there in person to take full advantage of all show activities.

Second, we share content. The goal is for content to go well beyond the trade-show floor. By making content, such as presentations and new product demos, accessible and sharable, we allow participants to share with one another and their communities well beyond the trade show.

Finally, we create communities. Before, there were trade show organizers, exhibitors, and attendees, and each group had its own interests and activities. Today, we want all of these groups and more — media, bloggers, students, academics, and policy makers — to engage to create new ideas and solutions.

This morning, I was reading about the largest air-enthusiast show in the world: Experimental Aircraft Association. At the show, the attendees created the “One Week Wonder.” Thousands of aircraft enthusiasts literally created an airplane together and conducted a maiden flight in one week. Not only was this initiative incredible for those 2,500 enthusiasts, but also imagine the number of people the maiden flight was shared with as a sign of communal success!

Businessinterviews.com: What are a few trends in event analytics that really excite you?

David: The first trend that really excites me is customization. Attendees have limited time, a packed agenda, and a need to show results. The trade show of old was highly inefficient. First, it wasn’t clear which shows were best for attendees, and then when an attendee decided to go to a show, he needed to figure out which sessions to attend and which exhibitors to visit. With all the data that organizers have today, it’s possible to provide customized recommendations based on the attendee profile. I also believe we can get to a predictive state and reach new attendees who we believe will be a good fit based on past attendee participation.

I’m also excited about end-to-end analytics. Housing, travel, registration, leads, session attendance, and session satisfaction are separate data sets that don’t speak with one another. I believe a key trend will be some innovative players like GES creating event intelligence about attendees and exhibitors that will provide both real-time and post-event feedback to create more meaningful and memorable experiences.

Finally, I’m excited about ROI analytics. Many exhibitors and sponsors struggle with ways to measure effectiveness. Part of the challenge is setting measurable and objective goals. Another challenge is collecting data to demonstrate ROI. We’re seeing a convergence of technologies to make it easier to determine ROI, such as utilizing leads and competitor benchmarking, video and Wi-Fi analysis, social media analysis, and interactive technologies to measure dwell time and change in perception. Not all of these tools will be deployed simultaneously, but rather the right tools will be used to determine the ROI based on an exhibitor’s specific goals.

Businessinterviews.com: What analytics tools are you most excited about? Why?

David: First, I’m excited about video and Wi-Fi tracking, which provides the ability to understand how attendees navigate and engage with a show. You can measure pass-bys, engagement rate, and dwell time. Most importantly, with video, we can see how attendees view the show, which provides ways to improve.

I’m also excited about NFC and RFID. These technologies generate lots of data, so they can be cumbersome. The key behind these tools, though, is understanding the frequency of interaction with different points in the show and thinking about how the show design and activity can best support attendee preferences and behaviors.

Lastly, I’m excited about social media listening. Understanding the folks with the biggest audience and calibrating their perspectives on a show can help build an influence campaign for the future.

Businessinterviews.com: How do you determine success for your clients? What are a few measurable metrics that can show the ROI of a business event or tradeshow?

David: Set clear, measurable, objective goals, and make sure the goals are quantifiable. This is something many companies fail to do, which sets them up for challenges post-show.

Also, collect pre-, at-, and post-show data, and analyze performance. There are many metrics that can be analyzed. A few of the most prominent include:

• The number and value of qualified leads.

• A change in perception (e.g., X percent of attendees are more willing to try a product after having engaged with company staff).

• The percentage of attendees who learned something new about the company as a result of attending the show. Since most attendees go to a show to learn what’s new, every company needs to highlight its offerings. This is most important.

Businessinterviews.com: As someone who is always faced with change, what advice can you provide other business professionals on how to handle a changing environment?

David: First, embrace change. It’s a bit cliché, but the people who are succeeding are those willing to constantly adapt or drive change.

Second, you must take risks. Sometimes you’ll fail. Sometimes you’ll win big. But these days, no one can afford to play it safe.

Finally, take ownership of your part of the organization, and make it the best it can be. It doesn’t matter how large your role is or the scope of oversight you’ve been given. If you’re asked to mop the floor, make that floor shinier than it’s ever been before. If you’re asked to train staff, do your best to meet with all staff members and understand their experiences and perspectives, then customize a program to meet their individual needs. Leaders are always looking for new, driven owners. Own whatever part of the world you’ve been given, optimize it, and watch your career take off.

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