Learn how Bo Brustkern & his team at LendIt Fintech successfully pivoted from live to virtual events and what strategies they adopted while transitioning their company from an event organization to a 365 media company.
Bo Brustkern is the cofounder & CEO of LendIt Fintech, a media and events organization focused on transformation in lending and digital banking. Pre-COVID, LendIt ran 3 major in-person events in NYC, Miami, and London and charged an average ticket price of $2,000 to $4,000 per ticket on top of sponsor revenues. When the pandemic hit, Bo and his team quickly pivoted their events to virtual and the results are impressive. LendIt was able to continue to charge for tickets as well as retain more than half of its original sponsors. Ultimately, Bo and his team were able to maintain a good portion of the revenue as it were their largest clients who stayed. Their first online event included matchmaking and appointment setting as well as speed dating and cocktails, lending itself to a high value experience for both sides of the customer equation.
H2K Founder Heather Holst-Knudsen spoke with Bo during our Virtual Shake-Up 2.0 event about how LendIt was able to retain sponsors when pivoting to virtual, what new strategies have led to their success, and how LendIt Fintech’s company identity has transformed.
Key Learning 1: Transition From an Events Organization to a 365 Media Company
Prior to the pandemic, LendIt Fintech considered itself an event organization; however, given the company’s transformation over the past year, the business now identifies as a niche digital media company. The company’s mission has always been to identify the toughest questions encompassing the industry, find the people who can answer those questions, and put them on stage at a LendIt event. As COVID cases rose, so did the demand for tough questions to be answered. Unable to put thought leaders on stage, the LendIt Fintech team elevated the company mission and made solutions more immediate in order to provide their audience with answers sooner, instead of waiting for live events to come back into the picture. They started publishing digital content ranging from webinars to blog posts and found that they could monetize this content, therefore discovering a new revenue stream while simultaneously serving their audiences new needs.
They also used this digital approach with their sponsors, offering them a digital media inventory of educational content surrounding how sponsors can best engage online audiences and maximize their presence and engagement opportunities on virtual event platforms. These inventories have consisted of a variety of content formats including webinars, panels, and whitepapers, and are available to sponsors prior to and after the event. These on-demand resources enhanced the sponsor experience and delivered an extended value only possible in a virtual environment. Looking at sponsor education in this new way elevated LendIt’s sales offering and enabled them to retain sponsors in a way many others weren’t able to.
Key Learning 2: The Impact Networking Has on Customer Experience & Event Value
It is important to put networking at the forefront of your event and continuously reinforce it in order for attendees to understand how they can connect with sponsors as well as their fellow attendees - and see the value of doing so. Understanding networking capabilities and determining whether they align with your vision for attendee & sponsor engagement should be central to your virtual platform evaluations. For example, the ability to set up meetings on the platform is key. Attendees should be automatically listed as available for networking when they register for the event so they feel obligated to schedule and attend meetings. Additionally, assess whether the platform allows you to host fun and dynamic networking events like a virtual wine tasting or virtual cocktail making class. Events like these provide a more casual environment for attendees to engage with one another.
While content has always been one of LendIt’s strengths, the team has realized that the majority of attendees join LendIt events for the networking piece. Now, one-to-one networking has become a hallmark of several LendIt Fintech events. The events team has gotten creative with its networking events, creating activations like “networking roulette,” where attendees pile into a virtual meeting room, provide information about what they want to talk about, and are randomly paired by topic (versus by title or industry). Similar to speed dating, networking roulette meetings are 5-8 minutes each, enabling attendees to meet as many people as possible and schedule follow up meetings with whoever they want to continue talking to. LendIt has received very positive feedback from attendees about this networking format and found a direct correlation between their event’s Net Promoter Score and the number of meetings people conducted during the event. While pivoting to virtual networking may seem daunting, LendIt has proved that focusing on and getting creative with it can drastically increase audience engagement and lead to far greater event success.
Key Learning 3: Taking the Lead Question Off the Table
The main draw for sponsors to participate in an event has always been to obtain quality leads. However, LendIt Fintech recognized how the process of delivering these leads could be evolved. The organization adapted its sales offering to sponsors when pivoting to virtual by guaranteeing leads instead of selling them. If sponsors did not get enough leads during the virtual event, LendIt gave them the ability to choose and receive the contact information of a set number of people from their preferred segment of the audience. The number of contacts given to each sponsor varied based on their sponsorship level; the higher the sponsorship, the more contacts they were given after the event. Guaranteeing leads makes it easier for sales teams to sell the event to sponsors by increasing the value offering of virtual events.
Additional Highlights From Bo Brustkern’s Session:
Question: What exactly did you do outside of the event to keep your sponsors onboard?
Answer: For the 174 sponsors who were signed up for the live event we retained 94, which involved a ton of selling. It was a lot of going back and saying “here is the inventory you bought and here is what we are converting it to, are you in or are you out?” That was the primary activity; there were also some sponsor education activities involved. One other really important thing was that we took the lead question off the table. It was the first time we guaranteed leads instead of selling leads which the sales team was jubilant about. We went into Salesforce and took all the closed-wons and swapped them into prospects for the virtual event, so we resold every single one.
Want to watch the full session recording? You can do so here.
More About Bo Brustkern:
Bo Brustkern is Co-Founder and CEO of LendIt Fintech, a respected media, education and events company with a network of over 40,000 financial services innovators. LendIt Fintech provides context to the rapidly changing universe of technology’s impact on financial services. For over 20 years, Mr. Brustkern has set himself apart as a leader in understanding, funding and leading cutting-edge developments in fintech and finserv.
In addition to co-founding and leading LendIt Fintech, Mr. Brustkern co-founded Arcstone Valuation (2006), Arcstone Equity Research (2010) and NSR Invest (2013).
Connect with Bo on LinkedIn & Twitter, or contact us for an introduction.
Market Development Assistant, H2K Partners