The essential A to Z guide to managing a successful gaming event
This article was written for eGaming Review Magazine in advance of the ICE EXPO 2018
All seasoned gaming people I know have had at least one shocker of a conference. From missed flights to businesses closing down as the stand was put up, a conference such as ICE can be a quagmire for the unprepared and unsuspecting delegate, so here are a few pointers and learnings I’ve picked up over the past 10 years and over 30 shows: -
Breakfast – most important meal of the day, it’s often said, and never more so when you’re going to be on your feet for eight hours in daylight and probably more at night.
Calendar – whether Outlook, Google or a printed Excel sheet try to avoid overbooking yourself with meetings. Some inevitably overrun and half the point of a conference is the ability to wander the floor and have unplanned conversations with potential leads.
Drinking – things have moved on in terms of the work/ play balance but we’re still an industry that enjoys burning a bonfire at both ends. If you’re young enough to hit the parties and still be switching the stand on at 9AM then all credit to you, but I’d suggest front-loading your meeting schedule to leave a mellower schedule towards the end of the show.
Event Manager – They own the show, but despite the fact that you’ve paid a fortune to have your own slice of real estate you’re not the most important person in the room. Be nice to them and when the inevitable calamity happens they’ll be much more likely to go out of their way to do you a solid.
Flight times – unless you work for yourself or the tightest of low budget start up you don’t have to get the cheapest flight in. You’ll never be at your best if you start a show after 4 hours sleep and a 4AM flight.
Giveaways – USB sticks, free pens, iPads – don’t put them in a bowl at the front of your stand – there are numerous punters who probably don’t even work in gaming who trawl conferences collecting freebies. Instead I’d suggest having one big stand out branded prize and doing a draw from all the meetings and contacts you made during the event, ensuring you get their correct contact details. My favourite for stand out was a mini motorbike one year in Barcelona. No one needed it, but for some reason everybody wanted it – and it generated great buzz.
Hotels Vs. Apartments – I personally favour the value offered by a luxury AirBnB near the conference venue. Less costly and more homely than a hotel with the added benefit you can have a remote office set up so you and your team can work pre and post conference. In Barcelona I once found a converted tug boat with party terrace for half the price of four hotel rooms, so don’t be afraid of getting creative with your digs.
ICE – the big one, and for us UK dwellers the easiest show to get to. If you’re UK based use your local knowledge to pick the best suppliers for your build and the best restaurants for client hosting.
Jealousy – Statistically, you are unlikely to work for Microgaming, Novamatic or SciGames – more often than not a well designed 3x3 stand with adequate seating space will fit your needs perfectly and give you change from $15k to set up in its entirety.
Know Your Customer – KYC isn’t just for anti-fraud – be sure to strike a balance between generating new business and taking time to meet with your current base. They’re being aggressively targeted by your competitors at the very same event, so show them some love.
Lunch – by 1PM you and your team will be getting into sugar crash territory. Make sure you, your team and your promotional staff are fed and watered in good time. It’s always a good idea to cover the cost to – it generates valuable good will and they’ll be more likely to go the extra mile for you.
Models – we’re seeing less near-nude body painted promo models these days, but this out dated trend hasn’t, sadly, been buried for good yet. It’s 2018, for crying out loud – enough, already. If you want to use promo girls, dress them smartly, brief them well, incentivise them to drive valuable traffic to your stand and use them as an extension of your sales team to funnel prospects.
Newbies – it might be your tenth ICE but don’t forget how intimidating it was when you first wandered into the cavernous ExCeL (or Earls Court, if you can remember that far back). Gaming might be a giant industry, value wise, but let’s not forget the friendliness that made it great to start with.
Opportunities – Careers are transitional, and as much as we all like the idea of working our way to the top of one firm, statistically you’ll be changing job some time within the next three years. If you’re looking for a change, there is no better place to research and meet with your future employer than a trade show, so take advantage of having them all within 500 feet of you.
Plan in advance - pick a standing building company who is already building stands at the conference and have it written in the contract that everything will be ready by 4pm the day before the show starts.
Quotes – if someone in the gaming press asks to interview or for a vox pop, go for it. The same goes for pre and post event feedback. It’s good for the event’s future development and its free PR for you. Plus it never hurts to promote your own personal brand once in a while.
Respect – for competitors, for your staff, for the event organisers, for women in gaming, for the bin men clearing up your mess and for yourself. This is essential and unequivocal.
Shoes – back to the standing again, killer Louboutins are not your friend if your ankles fuse by day three.
Travel Light – avoid over packing and keep your airport queue time and shoulder strain to a minimum.
Understand your customer – it’s amazing how much better your conversion rate becomes when you’ve looked into the companies you’re meeting. Even a ten minute Google can give you enough insights to show you understand where you could offer san invaluable service and will set you apart from the majority who seem to wing it. A pre-event questionnaire to all your meeting prospects helps you prepare and saves time on the preliminaries. If you’re really on your game you can even mock up some work to show their brand in action, getting you further down the conversion funnel.
Vitamins – Berocca, Vitamin B and Iron are your friends. Take them with you.
Wrapping Up – try and recycle as much of your stand as you can – these things don’t come cheap and the amount of unnecessary wastage these conferences generate is shocking. Again, a decent stand builder will help with this if you put it into the original brief.
X-Factor – There’s no magic bullet for a successful conference but if you set challenging but achievable sales targets, motivate you team (incentivise if necessary) and focus on quality rather than quantity of meetings then you won’t go far wrong.
You – look after yourself – between ICE, EIG, Macau, Vegas, LATAM and all the affiliate events your body and soul can take a pounding to play within your means and manage your time realistically.
Zzzz – if your employers don’t offer a day in lieu after a weekend conference, they should, but take a day off to recharge anyway. If you’re the boss, look after your most valuable resources and give your team a day off in lieu. Most likely they’ve earned it.
Harry Lang (@FactDeJour) has worked in gaming for over 10 years for leading operators including WMS, Rank, bwin.party and Pinnacle. He recently launched Brand Architects - http://brandarchitects.info - a brand and marketing optimisation consultancy.