Q&A: Strategic Event Science of the Future

strategic

Name: Heather Mason

Title: Founder & CEO, Caspian Agency

Creator of Caspian 10 Essentials, a way to provide event producers with the language, skills and techniques to get more power, more money and more respect, positioning them not just at the table but at the head of it. Her methodology is now incorporated into an online course taught in San Diego State University’s Masters in Meeting and Event Management program.

Clients: The Rockefeller Foundation, University of Oxford, Code for America, Gender Smart Investing Summit, Skoll Foundation

You work with a lot of major nonprofits. How did that come about?

Caspian is a SWAT team with a heart of Pollyanna. I am principled in my approach but strategic and disciplined in the way we produce and execute our conferences. I only want to work with people I think are changing the world for the better and doing innovative things. In this short time I have on the planet, I want to work at with folks who are moving the biggest mountains. That’s why I targeted Jeff Skoll, the billionaire who started a foundation after starting his career in the early days of eBay. Once I got into that world, it was addicting.

What is your vision for the future of the events industry?

This is one of the most exciting times for meeting professionals—and one of the most volatile. I know people are hurting. My business took an enormous hit, and I feel for everyone struggling right now. But through disruption and chaos comes power.

At its core, we do project management, which is an established career path that is known to make six figures in enterprise-level companies. With that title, you are making plenty of money, and you’re very respected. Strategic thinking and speaking will get us into the corner office with a better quality of life and more respect.

People are starting to realize that they need to go deep on their strategy, the way they connect with constituents and stakeholders. They can’t just pick a resort and gather the way they used to; they are being forced to turn to experts. They need someone to figure out “The Zoom.” That is leading them to think through the strategy behind the gathering.

I see a massive opportunity, because where we had a tower of Legos where each brick is a content piece, that tower has crashed; and now we can rethink the purpose of each touchpoint. We can now inject ourselves into planning how each piece fits together. The result could be more jobs for strategic thinkers over the coming years. We will continue to have hybrid and virtual events, and that will expand our work possibilities.

Will meeting professionals have to become analytics experts?

A hundred percent. So many people have struggled with the question of how to measure ROI in events. I believe that if cinema and marketing had a baby, it would be an event. Marketing requires a real appreciation for numbers and analytics and how to make a business case—something we are too often missing with on-site event experiences.

We were lazy in the days when we set up trade shows and just counted how many people in the river of humanity walked by and took chocolates off the exhibit table. Now we can plug into all the data that has made Facebook into a powerhouse.

If you can renew and reinvigorate and reinvent even just the analytics part of an event to make it more efficient, people will pay for that.

Once they have all these new skills, what will be the job titles of the future?

I am not a fan of the word “planner.” It’s too diluted and too broad. That’s like saying someone is a medical person. We have different delineations—nurses, doctors, plastic surgeons—they each do different things. There is no delineation in the word planner.

We will need strategic producers who have a high level of acumen in audiovisual and narrative storytelling. Meetings will be measured not as a single event but as part of a progression of activities that build audiences over time. The job will be to create interactivity and engagement to further business objectives. Data will be the tool to measure success, and tech will make it happen.

Beyond the technical skills, how can a meeting professional prepare for this new reality?

It will require a mindset shift. Sometimes we just need to take a big breath of fresh air and start thinking beyond what is going on right now. Think about what worked and didn’t in previous disruptions and follow what the trendsetters are saying.

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