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This case study outlines how the MBA Women's Leadership Conference has grown their stats for connections and engagement year-on-year, since 2014, via their event app.
Forté Foundation is a non-profit consortium of leading companies and top business schools working together to launch women into fulfilling, significant careers through access to business education, opportunities, and a community of successful women. They run over 100 events a year; a mix of online and in-person events, college and pre-MBA programs and MBA/professional events.
The annual Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference is for those already on an MBA program or about to embark on it. The event started with 300 attendees in 2007 and continues to grow with more than 650 students attending in 2017 across 50 schools.
The two-day event offers the opportunity to learn from highly successful and influential business leaders how to develop stand-out skills and project an authentic leadership style while building a powerful network. Attendees can explore career paths, meet recruiters and mentors, and network with like-minded peers.
- An annual two-day event, held in a different US location each year
- The 2017 event was held at the Amazon Meeting Center, Seattle
- The event is for women considering or already embarking on their MBA
- Over 800 guests attended in 2017, of which 650 were current/potential MBA students
- The 2017 conference offered high-level insights from three stand-out keynote speakers as well as business leaders across industries, functions, and geographies.
- Panel sessions featured experts on diverse topics offering practical tips for success in business school, early career and beyond.
- A Career and Networking Expo enabled introductions to potential employers, hiring for internships and full-time positions.
- Up-and-coming entrepreneurs presented during the Power Pitch competition and the Edie Hunt Award winner provided inspiration to young women looking to make their marks.
The Event Goal
The Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference has two main aims. The primary goal is to connect event attendees (prospective and current female MBA students) with other MBA women, Fortune 100, 500, and international leading companies, and more than 50 top business schools. They want to provide professional development and recruitment opportunities by providing MBA women with access to corporate sponsors.
The Foundation wanted to build a conference community within their existing Forté community for their growing conference of professional women. They wanted the attendees and sponsors to stay connected before, during, and after the in-person event. They needed an event app tool that was easy to use and could scale with their growing team.
Forté’s attendees and prospective attendees are very busy, balancing multiple obligations professionally and personally. The tools that the Foundation had been using to manage and build these relationships and connections were cumbersome, out of date, and not easily integrated into their attendees' digital user lifestyle. For instance, in 2014, the event had:
- a static, printed conference booklet that didn’t allow for changes, last minute speakers, or cancellations
- a website that was “tedious to update” and all content was public
- no mobile capabilities. Though many of their attendees were carrying devices, Forté was only using basic email to reach out and was worried about fatiguing their audience with too many emails prior to the event
- no way to connect with other conference attendees (other than a static list of names available on the conference website that became quickly outdated)
- no way for attendees to connect with the many companies and MBA-focused universities who provided resources for them to succeed in the professional programs they were planning to attend.
- a need for a QR scanning system that was easy to use to track registration, sessions, and engagement in the exhibit hall. This wasn’t offered by many event app companies when Forté first started searching for an event app four years ago.
Forté knew that many of their attendees were continually attached to their mobile devices and that the numbers of attendees who relied on their smartphones would grow. They asked, “how can we better engage attendees and enhance their experience and connections using tools they’re already using?”
Forté set out to find a solution that connected attendees to the program the staff created without causing a lot of extra work, that encouraged attendees to network with each other and helped attendees build relationships with the companies and universities that mattered.
They were looking for an event app company that could deliver an all-in-one solution. It needed to be administratively easy to use, private without being tough to secure, and affordable. The Foundation was nervous about the last ask as because at the time it required a custom built QR code system to identify which companies the attendees visited during the career expo and they wanted it to be able to scale with the event.
After doing some initial research online and checking out a variety of vendors, Forté felt that the Pathable event app not only offered the easiest way to build community and engagement with the programs, sponsors, and other attendees, but they also loved that Pathable had the ability to connect attendees through their desktop, through a web mobile app, or a native mobile event app. Pathable was also able to work with Forté on the custom development work around the QR codes so that the cost wasn’t a burden.
This relationship started back in 2014 because Pathable were open to working together with the Foundation to create the functionality the conference needed. The partnership is still going strong and means that Pathable can compare data year-on-year and focus attention on the engagement and connections it brings about. Although the Foundation goes out occasionally for new quotations and look at competitors they have not found a more robust solution that lets their community thrive so actively.
The main objectives are:
- Building more and stronger connections
- Encouraging interaction between sponsors and attendees
- Growing a community to stay connected before, during and after the event
- Providing up to date information and better communications
How Are the Objectives Achieved?
The objectives are achieved in these main ways:
Private Messaging and Meeting Scheduling
Forté Foundation wanted to build connections and relationships at the conference through private messaging and meeting scheduling so that attendees, sponsors, and schools could all easily connect. Corporate sponsors are highlighted within the app, including details of who is attending from that company, and how you can connect with them. They encourage attendees to engage with anyone involved in the event in a private and secure manner before, during, and after the conference.
The Forté team tracks sponsorship and ROI, which continues to be a huge selling point for new and existing sponsors and exhibitors. Sponsors are the reason the conference can happen, they make a large investment in the event and the organizers want to ensure their experience is valuable. Pathable provides lead capture scanning that is available from the sponsor’s own mobile device. Targeted lead lists are shared with both sponsors and schools who want to recruit students. The Foundation can show who and what sales collateral was most popular, downloaded, or engaged with, plus data on what kind of booth traffic and digital booth visits sponsors got.
Push Notifications, Message Boards, SMS and Bulletins
The integrated marketing and communications options allow staff to not only use automated, customized, pre-scheduled emails to communicate with attendees but also message boards, SMS, bulletins, and push notifications. Having a steady flow of information the event planning team have learned how to map out the communications process and use the app’s internal tools for better messaging.
Forté’s conference has been in action since 2007. Previous to the event app, they used their conference website. There was no way to secure it and they had a lot of information that needed to be there for attendees but wasn’t part of the marketing process to get people to come.
Pathable connects attendees in a seamless experience, whether they are connected through their desktop, through a web mobile app, or a branded, native mobile event app. There are no barriers - they can get involved through nearly every device (other than Blackberry!).
The app has developed over the years as the event requirements have changed. 2016 was the first year they used polls. In the power pitch, it was a big success to have audience vote and choose their winner. In 2018, they are looking at different ways to further incentivize and spike engagement with the app through live audience response opportunities during sessions.
From the administrative back-end, the ability to track adoption and engagement rates as well as gather and share information and engagement metrics with the conference’s many sponsors is easily available on the dashboard.
Forté’s conference has been in action since 2007. In the first year of using the Pathable event app in 2014, they saw more than 5,000 visits and 43,000 page views to the event app, for a conference that only had 485 attendees. And not only were the attendees were engaging with the event app, they were really using it; with an average visit duration of nearly 8 minutes.
The engagement and connections continue to grow year-on-year. Fast forward to the latest conference in 2017 and the event app had more than 17,000 visits, nearly 215,000 page views, and more than 10 minutes spent on an average visit for 849 attendees.
84% of attendees rated the conference mobile app as easy to use and provided the info needed. 70% of attendees used the conference networking site to learn more about Forté sponsors. 57% used the conference networking site to learn more about other attendees.
Attendees, who range in age from 25-55, report that it is easy to use and engage with. Sponsors, who range in age from 25-65, say the same. And the Foundation staff, who range in age from 25-55, are right there with them.
The Value Add
Aside from the community and connections built, Forté’s staff love that they can track rooms and facilities, with advance knowledge of how many attendees want to attend a session and then make on the go adjustments so they don’t have overflow issues.
Previously, a lot of things on the backend were just time-consuming and redundant for the event planning team: sending a speaker list, arranging room allocations as forecasted attendee numbers come in, updating communications, pitching a new sponsor, helping the sponsor or schools post-event see how valuable their investment was. Through Pathable’s event app, everything is accessible in one central place and needs uploading only once. The team works with a dedicated account manager from Pathable to make sure everything lines up. If Forté needs to reference, update, or share information, they have an easy and secure place to download it from, with all the information they need, and pass it onto security, operations, marketing, event management or program curation.
As a result, the Foundation saves time and money. Attendees are happy and engaged. Sponsors are informed and connected to attendees. The engagement and connections have grown by more than 50% and the client couldn’t be happier. It is exactly what many event planners strive for with their event app.
Takeaways for Event Planners
- Focus on tech to enhance the event experience.
Event technology can offer a lot of value by enhancing the most memorable elements of the event experience. For this conference, it is the connections between attendees and between sponsors and guests that really make the event special. These connections with like-minded individuals and potential employers and mentors could bring about conversations that would never otherwise have happened and lead to the success stories of tomorrow.
- Ditch the spreadsheets.
It is always worth looking at new and better ways of doing things to save administration time. Some tasks are time-consuming and doing them manually is not an efficient way of working. Technology can often do things more accurately and faster, giving real-time data. Sometimes the solutions for these elements are a bonus or a by-product of other improvements made.
- Don’t discount custom features (even on a limited budget).
Don’t automatically discount a feature or functionality you want or need believing it is out of your price range. Forté needed a feature that at the time was a custom build and, although money was an issue, they came to an agreement which paid off for both parties. Pathable eventually turned the QR functionality into a standard feature for other event planners because Forté saw so much success from it and the industry started to see a need for it.
This is also true in terms of integrations with other vendors, such as registration providers, association management tools, CRM platforms, etc. It is always worth talking to your eventtech provider to see how they can help and what solutions they can propose.
- Good metrics can increase revenue.
Metrics need to measure the right things and be easy to collect, share and understand. If you get the stats and reporting right it can increase interest from sponsors and exhibitors and keep them coming back each year. Without being able to gather this evidence though Forté would not be able to generate as much sponsorship support. Sponsors want to see the evidence so make sure you can give it to them!
- Think about the user experience.
Busy attendees need tech that fits with the technology they are already using and cuts down on inbox clutter or steep learning curves to be able to use it. By offering a solution that works across devices it means that users can pick up right where they left off and by centralizing and differentiating event messages it makes it easier to stay in touch and engage with the event.
- Develop long-term partnerships but never stand still.
As this case study proves, it isn’t necessary to chop and change eventtech providers to keep innovating and getting the best deal. There are lots of benefits of entering into longer-term partnerships and working together using the data and knowledge for continuous development and success.
In our recent EventMB survey 91% of event planners confirmed that event apps are still relevant. Digesting this case study and the data generated showing continuous improvements year-on-year, it is easy to understand why so many events see an event app as an essential part of their offering.