Ankush Gupta  0:26 

Hi, everyone. I’m Ankush, founder at, the world’s first platform for event reviews. And I’m also the host of the Building Awesome Events podcast. Our guest today wears many hats. She’s an event strategist. She’s a speaker, board member, and the director of Experiential marketing at VMware. Allow me to welcome Allison Crooker to the show.

Allison Crooker  0:52 

Thank you and Ankush, and thank you, everybody, for joining.

Ankush Gupta  0:56 

Yes, absolutely. Allison, pleasure to have you with us.

First, let me say I love your LinkedIn bio, I was just taking a look at it, where you talk about your childhood and through to forming your guiding principles. You know, let me just say that it’s so refreshing and so uncommon to see on a LinkedIn page. And I’m sure that’s reflective of your candour as a person, what made you write all of that on the on your LinkedIn page?

Allison Crooker  1:25 

Yeah, at this point in my career, I’ve decided to not only tell people what I do, but also share with them who I am. And I felt like it was a great opportunity. I love LinkedIn, I think LinkedIn is a wonderful platform.

And I have a coach because I also have a coach and I have coaches, who also helped me really put that material together and use the about section to be more about me, whereas the rest of my LinkedIn page, you know, is pretty much about what I do.

Ankush Gupta  2:02 

That’s wonderful. It’s literally the first time I’ve seen, and I was like, blown away. And I highly recommend to anyone listening to this, to go to Allison’s LinkedIn page and just read her bio.

What also struck me, Allison, was that you spent a long five years across your first couple of jobs, The Bond Buyer and Information Management Network. How did you make the choice early on to make a career in conferences and just stick with it? And, what are some of the attributes you felt that you had, which meshed so well, with the conference production job?

Allison Crooker  2:31 

Yeah, I was working in finance, what I don’t have on LinkedIn is a good 10 years of actually being in finance. So, I was on Wall Street. And then I went to business school. And then I was like, I don’t want to go back to Wall Street. So, I worked for a boutique shop in public finance. And then I worked for New York City government. And it was at in New York City, back my hometown, where I was sitting one day, and I looked at our daily publication, it was called The Bond Buyer. And they were looking for a person who had a finance background, but wanted to get into marketing. And I had already come to the conclusion that I was not going to stay in finance, because my bosses were very numerical. They designed everything in numbers, they came up with new bond structures, and I was not that like I could execute a program close a bond deal, but I couldn’t come up with new structures. So I wasn’t going to go very far. And when I saw this advertisement in our daily newspaper, I was like, That’s me. That is exactly me!

And thank you and I got the job and started my career in conference production and what has kept me in it is that it stimulates not one I find my artistic kind of vibe in it and constantly changing.

I love the content side of it, particularly because it intellectually stimulates me to learn about new things constantly. So intellectually stimulating, I find my kind of artistic avenue in it and I like the fact that it’s kind of like a show right? Yeah, you get hit it all together you get all together you get it all together. curtain goes up, you perform it goes down. I like that.

Ankush Gupta  4:38 

And for the paucity of time because there’s so much let me just now cut forward another decade to Nvidia you know, where you are tasked with producing 1,500 live conference sessions and 100 webinars and how do you stay on top of portfolio like that?

Allison Crooker  4:56 

Yeah, it takes a team so luckily, both Nvidia and now VMware and many of the other people that I work with on the Event Content Council, which we’ll talk about in a little bit.

 We have teams of people, these are not small events that one person or two people do. But I, myself jumped at event content, we have a team of five, though, in order to pull off that many sessions and that many different speakers and manage all of that we have a strong team and we also use agencies. So it’s a multi million dollar operation. It’s not a small business. It’s a big business investment.

Ankush Gupta  5:42 

Absolutely. And it’s exhausting listing down so many things that you’re presently a part of Allison, presently, Director of experiential marketing at VMware speaker and event strategy coach and founder of the Event Content Counsel, can I just leave it up to you to walk me through a little bit of how you prioritize and juggle your time between these different areas?

Allison Crooker  6:03 

Absolutely, I spend most of my time in my full-time gig. I give them as much as possible so that I can perform well and make sure my team has a manager who’s engaged and directs them well. And because of all the years that I’ve spent in event content on the independent production side, on the live journalism side, and now the corporate user conference side, I have a wealth of information that people are willing and wanting to tap into.

 So, I love speaking, and I love sharing that. And so, I love being a speaker. And in terms of helping, I don’t do a lot of coaching, for any kind of financial gain. I just help people now. I help them with their strategy and taking their content strategy, and aligning it with their event content strategy, I find that’s the niche that I’ll fill.

And about four years ago, my boss at the time, Linda Britt supported me when I went to her and said, “Hey, I keep going to these industry events, or corporate event marketers, and they don’t talk about what I do. Nobody talks about event content; can I start something.” She’s like, “good idea” and she put me in touch with another woman named Erica Spore who runs a group called Impact Point Group. And together, we had our first what we now call Event Content Council Meeting.

And we’ve evolved since then, we’ve had about 80 members, everybody, you know, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, Splunk, Oracle, Cisco, you know, the big guys, and Dow Jones and Fortune. So we’re broadening it to a lot of different industries. And we focus on event content, we meet monthly, and we talk about all things event content.

Ankush Gupta  7:47 

So, when you say event content does that encompass programming? What is the framework?

Allison Crooker  7:54 

It is everything from curating or doing a call for proposals, or whatever you do to get your content in, working with subject matter experts, or review teams to define on from what you got in the funnel down to what you’re going to actually accept.

Once you’ve accepted all that content, it includes all the speaker management, it includes all the presentation review, it includes all of the legal reviews, and all the other things that corporate does. And then it also includes the production.

 So you’re deciding on what rooms where they are, how big are they, attendance just spiked or dropped? What are you gonna do with your rooms? What are you gonna do with your session and now on top of it, we also deal with our digital content too.  So now we were doing two, we’re doing double the work, basically, because now the digital arm that we have, we need to develop content specifically for that distribution as well.

Ankush Gupta  8:59 

Absolutely. And, fascinating to know, and my interest is on the review side of things, because obviously we are running a review platform for events, where does that feedback cycle feed into event content? And some of the things that you just described? I mean, it all has to end with getting in the feedback from the participants. So what are some of the mechanisms to do that? And how does that help improve the next edition?

Allison Crooker  9:23 

Yeah, it’s very important. And I think all of us see that data and data analytics is a critical component. We’re no longer in the day of “Oh, we had 500 people come and sit in the seats. So yay.” You know, now we do surveys. Luckily, we’ve been very fortunate at VMware to have very high response rate, but these are internal. So we take that data, we analyze it, we really see what they liked, what they didn’t like. We do focus groups as well, both after the event at the event, before the event. We’re always trying to be in touch with our community.

 So, when I see a platform like Eventible, I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, this is fabulous”, because it is the data that we need to continually deliver an event that attendees want to go to.

Ankush Gupta  10:13 

Absolutely. And I think it’s just it’s another channel, you know, you might get your data internally by running a survey or a focus group, and Eventible might surface some newer insights. So when you all put it together, ultimately, the goal is to have an organizer, put on a better show the next time around.

Allison Crooker  10:28 

Absolutely. And I think we get about 12% of our total attendees to actually fill out our survey. So we have a huge market that hasn’t really filled the survey, this could tap into that marketplace. So yeah, I think it’s wonderful.

Ankush Gupta  10:59 

The reason that we are doing it in the external environment is that our hope is that future attendees, prospective attendees are influenced by some of the things that they read on a neutral platform, which is not the case with an internal survey. Internal surveys are not going anywhere, they stay in a closed group, but we want you to influence your market, hopefully, in a positive way, in a real way by saying that these are some of the great things that we put on.

Allison Crooker  11:23 

I was just going to say I think about Glassdoor. And I love Glassdoor, I love being able to hear what people have really said about an organization that I might be thinking about joining, you know, so yeah, I can see Eventible being just like that.

Ankush Gupta  11:38 

Great. Allison, let’s come back to what you said is your full time gig right now, and talk about that a little bit. So outline for me what VMware’s events strategy and portfolio looks like, on the proprietary and third party side? And what are some of the key corporate objectives on both of these?

Allison Crooker  11:53 

 For those that were familiar with VMware and our annual user conference, we did change the name last year from a 20 plus year old VM World to VMware Explore. And the name change was indicative kind of a way that the company has changed, which is really to be the center of the multi cloud universe. And with that mandate from our CEO all the way through, we really do have a portfolio of proprietary and third party events that supports that.

 So our annual user conference is grounded in making sure that we have industry thought leadership, as well as subject matter experts and product focus that really centers on our multi cloud prominence.

And yeah, third party events are focused on that too, you know, you’ll see us at Re:invent, you’ll see us that Google Cloud Next, you’ll see at the Mobile World Congress, you’ll see us at the places where that kind of presence is really important to get our messaging out. You will also see us digitally doing things like our cross cloud services moments, which gets a lot of ears. You’ll see us doing a McLaren kind of sponsorship which gets our name out. So there’s a definite red thread through all of the proprietary and third party events and sponsorships that VMware hosts.

Ankush Gupta  13:25

And how would you now view a virtual strategy versus an in-person. And what’s your go to, and for what reasons now?

Allison Crooker  13:33

So, I believe that both are important. And what we look at, though, is that they’re kind of dials. And for our in-person events, there’s a focus on, you know, the higher touch, maybe the more top of funnel kind of a customer, if you have, if you have a pyramid of customers, it’s kind of like that top, that top tier takes a lot of money to put on an in-person event. So we want to make sure that we’re delivering the content we need to that level of customer. And then we use our digital platform and our digital strategy to reach the broader base, where we’re really looking for views and numbers. So we definitely are strategic about how we implement our event portfolio.

Ankush Gupta  14:17 

Great. And, that brings us to our next question, Allison, from a tech perspective. And just because there are like a gazillion tech platforms out there today, what’s the one you rely on the most for your virtual events? And why?

Allison Crooker  14:43 

Well, my answer is we kind of do our own. We ended up not landing on using a virtual platform and 2020-21 and even now, we may change, we may, but we use Rain Focus as our Content Management registration platform. And that’s one of the reasons it’s because the API has so many other things. So we were able to kind of have a Rain Focus platform with a BrightCove plugin,like we put the pieces all together a best in class kind of strategy, as opposed to landing on just one platform that we use, and that may change in years to come. But that is how we have done it in the past.

Ankush Gupta  15:29 

It’s good to know. And if it’s working for you, then just stick with it, it’s probably the best way. So in terms of traditional marketing, Allison, how do you create awareness for your events? What are some of the channels that you think sort of work best around audience acquisition or working the demand pipeline? Is this a cross functional activity, which I’m assuming it is, and how involved are you personally?

Allison Crooker  15:50 

It is absolutely a cross functional strategy. And from an audience acquisition standpoint, with the event marketing team, our most successful channel is email, like a good old school email. And I think that’s because we have a very large, 20 plus years of doing this event, we have a very large database of previous attendees. And so as they move around, you know, they follow us and we follow them. Our attendance is usually 50-50 50% new, 50% repeat.

So, you know, email is very successful. And we want to reach new audiences all the time. So we need to be in contact with our campaign, marketing our go to market group, absolutely in sync with them to be a part of the entire marketing channel. So that we’re not just emailing about the event but we’re being mentioned in the cross cloud multi-cloud services moments, email campaign that the business group about networking and security is sending out, you know, like, it’s a constant conversation that’s being mentioned.

Ankush Gupta  17:10

Absolutely. Allison, let me just ask you this, if someone wants to join your team, what are some of the key attributes that you’d be looking for? I can imagine that, you know, you seem like a fun person to be working for. And just tell us what are some of the attributes, what are some of the kind of people that you look for?

Allison Crooker  17:22 

Yeah, we definitely look for people who are committed to this event industry, it’s a tough industry. And not that we don’t want people who are new to it. We definitely love new college grads who think that this is what they want, and being able to come in, and we give them that experience, it’s important to us.

And we also really like people who are very experienced in it, know what to do, and at the different levels, that we were able to hire for, it is dependent upon that. We’ve had some really great success with some recent new college grad hires, who are just knocking it out of the park.

And we are looking for a person for our digital strategy, and that is probably a senior person who has some experience in industry specific to digital platform and digital content delivery.

Ankush Gupta  18:17 

That’s amazing. And you know, I can see your LinkedIn inbox filling up quite quickly. Don’t blame us for that. This is something that we touched upon earlier, this also happens to be a final question for you. You know that we’re the world’s first review platform for business conferences. And our goal is really to help event marketers further their brands through the power of social proof and community marketing. So what does social proof mean to you, specifically? And how important is that in your arsenal? I mean, do you think your attendees really cared about it?

Allison Crooker  18:51 

You know, I gotta admit, when I saw that question, and the social proof, what’s that? And so I looked it up. But then when you demonstrated what it is, and I went to the platform, and I’m like, yes of course, I think this is a wonderful opportunity for our events to be shown to many more people. The goodness that it provides, I just see it as a wonderful way to demonstrate all the work we’ve done without us saying it right? Social proof says, “No, the community is saying this, people just like me are saying this”.

Ankush Gupta  19:29 

Absolutely. And it’s good to hear that from you Allison and makes us feel good about ourselves as well. Thank you for that. And with that we conclude our podcast for today. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been a real pleasure having you. And we hope you do find that digital strategy person that you’re looking for, and we hope to speak with you soon.

Allison Crooker  19:48 

Well, thank you Ankush, good luck with you at Eventible . I definitely will mention it to all of the event council members as well.

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