By Mary Tucker, CEIR Sr. Communications & Content Manager
CEIR Research Council Member John Galante is President and Founder of AE Ventures, a hosted event innovator that drives extraordinary progress at the intersection of technology and construction. Galante has additional experience as a publisher, editor and business development leader with EH Media, and worked in event development and management for several years with Reed Exhibition Companies. He also has a wealth of experience in the association realm, having served on a number of industry boards and committees, launched associations, and worked as a senior staff member of the Consumer Technology Association and chief staff executive of the Security Industry Association.
Galante talked with CEIR about the effect the pandemic has had on how content is created and presented at AE Ventures’ Techome Builder Summit and the Housing Transformation Summit, and where he sees content headed as events continue to evolve. He shares ways in which organizers can both improve their in-person content and convert it to enduring online video assets that deliver value and sustain connection with audiences year-round.
Every story has a beginning, so tell us yours.
We specialize in hosted events where we cover the flights, hotel and registration costs of VIP-level players in the markets that we serve as well as provide a top-notch, executive experience. Our events are immersive and intense with a strong focus on learning in the niches we address and connecting guests with vendors in deeper, more substantive ways. We aim to help our builder and multifamily company guests make progress on home tech, digital transformation and innovation. In recognition of that offer, guests are required to attend the event from start to finish and to follow the detailed itinerary that we lay out for them which includes general session content, board room presentations from our sponsors and one-on-one meetings on a scheduled basis with our sponsors. There’s time for browsing and typical trade show serendipity, but everything is very precisely managed and orchestrated so that the event is extremely efficient and productive for both the guests and the sponsors.
COVID obviously brought all of that to a screeching halt, and for the last two years the industry has steadily been making its way back to its pre-pandemic activity levels. What effect did this have on your events?
What I described has been our formula; the thing that’s happened since COVID is an even stronger focus on content for us. We have a lot of expertise in the market that we serve, and we use it not just to reflect the market, but to inspire it, tackling entrenched industry issues and obstacles to progress.
Since COVID we have stepped up our content, both in terms of its intent and in our style for producing it. Like a lot of organizers, during COVID we produced online events, and when we produced our first one, we basically took our stock format and put cameras on it. What we learned was that there was a lot of “blah, blah, blah” and only a few golden nuggets captured that way. That just doesn’t translate online whether it’s live or on-demand. Viewers click off during the “blah, blah, blah.”
So we started to do more editing and post-production on video for the second run, and that led to the realization we could capture and edit content for live events. I don’t believe in live streaming; I don’t think you get audiences for live streaming. I don’t care if it’s Gary Shapiro’s keynote address at CES or what have you, people just don’t make time for it. People don’t even make time for Beyoncé live streaming.
I believe in “capture” and not letting great content evaporate by doing good editing and post-production on it, and then putting it in the form factors that people will actually watch online – which tend to be shorter. That can be extremely valuable. Thinking about our sessions as video content also prompted us to change our style, moving us to more of a talk show style.
That opens up a broad range of possibilities, so how do you determine the subject matter?
We asked people what they want, but found they don’t necessarily know what they need. For example, I’m trying to incentivize builders to do more with technology and digital transformation. It’s a recalcitrant audience, they are not naturally innovators. So I have to understand enough about the market, and its opportunities, to push on the cutting edge in terms of things I think they will be inspired by.
That’s differentiated content for them and there aren’t a lot of people out there willing to take risks like that, like we do. I have 30 years in the space; I’ve worked at trade associations in a broad-based way, not just in the event world, so I have a lot of expertise that allows me to proselytize and challenge. And it’s worked; they appreciate that.
Tell us about your new approach.
Part of what we’ve done is stylistic. I was just talking about this, this morning. Scrolling around on LinkedIn, I’ve got a lot of event industry friends and connections, and I see all these middle-aged guys sitting in comfy chairs on a stage staring out at an audience. I’ve been the middle-aged guy in the comfy chair staring out at the audience – it’s not comfortable, I can’t hear what anyone else is saying on the panel and it’s just weird, awkward really.
We want it to be more like a talk show. We sit at a table and we have a discussion. So now, I can take a builder that I didn’t ask to do a presentation. He has a ton of expertise, he has some really cool things to teach, and I can just have a relaxed conversation with him at a table that the audience can listen in on. I’m getting way better substance; I’m getting way better comfort levels and people don’t need to stare at a bunch of middle-aged men’s guts sticking out in these comfy chairs on stage. We’ve all gotten used to it, it’s the standard, but I find it awkward [laughs].
How does your process work?
We start by catering to our live, in-person attendees. Then we’ve got unmanned, pan tilt zoom (PTZ), high-definition cameras in the audience on tripods (three of them). We have a camera operator with the PTZs getting the right camera angle and we’re taking in the live streams of the PowerPoint deck. That gives us four streams of high-definition content to work with and put together interesting post-produced pieces. We create a long form version of the session and then we chapterize it into 10- to 12-minute chunks that people can easily consume online.
All of this is flowing into a content library that we’ve created where we can catalog the information by product, process and key concepts. It sits alongside our vendor showcase pages, which are not just listings, but really places where our sponsors can store all of their relevant information that they’d like a builder or a multifamily company to consume in order to understand what their company does and offers. So that’s where we’re at right now.
Where will you take it from there?
We soft-launched builderinnovator.com on May 31. We’re really excited about it. We think we can monetize it at some level. That may reach a big level over time but, even short term and from a guest recruitment perspective, if somebody can view two or three nuggets of content from our sessions and find more information similar to what we publish in our guides and other materials, now I’m in a much better position to recruit them to come to our events!
How do you foresee this increasing your attendee acquisition?
It’s really hard to go from “I don’t know you” to “I’m going to give you three days of my time.” If you’re someone working at a high level – a billion dollar or 5 billion dollar-a-year homebuilding company – the status quo approach is not going to attract you to our event. We need to warm them up and establish our credentials as the authority of our industry. That’s what we’re going to do with the Builder Innovator library which is fed from the events and from the video production capability that we’ve developed over the last couple of years.
Where do you see the added benefit in your strategy?
I feel that an interview and/or discussion with somebody who’s an expert in implementing successful strategies, or even on the vendor side of things – somebody who’s a knowledgeable thought leader – is a richer presentation full of information and advice. We’re leveraging our core competency, which is putting together great discussions and great back-and-forth among industry experts, and we’re creating our digital media content out of that.
And then we reverse engineer it into the text realm so that the PowerPoint deck becomes interesting, and the transcript or blog post that’s based on that discussion becomes interesting. We end up with multi-channel content that has a high level of expertise being built up very cost effectively.
Is it going with technology, is it going with trends? It absolutely is! But it’s not a digital transformation initiative, it’s what we do. We’re always trying to have the better mouse trap, always trying to improve our content, and we’re always trying to leverage technology because we’re creating events that focus on technology and digital transformation so it’s not just part of an initiative, it’s in our DNA.
What kind of investment did it take?
We figured out a way to make an incremental investment on the AV side of things. If you just turn the keys over to your average AV vendors and you don’t value engineer it you could, I’m sure, pay through the nose. We didn’t. It becomes an incremental AV investment as we figure out how to do the post-production work as cost effectively as possible. We had some editing done in Pakistan for a while, by somebody’s name we don’t even really know [laughs].
We’re gradually bringing it in-house but we’re trying to leverage cost effective resources there. For example, consider young professionals that work in ad agencies or even in the movie and broadcast news business, that don’t get paid an arm and a leg to do this work. Some of them want to follow their dream to be a movie producer or be in broadcast news, but some of them get fed up working in the salt mine for next to nothing and they’re available as talent.
We’re very value conscious. It can be done with good focus and investment of time and thinking it through. Just this morning I was talking to fellas headquartered in Belgium about software that’s used to produce talk shows, so I’m looking at broadcast news for my model on the content production side of things. I want to bring more order and process definition to what we do on content, but everywhere I’ve been involves some creative madperson who has their own processes on a spreadsheet or Word document which is how they put their content together. I want to have a more orderly, controlled process but I have to look outside of the event industry for my models on that.
What is your advice to a team looking to implement something similar?
First, you need someone on your team, at a pretty high level with industry expertise, to start thinking like a video content producer. In some ways, it’s not a big leap for a typical conference/content director but in some ways it is. You’ve got to think about and pre-engineer those bite-sized chunks in your in-person content and that’s a level of control and direction that is not common in the event industry. It’s not rocket science, but it takes a lot of communication and planning. Second, you’ll need to work hard with GSCs and AV companies to get staging and video capture right AND COST EFFECTIVE. Third, you need to develop the editing and post-production resources and workflows. Finally, it’s about an online destination that’s optimized for video viewing, has the right tagging and indexing, and then gets promoted and viewed.
There is a lot to do, and we still have a ways to go ourselves.
When we get it right and have total proof of concept, maybe we can figure out how to help other organizers. I truly believe this is a great way for event producers to get the audience connectivity and stickiness they need to deliver in-person attendance, and I believe the monetization piece will be there in time, too. The print journalist mentality of most B2B publishers is baggage that will hold them back from truly seizing the day on video, and we can eat some of their lunch.