In this edition of Events We Love, we caught up with Aaron Price, the Founder and CEO of Propelify, a media and events company behind the annual Propelify Innovation Festival, a 10,000-person outdoor business-meets-tech conference. He told us (almost) everything about his partner events with Gary Vaynerchuk and Malcolm Gladwell — and the keys to building audiences all year round so your event is packed and connections get made.
Trade show and event marketing has come a long, long way.
Gone are the days when an event organizer could simply mail, call, and/or broadcast email prospective attendees 6-12 weeks before an event and expect to pack the house.
Event marketing now demands that you have a documented content strategy, a year-round community engagement plan, and educational extras that set your event apart and convert attendees in-between and on-site.
With that in mind spoke with visionary tech event organizer and entrepreneur, Aaron Price, Founder and CEO of the Propelify Conference, The New Jersey Tech Meetup, and now council member, Government Technology & Innovation Transition Team for NJ Governor-Elect, Phil Murphy.
The Propelify Innovation Festival is part festival, part tech conference, and as one of their attendees recently stated, “It’s like SXSW moved from Texas to New York.” The next Propelify Conference takes place on May 17, 2018, on the NJ waterfront.
— Aaron Price (@APstartup) October 27, 2017
1) What is Propelify? What’s your mission?
The Propelify Innovation Festival is a 10,000-person outdoor business conference that empowers and connects members of the innovation and tech community.
Our mission is to surround this community with the resources they need to support the entire innovation lifecycle: marrying startups with investors or other funding sources, planning product launches, and even finding CMOs and co-founders. There’s also talent for hire.
When people say they found a great opportunity or connection at our event, those things to me are the most exciting and gratifying.
2) What prompted you to start Propelify? What’s your background?
I originally started the New Jersey Tech Meetup 7 years ago as a non-profit side project to my full-time role as a tech entrepreneur in a SaaS-based business. I knew firsthand how challenging that career path was so I started the meetup so we could all help each other out — and it grew into the largest tech group in New Jersey, now with over 6,500 members!
It was during that time that I interviewed Gary Vaynerchuk at one of our meetups and the light bulb went off.
He observed: “Everyone has a unique unfair advantage that they need to leverage.” I was at a crossroads with my other business and his talk forced me to be honest with myself — my unique advantage was clearly the ability to bring a community of people together at scale.
After that, I went full-time into it and the network around it just exploded.
Because of the size of this community, and having focused it on being value-add first, I was able to build strong relationships. This opened up access to a venue at the Hoboken waterfront, speakers, sponsors, etc. Meanwhile, the New York region was also exploding with innovation and M&A activity. The timing was absolutely perfect, so I decided to go all in with a larger event, the first Propelify Innovation Festival, in 2016.
The second, in May 2017, was bigger. A lot bigger. Arianna Huffington was one of our keynote speakers.
3) It looks like you’re leveraging your event to establish a year-round community — and vice versa. Can you explain your approach?
Our large events were so successful that we realized we needed to engage, support, and connect our attendees all year-round — which led us to focus on a membership model that gives members a variety of “insider” benefits.
To that end, we launched Propelify Insiders where we bundle together early access to attend our big event and others we host, tickets to other top-tier industry partner events, and educational content — as well as a bundle of tech-related products and services at discounts or free.
We recently offered our members access to events featuring Gary V, Malcolm Gladwell, and Ray Kurzweil at the Synergy Global Forum. valued at over $1000.
“Insiders” also get access to our private online community, where 75% of our members are active week-to-week.
4) What specific tactics do you use to build/nurturing your community/audience? What comes with Propelify Insider specifically?
We created a private Facebook group that only members can access, where we publish content only they can see. We highlight certain members, curate content and events, but the key is the three weekly Facebook Live shows we produce and host.
These weekly shows live inside the Facebook group:
The Pop-Up Pitch: Apply to pitch a VC and pitch live.
Expert Sessions: We find an expert to help someone with business issues and conduct a live Q&A specific to that issue.
The Wisdom & Turbulence: This is where I interview founders and talk about their challenges.
Via the shows, we have authentic ways to engage with our brands and community at the same time while building our own audiences.
Editor’s Note: FB has tools that allow you to capture and retarget to audiences that interact with your FB groups, FB live videos, and all other types of video content you post.
5) Tell us more about the Gary Vaynerchuk x Propelify event co-promotion.
He was doing a small conference, and we got a few tickets to it. We held a social referral contest, with the most referrals receiving a ticket to the event. Gary V. filmed a custom video, which we promoted on Instagram, Linkedin, and by email sending people to a landing page. We also used a third-party gamification tool so people could see a referral leaderboard.
This generated a huge amount of inbound referrals, Propelify awareness, and huge extra reach for this event.
6) What is the biggest challenge to marketing and producing an event like this?
The biggest challenge is the weather and that has yielded a good lesson in learning to accept what we cannot control. The other is engaging 10,000 people all day – not easy to do! Who are they and what are they looking for specifically?
We’re always looking for ways to engage the community that are fun but beneficial for their entire stay. Our attendees are there to do something specific. I’m always thinking, “How do we make sure attendees are maximizing their on-site ROI?”
7) What tactics do you use to “convert” attendees on-site?
We use 3rd-party app-based notifications to clearly communicate defined events and times. We also utilize an on-site color key system with corresponding banners, beacon technology, and pre-sold tickets for premium items — of which guarantees attendance at specific times.
8) What types of activities take place on-site at Propelify?
At our last event, Jet.com brought in a Ferris wheel on which they conducted interviews to find and hire talent — we needed need to get talent to that area at the right time. People applied for that beforehand, so that was extremely popular. We also held investor speed dating, sponsored by Deloitte, drone-racing, and several networking-focused meals.
This year we’re adding skill-based workshops, as well as some premium items like a CEO breakfast, and activations that provide attendees access to top CMOs from large companies.
9) The most surprising thing that’s ever happened at Propelify Event?
We lost our liquor license two days before the event! Needless to say, that was a challenge.
The Jet.com Ferris wheel was also very complicated. It was a huge activation. We didn’t really have the space fully approved for where to put it just a few days before. The city of Hoboken almost pulled the plug. We ended up solving everything based on our relationship with the city – everyone wanted this to work. Brand, vendor, city. That was the key.
No matter what, something unexpected always happens at events. Fortunately, I always find a way to get to a place of “Event Zen” beforehand.
The next Propelify is May 17, 2018. Register here!