In Conversation with Gerilynn Marburger, Director- Global Events at Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Chapters:

00:15: Introduction

01:08: The importance of planning and strategic thinking in events

07:40: Budgets allocated for activities around events

09:43: In-person versus virtual event strategy?

14:57: Best virtual event tech platform of choice…

27:17: Social proof and what it means in today’s day and age 

Ankush: Hi! I’m Ankush, the Founder of Eventible.com and the host of the Building Awesome Events podcast. This is the podcast where we discuss everything event marketing related. Our guest today is the wonderful Gerilynn Marburger, Director of Global Events at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Gerilynn, welcome to the show. It’s such an honor to have you with us today.

Gerilynn: Thank you, sir. I’m glad to be here.

Ankush: Thanks Gerilynn. Our viewers have been listening to our past shows and they just can’t wait to hear from you. So let me just dive into the questions that I have for you today. Let’s start from the very beginning, Gerilynn, I saw that prior to HPE you’d already started out in events with Roche and then subsequently Turner. A lot of people that we’ve spoken to usually pivot from more traditional marketing roles into events. So, what made you so sure that events were the right path for you?

Gerilynn: It’s funny. I think I’m one of the few people who have spent her entire career in events. So, I don’t know if I chose events or events chose me. I’m not sure if it’s a chicken or egg situation. There are many things about the field that appeal to me organically. Things about myself, I would say the biggest one for me is that I am like the most curious cat.

I am innately curious about everything. So, the idea of marketing and finding your audience, understanding what your audience is and what triggers them. Also, branding and figuring out creative ways to make a brand visible, memorable, or relevant. I’m just always shooting for better and more and giving things a lot of thought.

And then I think if you couple that with the skills that, in my opinion, make a successful event marketer, I think it’s key to be a strategic thinker too, as an event professional will tell you, you can’t just have a plan A or a plan B, you got to have a plan H because things can always go wrong. And the more thoughtful you are, and the more ‘planful’ you are, you can mitigate potential disasters.

I think strategic thinking is important. I think creativity is important. Being organized, being a timely decision maker. And one of the few superpowers I think I have is that I’m a really solid decision maker, and I can make a quick decision. And I just really enjoy people. And I want them to enjoy themselves. It was a natural fit for me. Between my personality and what I’m good at and the role.

Ankush: Yeah. I love that. And I think that that’s quite a few superpowers, right. Be curious, be creative, and organized. You know, have a plan H, if I had all of those things, you know, I think I would be in a way different place today.

Gerilynn: I don’t know about that. It seems to work for me.

Ankush: Gerilynn, outline for me the events strategy and portfolio at Hewlett Packard – both proprietary and third party. And what are some of the key corporate objectives driving both of these?

Gerilynn: So much has changed as a result of COVID and then some things are just the cyclical nature of events but over the past year. Our events team decided to take a really deep dive into the events that we attended. And they were trying to determine which one brings us value. And it’s not enough of a reason to just do something because you’ve always done it. That’s not a good enough reason anymore.

And when I talk about value, I’m not just talking about monetary value because you know, that’s one reason that we do events. But there are so many other reasons. And even you know, some of them are soft, like, customer appreciation or goodwill, or, you know, we want to break into a new market with startups and encourage that.

And then you get in the traditional, the demand generation, the education and things like that. And, that’s, you know, to give a shameless plug for Eventible. That is why it’s so incredibly valuable, because as marketers, we don’t have the time to assess every single event out there and to have a place you could go to, and I’m telling you, they did not pay me to say this at all. I’m just telling you from my experience. It’s nice to have fact-based decisions on where to spend your money. So that’s really important for us. And what I was going to say in terms of the appropriate balance between proprietary and third events. So, our goal, like everyone else’s, is to maximize reach a new audience, meet different personas with the companies we work with today as well as meet with net new companies, we don’t do business with, or have only done business in a limited time to, you know, we’re always trying to make new disciples. Everybody is trying to do that. Reach people that we haven’t.

So now the shameless plug for HPE, since I plugged you guys, I think it’s only fair that I plug myself too. So, I was saying, everyone is aware right now we’re talking about the value data is one of the most valuable commodities, you know, the monetization of data. And protecting our data, respecting our data. And so, our big push is the HP Green Lake platform, which is the edge to a cloud platform.  And it’s just helping to fast-forward this data modernization with our innovative platform.

So, you know that’s our big thrust for our company. That is where we are going, the direction we are going. And now I’m going to have a chance for a mini brag. This is just kind of I think a cool thing. That people don’t know. We were recently at International Super Computing and we had a couple of huge announcements, and I don’t think these are just for like the nerdy tech people. Because super-computing impacts everyone from the weather to waves, too, you know, data, to everything. And HPE built system was ranked number one. Frontier was the world’s fastest supercomputer. So that’s, that’s crazy when you think about it, the world’s fastest supercomputer. We had four HPE-built systems in the top 10. And then we also were placed on the Green 100. So, sustainability is another huge part of all of our lives. It’s something that many companies are looking towards, whether it’s being able to repurpose, you know, your exhibit property or how you use your waste, how you redirect your waste. Yes. I just think those were two examples of how the company is becoming a leader, not just in the stewardship of data but also in sustainability. Those are just very important things for our world.

So anyway, shameless plug.

Ankush:  You’re more than welcome to make the shameless plus Gerilynn, but you know, what I was trying to understand is that sometimes you speak with event marketers at startups, and in your case, it’s the other extreme, you’re working with a giant HPE, so what I was really trying to understand was that what is a thought process with a big company like HPE, what is the numerical split you think between proprietary and third party? I mean, what is the percentage of the budget that really gets allocated to these.

Gerilynn: You know that’s a hard one to make, because, as I said, we’re kind of okay. You know, COVID was good in that sense, it allowed us to really think about what we did and how we did it. And you will see that word keep coming up in all my answers because everything I was thinking about is about being thoughtful and planful of how you do things, you know, we support many other events for a variety of different reasons. I wouldn’t say it’s a 50, 50 split. Our biggest event, the proprietary event is HPE Discover which is every June. And it just ended, I think it was last week. I don’t even know my calendars. Yeah. That’s our biggest proprietary event.

Ankush: I’m looking at this little nugget that says, HPE Discover delivered $750 million in the pipeline since 2019. I mean, that is just incredible.

Gerilynn: It is the world’s biggest sales call. I mean, people come there because you’re surrounded by subject-matter experts that can, it’s not like you have the sales person that says, or let me call the SME. You’ve got right there and you’ve got Antonio Neri, you know, the CEO of our company and you have the marketing leaders and you could get your business done, which is very efficient to me. Yeah. I love being efficient.

Ankush: Yeah. I mean, that is incredible. I can’t even imagine. I think the biggest event that I’ve been to, I’ve been to, the Dreamforce series that Salesforce, puts up once a year.  I thought that’s big, but you know, this just seems at another level entirely.

Gerilynn: Yeah. It’s like I said, it’s, it’s huge for us.

Ankush: So, Gerilynn, tell me, we are now a couple of years into the whole virtual events scenario. What really did you learn from this and how do you now view a virtual strategy versus an in-person strategy? What’s your go-to and for what reasons?

Gerilynn: Oh yeah. Yeah, that’s a tough one. Yeah. You know, what, what I will say. and I think you could probably attest to this with your experience virtual events are tough. It’s difficult. It’s challenging to sustain interest. Yeah. For an extended period of time.

I don’t care how scintillating the topic is. I don’t care if it’s George Clooney reading, the phone book to me, even that after, you know, a period of time would probably get a little bit old. Sorry, George. But I think like for us, what we had the benefit of doing is we were able to do some trial and error for our virtual events because we did them every week. So, we had a chance to tweak what worked and what didn’t work. So, we could find that sweet spot. And when I say, finding that, it’s not a full-proof, methodology, but we were able to look at things as simple as the day of the week, where you would have it, what time you would have it, what the duration would be, how the agenda would be, you know, having a combination of a host and maybe a subject-matter expert, asking questions, you know, that kind of stuff. So again, that comes with being thoughtful. And how you analyze your audience and your market. I mean, successful events, don’t just happen. So much has to happen beforehand, behind the scenes. And a lot of, it’s not just like, oh, hey! Let’s put on a show. It’s like, you got to really think about what you’re doing. And is this going to work for your audience?

So I think that’s, to me, part of the secret sauce, I think what I have also found helps to make it successful is when you try and mimic a live event, and like you and I right now  I feel like I’m having a conversation. I’m not feeling like you’re asking me a question. I feel like, we’re talking, we’re exchanging information. I think audiences pick up on that too. And I think they can say, “oh, Hey, they’re really connecting, I can see that this is a dialogue and a conversation.” And so I think that helps to make it successful.

I was going to say in terms of what I like about virtual, I like the reach, I like the flexibility, I like the inclusivity. Because you’re not limited by time or space, you know, a lot of times if you have something in a ballroom and you can only accommodate 1500 people. That means you can’t invite everybody. So, I do like that. I like that we were able to, when we did our virtual event series, we had 10 broadcasts a week, 10 separate ones, not pre-recorded. And we translated into 12 different languages and we were able to reach so many people that way whereas, you know, in-person events, you’re limited by time and space. So again, my advice is to anybody planning, anything- Be thoughtful. Don’t think this just happens.  Use the tools that are available to you. And then again, this is where Eventible comes in because it saves you time and it gives you a leg up because the information is there, the data is there and you don’t have to find it on your own.

Ankush: I love that Gerilynn…

Gerilynn: Oh, you’re welcome.

Ankush:  It’s not just Eventible but you repeated it, I think a couple of times, and it really brings out your focus on historical data and, diving into the data, really analyzing it and, you know, seeing what patterns emerge, and what outcomes you’re able to meet.

Gerilynn: Right. So, I think data is key. I love it. Love it. I’m a data nerd. I learned that from one of my mentors, and It’s huge to me.

Ankush: Yeah. That’s amazing. And I think the, from what I have seen, the whole virtual events, things started off on such an exciting footnote. I mean, you know, in the early days of the pandemic, everybody was like, you know, we can sit in pajamas and watch these, watch these events around the world and, it’s so great. And then all this fatigue set in. And then organizers really had to work that much harder and harder on, on engagement and, sending out gift packs and all of, all of that stuff. Right.

I don’t know where it’s all going to go because you know, this morning we had the news coming that Bizzabo which is a large virtual event platform laid off like 30% of its workforce. So, you know, so a lot of these guys are not feeling the crunch as in-person events are starting to come back. Right? Yeah. Because you know, so, so much investment went in, but you know, I think there’s really going to be a shakeout and which really brings me to my next question on that slightly unfortunate note that from a, from a technology perspective, you know, and we now have like a gazillion tech platforms out, what’s the one that you would rely on most for your virtual events?

Gerilynn: Oh Ankush, it’s like asking me to pick my favorite child, which I can’t. Because you know what, I think different platforms, at least for me, again, this is the world, according to Gerilynn, perform different functions in my job. So, if I’m looking for like a good workhorse platform, you know, Teams or Zoom is great. Yeah. We often use to go to Webcast. We’ve also used On24. And what you were talking about, unfortunately, about Bizzabo, and I think that’s terrible. One of the things that I did like about On24. Because I felt that throughout the whole pandemic, they did not rest on their laurels, they kept innovating and they kept moving forward. And I thought that was really strategic and kind of far long-term thinking on their part saying, okay, we’re not just content to be right here. We got to figure out where we’re going to be down the road. And I thought I was one of the things I was really impressed with when they came and did a presentation for us was how they kept pace with what was going on.

In terms of larger audiences and personalized experiences. I like the cube. The cube is good. And the one we use for HP Discover is Web Events Global. We’ve had a lot of success with them over the years. Yeah. And there’s a niche one that I’m a big fan of too. Yeah. And it’s for really sophisticated virtual events and it’s got all the bells and whistles, and it’s called Auto Location live. It’s proprietary software owned by Endeavour, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but we had a Grammy-winning artist on one of our virtual events. And so we wanted to make sure that we couldn’t have any bandwidth issues. We couldn’t have any connectivity issues. We couldn’t have any sound issues. So it was like, we knew it had to be on point. And they had a virtual green room, and they had an event producer. I could sit in there and I could feed funnel questions to them that they could review the questions. They also had an enormous chat capability which was huge for us because it was one of the most engaged chat audiences we had. Because we had, with all said and done, we had like 25 pages of chats of people weighing in and giving their opinion and sharing their thoughts on, you know, the content because it was a combination of music and also Q&A.

Ankush: Well, that’s wonderful. I have a couple of things to add here. One is that you know, some of the names that you mentioned I had not heard of these guys before, which just goes to show, you know, how many platforms exist today and you know, how much oxygen, really, the big guys, like Bizzabo suck up, because you know, they have all the marketing bandwidth available to them.

Gerilynn: It’s very true. The Hopins and Bizzabos, we’re all giving them their plugs right now. But yeah, I mean, and all of them are great. Yeah. But there are many out there, and again, I use what works for what I need at that time.

Ankush: Absolutely. And, you know the second point I wanted to make and, you know, I will take the opportunity to slightly plug Eventible here again, is that how we work is we’ve created like an adaptive survey form so when we send out a survey, it first asks, an event attendee, “Hey, are you an attendee?” Are you a speaker? Or are you a sponsor?” And secondly, “Did you attend a virtual event or, you know, a hybrid event or an in-person event.” And then the questions are adapted. The questions start changing depending on how the person identifies themselves.

So, if they say I attended a virtual event, one of the questions you were asking, and we will continue to ask, is how has your experience been with the technology platform. And in the first couple of years, we saw that a disproportionate number of people were mostly unsatisfied, with the technology.

Ankush: They all had some issues or the other going on. Right. So, I mean, that’s like you know, again, I mean, we are really capturing all that data and, you know, this is something that you were talking about as well.

Gerilynn: Yeah, absolutely.

Ankush: So, let’s really get to the marketing part of event marketing. You know, this is what we set out to really achieve with the podcast, to really bring some of these nuggets out from your experience.

So, in terms of traditional marketing, how would you really create awareness for your events, right? What is, what are some of the channels you think work best around audience acquisition or working your demand pipeline? Is this a cross-functional activity involving a larger marketing team? And how involved are you with this?

Gerilynn: Well, I was hired at HPE seven years ago to be the audience acquisition lead for HP Discover. Okay. I’m very familiar with audience acquisition efforts in terms of a user conference. And it is absolutely a cross-functional effort. Again, if you want to have a successful event, you need to put thought into it. I mean, it is truly one of those where you pull every lever that’s available to you internally and externally. So internally we would start with our sales teams and we would educate them on the benefit, you have to make people understand the value to them. So then they could share with their customers, what the value is to them. Right? So, we treat all of our internal stakeholders as customers too. And we are like, “We want you to understand how this can benefit you.” We would evangelize the benefits of attending Discover with them. Arming them with the tools they could go out and they could make disciples of their customers and prospects.

So that would be the internal strategy that we would do. And then externally, I’m telling you, and gosh, we pull every lever available, Social, Digital,SCM, Email, Sponsorships, Third party lists, Call glimpses, Giveaways. You got it. We do everything. No stone unturned because in order to be successful, you have to have an end-to-end event with everyone on board. Everyone needs to be drinking the Kool-Aid. You’ve got to make people see the value and I think buyers have become so much more sophisticated than it’s like, especially if you’re it’s a paid user conference and you’re saying, I’m asking you to come to HPE’s conference at 14:95 for three days well, what am I going

It’s like, you know, buying a pair of shoes. I want to know that, they’re made of leather and they come in a narrow width, and multiple colors, you need to say, this is what you’re going to learn. This is what you’re going to see, this is who you could meet or hear. So, I think you really need to respect your audience, right? Respect is a huge thing for me.

Ankush: Absolutely. You know, and, and that makes so much sense. And just a few weeks back, we were speaking with Bethany Murphy, who was leading events at Drift at the time and she told us something similar. I mean, she said the 60% of their event pipeline was really outsourced from partners and, they were also throwing everything at it.

Gerilynn: Yeah. I mean, you have to, people are smart. You need to respect not just that, but also time. Time is, it’s hard for every, it’s hard to come by. So you got to respect people’s time.

Ankush: Absolutely. Absolutely. Gerilynn, we are getting into the last couple of questions here and I think this one is very interesting. So, you know, if someone would want to join your team, what are some of the key attributes that you would be looking for? We know that we started off our chat and you mentioned, you know, all these attributes, about yourself. So, I would be, scared. I mean, you know, what would you really be looking for, in a person wanting to join your team?

Gerilynn: I’m not as scary as it seems. I really am not.

Ankush: You know, it’s almost like you know, the devil wears Prada here, right. I mean, is that out?

Gerilynn: That’ll be all. So, I can say that that’ll be all. You know I was going to say to me, as I stated earlier, curiosity is huge for me. I look for people that are interesting and interested and aware of their world. And, and only because you know, some of the best ideas I’ve had for events yeah have come from popular culture or travel or something I’ve seen or heard. And I was like, oh man, that would be brilliant if we could do that. I did something at Fashion Week in New York City. It seemed like how does fashion week relate to Hewlett Packard Enterprise? And I made the connection there. We’ve done a couple of different things where people are like, you know, I had to, you know, sell them on it, sell them on the vision because I didn’t initially see ’em but then when they did, they were like, okay, that is such a twist on an ordinary thing that why don’t we see that?

So, I think being curious is something, and that’s not something that you could teach somebody. You either have it, or you don’t. And I also like people that are really scrappy and dog it. I like people that are just like, you know, they’re not afraid to like roll up their sleeves and get to work. Because people always are, a lot of people come into events thinking, oh, it’s so fun and it’s so glamorous. And I love to do this. And I’m like, Yeah! It’s 4 am. And you’re on a loading dock waiting for your exhibit to come in.  or your FedEx package has been misplaced and you’re digging through dusty boxes. or you’ve got paper cuts on your fingers because you have to stuff a thousand gift bags. So that’s what it’s not so glamorous.

Ankush: No, I, I absolutely love that Gerilynn, because you know what this tells me is that, I mean, these are some of the attributes that I look for myself you know, while I’m trying to make a hiring decision and I’m a startup, right? So, I’m a startup. So, I would actually look for curiosity, being scrappy, you know, the ability to roll up your sleeves. Right because we really need that stuff. And you know, what I love is that I’m hearing it from someone who really works at HPE, right? And you were saying that you know, it’s going to be a cushy job and all of that, but so this really, you know, dispels those notions.

Gerilynn: You know, it really does because, as I said, I’ve worked a lot of corporate, you know, with Turner broadcasting and Syntax Hoffman, you know, HPE, certainly HPE before that, but I’ve also worked in some startup companies and smaller agency type roles. I also think Ankush is part of my DNA. I’m like one of eight kids, you know, you’re always fighting for, you know, food or yeah. You know, a state at the table or having a voice. So you kind of never loses that. And I think I also, like to have a good time. I mean, I’m serious when it comes to business, but I like to be surrounded by people that are kind, people with integrity and they are fun. They can laugh at themselves. They can laugh at the situation because a lot of times, I mean, there, you can’t do anything. When things go wrong, there’s nothing else you can do. So. I’m not scary at all. If you ask anybody who reports me, they say I’m a good manager.

Ankush: Okay. I trust you. I trust you. Finally, Gerilynn.

The last question is something that I almost don’t want to ask because you’ve already, you know, mentioned Eventible so many times. You know, but you know, that’s how it was ordered in, in, in my list. And you really know that Eventible is a review platform, and our goal is to help event marketers, further the brands through the power of social proof which is so basic yet so important.

What really does social proof mean to you and how important is it in your arsenal? And do you really think that your attendees or your prospective attendees would care about it?

Gerilynn: Well, I have to admit, Ankush. This is like, another thing about me if I don’t know something I will just freely admit it. And then I will look it up because I’m curious. Yeah. Social Proof, what is social proof? If that social works, I’m like, okay, what is it? I admit I wasn’t familiar with the term. But then I have since figured it out. Yeah. It is where people copy the actions of others in an attempt to emulate their behavior in a given situation. What that means in a lay person’s term is you copy people because you either like what they stand for, like what they have to say. And it kind of that mob mentality a little bit. It goes back to a little bit of a group thing. So for me, what social proof means for me. And again, there’s that word again? Thoughtful. It’s being thoughtful about how you plan and promote things. Yep. And you know, anyone will tell you marketing one-on-one. It’s getting in the headspace of your customers. Who are they? What do they want to hear? What do they want to see?

Gerilynn: What do they want to feel? Yeah. And to me, my definition of social proof and action is thinking about your audience. And whether your message will be better received, if it comes from you.  A customer testimonial, right? Subject matter expert, a trusted source, like a friend or a family member. And so, it it’s thinking about that and

Ankush: But it, you know, it might not only be enough to have it come from a customer testimonial, which eventually is sitting on your own website. Right. I mean it might make, it might be more powerful if you know, potential attendees were to see it on a neutral third-party website.

Gerilynn: Totally agree with you. And you know what, because to me that is kind of self-serving because you know, it’s carefully curated. It’s like Instagram, everybody looks great on Instagram. Yeah. But if I were to turn my camera on right now, you’d be like, yeah. You know, because I didn’t have a chance to curate what you were seeing.

And so, I hundred thousand percent agree that I think the neutral ground is better but what I was going to say is that if you see some, like, for me, if I see something promoted on LinkedIn, a business person, I respect. Or if I see a celebrity or a politician commenting on something on Twitter that a person I respect or admire, the likelihood that I will like that click on that, and go down that rabbit hole is about a thousand percent chance that that will happen. I am a marketer’s dream. Yeah. Cause, even though I should know better, right, I know the sausage is made but I still succumb to the power of it. Yeah, because I’m very susceptible to the message and the masterpiece.

Ankush: It’s the same with me, you know, it’s just like, it it’s, it’s like magic, you know? And I love when it happens, you know, when, when people are marketing to me, you know, it’s I’m the most pliable customer at that point.

Gerilynn: I know it’s terrible. And my friends are like, oh my God, you’re a marketer s I said, I know. And I should know better. Yeah. But you know, like with social proof, because it taps into right. Our basic human. Yeah. Instincts to follow others. And it builds trust and credibility. If I see somebody, like I said, I’ll bring it back to George Clooney again.

Like I’m like, okay. He’s respectable. He’s intelligent.  He’s you know, he’s got a proven track record that I’m more apt to do something, and you know what, that is the power of great marketing right there.

Ankush: Absolutely. And I think that’s you know, that’s a nice way to leave the show with the, with the visual of George Clooney that everyone can really think about you know, Gerilynn, it was, it was wonderful having you speak on a podcast today as a guest. And we hope we can do this soon. And I’m pretty sure that people listening will really see the value and, you know, get some takeaways and some nuggets from our chat today. Thank you so much.

Gerilynn: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

 

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