Changes are coming for AOC in 2020 – Rich Brooks

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In today’s episode, I share those changes, but also how we made the business decisions around them. I’m hoping that by sharing what we did, it will help you in any marketing or other business initiatives you’re looking to launch in 2020 or beyond.

Rich Brooks: The new year is almost upon us, which for most businesses means new products, new services, new offerings, new opportunities, new campaigns, the list goes on. But what if something that you’ve delivered in the past isn’t working for the new year or you can’t deliver it? How do you reposition? How do you take a new approach? How do you deliver it in such a way that your audience will still be excited?

Rich Brooks: We’re going to discuss all that more in today’s episode of the Agents of Change Podcast. Welcome to another episode of the Agents of Change Podcast. I’m your host Rich Brooks, and this is episode 325 powered by flyte new media. Today is a different type of episode and not just because I’m sitting here in the recording studio by myself, no guest, flying solo. It’s because I want to share with you our plans for Agents of Change in 2020. But I didn’t want to do an episode that was really just a press release. I wanted to give you a little bit more value.

Rich Brooks: So I thought that if I shared with you our plans, but also how we came to that decision, what our thinking was along the line, some of the outcomes of that, it might help you with any marketing or other business initiatives that you’re facing for the new year. So, what are our plans for AOC for 2020 well? Well, if you’ve listened to the last couple of episodes, I have been teasing this whistle-stop to a six smaller events around new England. But what I haven’t announced is our big announcement for 2020, is that we are not doing our annual digital marketing conference.

Rich Brooks: The event that we always put on in Portland, Maine and online in September, we bring in speakers from around the country, sometimes from around the world, 300 to 400 people live, plus a whole bunch of people watching the live stream or on demand content after the event is over. We’re taking a one year hiatus from this, and this wasn’t an easy decision as you can imagine. When we had gone back to the university of Southern Maine, where we’ve put on the event for the past eight years and before that I put on social media FTW a similar conference there.

Rich Brooks: So, really been going there for 11 years and we went to go reserve dates for 2020 and none of the weeks we wanted were available, and they are very strict about what days of the week that you’d have it, and just nothing really worked for us. We didn’t see that as a deal breaker for the event. We started to scout some other locations here in Portland, Maine, but to be honest, as much as I love Portland and so many great restaurants and all this other stuff, there’s not a lot of convention space here in greater Portland, and we really wanted a space that had a stage, an actual stage, which we’re used to and breakout rooms in the same building and all those other stuff.

Rich Brooks: We looked at a bunch of places and we actually found one place we really liked it. It was a great space, but at the end of the day it was actually two or even three separate buildings. People would have to walk outside, there wasn’t quite that same communal feel. Plus there were just a lot of logistics that we have to deal with in the new space that we didn’t have to deal with in the old space because the price was all inclusive. But at the end of the day, what really kept us from going forward with a different venue was the fact that it didn’t have that community feel.

Rich Brooks: At USM, we have everything in one building and we’ve got this gorgeous atrium that connects all the classrooms and the conference hall, and that’s where all these great networking connections are made and were there several times throughout the day, and that’s where our networking event is, where we have the open bar and it’s just … it’s a lot of fun. It’s built a community, and we realized that we couldn’t really deliver on our promise. Yes, we could bring in great speakers and yes we could have great content, but we couldn’t build the community in 2020 the way that we had in all those previous years, and for us it was a deal breaker. So we just decided that we were going to skip a year.

Rich Brooks: Because we’ve got some other things in the hopper, I had to tell some friends that we weren’t putting on the event. I’m going to tell you that I was really surprised by the reaction, but in many ways it just reinforced that we had made the right decision. When we told one person who had spoken at Agents of Change before and attended as an attendee, her response was, “Well, when am I going to see my friends?” That was really poignant to me, that we had actually created something that beyond the actual content and the speakers that we had created a community and she didn’t want to miss out on that.

Rich Brooks: But I knew that we couldn’t deliver on that in 2020 which is part of the reason that we are skipping a year. Now, I do want to say that even though we’re skipping a year, we are coming back. In fact we’ve already reserved the dates for 2021 at the original venue, so we’re 100% behind this and we definitely are going to come back in 2021 with a great new conference. Just in case you want to put down the dates is October 1st, a Friday 2021, is the date of the conference itself and then our pre-conference workshops are happening the day before on Thursday, September 30th, 2021. We’ve got the dates, we put the deposit down. We’re 100% in on this.

Rich Brooks: Another thing that contributed to our decision here was the fact that we have 13 other live events planned for 2020. I know that’s crazy. The year hasn’t even started, this is beyond any kind of small workshops I might be doing for something else. These are all put on by flyte, and these include the six whistle-stop tours for Agents of Change, which I can talk about in a minute, as well as this other brand that we’ve got going on. I may have mentioned before called Fast Forward Maine, and Fast Forward Maine is a biweekly in … I’m sorry, by monthly in person workshop that we have here in the state of Maine and it’s also a weekly podcast that I with my friend and partner Yury Nabakov.

Rich Brooks: The idea behind Fast Forward Maine is, I’d been wanting to do a local play for a while. I actually bought the domain Fast Forward Maine 10 years ago, and all the social profiles just didn’t know what to do with it. Recently through a relationship with Machias Savings Bank, we’re partnering on this and we’re delivering this Fast Forward Maine. So we’ve got six events, six half day workshops that are geared towards business owners throughout the state for Fast Forward Main plus we’re doing a full day conference for Fast Forward Maine for the first time ever to. So those are seven events plus these six, 13 events. That’s a lot of planning for a company that’s actually not an event planning company.

Rich Brooks: So letting go of Agents of Change, the digital marketing conference for one year is a little bit of a relief even though we’ve more than filled our plates with other live events. So that should give you an idea of what we’ve got planned for 2020, the six whistle-stops and the seven events for Fast Forward Maine. When we decided to pull back and not to do this particular conference this year, a few members of my team were concerned that it might look bad for us. Why aren’t they putting it on? Is it not a success? Did people not like it? Were the reviews bad? Could they not sell enough tickets? Did they lose money? All these things.

Rich Brooks: My team was concerned about just the optics of it as they say. Honestly I never felt that. Sure I didn’t want to skip a year, but I didn’t see this as a fail for us. Plus we already had plans for these Agents of Change whistles-stop tours. We are putting more emphasis on this now that we don’t have our annual conference, but this was already in the work to expand the footprint of Agents of Change not to shrink it. So I figured, let’s focus on that, not necessarily on the downside of the fact that we are skipping a year anyway. There was all this concern about how it would be perceived. I didn’t really think he was going to be that big a deal, but ultimately what we said is we should do some press release.

Rich Brooks: Then the idea snowballed from there and suddenly we’re like, “Okay, well, let’s dress it up and let’s do a series press release somewhere between Bill Belichick answering questions and some presidential decree.” So we did something like that. We actually did a Facebook live, we did it on Monday morning, you may have seen it. If not, I’ll make sure that it’s linked to or embedded in the show notes for today’s episode. I definitely want to check it out because we had fun with it. Like we got the whole team involved and we did this like five minute press conference where I made the announcement and then I took questions from reporters who of course worked for flyte new media, and just made a big joke of it. I got dressed up, it was a lot of fun.

Rich Brooks: So, what were the lessons that we learned from all this? One is to make sure that you’re delivering on expectations, and even though we didn’t want to skip a year, and even though we wanted to continue the tradition for Agents of Change, the bottom line is because we couldn’t get the weekend, because we couldn’t get a backup space that we felt confident could build the community feel that we’ve been developing in Agents of Change. We thought the best decision was actually to hold off on the conference for an entire year. If you’ve got something that you’re working on and it just doesn’t feel like it’s ready for prime time, don’t be afraid to delay. Don’t be afraid to pull back on that.

Rich Brooks: I was just listening to the news this morning and this is a very extreme example, but Boeing went ahead with those 737 Maxes to compete with Airbus. They felt that they were losing market share. They needed to get something out there quickly. They pushed it through and they didn’t require the training that they should have. In retrospect is there’s been two crashes and hundreds of people have been killed. Like I said, pretty extreme example. But again, sometimes we just feel like we have to crank something out and put it out there and I think it is incredibly important to make sure that you understand the why’s of what you’re doing.

Rich Brooks: Part of our why for the Agents of Change Digital Marketing Conference was that feeling of community. Here’s one of the things that we’ve noticed over the years, is that we’re now competing with a lot more events in Maine than we ever did when we started. A lot of these events are nothing more than lunch and learns. So there are the people out there who would say, “Why would I go to a full day conference, take up a whole day and learn a bunch of stuff that may not be relevant to my business? Why not just take out a lunch and go out and learn strictly about Facebook ads or strictly about Instagram or strictly about local SEO?”

Rich Brooks: Chances are, it’s free because these lunch and learns are everywhere these days. I totally get that. But the thing with lunch and learns, first of all, if they’re free, they’re not really about education they’re are about selling to you, and that’s not what we were trying to do. The other thing is when you do a lunch and learn, you go in, you eat, maybe learn something and then you leave. There’s no sense of community.

Rich Brooks: And just the reactions that we’ve gotten from people who do like coming to the conference since we started announcing this has reinforced that, that we really need to build the live event that has a networking component, that has a feeling of community, if we want to deliver on expectations, the expectations we have and the expectations that our customers have. Another thing that we discovered is, it’s difficult to make an offer smaller. So for example, when we started looking at spaces, we did find one space that we really liked.

Rich Brooks: It’s a business space slash nightclub here in Portland, and it’s fantastic. It looks good, their stadium seating, there’s got a fantastic stage, there’s bars all around because we like having a fun social time afterwards. But unfortunately to do a full day conference there, we probably would’ve had a cut the number of attendees at least in half, which didn’t feel great. Also we could only do single track there. So suddenly what the expectations for Agents of Change was, would have severely changed, and we just didn’t feel that we’d be able to deliver on that.

Rich Brooks: It also felt to us like the perception would be is that AOC as a conference was failing because we were shrinking it down because it was only single track and none of those things were true, but we could recognize how people might see that. So we loved the space, and actually, that’s where we’re having our Fast Forward Main conference on April 7th, because there are no preconceptions to what Fast Forward Main conference is. So having it as a single track, having it where there’s only maybe 150 people who can comfortably sit, that’s not a problem because it’s the first one ever. We get to make a new set of rules with this.

Rich Brooks: But because we had something that people had contributed to, whenever you have an event, everybody who speaks, everybody who sponsors and everybody who fills a seat is contributing to that, and because of their contributions, Agents of Change had become something bigger than us and we couldn’t really change it around and suddenly make it smaller and still expect the same type of results from delivering this to the marketplace. Think of it this way. When was the last time that you saw a sequel that was smaller or had less explosions or less characters than the previous version in the franchise?

Rich Brooks: Every sequel gets bigger, at least gets bigger, maybe can stay the same. That’s really difficult, but it always seems to need to get bigger. It’s very difficult to reign something and to make it smaller and not to make it look like you’ve taken a step backwards. The last takeaway I had from this entire experience about Agents of Change 2020, is try repackaging an offer. What I mean by that is we couldn’t deliver on what we wanted. We couldn’t deliver on this full day conference in Portland, Maine with the live stream, but we had already planned on taking the show on the road on doing these whistle-stop tours would be slightly smaller versions of Agents of Change and use that to expand the footprint of Agents of Change as well as flyte new media because we’re the company putting these events on.

Rich Brooks: So we’re repackaging this. People don’t have the same [inaudible 00:13:56] sorry, the same expectations of a whistle-stop that they would for the entire conference. I think back to a story I heard about Ricky Gervais, and the fact that he had this podcast on Apple Podcasts, that was huge. He was by far the number one most downloaded podcast at the time. People loved it and then Apple made the decision to allow podcast creators to start charging for the episodes. The way I remember it is Ricky Gervais said, “That’s a great idea.” He started trying to charge for the podcast and his audience basically disappeared almost overnight.

Rich Brooks: It wasn’t because he wasn’t providing value, he’s probably providing really great content like he always had, but you can’t just go from charging nothing for something that you’re doing and suddenly charge for it and expect people to stick around for it, outside of something like a seven day free trial or whatever it might be. But in general, you can’t just be giving something away and then expect people be totally happy to pay for the exact same service. So if you are going to make a shift, then you should repackage it in new ways.

Rich Brooks: Maybe what Ricky Gervais could have done is suddenly turn the audio podcast into a video podcast and start charging for that or put it together on a DVD collection and sold it through some service or something. Maybe people would have bought it. When you change the physical product itself, when you change something about it, it has a different value set, so suddenly you can change the pricing on it. So that’s something to keep in mind too.

Rich Brooks: If you’re bringing a product to market or you have to hold off on it and you need to reintroduce it in another way. If you’ve been giving it away for free and you realize that you need to start charging for it, you can’t just go ahead and do the exact same thing. You have to repackage it, you have to position a differently. The whistle-stop tours are definitely positioned differently than the actual conference itself. These are hyper-local, they’re smaller, they’re lower costs, but still a full day of content. Still the vibe of Agents of Change in the best way that we can necessarily replicate that as well.

Rich Brooks: So just think about those things as you’re starting to roll out new products, new services, and new initiatives for 2020 and beyond. Make sure that you’re delivering on expectations. It’s difficult to make things smaller than they are right now, so see if you can’t go bigger and if that doesn’t work, then try repackaging your offer and positioning it differently. Hey, I hope you found some of that helpful. I know it was an interesting experiment for us to go through here at flyte deciding what we were going to do and what we weren’t going to do in 2020.

Rich Brooks: Hopefully your 2020 planning is going great. If you have any questions for me, either about the conference or maybe you’re struggling with something in your own marketing, just reach out to me. I am the Rich Brooks on every single platform out there. Plus you can just go to our website, fill out our contact form. I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to hear what you’re up to. If you haven’t yet, please subscribe to the Agents of Change Podcast. You can do that. If you’re at our website right now, there are buttons all over the place or just head on over to Apple Podcast or Stitcher radio, Spotify, whatever your favorite podcasting platform is. Do a search for the Agents of Change and we will be there.

Rich Brooks: That’s all the content we have for today. We’ll be back next week with great new guests talking about all the digital marketing tactics and techniques you need in 2020 and beyond to reach more of your ideal customers. Talk to you again in seven.

Show Notes:

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing