July 28, 2020

Employee Spotlight: Kimbre Lancaster, Director of Global Events and Field Marketing

Employee Spotlight: Kimbre Lancaster, Director of Global Events and Field Marketing

Kimbre has been the head of events and field marketing at Gremlin for just over a year, spearheading last year’s Chaos Conf in San Francisco, as well as the virtual conference FailoverConf that focused on resilience in the wake of COVID-19. She recently published an article in The New Stack titled, Tips (and Templates) for Your Next Online Event and is passionate about using her skills to help out causes she believes in outside of tech.

The idea behind creating an employee spotlight is to give you a behind the scenes look at the people that make up Gremlin. We believe in community, in transparency, and in building connections. With that said, here’s some more information about Kimbre!

You were a project manager before you got involved with events. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Long story short, I was a professional theatre actor for ten years, and was a freelance project manager between gigs. Companies would bring me in to align objectives across key stakeholders and overhaul their internal operations procedures.

One of my clients (Gotham Dream Cars) eventually hired me as their Director of Internal Operations. Gotham was often hired for big PR events. For example, say Budweiser needed five Lamborghini’s with drivers to pick up contest winners to bring them to a huge party on a barge, all while being filmed for an upcoming commercial spotlight — they would call us. Our team lacked an event manager, so as the in-house process guru, that role fell to me. I fell in love with creating experiences and was surprised by how much more rewarding the end result was than an SOP. That began my transition into managing events, and eventually moving to event and field marketing full time.

You eventually transitioned into tech, running events at Scalyr and Split. How would you say it’s different from your other experiences?

In terms of project management vs event management - it’s almost exactly the same. Managing a project is the same as managing an event or even managing a product - you’re aligning stakeholders on key outcomes, defining a process for everyone involved, and driving the project to completion. All that changes are the particulars from project to project.

That being said B2C events are fairly different from B2B events.

B2C events tend to be one offs heavily focused on making a splash for the brand. If Coca-Cola produces a cross country music tour, all they are measuring is how many people attend, how many cokes are given out for free, or how many people tweet about the event. You won’t know if those attendees buy a Coke after the event. You just want people to know and love your brand.

With B2B events you need to be much more strategic in order to track both short term event success and how that tracks towards long term company goals. You still want people to know and love your brand, but you are also responsible for whether or not those people go on to buy your product. This requires you to understand the product, the product’s sales cycle, and how your product fits into a given category much more intimately.

Do you have any advice for someone that’s in events and interested in getting involved in the tech startup world?

Of course! As I mentioned, a lot of these skills translate. Being process-oriented and caring about the details is still a critical component. But if you’re in a more traditional B2C or hospitality events role, start going out of your way to understand the bigger picture for each client.

First, learn more about their longer-term strategy. Why does this client want to host the event in the first place? How does it fit into their broader go-to-market strategy? What happens after this event is over? What teams follow-up, if any? These are all important questions that go beyond that single experience.

Second, take those client goals, and measure them. All of the events you run need to be data-driven. Get in the habit of tracking the data, increasing conversions, and tying those metrics directly to the business value for each client.

What separates a good event from a mediocre one? Going forward, it seems people are going to be much pickier with how they spend their time.

Now that everything’s online, we’re all getting screen fatigue. The awesome thing about in-person events is they’re an opportunity to get away from the computer. The goal is to break up your everyday experience, get out of the office, and go meet people in real life. That’s why when it comes to online conferences, there’s still something about it that feels like work. You’re still in your “office,” you’re still at your computer, and you’re engaging with new people over a screen. I actually agree that people should be pickier about which events they attend.

I would ask the same basic questions: Is this breaking up my everyday experience - in a good way? Can I get “out” of my office to focus and attend the event? (ie - closing Slack or email, letting your team know you’re offline) Is the content stellar? Will I learn something I can really use right away? Will this make me better at my job? Are there people attending / speaking that I really want to connect with or learn from? And then, make sure the event organizer is clear about how they will be facilitating those interactions.

As a business, we also have to be pickier where we spend our sponsorship money. Virtual booths are good in theory, but the data is telling us they’re not effective as in-person. When we’re at a physical event, half the reason attendees come to the expo hall is to get food, drinks, or swag. If you’re good - your swag, your demo, and your people will be great at creating conversations even if someone only came in the hall for a free beer. In the absence of that draw, we’re not seeing a significant number of attendees “visiting” virtual booths. I might be able to justify using my team’s time in case someone swings by to chat, but I can’t justify paying very much money for it. Most of the audience isn’t “coming by” and the ones that do are only clicking a button. The intent here is pretty low, and difficult to convert.

Don’t get me wrong, online events still provide great opportunities to build relationships. I have loved seeing so many companies mimic our “merit based” sponsorship concept from Failover Conf - where sponsors help invite attendees in order to earn brand awareness and the opportunity to connect. Virtual events cost less than physical events, so event organizers can charge partners less and still offset their costs. This is a great opportunity to partner with the right people, foster goodwill between brands, and create high-value experiences.

We saw companies let go of their events staff with the rise of COVID-19. It’s a sensitive topic, but do you have thoughts here?

Yes. It made me really upset to see so many incredibly talented marketing professionals let go, and so early on into the pandemic. Event marketers are literally experts in dealing with the unknown and planning for the unseen. It’s our job to think ahead, fix potential problems before anyone else even knows there is a risk, and find any way possible to derive value. There are so many ways those employees could have benefited the business if they’d been given the opportunity.

Look at our team as an example. We pivoted. We learned new skills. In one week we created the brand new event Failover Conf. In two weeks we had over 40 of our partners onboard to help us. We blew past our goal of 2,000 attendees, had over 9,800 people register and over 3,400 join us on event day. That’s more leads than we anticipated getting from the physical programs that were impacted by the coronavirus. Imagine Gremlin’s loss if when events were cancelled, they’d just let us go?

Listen, it’s not that I don’t understand the knee-jerk reaction. The job is primarily to organize successful in-person events, and those were no longer possible. But it was upsetting to see companies be so fast to let these valuable people go, instead of giving them an opportunity to make new plans, or temporarily support other teams.

I will also say this, if you’re an events person that isn’t currently working full time, look for the companies that valued their events teams during this period and choose wisely when you begin searching for your next role. Go somewhere you’re valued.

In the interim, there are plenty of social causes that need your expertise. You can add to your resume and do some incredibly important work while you do it. Is there a local organization trying to assemble a march? That’s an event you can help with! Is there someone who wants to teach online classes about gender inequality in tech or give online talks about systemic racism, but they don’t know how to set it up? Those are online events! You can use those opportunities to keep your skills sharp, and dip your toes into this new online events world.

Ask yourself: How can I be of service? The karma will come back to you, I promise.

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