The headline of this blog post is a quote from Abraham Lincoln. I came across it after the movie about his life last year. Stories about Lincoln’s life came out of the woodwork. One article that caught my attention was a listing of his top 15 most popular quotes.
“The best way to predict your future is to create it,” was actually No. 12 on the list. I think ranking these is a relative thing driven largely by one’s personal experience. For me, this quote would rank near the top. It is incredibly relevant for most people. And most companies. Our company here, Ascend Integrated Media, is no exception.
Writing here as humbly as I can, with my vested interests and all, Ascend has been doing some amazing things over the last two or three years in order to “predict its own future.” Frankly, we’re doing things we never even dreamed of four or five years ago. More than most professionals, other than those in the R&D labs of communications and technology companies, had even imagined just scant years ago.
How are we evolving? Let me count the ways:
Technology: Ascend has been fortunate in attracting an extremely talented team of digital and mobile media experts. We are experts now but were on the cutting edge of mobile apps, delivering our first for clients more than four years ago. Now, we’re on the cutting edge of tablet publishing. Check out some of our work developing books in tablet form in both English and Spanish for American Heart Association.
Creative content: Besides our core business of creating and publishing show dailies for 35 to 40 trade shows each year, as well as another 100+ exhibit guides, directories, planners and programs, the team has branched out to create amazing content for magazine and newspaper advertising, billboards, radio, video production and digital newsletters. Plus, Ascend now serves as a turnkey outsource custom magazine publisher for half a dozen clients.
Sales: Our team of 11 inside media sales specialists has moved light years beyond selling print ads in print publications. While that remains a critical staple of the business, the team has done amazing thing as we’ve helped our customers move to a deeply integrated media sales approach. The team has sold several million dollars in sponsorships for clients, several million dollars in digital advertising and nearly $5 million in exhibit booth sales for a half dozen customers. Just three years ago, we weren’t doing any of this.
New product development: Perhaps the most compelling way Ascend is predicting its own future is reflected in the research, development and launch of a totally new media brand called Ascend’s Golden Guide. This brand is owned and operated by Ascend’s talented team members. Check us out on Facebook and on the Web at www.ascendsgoldenguide.com today. Our magazine just made its debut in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area, and the tablet version will launch in the next few weeks. Soon, this brand will be coming soon to a city near you.
At Ascend, we have met the future and it is us. What an exciting time and place to be.
A special shout out from our Ascend team members and a thank you to our many customers, clients and friends who have allowed us to grow and develop alongside you, as your partner.
Great ideas are born out of necessity. Many of us here at Ascend Integrated Media have recently felt a tremendous need for easily accessible, reliable and authoritative information and resources as we have faced caring for our aging parents. In fact, the number of us Ascend Baby Boomers and the level of our need within the last calendar year has escalated and raised our awareness to critical. The fact that we, as a custom publisher, could do something to fill this obvious void made this need our mission.
Let me tell you my story. I’m a 50+ boomer with aging parents. Until recently, I was blessed with two octogenarian parents who were in amazing health and living life with vitality. Divorced for years and both single, my mother lives the metropolitan area and my father lives two hours north of Kansas City in a rural community.
By freakish bad luck, both became seriously ill within the same week. My mother was hospitalized with some critical internal issues, while my father suffered a semi-debilitating stroke. Happily, both survived and recovered over several months … several long, difficult, arduous months.
To achieve full recovery, my siblings and I suddenly found ourselves scrambling to find and prepare for our parents’ post-hospital needs. Their needs included home health care, physical therapy, rehabilitation, medical equipment, transportation, home safety products, fall/emergency alert systems, house cleaning and food service, to name a few.
We needed information and we needed it fast so we could make the right decisions. We found ourselves frustrated because there was no readily identifiable, much less easy-to-use reference source, guidance or directory of products, tips, how-to information and services. It was compounded by the fact that our family had no prior experience dealing with these matters. We didn’t know what to even look for, where to turn or who to ask.
Although there were bits and pieces here and there on websites or in government brochures, there was nothing comprehensive or easy to use. Too often, the content we found was generic and not relevant to our community. Making matters worse, many websites were only interested in turning me into a lead that they could sell to someone.
As we worked through our needs and began to research how others are dealing with aging parent care challenges, we discovered that we are by no means alone. There’s a profound need for family help. Many of the stories are heart-wrenching. We conducted focus group research about aging information and resources, which brought tears to our eyes.
We concluded there is a need that is both wide and deep for all information related to caring for aging family members. And, equally important, as a planning tool for us Baby Boomers as we near retirement age.
So, we introduce Ascend’s Golden Guide.
This is the authoritative resource for metro-specific directory information and education. The print, digital and mobile platforms are designed to provide one-stop, how-to resource information as seniors and their family members make life transition decisions.
Stay tuned for the website’s launch in late February.
1. Augment an overloaded internal content and/or sales team to complete a project or start a new project.
2. Monetize one or more projects to generate additional revenue or reduce costs.
3. Reduce the number of disparate vendors to improve project management and to maximize an integrated communications approach.
4. Complete a project within a tight timeframe to meet goals.
5. Create new ways to engage the target audience to strengthen branding, engagement and revenue.
6. Replace a nonoptimal vendor or internal staff/team to deliver needed results.
7. Create products to help an event become more “green.”
Perhaps one or more of the seven items listed above are among your 2013 goals. If so, let’s chat. We’re really good listeners. And, if we have a solution for you, a great partnership is born — partnerships, such as those that have generated these types of results by our team:
Too many channels, too little time. It has never been harder to create, coordinate, manage and monetize media surrounding trade shows.
There’s pre-show, during-show and post-show communications. Worse, it has to all be available in print, digital and mobile media. And now there are tablets too.
It requires military precision in planning, scheduling and management. Otherwise, it can easily get out of control. No continuity; miss-timed delivery; reader confusion due to inconsistent messaging, look, feel and style across media channels.
The good news is, you don’t have to face it alone. Ascend Integrated Media is a unique custom content agency that has specialized in working with trade shows, events and associations for 30 years. Ascend creates, manages and delivers fully integrated event communications programs. Everything our 55 employees develop for our more than 50 association clients can and is delivered in print, digital and mobile media.
We do it every day, executing more than 500 client projects each year including more than 100 editions of show daily newspapers with live daily news.
Ascend Integrated Media delivers award-winning content when your customer and attendees want it, where they want it and how they want it. Count on it.
Find out what our partners like PCMA, American Thoracic Society, National Association of Convenience Stores and Produce Marketing Association already know. Call today to learn how we can partner with you to integrate and even monetize your communications programs.
By Eric Jacobson, Vice President, Media Development
The annual PCMA (Professional Convention Management Association) Education Conference in San Antonio last month was a real eye-opener for me. And, a wake-up call. You could have only left that conference knowing that the need for change within associations and at their events is perhaps greater than it’s ever been.
Here are my lessons learned, insights gained and trends noted:
• Many associations are struggling to attract potential younger members who don’t see the value of membership.
• At this meeting, as at many meetings now, there were no printed workshop/session handouts (all were only available for online download).
• Meetings should always offer at least three new things each year to keep their meeting relevant with their attendees/audience.
• 75 percent of the workforce will be Gen X and Millennials by 2525 (it’s currently 24 percent). And, this group of individuals will have grown up with social media as an integral part of their life.
• Associations will remain relevant as long as they offer their members content and community (and community can be enhanced via social media).
• Internet connectivity at a meeting can be expensive for live streaming.
• When live streaming, be sure the speakers/emcees are engaging the online attendees as well as the in-person attendees.
• One-third or more of the attendees had their iPads at the keynote sessions and workshops/seminars — using them to take notes and engage socially.
• Research shows attendees want to know what’s new from exhibitors and exhibitors need to be sure that’s blatantly obvious in their booths.
• There was lots of talk about the increasing need to connect with attendees digitally.
• Buzz surrounded holding hybrid and virtual events (and the combo of live conference, virtual conference/live streaming, post-conference webcasts, and session rebroadcasts, which also are four different revenue streams for associations).
• Meetings are setting up rooms for industry bloggers in additional to providing traditional pressrooms.
• Meetings are using YouTube exhibitor testimonials to generate interest from potential exhibitors for their future meetings.
• Some meetings are holding mini “virtual events” before the live meeting to generate interest and excitement for attendees coming to the live meeting.
I recently attended the annual PCMA Education Conference in San Antonio. The conference was filled, as usual, with networking, top-flight education and fabulous food. (PCMA knows how to host their meeting planner constituency!) It also offered some excellent general session speakers who knew how to inspire.
One of these was Mark Scharenbroich, a National Speakers Hall of Fame member and Emmy Award winner. When Mark first started speaking, no one at my table was sure what to think of his blend of self-deprecating Minnesotan humor and comic physicality. It could have gone entirely wrong, to be sure, in front of this discerning group of meeting professionals. He even admitted — onstage — that for him, this was a big-time engagement, and that he was more than a little nervous to be presenting.
But soon after, he drew us in with his authentic stories of average people deepening their human connections. And really, isn’t that what we all want? Because when we connect with others, it makes us feel more connected and valued.
Mark formulated his “nice bike” principal when, quite by accident in August 2003, he drove by the Harley-Davidson 100th anniversary in Milwaukee. From his totally unhip beige rental car, he observed the interactions between bikers. He noticed that two words really connected rider to rider that day: “Nice bike.”
More than flattery, he believed that this simple phrase was emblematic of something deeper: an authentic and validating human connection. Throughout his presentation, and in his book, Nice Bike, he gives example after example of people doing simple acts of kindness or service for one another that acknowledges the other person, honors them and connects with them. From teachers showing little kindnesses to students to CEOs knowing something about every team member in their company to veterans sharing an amazing positive attitude in the face of terrible injury, the Nice Bike principal inspired listeners to make purposeful connections in an isolating and technology-driven world.
He reminded attendees to start with your oldest friendships and reclaim them through reconnection. How many of us get so bogged down with living our day-to-day life that we neglect what is oldest, truest and most important to us — our longtime friendships and family relationships? He told a wonderful story of reconnecting with his father, a crusty war veteran who never said “I love you” when Mark was growing up. Through asking questions to learn more about his father’s life, Mark was able to understand him better in his later years. And Mark was able to witness his father’s authentic connection with a group of Vietnam vets during a special trip to D.C. together. Mark got to see his father put into practice — naturally and beautifully — the “Nice Bike” philosophy in a meaningful way.
All of us wish for authentic, meaningful connections with our family and friends, peers, customers and employees. Nice Bike is a way to consciously work to acknowledge, honor and connect with others around us. You can find out more about Mark Scharenbroich at www.nicebike.com
The headline for this blog post is a quote. Surprisingly, a quote from a rap musician — Usher, to be specific. I heard him make this statement on a television show and it impressed me. A pretty smart guy, I think.
His quote and, really I think, his life philosophy, is certainly appropriate in our world here at Ascend. That is, the world of custom content, content marketing, event media and the related creative arts.
This company will celebrate its 30th anniversary in business in July of this year. And, it has seen a dramatic evolution, to say the least.
The company started its life as an ad agency. Within a year or so, it published its first trade show newspaper. Word spread rapidly and within a couple more years, the business had evolved into a trade show daily newspaper publisher. It was called Atwood, named after its founding couple, Wayne and Linette.
The evolution continued as association and event clients began asking them to produce exhibit guides, membership directories, programs, maps and other ancillary print material.
Time moved on and we, the current generation of Ascend team members, have proudly continued the evolution. Primarily in the digital realm. First came Ascend’s proprietary and highly effective “e365”landing page website for events. Following closely after came the company’s interactive database-driven exhibit guides and buyers’ guides with a tremendous degree of flexibility and searchability.
Print magazines, directories and newspapers then began to move to digital form as well and Ascend was early on the scene with flipbook versions. One of our first was for the Miss Universe Pageant in Las Vegas. It was a beauty, so to speak!
We also are proud to say that we were early pioneers in the mobile arena with one of the industry’s first event mobile apps. Can you believe that launching a mobile product in just early 2009 makes one a pioneer in that field? Today, I have a list of 67 companies that claim to make some type of event mobile app. While many try, we’ve evolved through at least four generations of mobile event apps and will soon be able to provide a sophisticated new show floor geo-location technology that is not GPS-dependent. Stay tuned.
We then saw the trend in a new lead-generation tool called “QR codes” and we immediately began offering this new technology to our clients. We first demonstrated its capabilities at the annual Healthcare Exhibitors Association Show several years ago.
In the area of SMS text messaging, Ascend also has been offering that technology solutions to our more than 50 event and trade show clients for three years now. We sometimes euphemistically call it “mobile herding” because it can be such an effective tool to move people around a trade show. Even today, text messaging is an increasingly effective and accepted means of communicating with attendees and constituents.
We are now, of course, heavily into creating and delivering tablet versions of publications in both iPad and Android tablet formats. We’ve produced proof of concept work for The American Heart Association, the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and, most recently, for Sam Lippman’sECEF conference program book delivered to more than 200 association and event senior executives.
Beyond that, we now offer a Virtual Totebag for exhibitors and associations to effectively and efficiently distribute their trade show literature to attendees. Plus, in late June 2012, we will debut our new AscendStreaming technology at this year’s (HCEA) Healthcare Exhibitors Association trade show in Orlando.
If all that is not enough, coming real soon will be version 2.0 of our interactive digital exhibit guides and buyers guides with some amazing new functionality and improved user navigation.
With all of that technology, we still produce a staggering variety and volume (more than 400 pieces per year) of print products, not the least of which are some 40 or more show daily newspaper projects averaging two to three days of live news each. That’s easily more than 100 issues per year, now totaling well over 2,200 issues for nearly 800 trade shows in our 30-year history.
Ascend strives to offer a fully integrated communications solution so that readers and users can access and use information with the same look, feel, style, tone and format regardless of what media they are using — print, digital, mobile or any combination.
Even though we continue to work aggressively to evolve to serve the needs of our clients, our goal of providing content for users “when they want it, where they want it and how they want it” remains the same.
Please come and join us as a partner, client or employee as we continue on this evolutionary trail in custom content.
Bundling has become a popular word in our vernacular. If you’re like me you’ve seen or heard the term used the most in the countless number of mailers, television, radio and Internet ads where utilities are offering to “bundle” your various forms of communication into one monthly package. Yes, I need my mobile. Yes, I need speedy Internet. Yes, I have to have cable. Put them all together to save me money and reduce the number of companies I have to deal with — that makes for a very BIG YES.
I’ve found more than a few recent examples where an organization has many different vendors and/or departments providing piece parts of the services required to publish their member periodical. Content may be created internally and then that content is sent out for editing. From there it could be sent out for design/layout and then returned for final review. Now it goes to the printer. Quite possibly the printer doesn’t have the capability for mailing so from the printer the publications are sent to a mail house for final distribution. Who’s providing the digital component for the publication? You add in a separate firm to sell, track and invoice for the advertising and you’ve got quite a lot to manage.
Ascend provides a complete staff of publishing professionals that successfully handle and execute all facets in the periodical publishing process. We’re quite unique in that we have a seasoned and experienced sales team (which delivered more than 4.5 million in royalties to our clients in 2011) to go along with a talented group of editors, designers, digital programmers, production and printing specialists that deliver publications on time and on budget. The expertise of the entire team working together in one location provides a bundling experience that is both financially and efficiently rewarding for our clients.
So, if you’re responsible for publishing your association’s magazine and you have a number of internal and external resources providing various services to get that publication in your members’ hands, via print and/or digital, ask yourself: What can bundling do for me?
Over the course of the last three years or so, the media and event industries have taken a major beating due to a combination of the economic downturn and the paradigm shift occurring from changes and uncertainties created by the Internet.
It was particularly interesting and telling last year when the U.S. government’s debt was downgraded. Ascend has a team of 10 media sales specialists who sell print and digital advertising, event and trade show sponsorships and exhibit booth space for many of our 60+ clients. Quite literally, within 10 days of the U.S. credit downgrade, they began to detect a very material shift in tone, confidence and media spend as they had discussions with hundreds of clients and prospects. This virtual sea change in demeanor occurred across all 20 of the B2B, health care and consumer market sectors that Ascend’s clients represent.
Since Ascend largely sells from two to six months in advance for its clients’ projects, the broad-based decrease in business and consumer confidence really impacted fourth quarter business last year. The net affect was a client base and an Ascend team member and customer base that largely began 2011 with a cautiously optimistic tenor, a pretty good start on the year and then ended the year rather discouraged.
But then, a new day dawned as we entered 2012. Several new clients came on board for the year after months of discussions and planning. (Welcome IMEX, EnergyWorks KC, American Heart Association exhibit booth sales, American Society for Public Administration, Alzheimers Association, Professional Convention Management Association, National Indian Gaming Association, World Mining Expo, Bizbash, Association of Change Management Professionals and CalPers!)
Projects for clients suddenly began to not just hit goals but consistently over-deliver. And exceed goals, they have indeed. Some results have just been off-the-charts successful. Take our work for American Heart Association’s annual Stroke Meeting. Sales results for this event were more than double last year’s, as well as being an all-time revenue record.
Following closely on the heels of the Stroke meeting came the American Academy of Dermatology. While we’ve broken many revenue records for this client over the 20 or so years we’ve partnered with them, 2012 was an all-time record high. Off-the-charts performance for one of our top five largest meeting clients.
Suddenly, around the office, we could see a change in tone and energy and confidence. There is a level of excitement and enthusiasm and optimism that most likely, most media companies and agencies haven’t experienced for years.
So, suddenly, hey, this business is a lot of fun! Things are growing, business is moving, new ideas are launching. There’s a vibrant energy that continues to build on itself.
No better example could be made than our current work for another long-term partner client, the AmericanThoracicSociety. Our work selling print and digital advertising as well as their sponsorship inventory is nothing short of fantastic. With a May meeting and weeks to go before all media and sponsorship inventory is closed, this event is already at 121 percent of last year’s all-time record.
For both our Ascend team members and our partner clients, the icing on the cake is the fact that, across the board, media sales and repping work for our custom magazine and journal publishing clients is following a very similar increasing trend. Two repping clients already are seeing bookings at 60 percent to 80 percent of last year’s total business.
It’s just more proof that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Hey, this is fun. Why not climb on board the Ascend ship and rise with us?
By Eric Jacobson, Vice President, Media Development
It takes more strength to ask for help than it does to not ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s a sign of knowing when to seek assistance to help you become more effective and successful.
Athletes seek out trainers. Professionals of all ages engage with mentors. Budding actors work with acting coaches.
And, in nearly every case, the associations with whom we partner had the strength to ask for our help. Each had pain. Communication pain. Decreasing meeting attendance pain. Poor vendor performance pain. Workload pain.
Rather than ignore and struggle along with that pain, they asked for help — sometimes reaching out to us, sometimes opening up during a call or meeting initiated by us.
Having worked with dozens of associations for the past 30 years, we are good at listening to the pain an organization is experiencing and then recommending options and possible solutions. Those recommendations include the best practices we witness every day as we create custom print, digital and mobile content designed to engage audiences, increase meeting attendance and build membership.
Here’s a list of the most common pain points we hear from associations. Which ones match up with your pain points?
1. Our internal staff doesn’t have time to sell ads into our print and digital products.
2. Our exhibit sales vendor isn’t communicating effectively with us.
3. We need to make our meeting more eco-friendly.
4. Our staff has been reduced and we no longer have the ability to create content in-house.
5. We don’t have internal expert medical writers.
6. We need to generate more revenue by better monetizing our journals, meetings and special events.
7. We have too many vendors and our projects feel disjointed.
8. We need to communicate more effectively with our members via texting, apps, tablets and other electronic channels.
9. My Board wants a whole new approach for our marketing and communications.
Perhaps not surprising, many of the associations who shared their pain with us recently needed assistance increasing their revenue. Then, by listening to their needs, strategizing with them, understanding their competition and fully immersing our sales team, we have produced these types of results:
• 139 percent of the goal/expectation for the first quarter of 2012, and already at 129 percent of goal for the first half of 2012 in less than two months of effort.
• 127 percent growth in number of advertisers in an association’s publications in 2011 versus 2010 when a different vendor worked on the project.
• Increased advertising revenue by 30 percent between 2010 versus 2009.
• Increased sales by 16 percent in 2011 versus 2010.
The first step when you have a pain point is to acknowledge that pain. Then, share that pain with someone you know likely can be of help. Ask for help. Listen to the options offered to you.
What are your pain points? What is preventing you from asking for help?