by Aaron Tilley of San Francisco Business Times
Tech company employees are eager to come out from behind the computer screen, but events for startups require a little more creativity than a typical buttoned-up business meeting.
As the Bay Area technology industry continues to grow, product launches or developer conferences are becoming big business for Bay Area meeting planners. Event planning companies need to spice things up to stay relevant.
“We’re not looking for typical locations for meetings,” said Stephen Lazar, vice president of sales at San Francisco meeting planner Key Events. “We’re really pushing to find places that are out of the box. Instead of hotels, we’re looking at art centers and warehouses.”
Lazar estimates that about 50 percent of Key Events’ conference clients come from the tech sector, including Microsoft, eBay and Salesforce.com.
Constance Adamopoulos, owner of Organized Chaos Events, takes tech firms to places such as the Exploratorium science museum to engage them more.
“Tech guys are completely different than bankers,” explained Adamopoulos. “For software engineers, you have to have an interactive party. They’re really nerdy and don’t interact with each other. They go sit down and read a magazine. They need stuff that is interactive so they get around instead of sitting there like a hermit.”
Meeting planners use the latest technology at events for tech companies. Smart phone apps tailored for the event are used for registration and providing information. The apps also use games to get people to interact with each other more.
“For tech companies, they really want to showcase that they’re up to speed,” said Amanda Cey, the founder and CEO of ABCey.
Business has tripled for ABCey this past year, and tech events make up 75 percent of ABCey’s clients, estimated Cey.
“They’re integral to the success of companies,” said Cey about product launch events for the tech industry.
Large tech companies such as Salesforce.com have their own dedicated event planners. Karen Reul, vice president of strategic events at Salesforce.com, helps plan the cloud-software company’s massive Dreamforce conference, which brings together customers, partners and developers. Celebrating its tenth anniversary, Dreamforce had attendance registration this year of 70,000, up from 42,000 in 2011 and 23,000 in 2010.
“Dreamforce provides us with an incredible opportunity to engage and learn from our customers how we can service them better,” said Reul.
For bigger tech events, the Exploratorium unfortunately won’t do. Only the Moscone Center offers enough space in the city, where 14 conventions from companies such as Oracle, Salesforce.com and Apple are scheduled for this year. These conventions represent huge business for the city with 251,952 room nights booked and $239 million in direct spending.
Lysa Lewin, vice president of convention sales at the San Francisco Travel Association, which oversees booking for the Moscone, said that despite a decline in 2008 in attendance, things have picked back up.
“Business is definitely coming back,” said Lewin.
Despite the growth, what’s happening now in tech events is nothing compared to the craziness of the dot-com bubble more than a decade ago.
Key Events had a big decline in tech events following the bust in the early 2000s. Molly Walsh, vice president of business development at Key Events, said, “I remember all that money. But it was the same party over and over again. Now it’s much more about creating relationships with the brand.”
Adamopoulos of Organized Chaos said tech took up 75 percent of her business then compared to 30 percent now.
“They couldn’t be more over the top,” said Adamopoulos. “These 25-30 year old kids standing on chairs, saying, ‘I’m throwing money at this and I want something ridiculous.’ Everybody had money coming out of their ears. They wanted to wow attendees. They had big egos. A lot of money poured into the event business. Now everybody is more restricted — people are watching.”