25–year industry veteran and VMWare Director of Events Allison Crooker talks strategy and substance in a hybrid future
Nearly three years ago, Allison Crooker founded Event Content Council: a monthly meetup for professionals focused on an “essential component” of industry gatherings that she felt wasn’t getting the attention it deserved from planning committees. How “essential” content is to an events strategy cannot be overstated.
“Without content…you really aren’t going to attract people to come,” says Crooker, explaining how content encompasses everything from keynotes to panels to hackathons. In the past, the actual substance of events could often be all too overshadowed by pomp and circumstance (or for planners, headache–inducing logistics).
Needless to say, the events landscape looks very different now then it did when Crooker formed Event Content Council. When all meetups were temporarily, forcibly relocated online, the importance of content became starkly apparent. Luckily, Crooker was well–positioned at VMWare for the transition since the company is an industry leading provider of cloud computing and virtualization software.
“Content really is the beginning of strategy,” she says of her company’s overall approach. Ideas come from the top–down: “We’re working on our 2022 calendar, and whatever VMWare is looking to do has to directly translate to what content we’re offering,” she explains.
In practice, this means considering the company’s immediate trajectory and also its long-term vision. And there is factoring in what’s known and not–yet–known about VMWare’s target audiences.
Crooker references recent changes—new leadership and a major acquisition—as an example. To establish rapport with the newly acquired company’s customers, she searched outside VMWare’s regular circuit for speakers. Programming was tactical and specific, designed to impart the feeling that VMWare understood attendees’ needs.
Post–pandemic, event content strategy also involves making decisions about in–person vs. virtual formats. Thinking in terms of ROI, Crooker suggests that in–person events will become more exclusive to decision makers. On the other hand, small commercial enterprises greatly benefit from access afforded by digital platforms. What type of digital experiences could be created specially for them?
Crooker acknowledges that the road ahead is daunting—especially compared to the one left behind in 2020. “In-person is a walk in the park when it comes to content,” she says with a laugh.
But if the paths to content creation have multiplied, so have the places it can go.
Far from feeling depleted, Crooker is energized by the discussions taking place at Event Content Council and elsewhere.
“There are a lot of things outside of the tech conference industry that the tech content people could benefit from,” she says, citing sports as an unlikely source of inspiration. The in–person energy of a game is unbeatable, but watching at home or in a sports bar holds its own delights. For some, simply keeping up to date on scores and stats is enough to sustain interest over a lifetime.
“We have an opportunity to really shake things up,” she says, pointing to the fact that VMWare is also undergoing a period of transition. “Experiential content is my new mantra,” she says, gamely, referring to the type of content that doesn’t have a digital counterpart.
Acknowledging that there will still be a need for and interest in keynote presentations and panel discussions at in-person events, Crooker also anticipates an appetite for more hands-on activities, face-to-face interactions, and all the (literal) human touch points that have been sorely missed over the past two years.