Association for High Technology Distribution Case Study
Reimagining Hybrid Event Networking
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Association for High Technology Distribution
2021 Annual Spring Meeting for Members
For over 35 years, the Association for High Technology Distribution (AHTD) has worked to increase the productivity, profitability and market share of automation solution providers and manufacturers. The association draws a variety of participants, including automation solution providers, manufacturers of technology products and companies looking for high-tech solution providers. The goal of AHTD is to leverage association programs and services to help member companies achieve their goals.
Spring Meeting 2021 Overview
Each year, AHTD hosts two member conferences: one in the spring and one in the fall. Each conference takes place in a different city and draws company presidents, CEOs, C-suite members and channel partners from organizations who have joined AHTD. Non-members are also invited to attend if they would like to learn more about AHTD.
“These conferences are designed for our members, by our members,” says Mara Dickson, Marketing Director at AHTD. “From guest speakers to break-out sessions, roundtable discussions, entertainment and receptions, we aim to provide an engaging experience that allows people to connect with one another.”
“Networking is a big part of our conferences,” says Leigha Schatzman, Executive Director of AHTD. “Our members are a close-knit group that enjoy gathering and exchanging ideas. We’ve found that oftentimes, networking at our meetings turns into friendships.”
"These conferences are designed for our members, by our members."
-Mara Dickson, Marketing Director for AHTD
Navigating the Challenges of Hybrid Event Planning
Schatzman says that in a typical year, AHTD’s bi-annual meetings take place in person. However, the planning team opted for a hybrid approach in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 to give members more flexibility in how they chose to attend.
“Safety is a top priority at our meetings,” Dickson says. “The last thing we wanted to do was host a conference that compromised the health of our members. That is why the Board of Directors decided to offer an online component for our 2021 Spring Meeting.”
While Schatzman and Dickson agree that hosting a hybrid conference was an obvious decision, the two say they felt anxious about pulling off an event that would meet their members’ high expectations.
“Going hybrid was one of the most nerve-wracking things we’ve ever done,” Schatzman says. “Travel mandates meant that many of our members could not attend in person, so we had to figure out how to cater to everyone’s needs while still providing that same exciting experience everyone would enjoy.”
Dickson explains that the pressure was on to create an event that would make every AHTD member feel valued and allow all voices to be heard, whether members attended live or virtually.
“We have conditioned our members to expect a high standard of excellence at each conference,” Dickson says. “Pulling together the components of both events required forethought and a great deal of planning.”
“I know how to run an in-person event, and I know how to run a remote event,” Schatzman says. “Both take 100% of our focus when done separately. When running multiple events concurrently, something has to give – and it can’t be the quality that AHTD members expect."
Partnering with pc/nametag
To create intrigue and excitement around the virtual component of Spring Meeting 2021, Schatzman said she had the idea of working with pc/nametag to create custom virtual attendee boxes, which would be sent to online attendees only. The goal of shipping the boxes was to elevate the virtual experience and get members excited to tune in to the conference.
“We read through a ton of articles on the latest hybrid event trends,” Schatzman says. “We wanted to see what other event organizers were doing. We noticed that many people were sending out promotional products and gift boxes in the mail. We also noted that MPI-WEC had used pc/nametag for custom gift box assembly, so when our conference came around, we knew we wanted to partner with pc/nametag to create a similar experience for our members.”
“If you are an experienced meeting planner, you’re familiar with pc/nametag and the superb products and services they offer. We have used them for years and will continue to use them because of the excellent experiences we’ve had.”
-Leigha Schatzman, Executive Director for AHTD
Reflecting on Past AHTD Planning Mishaps
Schatzman says that before partnering with pc/nametag, her team had attempted to pack and ship 170 padded mailers to Fall Meeting attendees without professional help. The initiative did not go as planned.
“Our DIY mailers were a complete mess,” Schatzman says. “We threw a bunch of items inside without really thinking about the logistics. We ended up learning from our shipping representative that some of the products we packed were not shippable, including hand sanitizer. We had to open every single mailer, remove the hand sanitizer, and take out all promotional print-outs since we’d written about the hand sanitizer on them.”
Schatzman says not only was this situation stressful, but it was the last thing she wanted to worry about while trying to leave for an in-person conference. She said emergency printing and restuffing of envelopes took a great deal of time and effort that they had not anticipated.
“While DIY mailers seemed like a good idea, it was unnecessarily stressful,” Schatzman explains. “For our 2021 Spring Meeting, we were determined to leave the packing, shipping and logistics to the professionals at pc/nametag. We had seen their finished gift boxes at MPI events, so we knew we could sit back, relax, and put our trust in them to create a reliable product.”
Turnkey Ordering Process
Schatzman says she was paired with a pc/nametag customer service team member who worked with her to design a unique, interactive box that could be sent to online conference attendees.
“The AHTD voice is very specific,” Dickson explains. “We wanted the verbiage within our box to come from a place of hospitality and warmth. We also wanted it to be playful, easy to read, and reflective of our organization’s culture. That’s how we ultimately settled on the idea of a Connect-O-Gram. We wanted to use this unique experience-in-a-box to cultivate our voice and make people feel excited for the event.
Schatzman says she worked with her pc/nametag team member to ensure that the virtual attendee gift boxes helped people feel instantly welcome and engaged with the conference.
“This was how we set our organization apart from other trade associations,” Schatzman says. “Over the years, I’ve come to care deeply for our members, so I really wanted to create an atmosphere that was conducive to networking and forming connections.”
Schatzman says that from start to finish, the customer service she received from her pc/nametag rep was unmatched. She said that she was impressed with the strong communication and high attention to detail shown by the team.
“Our representative knew the right questions to ask, many of which I had never even thought of,” Schatzman says. “We had a lot of deadlines to manage, but she made sure we stayed on track. There was comfort in knowing that she had everything sorted out for us. I also liked that she kept several spreadsheets for us. The level of detail was honestly impressive.”
Designing Custom Gamification and Networking Activities
While working with their pc/nametag customer service member, Schatzman and Dickson decided that the Connect-O-Gram would include a variety of items that would create a great first impression, including a bag of Swedish Fish® candies, lemon flavored drink mix and a branded cell phone holder.
However, the AHTD planning team also recognized that the boxes would not feel complete without a gamification piece and networking piece, both of which would add the perfect finishing touch they were looking for.
“First, we included a sheet of trivia questions,” Schatzman says. “This encouraged members to show what they know by actively listening or searching for answers. Answers could be found on the AHTD website, social media, through personal contacts within the association, or by taking a good guess. People were instructed to scan and email their completed game cards to me for a chance at winning a prize.”
“We had the idea to swap peoples’ name tags between boxes,” Dickson says. “This may sound crazy, but the activity was intentional. The goal was to spark conversation in a unique way. Members were instructed to reach out to the person who was listed on the name tag they received as a strategic way to increase touchpoints between our members.”
Dickson mentions that the pc/nametag team used a variety of methods to make sure the name tag activity went off without a hitch.
“The pc/nametag team put together a spreadsheet of whose name tag would go to who,” Dickson says. “This way, there were no questions or confusion. At first, we were a bit concerned since the outside mailing address wasn’t going to match the name
of the person inside, but their team assured us that everything would work out as planned—and it did.”
Both Schatzman and Dickson agree that the AHTD Connect-O-Grams were a great success.
“The professionally-assembled gift boxes went over so much better than our DIY mailers,” Schatzman says. “I could have heard angels singing when I first saw the completed boxes that pc/nametag put together. They were so thoughtfully crafted. We could not have asked for a better result.”
From an event marketing standpoint, Dickson says she was delighted to see how well the gift boxes went over with recipients.
“Leigha was getting so many great emails from members,” Dickson says. “Many of them were exclaiming how much they enjoyed receiving such a thoughtful gift. They also wanted to know how Leigha was able to pull off coordinating the design and assembly of all the boxes. It was a feat, but we pulled it off.”
One of the greatest value points of the Connect-O-Grams, Schatzman says, was having the ability to give virtual attendees their own identity and helping them feel special from the start.
“We referred to online attendees as ‘Team Virtual’ during our live presentations,” Schatzman says. “This way, they felt more included in the event. We also recognize that online networking is hard. That’s why we leveraged the gift boxes, trivia game and name tag activity to encourage connections between fellow AHTD members in a way that was fun and easy.”
“We wanted to show that we went out of our way to create a conference atmosphere that sparks conversations,” Dickson adds. “The boxes really got people talking with one another, especially when trying to figure out who got whose name tag. It was so much fun to see everyone networking and breaking the ice.”
Lastly, the AHTD team says that the name tag swap activity went over well among members.
“We needed a realistic way to get people to introduce themselves to someone else,” Schatzman says. “With the directions we provided and the beautiful presentation of items, there was zero confusion around the activities and people really embraced it.”
In the end, Schatzman and Dickson agree that custom attendee gift boxes can help curate a unique experience for event attendees, especially those who attend virtually.
“We were shocked and pleased to hear that many of the in-person attendees wanted their own box,” Dickson says. “However, we really wanted to reserve this special experience for our online attendees to ensure they got the most out of the conference from the comfort of their homes.”
Schatzman says that she feels the gift boxes helped bridge the gap between in-person and online attendees, especially for those who did not have the option or means to travel to Florida for the live conference.
“We knew some people were missing being in-person,” Schatzman says. “We didn’t want them to feel like attending virtually was second-best. Instead, we wanted them to feel that this event was custom curated for them. Overall, I would say the Connect-O-Grams helped us achieve this goal.”
AHTD's Advice to Fellow Meeting Planners
When asked what her greatest takeaways were from the experience with pc/nametag, Schatzman says she believes it is best to leave many event planning logistics to the professionals. She says that not only does this save time, but is also decreases stress, improves efficiency and returns useful time to your day.
“Think about all the steps that had to go into creating these Connect-O-Grams,” Schatzman says. “There were the boxes, the products, the artwork and the packing material. Then you need the space to organize and assemble the gift boxes. Lastly, you must accurately manage addresses and shipping labels. This takes more coordination than you might think. This is where the pc/nametag team can jump in and take over.”
Schatzman says her best advice for planners is to work with a professional when designing attendee gift boxes.
“If you are wondering whether or not to hire someone, you absolutely should,” Schatzman says. “Save yourself the agony of 5,000 papercuts and the unnecessary stress of coordination. Let pc/nametag handle it. Trust me, their team can do it far better and faster than yours can. When I saw our finished product, I was beyond excited and satisfied.”
Schatzman says what sets the pc/nametag team apart from competitors is its attention to detail and quality of communication. “Sometimes, it’s hard to know how much of a lead time you’ll need to pull off big initiatives like this,” Schatzman says. “Figuring out timelines can be difficult. That’s why I will always suggest letting pc/nametag help with planning, coordination, mailing and timelines. Their team members made sure we stayed on track. It was a thing of beauty.”
When asked how she would rate her experience with pc/nametag, Schatzman says she would give the highest marks possible. “I’d rate the pc/nametag experience a 20 out of 10 if I could,” she says.
“This gift box initiative could have fallen very flat if done wrong,” Dickson adds. “The pc/nametag team made absolutely sure that all the details were correct and that the Connect-O-Grams would be a success.”
Going forward, both Schatzman and Dickson encourage other planners to consider working with pc/nametag for their meeting planning needs. As hybrid events continue to rise in popularity, they say that pc/nametag is the ideal partner for bringing your event to life.
“Our Connect-O-Grams were the perfect representation of AHTD and what we stand for,” Dickson says. “The boxes made the virtual attendees feel welcome while giving potential members a taste of what could be experienced at an AHTD meeting. We hope they enjoyed their experience and will make it a priority to attend future meetings. This was definitely one of the most unique strategies we’ve ever used to expand our membership and create a lasting impression.”
Attendee Gift Boxes For Your Event
pc/nametag is dedicated to helping you create a virtual and hybrid event experience that’s fun and engaging.
With hundreds of items to choose from including PPE, we work with you to design custom-curated gift boxes that can be mailed to attendees’ homes prior to an event.