Why the HR Technology Conference Matters

If you ask me whether going to HR Tech is “worth it” … I’m probably judging you. After more than a decade of marketing exclusively in the Human Capital Management market segment, the question for me is no longer whether one should attend HR Tech … it’s whether one has the guts to seize the tremendous opportunities offered by the event.

Look, I’m talking to vendors here. I’m talking to marketing people and to the executives of companies that sell software and services to HR practitioners. If you’re an HR pro … I can’t tell you whether you should attend (I’m not qualified to do so … you should ask Laurie about that). But if you’re a vendor and you’re still wondering whether you should attend or not attend, exhibit or not exhibit … you’re just not asking the right questions. What you should be asking is where you can beg, borrow or steal enough money to be the only one at the event that people remember.

I’ll spare you my full dissertation on the role of industry events in a comprehensive marketing mix that includes an effective balance of demand generation and branding (mostly because I would expect to be paid for such a dissertation) … and I’ll skip my whole soapbox thing about approaching the event as a 6-month process instead of a 3-day event (again … mostly because I’m trying to get out of the free advice business). But I don’t mind sharing a few of my deeply held beliefs about HR Tech and how to succeed there from a vendor’s perspective:

1. Yes, you should go. HR Tech attracts the most qualified and influential group of HR technology buyers in the world. Important people. Big companies. Lots of money. If you can’t sell your stuff there, it’s not the show … it’s you.

2. Do most of your work before and after the event. Sure … it’s great to have a cool booth (actually … it’s non-negotiable). But if you don’t work hard to promote your presence weeks or months in advance, and if you don’t work for weeks or months after the show to convert your success into revenue, please just send your money to us instead. We’ll make better use of it.

3. Think big. 95% of the marketing concepts (including booths) at HR Tech are totally forgettable. It’s not because they suck. It’s because they’re boring. People forget boring things. Remember that big idea you had and then you allowed someone to talk you out of it because it was a little too big, a little too scary, a little too provocative? Or even worse - did you talk yourself out of your own big idea? Stop doing that. People remember big ideas. What you want is a concept that people argue about … create a little controversy. Get in a little trouble. Again … if you’re scared of big ideas because you think HR pros are conservative and you don’t want to offend them … just send us your money instead, and don’t bother going to HR Tech.

It’s really that simple. Next year, exhibit at HR Tech. Get a huge booth (probably, like, right now). Start working on your concept in February. Promote the hell out of your concept weeks or months in advance. Scare the hell out of your whole company by attempting something totally crazy. And then keep following up with the attendees for weeks and months after the event is over. Do these things, and you will earn you investment back 10-fold.

HR Tech attracts the best buyers, the most important influencers, the craziest bloggers, the smartest technologists, the most powerful brands, the richest investors and the best marketers in the industry. Don’t forget that events like HR Tech are the only physical manifestation of your brand beyond your physical headquarters. All of these important people are sizing you up based on how you look compared to the other people exhibiting at the show. You may have a 100,000-square-foot office in Silicon Valley - but if you’re in a 10x10 booth with some crappy pop-up and your neighbor (who happens to be a scrappy little start-up competitor from a small town in Delaware) is rocking the 40x40 island with ice sculptures and fire trucks, guess who makes a better impression?

This market is changing. HR Tech is a big reason for that. The days of weak-ass marketing are over. You better go big, or don’t go at all.