7 event lessons from Mobile World Congress

November, 30 2017

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Every February, the top players in the world of mobile technology arrive in their hordes at the Fira Gran Via in Barcelona to attend Mobile World Congress (MWC). The venue is packed to the rafters with the world’s largest mobile companies, world class speakers and bleeding edge innovations.

MWC, organised by the GSMA, was founded in 1995 to represent the interests of mobile operators and phone companies across the globe. In 2017, 108,000 delegates from 208 countries came to the event, with 3,500 members of the press in attendance and over 2,300 companies exhibiting.

The Congress has grown from humble beginnings to the behemoth it is today. So what does it do so right?

1. Create a brand.

The MWC may be organised by the GSMA, but it’s become a brand in and of itself – a brand so big that it dominates the events calendar in its field. In fact, B2B mobile vendors spend between 40-60% of their annual marketing budget on their exhibitions at this single event. It’s a similar approach used by the E3 Expo, the annual electronics exhibition hosted by the Electronic Software Association and Sibos, hosted by SWIFT.

The fact is, trade bodies and associations, while hugely successful, don’t always have wider brand appeal. Separating the brand but ensuring it is still strategically aligned with the goals of the body that owns it, allows the event to have a personality, tone and marketing strategy of its own. This means flexibility, creativity and opportunities for marketing that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

2. Have a clear goal.

MWC is known as the place where the future of mobile technology innovation is decided, and everything it does is centred around that mission. Each year, that focus is funnelled down further into a pertinent theme: for this year’s event, the motto was “The Next Element”. The purpose of this theme was to “reflect the elemental role of mobile in the lives of billions of people around the world.”

Ask yourself, why are you holding this event? What’s in it for your delegates? What is the core purpose or mission of the event, and does everything reflect that? Let that mission drive the planning and delivery of your event, and ensure that everyone involved is clear about how their role supports your goal.

3. Deliver great content.

MWC has evolved into much more than a mobile trade show. There are exhibitions, panels, talks, parties, networking events, startup pitching showcases: never a dull moment passes. The overall aesthetic of an event might wow attendees, but it’s the content that will drive conversations and excitement.

What MWC does well is to stimulate significant and newsworthy hype – each year tends to include a highly anticipated product launch (this year the surprise hit of the event was Nokia’s relaunch of the 3310). Would your event make headlines? Could it? With great content, certainly.

4. Extend your reach beyond the event itself.

MWC is an all-year-round event. The hype for the next conference begins almost as the last one ends, with updates trickling out through press releases and via social media over the course of an entire calendar year.

Create a buzz long before the event itself by drip-feeding information and teasers throughout your communication channels. Once the event is over, use the valuable content you’ve curated – presentation videos, interviews, exclusive videos, reports, slides, stats, whatever – to drive further engagement with delegates and to pique the interest of prospective future attendees.

5. Have a strong social presence.

During this year’s event, MWC was mentioned on social media over a million times, with nearly 500,000 photos and videos tagged with #MWC17. This doesn’t happen by accident: the GSMA leverages social platforms including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram and Snapchat to drive engagement. And the key is, they do each very well. The content is tailored for each channel, regularly updated and manned ably. There’s no point simply having these channels, each has to be managed expertly. It’s better to be active on 2-3 channels and get them right, than 7 channels where content is updated sporadically.

When done right, social media provides a trackable measure of engagement: if people are talking about your event, they are excited by what you’re doing and are spreading the word of their own accord. The key to getting people involved is to make your event sharable. Create moments that make people want to shout ‘you should have been here!’. Hold daily competitions that encourage participation. Promote a short, distinctive hashtag ahead of the event to bind social stories together.

6. Land incredible keynote speakers.

It’s talks that truly drive excitement and give direction to an event, particularly when big-name keynote speakers are on the ticket. MWC focuses on securing quality speakers in their billing: this year they had Reed Hastings, Founder and CEO of Netflix and Stéphane Richard, CEO and Chairman of Orange charming the crowds.

Finding keynote speakers that every delegate will want to engage with will drive huge interest in your event. These talks provide credibility and are a great opportunity to solidify your theme. Additionally, high profile speakers will bring with them a band of their own followers who will add weight to your social media campaigns.

7. Know your audience.

The mobile world is tech savvy and tech hungry. This year, MWC catered to their audience’s needs in a new way by launching the NEXTech Pavilion which showcased disruptive technologies such as virtual/augmented reality and robotics, cognitive computing, and AI. It also featured the NEXTech Lab which had an open theatre offering innovation-led presentations by industry experts. In essence, it was Disney for techies.

Consider what your audience is expecting from your event. What questions do they want answered? What themes are they interested in exploring? How can you exceed those expectations in your delivery?

Organising a great event like MWC rests on getting a few essentials right: drive every decision from one core mission, deliver world-class content in engaging ways, and cater to the needs of your audience in every moment. Focus on the fundamentals and the rest will follow.


Are you attending Mobile World Congress as an exhibitor?
Did you know that Rapiergroup design, build and manage award winning exhibition stands? Take a look at some of our previous work.

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