By Julie Roth Novack, CEO & Co-Founder, PartySlate
I was in Las Vegas speaking at the largest event conference in the country when the pandemic hit. Within 24 hours, industry leaders from around the world went from fear to shock when they saw their entire book of business disappear within a few days. As I flew back to Chicago that night on a packed red-eye, my mind was racing.
How would PartySlate continue to grow as the leading event inspiration platform in the world without events? How would the 15,000 event companies and venues that share their work on PartySlate every day make it through to the other side?
I had thought my lessons learned from managing through September 11th and the 2008 financial crisis would prepare me for any problem that came along. I was wrong. This global pandemic that shut down the events industry overnight would lead us to fundamentally change the way we work, how we connect with customers, and how we grow our business.
After thinking about the highs and lows of the last 10 months, there are five key lessons I learned during Covid-19 that made PartySlate a stronger business — and better positioned to scale worldwide.
COVID Lesson Learned #1:
Focus on Team Health and Make Time for Fun
The stress and anxiety that came with isolation, home-schooling, fear of getting sick, financial challenges, and losing loved ones to Covid-19 was overwhelming. The in-person support system that we relied on at the PartySlate office vanished overnight. We needed to ensure that new lines of communication and support systems were in place to support our team members during this unprecedented time.
First, we set up daily standups, weekly team meetings, and monthly town hall meetings on Zoom. This regular rhythm of video calls kept us aligned as a team and served as an important social outlet. As an executive team, we also made sure to personally reach out to our employees who were struggling or needed extra attention. We actively listened to everyone and asked what we could do to help.
During our monthly all-hands meeting, we now kick things off with an ice-breaker so everyone can share struggles with or silver linings. Although this takes time away from business topics, it also helps everyone realize they are not alone. And most importantly, these ice breakers bring the team closer together.
We then shifted some of our focus to one of our company core values, “We Celebrate and Make Time for Fun.” We nominated a new CFO (Chief Fun Officer) who was charged with infusing fun experiences into our newly remote culture. We hosted virtual trivia happy hours, a virtual ugly sweater holiday party, and randomized smaller group virtual get-togethers to bring people closer together.
We also introduced a monthly award to recognize employees who exemplify our core values and help us build a strong culture. I feel so much closer to our team because I have gotten to know people in a new way” seeing home environments, meeting spouses, seeing kids fight in the background of Zoom calls, watching people interact with their pets. Many of my sales reps know my kids by name and love to see my dog on our Zoom calls. I can truly say that for me, this has been a silver lining of this pandemic.
COVID Lesson Learned #2:
Zoom Has Brought Us Closer to Our Customers
Mass adoption of Zoom and other video conferencing platforms has been an incredible business benefit for PartySlate. Our Customer Success team has never felt closer to our clients. We had tried setting up video calls in the past and felt resistance from our busy industry. Now, everyone is on Zoom, and it has become an expected part of how we work together.
When we demo our photo-rich best-in-class profile pages over a video call, we are able to truly communicate our value and deliver a much more powerful impression than we could on a phone call. The leading event professionals and venues have posted over 900,000 professional event photos to their beautifully rich profile pages, but iIt is very difficult to explain the power of our marketplace without a live demo. Now, we have this capability on every customer and prospect Zoom.
COVID Lesson Learned #3:
Digital Events are a Powerful Way to Increase Global Reach
Before the pandemic, PartySlate’s city launch parties had become highly anticipated, Instagramable events that local industry leaders could not miss. When we realized that physical events were on hold for the foreseeable future, we quickly created a brand new digital event program. In the beginning, it was the blind leading the blind. Our first webinar platform crashed after 1,500 people had already logged in to see celebrity planner Mindy Weiss talk about the state of our industry.
But within two weeks, we had a new platform and set of systems in place to create, market, produce, and engage a large-scale audience from all over the world. Our mission was to help our industry build strong brands from home during this time of isolation and change. Week after week, we present topics that draw huge crowds such as Instagram best practices, email marketing trends, SEO for event professionals, and how to optimize your PartySlate profile page. We also hosted panels with celebrity event planners and industry leaders who shared how they were adjusting their business and pivoting to new services to keep their business going during the pandemic.
PartySlate’s digital educational program became our give-back to the industry and helped us stay top of mind. Digital events are also an incredible way to build leads for your sales team. For most webinars, we provide a planning template that our attendees can request. A salesperson sends it over, and in many cases, they set up a meeting to share our Premium subscription options.
But it was the reach of these webinars that was the biggest surprise of all. I was amazed to see event professionals from Africa, Europe, South America, and Asia as attendees. Our 2-day virtual conference in December attracted over 2,000 registrations. Although in-person events will always be part of our marketing strategy, digital events are here to stay. We believe that hybrid events are the future. People still want to network and connect in person, but for those that can’t be there physically, virtual allows them to join the experience in a meaningful way.
COVID Lesson Learned #4:
A Slow-Down Is the Perfect Time to Rethink Your Pricing & Packaging
When the events industry shut down, we needed to accelerate our membership plans by offering a lower cost, self-service subscription package. Instead of impulsively adding a new package, we took the time to rethink our value proposition for all of our subscription options. We identified four main objectives that drive our strategy:
- Gain market share by introducing a low price entry package to get our foot in the door with more event companies
- Build a stronger value story around unlocking premium product features vs. labor-intensive services
- Make it easier for our sales team to differentiate our packages and tie them back to the primary customer need
- Simplify our packages into a “Good, Better, Best” framework, moving from 4 paid options to 3
We brought together a cross disciplinary team and created a strong framework for this initiative. The entire team also aligned and read Monetizing Innovation, a great resource for anyone in product or product marketing.
The pandemic forced us to focus on our value proposition for our customers, and our disciplined approach led us to three clearly differentiated, scalable subscription packages.
COVID Lesson Learned #5:
Stay Focused on Your Mission and Vision
With all the uncertainty and instability as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, staying laser focused on your mission and vision has been critical. Although we weren’t afraid to change the route we take to reach our vision, we never lost sight of our mission: to help people plan inspiring and memorable events that make an impact, from raising critical funds for important causes through nonprofit events, to achieving and celebrating corporate goals, to forging stronger relationships with friends and family by celebrating life’s milestones. The pandemic has brought new meaning to our mission. Now more than ever, people are craving connection and can’t wait to get back to celebrating life’s milestones and important moments.
PartySlate provides the best way for event companies to share their work, build their brands, connect with their networks, and grow their businesses. But as a result of the pandemic and the shut down of events, these small event businesses are hurting. We feel even more inspired to help these event companies rebuild and celebrate the creativity of these beautiful experiences that they create for their clients.
We truly believe that inspired events inspire people. The pandemic forced us to slow down so we can move faster and smarter when the world opens back up again. These lessons learned have made all of us better leaders and managers to prepare us for the next big challenge, whatever that may be. And now I can confidently say, we are ready.
PartySlate is a photo-rich platform that inspires people planning events and connects them with the leading event companies and venues across the country and the world. Brides, grooms, and party hosts of all kinds can view over 900,000 stunning event photos, search and find venues, save what inspires them, and contact top event companies who can bring their ideas to life. PartySlate features beautiful and unique corporate events, galas, birthday parties, weddings and other milestone events.
Event professionals can pay a monthly membership fee for an enhanced profile page and boosted placement in our highly-trafficked directory. Today, over 15,000 of the world’s top event professionals and venues publish beautiful event photos and videos to PartySlate every day.
PartySlate is headquartered in Chicago and is a proud graduate of many of the city’s top accelerator programs, including TechStars, WiSTEM, and The Booth New Venture Challenge. PartySlate was founded at 1871, one of the top startup incubators in the country.