How Freeman Is Opting Into Digital And Data
How Freeman Is Opting Into Digital And Data07-Oct-2016
One of the biggest challenges in the event industry today is how to convert the mountains of digital data collected by event organizers and marketers into actionable insight. It may be comforting to know that one of the most influential companies in the event space is on the case. It’s also a tiny bit ironic that a nearly 90-year-old company, and not some Silicon Valley startup, has committed itself to addressing the data dilemma and exposing the industry to the massive potential of digital.
Investing In Digital
Freeman is no stranger to digital or data. Nine months ago, the firm announced it had begun investing in event-technology companies as part of its Freeman Digital Ventures Fund. Since then, it purchased Klowd.com (rebranded as FXP Touch), and invested in mobile-app company DoubleDutch. Richard Maranville, executive vice president and chief digital officer, says yet another acquisition to “expand Freeman’s reach and interest in digital solutions” is forthcoming.
The impetus behind Freeman Digital Ventures—to uncover innovation, groom companies to handle the size and scale of Freeman’s customer base, and lead the industry in leveraging digitization—is also propelling the company toward developing a data-analysis platform. They will call it Quant, a solution that consolidates data from multiple silos, helps event marketers calculate event ROI, measures key areas of event performance, and quantifies social media reach, among other deliverables.
Anticipating The Pivot
Freeman customers and the event market in general are slowly moving toward digital—digital marketing, content, and solutions that enhance the event experience—Maranville explains. “We’re at an inflection point where [leveraging data] is not seen as something just a few people do, but something that’s a must- have for every event,” he says. Quant will deliver data and insight in ”bite-sized chunks rather that spreadsheets full of stuff,” he adds, so users can act upon specific data points.
But taking the data that’s in front of the client and providing context and direction is only a sliver of the opportunity pie. Freeman’s experiential agency is digging deep into data visualization, according to Marc Pomerleau, global strategy vice president at FreemanXP. At the CEIR Predict conference last month, he recounted his journey of evaluating enterprise-level platforms for data visualization and “hacking data” with the user community of D3.js, an open-source library of data-visualization tools.
Visualization is “just the tip of the iceberg,” Pomerleau says. The real potential of data, he believes, lies in combining event historical data and industry data produced by third-party research organizations, such as the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, and leveraging the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to be prescriptive about solution design. “We’re moving to a state where we’re not just able to deliver relevant content, but we’re able to deliver assistance,” he explains.
Managing The Pain and the Pressure
The architects behind Freeman’s digital data strategy aren’t under any illusions. Two barriers loom large within the industry: the lack of infrastructure—technology systems and data governance policies—that event marketers need to manage data and the cultural transformation that will be required. “You can have the best analytics and algorithms in the world, but if you culturally, as an organization, are unable to capitalize on them, then all of that great infrastructure is really for naught,” Pomerleau says.
Throughout all of the investing and strategizing about what the scope of the opportunity is and what data can bring to the industry, disruption weighs heavily on the mind of Freeman’s CDO.” It’s not like Blockbuster didn’t see Netflix coming. It’s that they weren’t as a company, able to respond quickly enough to meet that threat. Freeman is trying to exercise those muscles to allow it to respond if there is something out there that’s a potential threat,” Maranville says.
It’s a little surprising that one of the oldest companies in the business is going all in on digital, its investments, partnerships, and acquisition of talent from outside the event industry notwithstanding. But the fact remains that while the digital future of the event industry isn’t crystal clear, the analog past is slowing dying. It may take a group that’s long in tooth to make sense of the opportunity and one that’s also abundant in resources to pull it off.
Disclosure: The author has provided contractual services to Freeman in the past.