Judith Rothrock, founder and president of JRocket Marketing originated an event she holds annually for technology vendors and the analyst community. Called “The Grape Escape”, the event is typically sold out months in advance. We are asking Judith to explain what makes vendors and analysts enthusiastically put this gathering on their calendars year after year.
Kathy Tito: Judith, you’ve cultivated a B2B industry event for more than ten years, for which you are 100% responsible. I use the term cultivated, because you have grown its’ breadth, reach and popularity over time. Define “Grape Escape”….who are the constituents and why do they attend?
Judith: The JRocket Marketing Grape Escape ® is a trademarked industry news and networking platform owned by JRocket Marketing. The purpose is to provide enterprise technology vendors a unique way to showcase major, often breaking, news about their companies to the industry’s leading analyst influencers.
It has a very defined and limited audience. Each tech vendor’s news is presented by a ‘C-Level’ (typically CEO) presenter and one ‘C-Level’ customer. The vendor can bring only 3 people: the CEO, the customer and one marketing officer, but no sales or others. On the analyst side, the event has grown from approximately 12 to 36 senior level analysts. We cut it off at 36 analysts to facilitate the relationship building that is a hallmark of the event. Grape Escape consists of three parts: a networking hour, a news presentation hour, and a formal dinner with entertainment. Today Grape Escape showcases three to four tech vendors, all of whom are clients of JRocket Marketing.
Location, Location, Location
Kathy Tito: Talk a little about the logistics. Why Boston in June? What is the dress code, as this goes a long way to setting the tone of the event?
Judith: The location is optimal for industry technology analysts who come from as far as Canada, California and Europe. Boston is a nice mid-point, and also has several local analyst firms based there. The dress code is formal business attire or better. Many of the women wear evening attire, such as full-length dresses.
Kathy Tito: What about the time commitment – isn’t this event only four hours? What is it about Grape Escape that makes folks fly so far from around the US and Europe for such a short time?
Judith: Until two years ago, you were right, many analysts were flying 3,000 miles to attend just the four-hour event! They did so for two reasons. First, the event has a reputation for delivering important news. Vendors cannot present at the event unless they can meet specific requirements for announcing key news. Many hold off important product launches, partnerships or even mergers to deliver the news at this event. The second reason they came so far for such a short time is also based on reputation.
Eat Like a King – or at Least the Leader of the Free World
Grape Escape is very special. It has a beautiful, memorable ambiance; five-star cuisine and entertainment by gifted musicians, such as harpists, classical guitarists, Broadway or concert pianists. In 2008 we served the exact cuisine and wines from President Obama’s inaugural dinner. The venue was the Old State House, now a Museum, in Boston where John Adams read the original Constitution to Bostonians for the first time. In fact, we had a John Adams impersonator/historian in period costume answering questions about the State House building, John Adams’ life, etc.
I’ve been told repeatedly that there is nothing like Grape Escape hosted by even the largest vendors.
Two years ago, at the request of analysts flying the longest distances, or analysts who were based in Boston but don’t get the chance to see California-based tech companies all that often in person, Grape Escape began offering one-on-one meetings with the tech vendor executives. These occur on the day before, the day of, and the day after Grape Escape.
Kathy Tito: Based on the name, it sounds like you’ve chosen “wine” as the main theme and, frankly, Grape Escape blatantly does not sound like a B2B event. Yet from what you’ve described, it most certainly is a business event, versus a wine event. How did the name come about?
Judith: There is a very interesting story behind the name! One hot summer, prior to my founding JRocket Marketing, while I was still a Vice President at Lawson Software, one of the analysts said to me, “It’s so stinking hot out there! If you really want me to listen to your executives you had better open your best wine bottle”. It got me thinking about how the most important occasions in life typically are accompanied by some sort of memorable food and wine celebration. Grape Escape wine is absolutely wonderful. We serve the types of wines most of us cannot (or choose not) to afford on a regular basis. People always remember the food and the wines from Grape Escape!
Kathy Tito: Do you recommend that marketers get more creative in what they call their events?
Judith: It’s not just the name that makes the event; it’s the theme, the presentation, setting crisp objectives and managing details to a painstaking level. That is why I do not off-load any portion of the event management. Each part is perfectly executed.
Rating the 12 Factors that Rock (or Block) Attendees
Kathy Tito: Based on your experience, how would you rate the importance of the following on a scale of 1 to 10? With a 10 being “mission critical” to the success of an event.
City: 10 – But choosing the specific city should be a function of both geographic convenience for the target audience and what the city has to offer in the context to event logistics. For example, if Grape Escape was an event that targeted Asian attendees, the location would be different. In today’s world, the enterprise technology analyst community’s borders tend to be from California to Canada to Europe.
Venue: 10 – If it’s not a premium location, it will be forgotten as soon as attendees leave.
Topic/Reason for the event: 10 – If there isn’t a major business reason or topic for the event, it won’t draw the desired attendees.
Length of time commitment: 10 – Tied to quality and the usefulness of the time commitment, and not just quantity of time. Meaning there needs to be an understanding that all businesses are squeezing their resources to do more with fewer people…so attendees need to feel they are getting optimum value for their time commitment to any event. With Grape Escape, analysts can get important news briefings from three technology companies, along with customer commentary and meetings with key executives. It is an optimized way for them to accomplish several objectives in one event.
“Fun factor”, especially for evening activities: I’d range this 5-10. If it’s a one-time event and you are announcing, say, a mega merger between two companies that’s of importance to your B2B attendee list, then they are going to come regardless of the fun factor. But, if you are trying to establish a reputation for an ongoing event held at regular intervals, you need to build the brand and you need to tie that brand to expectations. With Grape Escape, the “Fun Factor” is a very important part of what the attendees expect … and it brings them back year after year.
Speakers: 7-10 Some events are built around specific speakers as the main draw; for other events, the news factor greatly outweighs the quality of the speaker. Depending upon the speaker’s role, this warrants a 7-10 rating.
Meeting organizer (level of personal connection with the attendees): 10 – The meeting organizer’s role is always critically important to the success of the event – so from that perspective, it’s a 10. But the amount of the meeting organizer’s personal connection to the speaker depends on 3 factors: the size of the event (i.e. number of attendees), the complexity of components in the event, and executive level of attendee at the event.
Smaller, more intimate, but highly-complex and high-level attendee events require personal concierge type service and immaculate attention to detail. For that reason, I do not delegate any details of Grape Escape to anyone else. From invitations, through meeting set up, through hotel confirmations, through the exact food that is left in their hotel room as a treat upon arrival, plus every detail surrounding the actual Grape Escape evening are personally managed by me. It’s a level 10 responsibility.
Amount of “open networking” time”: 10 – Again, depends on the venue, but this is a full third of Grape Escape, and therefore ranks a 10.
Any other factors to consider? Three things; gifts, follow-up actions requested by both the vendors and attendees, and keeping a list of things that worked well or didn’t work (along with ideas on how to improve). Oh yes, and advance planning. If you want to do a five-star annual event, you start work immediately after completing the last one. Quality events take 9-12 months of advance planning on the details.