The apex of event organization: how Siemer and Associates uses Airtable
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The apex of event organization: how Siemer and Associates uses Airtable

A look into the process of planning and organizing the Siemer Summit.

Each fall, a select group of influential figures and executives from across the digital media and technology industries descends upon Southern California.

Over the course of two days at the Siemer Summit, they hear from 30 featured speakers and 116 entrepreneurs presenting their new companies; participate in countless roundtable discussions; and celebrate the Wavemaker Awards, a culminating ceremony that draws on 50 judges from across the industry to awards startups in categories like “IPO of the Year” and “Most disruptive company brought to scale.” (Last year’s winner was Tinder.)

The exclusive event not only builds relationships for its host, Siemer and Associates, a boutique merchant bank offering financial guidance to leading internet and digital media companies, but it also provides a space for key players in different industries to meet, exchange ideas and learn from each other.

For Sura Hart, Marketing Manager at Siemer and lead organizer for the event, it means a whole lot of work.

In order to corral the attendees, vendors, judges, sponsors, and other moving parts involved in a major conference, Sura and her team turn to Airtable.

Developing a system of record

At Siemer, Airtable serves as the central repository for all conference-related information. Crucial details about speakers, venues and more are collected in a single database for easy reference.

For example, Hart created a table specifically for organizing event sponsors. “We need to keep tabs on whether we received their ad and we need a place to store their contract and their payment notes. We’ve also created a table for tracking deliverables,” Hart says.

But Airtable tracks everything so you can see who deleted what and have a history of all the changes.

Hart also values the ability to see the history of changes that were made. “All of the sheets have so many people using them. Airtable is more of a database so it’s a lot harder to mess up. In Excel or Google Sheets if someone deletes a cell, there’s no way to get that back. But Airtable tracks everything so you can see who deleted what and have a history of all the changes,” says Hart.

Shepherding speakers to the stage

For exclusive events like the Siemer Summit, one of the biggest draws for attendees is the quality of the keynote speakers. In order to entice these busy, top-tier executives to participate, Sura and team start outreach almost immediately after the previous year’s event is complete. Each Siemer team member is assigned a set of potential speakers to manage, from initial outreach to the moment the final speakers walk onto the stage. The team prioritizes their outreach efforts by assigning each potential speaker to a tier, using a multiple selection field.

Over the course of the next several months, each detail about that person is centralized in this table, where owners update the status of the relationship, last contact, notes and more.

Each team member creates a separate grid view with a filter to show only the speaker records for which they are responsible.

The team uses checkboxes to indicate when specific parts of the recruitment process are complete, so they can easily scan the list to determine which individuals require followup and whether anyone has fallen through the cracks.

When Hart’s team was using traditional spreadsheets, they would often update speaker status in inconsistent ways, typing ‘confirmed’ and ‘declined’ interchangeably with ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ “It means the same thing, but if you’re scrolling through a spreadsheet with a large amount of data, then it’s really easy to miss those responses. This year, with Airtable, it’s much more consistent — just a check mark to indicate whether the invite was sent,” Hart says.

Using filters, the team can also create a custom view in Airtable to show only checked responses — a difficult feat in a standard spreadsheet that uses inconsistent text responses.

As speakers confirm their participation in the event, team members can capture bios and headshots needed for the program and website in the same location.

Forms simplify the nomination process

Gathering nominations for awards from the Summit’s judges is a significant part of the planning process and Hart uses an Airtable survey form to make collection as quick and easy as possible. She created a customized survey form to send to judges to ask them for nominations. The form funnels responses into the master outreach tracking table in realtime. With all the information saved right to the base, no one on the team has to take the time to enter it manually.

Once the nominations have been made, Hart’s team uses Airtable to check everything from whether a nominee’s invitation was sent to whether the possible winner has responded.

Custom views keep each team organized

Hart created customized views for her database. The “Marketing” view makes it easy for the marketing team to view all the press materials for the speakers, such as photos and logos, in one place. Having the ability to attach visual assets like logos and photos right into the base helps keep the materials organized and ready to go at a few clicks of a mouse.

The ability to track visual assets is vital to this process. “We need to send design files to the printer and make notes on the art direction, paper stock and check whether we’ve sent the final design to the printer,” Hart says.

Using advanced field types saves time

In order to minimize the amount of duplicate data that needs to be entered, Hart uses linked records and lookups. All the tables stay up-to-date if one of the fields needs to be updated — for example, if a prospective judge switches companies — and team members can easily see the information they require without having to search in separate tables.

To achieve this, first she sets up a field that links to the master Contact table and selects the name of the judge. Then, she uses a lookup field to display the name of their company. Finally, she sets up the primary “Name” field as a formula which concatenates the two, all without having to re-enter any information.

What’s next

The 2015 Siemer Summit was the team’s largest event to date — in part because of Airtable. “It wasn’t just that Airtable made our life easier,” said Hart, “It also broadened the scope of our ambition.”

And now that the 2015 Siemer Summit is behind her, Hart is already thinking about ways to make future summits even more spectacular. While managing both industry heavyweights and event logistics can be a lot to handle, with her stellar planning skills and Airtable to pull together the deluge of details, Hart is ready (and excited) to tackle next year.

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