OPW INTERVIEW - Mar 25 - Events are a real challenge for most dating site operators. Jeff Strank is a real professional in this area, so I asked him for some advice. Here's what he had to say. - Mark Brooks
What experience have you had with events?
I founded NetParty.com which sponsors large-scale business / social networking events for young professionals in cities nationwide. Through NetParty, I’ve also helped create unique events for brands targeting young professionals.
I also started LetMyPeopleGo.com for Jewish Singles. Our largest event, “The Ball,” has been the nation’s biggest singles event 20 years in a row. In NYC, The Ball attracts ~4,000+ people annually and is held in as many as six of the city’s top nightclubs at the same time (we provide complimentary limousine service for party-hopping).
I’ve also done work with a number of dating sites, including Match.com, OKCupid and Spark Networks.
What makes for a successful event?
A successful event is simply one where our guests have had a great time and have had the opportunity to make many new connections. When you add in the cost of drinks, transportation, coat check, etc. to the admission fee for an event, even a lower-priced event can become quite expensive, so it’s our job to ensure that it’s money well-spent.
What makes for a profitable event?
The cost of producing an event has gone down markedly in recent years, often approaching zero depending on the type of event. The downside of this is an increased competition in a world where everyone with a Meetup account or a few hundred Facebook friends can organize an event. But the upside is that it’s fairly difficult not to turn a profit on a per-event basis. That said, producing and promoting an event is well known to be time-consuming, which is why ROI is of greater concern and why we mainly focus on larger-scale events.
What's your secret sauce?
First, we’ve established credibility on both ends – a city’s top venues will usually be glad to host our events because they are assured by our track record that we are going to bring in not only a great crowd who will produce revenue for them but also the type of crowd they’d like to have return as their own customers. And attendees trust that we’ll book only their city’s most stylish and unique venues. Second, we market our events differently. We aspire to have our event marketing elicit some emotional reaction in the potential guest that will render our event a “can’t miss” for them. Maybe we’re highlighting a particularly unique feature of the venue like a "scent machine which can fill the room with up to 30,000 different scents” (It’s something people are unlikely to have experienced before) and that’s one of the unique hooks for that event. Also you have to actively manage an event – the lights, the music, the set-up, the flow, etc. Leaving this to the venue is leaving your reputation to chance.
Why should dating sites definitely not do their own dating events...and why should they?
I believe events can be a tremendous asset to a dating site’s brand. But the prerequisite to that is a commitment to effectively market and actively manage the events. Without that, dating sites are taking a big risk with their brand for a comparatively minor return. Last year I attended a NYC event sponsored by a major dating site where the venue elected to play music at a volume that made conversation literally impossible. As a result, many guests walked in and then walked out shortly thereafter. And the irony is music can greatly enhance a singles event – the right music at the right volume can encourage mingling, create a livelier atmosphere on a slower night, and can transform an average event into a great one. At another dating site event, I witnessed a guest unkempt, shirt half-open and belly hanging out, sleep sprawled across a couch positioned slightly past the entrance to the event. The site’s lone representative was collecting fees at the front of the venue and there was no one from the site managing the event itself. On this night, the sprawled-out, half-naked guy was effectively the brand’s representative.
Finally, I’d note that I think dating sites are missing a number of opportunities. Among them, an opportunity to leverage their scale to promote events that only they could uniquely offer. Instead, most seem to be content to sponsor events not necessarily distinguishable from any singles-oriented Meetup-type event.
How can you help?
I’m actually taking a little bit of an event hiatus because I’m working on something new that I hope will bridge the gap between online dating / networking and offline events. That said, I’m in business of making new connections and I’m always happy to meet others in the space and to explore new opportunities.
Post by Mark Brooks @