After each ASTRA Marketplace & Academy, we send out a survey to all exhibitors and attendees asking them what they enjoyed about the event and how the show could be more valuable to their business. One common thread we continue to see is that our attendees and exhibitors most value the connection and networking that the show offers. Meaningful connections remind us that we’re not alone and can reinvigorate, re-energize and inspire (not to mention help our businesses succeed!)
As the Director of Meetings & Strategic Partnerships, I am constantly analyzing what we do at ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy to better facilitate those connections and networking opportunities that so many of our attendees see as an integral part of the show. We need to 1. create more opportunities for quality knowledge-sharing and 2. bring innovation into the mix.
In Charlotte, we added elements to encourage knowledge-sharing in all of the show’s programming. The opening keynote session this year created an interactive setting for attendees to share their business challenges and tips for addressing those challenges that resulted in a number of ideas captured on the Outcome Cards. We selected educational session leaders who went beyond a traditional lecture format and encouraged dialogue and discussion among attendees. We kicked off our Team-Up program, pairing new members and first-time attendees (Rookies) with veteran members (All-Stars), created a new member lounge to facilitate conversations, and led group discussions at the new member breakfast to encourage interaction and sharing. We challenged members to introduce themselves to new members by taking a selfie and sharing it via social media for a chance to win a GoPro Hero Camera. (Big shout out to Danny from The Toy Chest and Heidi from Mini Play Makeup for winning our #ASTRASelfie contest and making our new members feel welcomed!)
We are continually looking to bring in innovation as a driver for connection by taking risks and using creativity to put a different spin on traditional models. For instance, we’ve been offering event marketing sponsorships to expand exhibitors’ visibility for years, but have recently challenged ourselves to work closely with our exhibitors to understand their business objectives and offer customized sponsorships that fit their needs and help them connect in visible and meaningful ways. Research shows that event marketing offers the greatest ROI and increases booth efficiency by 104% (Source: MPI and CEIR); therefore, we’re taking it up a notch in Denver by offering creative and contextual sponsorships that successfully engage attendees while supporting exhibitor’s business objectives.
As we plan for the 2016 ASTRA Marketplace & Academy, we’re continuing to explore how we can increase opportunities for networking and connections through knowledge-sharing and innovation so that we fulfill ASTRA’s mission to bring members of the specialty toy industry together to help each other succeed.
Amanda Zawad is the Director of Meetings and Strategic Partnerships at ASTRA and is responsible for the planning and management of all ASTRA events to include the annual Marketplace & Academy, Board of Directors meetings, and ASTRA’s participation at Toy Fair. Contact Amanda at firstname.lastname@example.org