I first met Denise Quashie, managing partner of an Atlanta Boutique event planning firm Events By Canvas and CEO of an event specific social media consultancy Socially Planned, via Twitter last summer, just before the first BarkWorld Expo, which she created and planned. We were introduced by a mutual, virtual acquaintance, Cheryl Lawson, who was going to be speaking at the gathering of social media-connected humans and their Twitter-savvy anipals. Since then, I’ve been following her exploits as she follows one of her passions — educating meeting organizers how to harness the power of social media — and organizes innovative events, such as a special meeting planners’ forum at Social Media Atlanta. — Kristi Casey Sanders
Denise, how did you get your start in the meetings/events industry?
Right out of college, I got a job with Deloitte & Touche (now just Deloitte) as an assistant in their marketing department. My role was to market the Deloitte brand to the outside world and bring in new business, so I was on the other end of the spectrum from events. Instead of facilitating and creating them, I was preparing the company to go to [them]. I was always really frustrated with the event organizers and thinking of how they should do things differently. One day, [my boss] came to me and said, “We’re thinking of planning some southeastern events and you’re going to do it.” And I thought, “Great! That’s what I really want to do.” I stayed there for five years doing that for the company and then started doing independent/third party planning for several different industries — from construction and technology to higher leaning. So I learned what works for events with all these different industries.
What’s your favorite thing about organizing events?
Conception. I don’t like being stuck doing the same thing. I like thinking of new, fresh, innovative concepts, starting from the very, very beginning, and outlining what we’re going to do. My second favorite part is being on-site, seeing it all in action. A lot of people can conceptualize, but unfortunately have a hard time implementing. Luckily, I’ve learned how to do both and I love having that vision and making it a reality.
How did you get the idea for the BarkWorld Expo?
It started because so many people kept asking me what my dog was up to, and I got tired of answering that question, so I put him on Twitter and said,”You can just follow his adventures online.” I linked the Twitter account to his YouTube page and went away for a couple of days. I came back, and he had over 100 followers. I thought “who are these people??!!”, so I started exploring the community a bit more. To my surprise the community was much more than pet parents tweeting. It was pet parents and pet businesses discussing real pet issues, raising money for charities, discussing the latest pet products, having virtual birthday “pawties,” using twitpic and many other really cool social media applications I’ve not even heard of, and really a lot of extremely creative individuals masking behind their pets dishing about what their pet would say if they could really talk. I thought, “I want to go to the conference for people like this and meet other people who do this for their pets.” And, doing my search for that conference, I realized there wasn’t one. I organize events, so it made sense to make this [one]. Who knew it would turn into an annual event, and now we’re introducing year-round education via webinars leading up to the annual event!
How many people attended?
We had 249 attendees. And we had some folks from Canada, two from the U.K., one person from Israel and three people from Trinidad.
How did you promote the event, and how did the international attendees find out about the conference?
One of the U.K. attendees was one of our speakers, and she brought someone. The attendees from Canada and Trinidad and Israel heard about it on Twitter. I had to e-mail them just to make sure they were coming from the places they said they were as I was so surprised that we reached international status! It is so important to view your analytics, Google or Web, so you can get an idea of where people are reading your e-mails [and tweets]. I’d see clicks coming in from different parts of the world, and I thought they were just bots, but, sure enough, people were hearing about it via social media. Honestly, I only spent about $300 in marketing BarkWorld, and that was just two ads in Creative Loafing. That was grassroots marketing, that wasn’t national at all.
How did you find sponsors?
I found a lot of them on social media. It’s important for you to have the presence on [there] and grow those relationships. [BarkWorld Expo] got on the “CBS Morning Show” because of social media. They said, “Hey, can you come on the morning show and talk about the conference?” And a lot of it was the old-school, brand-managing sales tactics we all have.
What was the biggest surprise you had?
Being my own client was really a struggle! It kind of turned into the wedding planner that finally gets married — you’re doing your own event and you want to do everything you’ve ever done for a client that you’ve ever done before … I learned a lot about myself.
Tell me how you got involved with Social Media Atlanta.
Part of my goal for being out on my own and independent is to do things I’m passionate about and to do things that have to do with events. I had heard about Social Media Atlanta, and I knew one of the organizers. I contacted her and said, “What you’re doing is great, but no one is targeting event organizers and we’re the ones who have to do all this stuff, so shouldn’t they have an event during Social Media Atlanta?” They asked me to put on an event, so I said, “Absolutely.” We had 190 people registered, and I didn’t do any marketing at all. I sent out a couple of tweets and put up a blog page; Social Media Atlanta promoted it. But we received people from Cobb County [government] and the City of East Point — some really interesting demographics came out of that.
How can people contact you?
On Twitter @DQTweets or e-mail email@example.com. And, because I’ve been asked to speak and consult at a lot of industry events I just opened an event specific consulting agency called Socially Planned, which is all about educating, blogging and really teaching event organizers how to develop their personal brand and monetize via social media; that website should be up in a couple of weeks. And I just started guest blogging for EventBrite.