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How Event Tech Helped Turn a Conference Into a Global Movement

The 3% Conference tackled the issue of gender imbalance in the advertising industry — five years later, it has evolved into an international community that is enacting real change.

Kat Gordon had been working in the advertising industry for more than 20 years when she discovered a disturbing statistic: While women control the majority of consumer spending in the United States — with estimates of their spending ranging from $5 trillion to $15 trillion annually — only 3 percent of creative directors were women.

“Women were often left out of meetings with clients who’d benefit from a woman’s perspective,” Gordon said. Determined to address the gender inequality head-on, Gordon — who had never organized an event before — held the first 3% Conference to demonstrate how diversity can lead to profitability in the marketing world in San Francisco in 2012.

“I think an event is a great way to mobilize people around an issue,” Gordon said at the time. “The things that gave me pause about doing [this conference] were the things that I’m not good at, but you can outsource those. You don’t have to be good at everything.”

‘A Good Experience From the Get-Go.’

Gordon partnered with Eventbrite, which helped her streamline the registration process. The platform was well designed and easy to use, Gordon said. “Being in advertising, I care a lot about aesthetics and branding. And it’s important that people registering for our events have a good experience from the get-go.” And when Gordon needed help, “the support team was always helpful and knowledgeable. That level of customer service is simply unheard of these days.”

The first conference opened to a sold-out crowd — and an exit survey found that 80 percent of attendees rated the conference “excellent,” and 85 percent said they planned to return in 2013. No one was more surprised than Gordon. “I thought the first event was going to be a one-off,” she said. “I was running my own advertising agency and raising a family. Then, at the end of that first event, I saw how fired up people were, and how far they traveled — someone came all the way from Sweden.”

The inaugural event put the 3% Conference on the map. In the months after the conference, Gordon held smaller conferences in Boulder, Austin, Boston, Los Angeles, and Seattle. “I didn’t want to go from one city to another repeating what was said in San Francisco,” Gordon said. “The 3% movement needed to be an on-going conversation to cultivate change. So, to me, those traveling events were a listening tour.”

As she listened to creatives speak about their challenges with diversity, Gordon got an idea. “There were drastic differences in how each city dealt with the issue of diversity,” she said. “From that moment on, 3% Conference attendees became participants.” Gordon used exit surveys at 3% events to get feedback, syncing the attendee lists with SurveyMonkey via the Eventbrite Spectrum integration.

A Data-Driven Agenda

When she held the main event again in San Francisco in 2013, she added mentorship programs and handouts to help creatives take action after the event — all of which were requested by attendees from the five-city tour.

“It takes little effort to pull the exit survey together and send it when the event is fresh on attendees’ minds,” Gordon said. “We get a lot of responses and we read them all.” She and her team are able to quickly spot trends and preferences via the surveys. For example, Gordon noticed that motherhood was a polarizing topic. “Half of the responses said they heard enough about it, while the other half begged us to do more on the subject. So, we created an elective session that attendees could go to if they wanted.”

This direct-feedback loop is the secret to the 3% Conference’s success, Gordon said, and why she has been able to grow such a vibrant community.

This direct-feedback loop is the secret to the 3% Conference’s success, Gordon said, and why she has been able to grow such a vibrant community, online and at face-to-face events. The annual convention, which moved to New York City in 2015, and the smaller 3% “MiniCons,” held throughout the year, all draw sold-out crowds.

“Being a mission-based conference, it’s important that attendees don’t just consume the content and go home,” Gordon said. “We need to keep them engaged so they can become advocates for the cause and enact change at their workplace. A lot of effort goes into choosing the right topics, inviting the right people, and creating the right atmosphere for our attendees.”

Gordon and her team can send relevant, branded emails to attendees who attend specific events, using MailChimp’s integration with Eventbrite. “I just sent attendees from a recent MiniCon in Detroit an email with links to press and photos from the event, as well as links to content they were asking for,” Gordon said. “It’s so easy, it only took me 10 minutes to send.”

The 3% Conference was able to make the bold switch from San Francisco to New York City because Gordon was in constant contact with attendees. “We saw a lot of people were traveling from New York,” she said. But it was more than just about increasing attendance. “Our goal is to activate attendees and enable them to promote the cause. So, I’d much rather an agency send 20 employees to the event than be a sponsor that only sends one or two people — because that’s how you hasten change.”

In 2017, Gordon took her MiniCons international, hosting events in London and Toronto. The events have also started attracting big-name sponsors like Apple, Adobe, and Wells Fargo. Over the past five years, Gordon says she hosted more than 20 events, all of which sold out. “Beyond the event, the 3% community had grown to over 30,000 people,” she said.

Ultimately, thanks to Eventbrite’s registration platform, Gordon was able to take action on an issue she cared deeply about, and by utilizing the integrations with SurveyMonkey and MailChimp, she was able to bring participants into a global movement promoting creativity, inclusivity, and diversity. “The more diverse the people, the more diverse the ideas will be,” she said. “I’m proud to say that today the percentage of female creative directors is no longer 3 percent, but has risen to 11.5 percent.”

Sarah Beauchamp