Innovative Meetings

Right on the Money

The National Association of Broadcasters was looking for a way to engage attendees and drive business for exhibitors - and came up with a ‘social-currency’ program for its live auction.

The 13 broadcast professionals who organize the National Association of Broadcasters’ (NAB) Small Market Television Exchange (SMTE) were looking for ways to improve their annual gathering of C-level television executives and sales managers from smaller markets such as northeast Arkansas and Augusta, Ga. And so the event, which was held this year on Sept. 12–15 at the Renaissance Nashville Hotel, and which drew a record 600 participants and 54 exhibitor tables, also featured the second iteration of a “social-currency” program. Attendees could earn money for bidding on items, including iPads and donated exhibitor services, in a live auction held at the end of the meeting.

“We wanted to boost what was naturally happening at this meeting,” said Carolyn Wilkins, NAB’s vice president of television operations. At last year’s SMTE, NAB implemented a program through which attendees could earn “money” (printed by NAB) from exhibitors for visiting their booths and introducing themselves, more money if they sat through a demo, and even more if they actually signed a contract.

[Attendees] could turn their passports in with the “banker” (an NAB staff person), who gave them $50 worth of bidding for the live auction.

This year, to eliminate exhibitor responsibility for physically handing out currency to attendees, NAB started an exhibitor passport campaign – attendees were given passports that could be stamped each time they visited an exhibitor’s booth. Once they received five stamps from exhibitors, they could turn their passports in with the “banker” (an NAB staff person at the reg desk), who gave them $50 worth of bidding for the live auction.

“We thought the [exhibitor-visit] campaign that we did [last year] just needed new life,” Wilkins said. “As we all know, there’s a difference between a quality visit and just ‘Here, sign my passport.’ We were hoping to create an environment that we had both quantity and quality meetings with the exhibitors.”

NAB also gave attendees a number of other opportunities to earn currency to be used at the auction – by completing pre-show homework assignments, by participating in a breakout or general session (if an attendee shared valuable information or asked a pertinent question, the speaker or facilitator could choose to award $10 to $100), or even by networking with new participants. “The first-timers had received a stack of money, [and] if an attendee introduced themselves to a first-timer and said, ‘Hello! Welcome to Small Market Television Exchange!’ the first-timer would give that broadcaster money,” Wilkins said. “Then the broadcaster would introduce the first-timer to a business partner. It was a great networking tool.”

Attendees received $20 in their SMTE Wallet at registration to get them started. From there, there was really no limit to the amount of money they could earn, although adding the banker ensured that NAB controlled the currency that was floating around – rather than allowing exhibitors to hand out money directly. And while it was not a requirement that everyone participate, after last year’s program, exhibitors “were really delighted,” Wilkins said, “that we were looking for creative ways to help them drive business.”

Topping It Off

NAB also employed another competition at SMTE that allowed broadcasters to earn money for the live auction. Pre-event, attendees were asked to submit their favorite sales promotion by a TV station from the previous year. NAB then selected the 25 best “toppers” and presented them to the group, which chose the grandprize winner of a four-night cruise to the Bahamas. Each topper also received $100 of currency as part of the attendance package – meaning that with exhibitor visits, first-timer introductions, and participation in sessions, there were numerous opportunities to earn money to be spent at the auction.

More Resources
For more information about NAB’s SMTE social-currency program, visit


Katie Kervin

Katie Kervin was formerly assistant editor of Convene.