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It’s Symposium season! What should AR pros do to prepare?

UPDATE: Some things change, some things don’t. One thing that doesn’t change is Gartner Symposium – it rolls around like clockwork every year. And another thing that doesn’t change is the need for APJ AR pros to have a plan to get the most out of their attendance at Symposium. And the time to start planning is now.

Gartner is again running three events in APJ – Tokyo October 15-17, Goa October 21-24, and Gold Coast October 28-31. From an APJ AR perspective, the Gold Coast is probably the most important one, but the other locations also offer the opportunity for plenty of engagement with analysts from across the region & around the world (although the Tokyo event is a little more local in focus).

This year’s theme is “Leading in a Digital World” – hardly earth-shattering, but we would be more surprised if it was something very different to this! This theme plays through all of the tracks, and most notably the CIO stream. Sadly, the CIO sessions are pretty hard for vendor AR folks to get into, so you might have to rely on chatting to a friendly end-user executive to get any insights from that stream…

In terms of changes, the most notable this year is the introduction of a full day of sessions devoted to seven vertical markets – banking, education, energy & utilities, government, healthcare, manufacturing and retail – indicating that industry insights are becoming just as critical as technology understanding.

Below is a post I wrote a year ago, providing advice to AR pros about what they need to do to prepare for Symposium. That advice remains true today, so it’s worth taking a few minutes to review, even if you read it last year. It’s also worth checking out the short video interview with Gartner’s Ian Bertram, who also provides some sound advice.

Just as Gartner itself is the 800-pound gorilla of the industry analyst business, Symposium/ITxpo has become the dominant analyst event as the firm has continued to invest and expand across the globe. The portfolio now includes eight separate events – three of them in the Asia/Pacific & Japan region – enticing thousands of high-quality, paying delegates to invest up to a week of their valuable time to listen to and engage with the cream of Gartner’s analysts.

The events business is big business for Gartner, and it’s growing. In 2011, Gartner generated a touch under $US150 million from events, a 21% increase over 2010. That’s only 10% of Gartner’s total revenues, but it equates to more than half of Forrester’s total 2011 revenues.

The events business is getting bigger for other firms too – as I write, Forrester is running its first CIO Summit in Singapore, and IDC runs a continuous stream of conferences, summits and other events across the major cities in APJ. But it’s the sheer scale of Gartner Symposium/ITxpo that means that AR pros need to take it seriously, and need to put a plan in place if they want to get the maximum benefit out of attending.

I’ve attended most of the Symposiums held in Australia since the late 1990s, both as a full fee-paying delegate and via the cheaper option of a showfloor (ITxpo) pass only. I also attended the Orlando extravaganza – on a showfloor pass – in 2008, when the onset of the global financial crisis dampened attendances and enthusiasm.

There are two things I’ve learnt from these experiences – if you plan well and work smart, you’ll get value out of Symposium; and as an AR pro attending the APJ events, you get way more access to the people who matter to you – the analysts, the customers and the Gartner executives – than you could ever hope for at the Orlando event, where it’s just too easy to get lost in the crowd.

As a consultant, I get much of my value from networking so I spend a lot of time on the showfloor – and hanging around near the one-on-one desk – where I can catch up with analysts as well as vendors. Inhouse AR pros will get value from this approach too, but need to spend a lot more time attending sessions, so you know exactly what analysts are saying about you.

Another way to know exactly what analysts are saying about you is to engage with them directly well in advance of Symposium – about now is a good time start, if you haven’t already.

That’s where the benefits of planning come to fruition. Well before getting on a plane, AR pros should know which analysts are speaking (and doing one-on-ones), which of their colleagues are attending, and which key customers are attending. They should have a pretty good idea of which sessions they’re going to attend, who they need to set up meetings with, and how they’re going to spend their time.

Once you get there, it’s just a case of executing on your plan. And knowing that you’re going to have to adapt that plan on the fly as new opportunities arise and others disappear.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with Ian Bertram to talk about what AR pros should do before and at Symposium to get the most value. As well as being the global manager of Gartner’s analytics and business intelligence research, Ian is the head of research for APJ and also leads the vendor relations function in this region. A 14-year veteran of Gartner, Ian has attended his fair share of Symposiums too, so his advice in this video comes from experience, and is pretty much the same as what I give my clients.

So, just one more piece of advice from me – work hard, but make sure you have fun! Symposium really can be an enjoyable experience…

Of course, more suggestions for best practices at Symposium – or any analyst event – are welcome, so just hit the comments box.



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