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Interview with Erica Maurer – How to Host & Promote Virtual Events, The Right Way – Episode #36
“When you’re doing virtual [events], depending on how complex this technology is that you’re using—some people may not event make it through the ‘door.’”

Erica Maurer is an entrepreneur, owner, creator, event planner, speaker, and licensed therapist. She is a Partner at EMRG Media, a leading events, marketing, production, and creative agency.

Erica is also a Partner and Producer of The Event Planner Expo, New York City’s largest events and hospitality industry trade show. Erica and her team fully adapted their business when the pandemic hit to service the corporate, social, and non-profit sectors with custom virtual event experiences.


Full Episode Transcript:


Kenny Soto  0:02  

We are now recording and 543 What’s up guys and girls? Welcome to another episode of Kenny Soto Digital Marketing podcast. Before we introduce today’s guest, I just want to start off this episode like I start every other episode with thanking you the listener for taking the time out today to learn more about digital marketing and the world of marketing in general. 


Today, our guest is Erica Mauer. Erica is an entrepreneur, owner creator, event planners, speaker and licensed therapist, which is awesome. She is a partner at em RG media, a leading events marketing, production and creative agency. Erica is also a partner and producer of the event planner Expo, New York City’s largest events and hospitality industry trade show. Erica and her team fully adapted their business when the pandemic hit last year to service the corporate, social and nonprofit sectors with custom virtual event experiences. Welcome, Erica.


Erica Maurer  1:07  

Hi, how are you? Thanks for having me, Kenny. 


Kenny Soto  1:09  

Awesome. So I’m going to start off this podcast just like I start all the other ones with asking a very straightforward question. How did you get into marketing?


Erica Maurer  1:21  

Great question. So I actually went to grad school at Columbia. And that’s how I became a licensed therapist, I went for my master’s. And partially through that process, I realized it wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be. And so I asked my parents who obviously were supporting me to help me through the process. Could I leave? And they said, No. So with that being said, they said, if you want to learn how to do some other things that you think you’re passionate about, then go do it. 


But you have to graduate, you have to graduate with honors, and you need to do your thing. So I was like, okay, so I applied to a dual program at the school, which was for business. So I wanted to learn the business side, my grandparents were both, you know, entrepreneurs. And then I literally started to dive into the events and marketing side of business, because that’s was something I thought was I was passionate about, but I didn’t really have a lot of like, hands on experience. So I said to myself, well, I’m learning this to my left, right, which I don’t think I want to do, but at least I know that I have it. And then I want to learn to my right, all the things that I think I want to know and do, but I have no knowledge about it just seems like an area of interest. So that’s how it all started.


Kenny Soto  2:45  

Now, you mentioned your grandparents and I want to segue really quickly into just asking a quick follow up. What did you observe about your grandparents being entrepreneurs? And and how did that affect you?


Erica Maurer  3:00  

Well, so both grandparents, like one was an entrepreneur he actually owned at the time, and I’m dating myself, this is like long time ago, right? When I was like a little kid, he owned restaurants and bars. And so growing up, my mom and her sisters used to be like the hostess is at the restaurants and stuff. And they all said don’t do it. Don’t do it. Like you don’t want to be in that business. It’s nonstop. 


But of course, of course, whenever anyone tells you don’t do it, you’re gonna do it. So, yeah, so he was successful. He had a restaurant lounge. And then he also had a candy business. So he actually, you know, like what staples is today? Yeah. He basically came up with like the staples concept before staples came up. But he then received he got cancer. And so he never was able to take it to market. But that was basically like he went from he built businesses. And so that was kind of his idea. So that was it was called Fogle. So similar to what staples is, but it was called Fogle’s at the time. And I saw him just kind of work with people, build teams, be successful and be a leader. And so that was something I was drawn to. 


And then my other grandfather talking about, like stories, he actually went into the war, he was drafted. And he came out of the war. And at the time, to become a lawyer, you didn’t have to go to law school, you had to take a test. And if you pass the test, you became a lawyer. Crazy, right? So that’s what it was back then. So he took the test. He was smart, he passed it, and he opened up his own law firm. And so I saw that he was an entrepreneur, and I saw that he came from really not having anything and build this whole career and this family and provided for everyone and you know, all that kind of stuff. So I saw that that was possible and I I obviously admired you know, both of them. And I thought that that was kind of the direction I wanted to go.


Kenny Soto  5:06  

So, right after finishing college, what was your first job?


Erica Maurer  5:12  

So I went right from college into grad school. And so I went straight in I, you know, I always worked during college, like, you know, side part time stuff to help for, you know, bring in money and so forth. But um, I always was like, I would waitress and work and I was also worked in a call center for at Tufts I was I went to Tufts to undergrad. And so I did a lot of the donor relations, like literally calling people those those calls that you don’t answer, like, that was me. You know, would you like to donate? 


And then also incorporated marketing do you have to market to the donors. So that was kind of where I started to see like, Oh, that was interesting, being doing marketing, and so forth. And then, as I mentioned, I went right to grad school, and then a grad school, I worked multiple jobs throughout that process. So what I did was I had an internship at what’s called United, generally United Jewish Federation. So it was a nonprofit. And so I worked at that agency. And my friends who, you know, were older than me from my high school that came to New York. Now I’m in New York, right? They all were, like entrepreneurial. 


So they all did events. And at the time events were like, you’d bring people out to a venue that was considered events, right. And they actually needed some extra help. And they needed help with bringing people and marketing and all that kind of stuff. And so they were like, oh, you know, a lot of people, why don’t you help me? And so I started to do that. So I was doing all of those things kind of at one time.


Kenny Soto  6:45  

And when did you decide to, I guess, be an entrepreneur and start doing your own event marketing business.


Erica Maurer  6:54  

So I believe that I started to be a quasi entrepreneur in college, because I worked, I’m doing some events and kind of helping bringing people in Boston. And that’s like thing where the interest became like, an actual area of something that I could do, where I was making money for it. And then when I went to grad school, I was working part time at the company, which I’m actually a partner for now. 


So I actually came in, I worked a couple of hours, you know, did marketing calls, outreach, tried to like bring in business and so forth, with guidance of the the people that were running the company, and then a few years in, so then I graduated, and I was going to either go go to UGA full time, or continue with this job. And my parents were like, why would you continue with this job? You didn’t go to school for it, right? Like, doesn’t make any sense. But of course, that’s what I did. And I started to work there. 


And then ultimately, the partners kind of decided that they wanted to go two different ways. And so they split and I continued to work. And then ultimately, after some years, I was offered a partnership. Got it? Now we have so when they say that you can’t work your way up, you can


Kenny Soto  8:14  

you can, you definitely can. And now we have a good layout of your work history. So let’s get down into the weeds of event marketing. And to tease out those lessons, I want to start off with the things you don’t do when you’re marketing events, both virtual and physical events. How would you describe the big mistakes that either you’ve experienced? You’ve seen other people in your industry experience? And what would you say? Like what’s the main reason why these are so so big mistakes, if you will.


Erica Maurer  8:48  

So big mistakes are thinking that you can leave anything not done? What do you have to you have to check all the boxes. So you can’t assume that someone else is going to take the responsibility of doing X, Y, and Z when you’re doing an event. Or when you’re marketing a product or service, you have to build out a game plan like no one else is helping you. Because when you build out a macro plan, you’re going to be successful. 


When you do just one little niche piece, and you rely on other people or or other buckets to come together. That’s where you’re gonna have problems. So what I always say is if you want to be an entrepreneur, which is not easy, and you want to run your own ship, then you need to do every single thing that you’re going to tell anybody that works for you, that they that they have to do so meaning if you need to market an event, and you want to promote it and bring people and you have to distribute, let’s say postcard mailers to doorman buildings or do a direct mailer and you want someone else to do it, you better be able to tell them that you do in it. 


And oftentimes entrepreneurs only look at the big picture, like, you know, like, they say, oh, I want to be an entrepreneur, because that’s glamorous, or I want to own this business, because that would be amazing. And maybe I’ll make a lot of money. Guess what, if you don’t know all the steps of your business, you can’t be successful. Because then people aren’t going to want to do the tasks that are hard and tedious. But when you can relate it to somebody and say, Hey, Kenny, I know that, you know, we have to bring out I’m just using an example of marketing, we have to do this mailer 10,000 piece mailer to go out for this big corporate brand event. And we have to sit and we have to stuff and it’s gonna take hours, and no one wants to do it, if you’re willing to do it, and or you’ve done it with them before your team is going to understand. So those are pieces that are really important, that are often overlooked?


Kenny Soto  10:52  

And would you say that by doing the task, at least once you’re more, or even better equipped to delegate that task and give the right details?


Erica Maurer  11:04  

Yes, but I wouldn’t even say you have to do it. Once you have to, you have to be able to say that you did it, like legitimately did it. So that when someone has a feedback, you know, you can’t say well, I don’t know, I didn’t try it. So so that’s something that’s hard, because a lot of the pieces like, you know, digressing, for example, I owned venues before I owned restaurants and lounges. 


And before I did that, I had no understanding of like, when the toilet broke, I was getting the phone call, right? You know, think about that. But I realized quick and fast, right? That there’s a lot of pieces that go into owning a, you know, owning a venue, right? Operating a venue, they’re way more vast than what we think from a short perspective. So when you’re going and taking on a new task, I always say this, go to the people who you admire, see if you can intern for them, right? See if there’s something that you can offer to them, that’s an asset that’ll allow you to understand if that’s the direction you want to go. 


So you’re not wasting your time, be recognize that if it was easy, everyone would do it. So there’s going to be things that you don’t want to do, and that’s natural. But if you can, man, if you can, you know, if you can successfully achieve that goal and do that task, then you’re that much stronger. Because everything that you learn, whether you do it ongoing or not, is going to help you as a building block. So those are things that are are super important when you’re trying to be like a marketer, and entrepreneur or business owner, or you know, starting a new career, all of that stuff is going to be the difference between someone going with you because you’re willing to do it. And someone picking someone else.


Kenny Soto  12:49  

Are there any other notable mistakes that can occur if you’re trying to promote an event.


Erica Maurer  12:57  

Um, notable mistakes would just be you just want to be clear with whatever the marketing assets, saying, You want to make sure that you’re representing what the product is who you’re trying to attract the age demographic that you have, for example, the full mailing address of where you’re doing this event at. 


I know those sound like very basic, but you’d be so surprised with how many times invites go out where they didn’t put the full address, or they didn’t say a dress code, or they didn’t say, you know, must bring an ID even if people are 30 years old, you know? So there’s little things like that that are very, if you want to say rudimentary, but they’re not because those things can really cause the problem.


Kenny Soto  13:35  

And would you say that a quick solution to making sure those check marks are actually done would be just having like a templated list of like, here are the things that need to be mentioned in the copy of an email or a letter, that if they’re not notable, and you can’t see them, don’t send it anything out? Would you say that’s correct?


Erica Maurer  13:56  

Yes. So you want to make sure that you know, everything has like your when where why kind of statements? So like, when is it? Where is it? Why is that happening? So that you can explain what people can expect? If you have partners? 


Or, you know, or sponsors that are supposed to be noted on it? You know, what level are they supposed to be noted on to making sure that they get the deliverables and just being super clear. Unless you’re hired for a brand that says, hey, we just want people to come in this is the demographic and we’re gonna surprise them. Obviously, you get those two, but that’s foreign food.


Kenny Soto  14:34  

And would you say that they are distinct challenges for marketing virtual events as opposed to physical events?


Erica Maurer  14:44  

Sure, so virtual and in person are completely different, like, completely different. So part of our situation was, you know, we were a leading events production marketing agency in New York. And with the pandemic, you Governor Cuomo said, Hey guys, like if you’re not essential, you do not need to be open. And so we were shut down pretty much overnight. 


All of the venues that we represented, like over 50 of them closed within a day or two, all of the companies that we marketed were pausing because no one knew what was happening in the world. And when you’re doing in person events, your your hands on, I can go and I can say, Hey, can you want a cocktail? Hey, can you want food? Hey, can you what can I do for you, when you’re in a virtual world, it’s completely different. And the reason why it’s different is people don’t understand technology as they do, the way that you interact in a one on one situation when you’re in person. So there’s challenges because you have to think about it from the user perspective. 


Whereas normally you don’t have to, you just think I create a great product, I create just great service, and have great music, food, ambiance, all these kinds of things that I’m gonna bring them to cool spot, I’m good. When you’re doing virtual, you have to think about who’s your market? Who are the users? Are they older, the younger? Are they tech savvy? Are they not? Are they like our grandparents age? Like, who are we talking to, because based on that, we have to determine what platform is, is something that would be easy for them to understand. So, you know, there’s a lot of virtual platforms that came out to market during the pandemic. 


And they were very complicated. And they’re not easy to use. And there’s things that people have never experienced before. So as much as that might look cool to a user like to like the person who’s contracting it, right. Like if I’m savvy on it, or if you’re savvy on it doesn’t mean that every single person attending is going to understand that. And so what happens is you’re running into challenges is how do you get someone to log in? Is their internet strong enough? You know, do they understand how to navigate all these different dimensions that exist in a virtual world, you know, in in person, you go into a room, and you see people, and then oh, I want to go upstairs, you go up the elevator and you’re in another room, right? You see other people and then you know how to get back,


Kenny Soto  17:04  

the process is more straightforward in a physical setting.


Erica Maurer  17:09  

Exactly. So when you’re doing virtual, depending on how complex this technology is that you’re using, some people might not even make it in the door. And that’s something that people have to really think about. So the reason I’m saying that is when we took our business virtual, like April of 2020, you know, braving the pandemic had happened, we initially said to the clients, oh, I want this very intricate. Tech, I want this, I want that. So we had to go educate ourselves. 


And we had to go back and explain it to the people, there was a huge learning curve, there’s a huge disconnect, we were spending a lot of time trying to get people onto the systems, they’re missing parts of the content, right part of the experience. And what we quickly realized was, which is ironic was zoom was our best friends. Because everyone was on Zoom, and everyone was on Zoom for work. So if you could create something that was simple Zoom is simply click a button and go in, you’re here, blah, blah, and then you could beautify it, you know, pick it up a notch, then you’re creating an experience that is accessible. 


And right, the pandemic made everything not accepted, fix accessible, right? Everything was basically separated. So when you made everyone accessible, it kind of gave everyone motivation, inspiration. So what our team did was, you know, we actually created what we call custom dashboards. And that’s like a, it’s like a technical way of basically coming in to zoom and say, oh, I want to break out room or, oh, I want to go into this thing or that, but you knew you had a hub. And it was really, really simplistic. I mean, it’s hard to make the dashboard. But once you have it, it’s it’s user friendly. And so that’s something that you don’t normally have to think about when you’re doing an in person event.


Kenny Soto  18:57  

Now you mentioned beautifying a zoom event is the dashboard, the only aspect of beautifying beautifying zoom event, are there other elements that you use to make it more special.


Erica Maurer  19:10  

You can use it, you can use a background. So you can create like custom branded zoom backgrounds. Now that only works depending on what computer you have. So if you have, you know, three or four year old computer, it’s gonna say it’s not green screen compatible, or I can’t upload the image. 


Some people are gonna have problems. So if you run into that, I always say just, you know, troubleshoot it with that person. So if so, for example, like we have an event on Friday we’re doing it’s called eBUY EJ it’s a changemaker event. It’s there in Detroit. And we’re doing this virtual event for them. And so we were onboarding a lot of the speakers. There’s different panels, some of them are football players, blah, blah, blah. 


So some of the backgrounds are working and some weren’t. And that’s because the computer technology is different depending on what level computer you have, and Some computers aren’t even that old, and they’re just not able to use that. So what I’m saying with that is, if you can’t utilize that aspect, then all you’re gonna do is you’re gonna say, Well, how do I make their background with printing, and you make it so you can work with each person, so that the Zoom events can look special, or branded or customized. So you have this dashboard, right, which you said in the dashboard, you could have like a virtual Photobooth.


 So if I wanted to have you take a picture, you can click on the button, go take a picture, while you’re still attending the event. You could have like an agenda. So you could see like, what’s, what’s happening? What’s coming up, what can I expect, you could have PDFs, downloadable information. So there’s a lot of things that you can do to make it special. But ultimately, when you’re doing a virtual event, which is really important, that’s not as important in person is having an event host. And what an event host is is basically an emcee. But in person, you don’t really need an emcee, the party just flows. Whereas virtual, you really need someone that says, Hi, welcome to blank event, you know, this is what’s going to happen. And really, they need to be very animated. And that’s something energy wise, that’s very different than an in person event.


Kenny Soto  21:18  

Besides being animated, are there any other key qualities that are necessary for a host to be successful when hosting an event?


Erica Maurer  21:29  

They have to be very detail oriented, they need to be able to add live because as you know, we’re doing a virtual event, things can happen, right, someone could lose their their internet capability, someone could show up late, someone you know, there’s a lot of things that happen that don’t necessarily happen in the real world. So you have to have someone who is adaptable, so adaptable, outgoing, you know, very personable, think on the fly, organized and able to keep things on a timeline. So those are really important pieces.


Kenny Soto  22:00  

And you’ve mentioned several aspects of hosting a virtual event like PDFs, the dashboard, the photo booth, and I’m a big fan of tools. Are there any specific tools or software that you use in in like a complementary way to zoom to help with the success of intimate?


Erica Maurer  22:21  

Well, what we normally do is when we’re sending out and invite with Zoom, we’ll make sure that the assets look really pretty. So you want them to be colorful, you want them to be clear, you want them to be concise, because people think of zoom, for the most part is work. So you want to make sure as you’re delivering the assets, if they see a zoom link, it looks nothing like work. It looks like fun, they understand what to expect. So you’re kind of painting that picture of expectation, and you’re retraining their mind as opposed to thinking on going to a meeting, you’re seeing stuff that’s exciting that looks more like event related.


Kenny Soto  22:55  

And when you’re promoting an event outside of email, what social media channels are you using? And how are you using those social media channels.


Erica Maurer  23:05  

So depending on what kind of event, you’re obviously going after, there’s different ways. So LinkedIn has an event option now, you can go you click on it says like hosting an event and you can put up assets, and you can invite people from LinkedIn. 


So that’s gonna get one demographic, you know, b2b, then you can also use your Instagram and put it on your story and put on your page that’s going to get your core following right like people that are personally know you and so forth, you can go and do the same thing on your business page that’s going to attract business owners if you have a, you know, business. And then on top of that, another good asset that we like to use is clubhouse because you’re on stages. So going into rooms and saying, oh, you know, like for example, I mentioned e ye J. That’s an event we have on Friday, I run a few rooms and clubhouse so what I’ll do is I’ll invite the client to come in as long as the topic makes sense, right? 


And say hey, would you like to share about this event or I have this event coming up? You know, just want to let you guys know that this is what’s happening and I’ll invite you for free or here’s an exclusive invitation you can DM me or email the team to get a direct invitation so you’re now you’re going out to one to many right so as opposed to you and I right now where we’re going one to one which is what’s good for like a phone calls and texting you can do marketing like that. But one too many is like a is like a LinkedIn is like a is a Instagram and then clubhouse specifically, sorry, direct mailers, your direct mailers are awesome.


Kenny Soto  24:37  

Yeah, now was specifically a clubhouse considering it’s not even a year old. How are you measuring the effectiveness of that tactic?


Erica Maurer  24:46  

So you’ll do a call to action. Okay. So for example, if I went on stage and I was like I have using this example so we produce the women insider network. It’s a women’s event we have like really High Level speakers come on, they’re women and men. And it could be a woman or man to attend and their free free events. It’s really just to give access to everyone. 


So when I go into the room, I might say, if you’re interested in attending the women, insider network, DM me women. And I’ll know that that’s the call to action, right? Because it’s trackable, or if I go on stage, and I mentioned the mighty djay event, when I was speaking on a stage in clubhouse, after I would be done, people would message me and say, Oh, I heard you speaking about this, I’m actually looking for someone. And so there’s a couple of different ways of tracking, right, there’s, how many accounts do you walk in. So I know that since I went on clubhouse, I came on around the end of December, I was invited a while before that, I was like, I’m not interested, there’s just another app, I don’t need to do one more thing. And I waited. 


And when I went on, I started to talk about events and virtual and how we transitioned. And I also have a coaching program for entrepreneurs. And I was able to lock in both. So between those two, I was able to say I track six figures of sales, which was not something that I went on and expected, I actually just thought it was gonna be like a way to meet people. I wasn’t thinking of it in the fact that it was going to literally quickly translate into dollars.


Kenny Soto  26:26  

Now, I like to end these interviews with a question. That is hypothetical, because we don’t have a time machine. But if you had the ability to go back in time, 10 years from today, knowing everything you know, now, now, would you progress in your career faster.


Erica Maurer  26:51  

So I would say if I was to go back 10 years ago, I would say it’s okay to have a coach and a mentor. Because oftentimes you think of like getting a coach or asking for help as weakness, it’s not. So I would say go get one, find somebody that emulates where you want to go and learn from them, because that’s going to fast track you. That’s something that I did not realize back then.


 So when I say that I got to where I’m at, I did that from learning and growing and putting in the work. But I didn’t have someone who was like exactly where I wanted to go, I kind of took pieces from different people. So what I would say is getting a coach is really important, and trusting the process. So you’re not going to always understand it’s like when you take a step right, you don’t know exactly where you’re going necessarily all the time. But you know, you’re going forward. 


So I would always just say to lean in, and instead of falling back. So when you fall, right, when you fail, you fall backwards and you stop your momentum. But if you think about it, as leaning forward will continue on your path. That’s the stuff that I would say is that continue to learn, continue to grow, you can never know enough because the world is evolving, and you need to evolve with it. So those would be the pieces that I would highlight.


Kenny Soto  28:12  

I’m glad that you mentioned. Don’t be afraid to get a coach. You’re actually the first guest on this podcast, who’s mentioned that so I really appreciate it. If anyone wanted to find you online, where can they connect?


Erica Maurer  28:30  

They can go to Instagram, it’s Erica Mauer 7 that’s on Instagram, or they can send an email to events at em RG That will also go to me and then we do have a free download. It’s a marketing tool. So if you go to, you fill out a few questions. It’ll give you some strategies on how to be a good marketer and virtual events. 


Kenny Soto  28:59  

What an amazing domain. That’s awesome. Okay. All right, everyone. So you just listened to another episode of Kenny Soto is Digital Marketing podcast. Thank you, Erica, for this amazing interview. Thank you to you, the listener for being here and learning alongside of us. And as always, I hope you have a great week. Bye.

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