10 Questions with Kirsten McDonough

Kirsten McDonough is Senior Vice President of Conferences at the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). Founded in 1910, the ANA is the U.S. advertising industry's oldest and largest trade association. With so many members, including big players like P&G and Coca Cola, how did they adapt to a changing events landscape? Kirsten talks to us about Cyndi Lauper and why she sees hybrid events as a positive.

  1. Can you tell us a little about ANA (Association of National Advertisers) and its journey?

The ANA is the biggest trade association for marketers and advertisers–over 100 years old. Most large advertisers in the US, a number of Fortune 100 companies, and many advertisers abroad are members. The journey to virtual events was challenging for us, although our first virtual event was a successful one. We closed our offices on 13th March 2020, and had our first virtual event on 12th May. So in that first month, we made the pivot to virtual, found a new platform and learned how to use it.


  1. You have an extensive number of events in your calendar year! Where have you seen the biggest growth and opportunities?

Interestingly, going virtual gives you a license to try out new things. The biggest growth, in general, has been virtual events. There is the opportunity to try out tactics to see what drives a bigger or smaller audience. We hadn't planned for it, but I envisage that virtual events will remain, in part anyway. Some events will be virtual, some hybrid, and we'll have to see what is possible for in-person.


  1. How did the challenges of 2020 disrupt your plans for ANA, and how did you set about overcoming them?

Oh, it was a huge disruption. You'd been doing a job one way for 15 years and, then overnight, everything you knew changed. You had to learn how to do your job in a brand new way. Our sponsorship revenue was hugely affected because of the lack of in-person events. So our sponsorship team did an outstanding job to rethink our sponsorship model. Overall, the plans were very disrupted for 2020.


  1. Do you think the last 12 months have changed your strategy regarding how you will deliver events in the future?

Yes, 100%. The landscape has changed now. While there may be some in-person only events, they're likely to be very small or local. I imagine that large in-person events are a way off yet. I certainly think that our national conferences will always be hybrid from now on.


  1. Do you feel event technology is meeting audiences’ expectations? Do you feel there are areas where it is accelerating the experience, or are there advancements in event tech you can’t wait to see?

I would say that I'm surprised by how much the technology has evolved since March 2020. At the start, I think there was a very different perception of what the best was. Technology is increasingly being brought together into one. So streaming, AI, speed networking, and the app from Grip all show how much it's evolving. What can't I wait to see? I guess I don't know what I don't know. But the sponsorship piece remains the challenge for us. How do you show the value of virtual sponsorship?


  1. Have you found that digital events have increasing data and insight available to you? Have you been able to utilise this information either in real-time or for future events?

I would say yes. We can see which sessions were the most watched, for example. But as for utilising the data and doing something with it, the honest answer is we haven’t done enough. We do a lot of events and we have a hard time looking back and learning from them. We want to, we just have to find the time to do it!


  1. Can you tell us a little about your experience when working with Grip?

Fantastic from the start. We had some challenges, both technical and customer services related with a previous provider. But once we started working with Grip it was a totally different experience. Having our own dedicated customer support team cannot be matched with other providers. Your customer services and support have 100% made you super valuable to us. You listen to our feedback, work on how that can be implemented, and if there are any issues, then they’re fixed for us.


  1. Who would be your dream keynote speaker, and why?

I’m a terrible person to ask this question to! I’m a logistics person, and I’m not the kind of person who gets starstruck. For me it’s all about the content and whether the speaker can pitch it well to the audience. Sorry, that probably wasn’t the answer you were hoping for!


  1. What's your best conference experience, and what made it so memorable?

Again, I wasn’t starstruck, but when I was 8 months pregnant we had Cindy Lauper perform at one of our conferences. She was fantastic. Not only was she giving me tips on raising a son but she was also dancing on the tables and just put on the greatest show of all time. Very memorable!


  1. Is the future of events virtual, in-person, or hybrid?

Hybrid. 100%.


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