Originally Published in Bloomberg Business Week | January 28, 2011 | By Antone Gonsalvez
Matt Haltom, deputy general counsel for Sally Beauty Holdings, a Denton (Tex.) distributor of beauty supplies, has gone to plenty of legal conferences during his 15-year career. His pet peeve: the boring, lecture-style formats that limit attendees from getting past the small-talk with speakers or audience members to meat- and-potatoes discussions. So he was receptive when an executive from conference organizer Consero Group cold-called him with an offer to join 70 of his peers at a Boca Raton (Fla.) resort for a forum structured around small-group discussions on hot topics in corporate law (think disclosure requirements and employee social media policies). One sweetener: Haltom would only have to pay for travel and accommodations.
Haltom, 39, attended the three-day event last December and says he’d be willing to consider paying an admission fee next time. (Consero says it’s trying to keep the fee relatively low but will charge an average of $1,500 if it fails to land enough sponsors, which pay $20,000 on average.) “They did what they said they were going to do, which was to provide interaction with other in-house counsel on topics that were timely and of interest,” Haltom says.
Networking and learning from peers is exactly what Paul Mandell, co-founder and chief executive of Consero in Bethesda, Md., says make his company’s conferences, limited to 100 people or fewer, so valuable. By creating warm-and-fuzzy environments in which high-level executives feel comfortable sharing, Mandell, a former antitrust lawyer, hopes Consero will stand out from the hundreds of large annual conferences that bring tens of thousands of people together to mingle with hundreds of vendors in large exhibition halls. He’s also quick to point out the value he brings by pre-screening sponsors and scheduling one-on-one meetings before the event. “A [sponsor] gets a lot of value out of meeting with [an attendee] who has opted in to that meeting,” Mandell says.
. . . .
Discussion topics are crucial to attracting high-level executives, says Mandell. He established advisory boards of executives from major corporations for developing forum agendas, a practice that’s typical for event organizers. Consero is quickly luring senior legal executives, however, from powerful multinationals, including Chevron, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, Sony, and LG Electronics. Roger Martin, senior vice- president and chief intellectual property strategist at Qualcomm, describes many rival conferences he’s attended as “second class.” He agreed to join Consero’s advisory board for free and serve as a guest speaker at a forthcoming intellectual property conference after getting a peek at the list of executives and experts who would be attending. “I really do want to hear what they have to say and exchange ideas with them,” says Martin.