8 Questions with New Hubilo SVP Cathy Song Novelli
Cathy Song Novelli joined the popular event technology platform Hubilo as senior vice president of marketing and communications in April. But she is quick to point out that this is “not my first rodeo.”
Based in Silicon Valley, Novelli is rich with experience producing events, enhancing branding and delivering high-level marketing for household-name companies like MySpace and Pandora. So her BS alarm is sparked when she hears companies say platforms create events attendees love. “As a marketer, I take great offense at that,” she said. “Event organizers use all of their creativity to create really amazing programs, the platform just delivers it.”
It’s that understanding that sets Novelli and Hubilo apart from a very crowded field competing to attract planners maneuvering through the new era of hybrid events. Having just unveiled a major new update, the tech company looks ready to maintain its perch among platforms. The rollout was vintage Novelli, who used her expertise as a planner and marketer to create one of the industry’s most dynamic product launches since the pandemic.
Here, she talks about the move into event tech and why “Jurassic Park” helped drive her to the role at Hubilo.
It didn’t take you long to make an imprint marketing Hubilo. Walk us through the product launch.
Before I started in April, Hubilo had its first big event, which was called Restart. And it was a great event, but it felt like another big event with great sessions and great entertainment. I came in and said that if we're going to be this thought leader, and really push the industry to rethink what you can do on virtual and hybrid connecting the online and offline audiences, we need to be creating the events that everyone's talking about. We were really excited because it didn’t feel like another webinar.
Tell us about the upgraded platform.
Our company is unique in that they take feedback very seriously. So they are always talking to the marketplace, and literally what we are rolling out on July 14 is based upon feedback that we got from the market on things that they would love to see in the platform between late February through the end of May. So we're talking real-time development.
So what did the people want?
Some of the most popular asks were not from event organizers, they were from attendees. An example is emojis. They wanted to be able to react constantly to what people are saying without having to add a comment. What’s also been historically really popular are contests and leaderboards, which is funny because I'm not one to necessarily care whether I'm leading in the scoreboard. But across all of our events, we see about 75% of our attendees really active in trying to gain gamification points to get onto the leaderboard.
Why will hybrid win out even with the rush to return in-person?
What I hear consistently from the CMOs and event marketers is what they learned in the last year is that their reach potential virtually is exponentially greater than in-person. We've learned to democratize our thought leadership by increasing our reach tenfold in some cases. Most event organizers aren't keen to walk away from that. And so I think the next steps forward are going to be how do we balance the best of both worlds.
Why join the event tech world?
What I found the most fascinating with events is that it’s the last analog channel for marketers — everything has become digitized. Having been a marketer who's been marketing to marketers for so long, seeing this last sort of dinosaur at a tipping point of “How do we make this better and bigger and more impactful as a marketing channel?” was a question I was really excited to answer. I geeked out over it quite a bit.
Are you sure the events industry can get out of the Jurrasic era?
Yes. We always talk about Netflix and Blockbuster and the events industry was sort of falling into this very comfortable Blockbuster space, which was “ You can't replace that in-person networking capability.” There's truth to that. But I think what we're doing now is essentially redefining what an event is, redefining all of the possible touchpoints and finding ways to personalize what is the most meaningful about an event for each person. Not everyone loves going to those big convention halls and networking with hundreds of people. In fact, most people I know dislike that. They prefer very customized, match-made meetings.
Why are platforms like Hubilo needed?
I have a friend who's a CMO who quit her director of events job on the day of the event because she couldn’t deal with the pressure. The pain was real and I don't think people were really talking about it, nor building a platform that could solve those pain points. We’re the only platform out there that comes with a complete customer success team, not just a person you could call or message on Slack. There is a team who is there to help you plan, help you execute the day of, help you with your analysis and plan for the future. That's all we need to say over and over and over. Because to me, that is addressing the real pain of the industry at the moment.
What do you make of all this logjam of event tech platforms?
When I was at MySpace, there were 30 other players who were jumping into the social media space at the same time. Facebook was just one of them. And then at Pandora, Spotify came but there were also 20 other rogue players. Anytime there is an emerging category, 100 or 200 players will jump in because they think it's easy and they want to capitalize. But as with every category I've seen this happen in, a lot of the fringe players are not listening to the market. They're just following the leader and those are the guys who will usually fall out. My prediction is this time next year you'll see about 100 of those [event tech] players drop out.