In-person tradeshows and conferences are cancelled for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic, and the exclusive, time-boxed structure of virtual events has presented problems for interactivity. In this episode of The Kula Ring, Christopher Barger, Senior Director of Communications for SME, shares how his team has adapted SMX with virtual networking components and shares why networking should be prioritized in virtual environments.
How Manufacturers Can Prioritize Networking at Virtual Events Transcript:
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White. Joining me today as always is Carman Pirie.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Jeff, I feel like I’m living on the edge here, you know? Yeah. I’ve been experimenting as we’ve been recording various podcasts with how close to the point when you’re gonna cue me can I take a drink of water and then still function.
Jeff White: Still be ready.
Carman Pirie: So, I think it worked. I think it worked. But look, it’s great to be chatting today and today’s show is… I know we have COVID fatigue in some way. I mean, goodness sakes, it’s like the only thing to talk about, either that or the election these days, or maybe-
Jeff White: Depending on when this episode is published.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well, whether the election will be actually… the results will be known at that point or not, time will tell. But the one thing that, fatigue or not, I feel like we need to kind of… I think it’s worth talking through, the thought experiments are worthwhile doing, is to imagine what’s on the other side of this for the manufacturing enterprises and their buyers, and what the next normal looks like, and I’m really excited for today’s guest to help put some meat on that bone, as it were.
Jeff White: Yeah. For sure. And I think too it’s worth mentioning that we’re talking there about those elements within the context of in-person events. You know.
Carman Pirie: Well, yeah. Largely-
Jeff White: Although it does go beyond that, I suppose.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I mean, I think we’re used to doing business in person. Not just events, but we’re used to doing business in person, and that’s probably more important for manufacturers than it is a lot of other sectors-
Jeff White: That’s true.
Carman Pirie: … that have learned to buy and sell online.
Jeff White: Exclusively online.
Carman Pirie: I think part of it’s about events and part of it’s just about how we function as humans.
Jeff White: Yeah. Well, that’s…
Carman Pirie: And we’re gonna cover it all in this half-hour show.
Jeff White: So, joining us today to completely straighten us out on these topics is Christopher Barger, and Christopher is the Senior Director of Communications at SME. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Christopher.
Christopher Barger: Thank you very much, Jeff. Thanks, Carman. It’s great to be with you. Thanks for inviting me.
Carman Pirie: Not at all. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show and I’d really like to start by giving our guests a bit more insight into you, Chris, and what you do at SME, and perhaps tell us a bit about the organization.
Christopher Barger: Sure. Well, SME is a nonprofit association that is focused on advancing the manufacturing industry and supporting industry through three different sets of activities. The first is advancing and promoting the advancement of emerging technology, and that can be through the conduct of or production of events, through the media that we publish, through our membership association, and our membership, and sharing out information about new technology. The second piece of our business is workforce development and training. Whether it is new skills or retooling and reskilling people to continue working with new technology as it’s implemented in the work environment.
And then the third piece of our business is connecting and convening the industry, whether it’s through our members and connecting them to each other, whether it is producing events again and bringing people together to build their networks out, connect buyers and sellers, et cetera. And again, through the workforce development that we do, as well as our education foundation. It’s a very long description, but it’s hard to encapsulate 90 years of activity and history into a sound bite. And as far as being there, I am the Senior Director of Communications, so all marketing, PR… Well, I shouldn’t say that. There is a marketing department that isn’t under me, but branding, PR, communications executive, digital, all that falls under my group.
Carman Pirie: Very cool. As you listed everything that SME does, I just started kind of almost checking boxes beside them. I’m like, “Impacted by COVID hard. Impacted by COVID hard. Impacted by COVID hard.” Like workforce development, largely done in person, how do we… This has been certainly a tumultuous time for you, I’m sure.
Christopher Barger: It has.
Carman Pirie: And I know that this notion of event… It’s interesting, because I think in the early days of COVID, there was a lot of shift and enthusiasm towards virtual events. I think you folks have put on SMX as a virtual event, as well.
Christopher Barger: Yes it is. Next week. Or probably be passed by the time this is published, but yeah.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. See, it’s hard to be timing accurate in these pre-recordings, you know?
Jeff White: True, true.
Carman Pirie: But you know, so I guess, and I think it’s coming at a time when I know that you’re probably like a lot of other folks. You’re wondering is there a kind of virtual event fatigue out there. I guess what are you seeing amongst your members as you embark on the SMX virtual event? Is that event fatigue a real thing? And I guess how are you approaching it and addressing that?
Christopher Barger: It is a real thing, and we would be unwise to behave as if people aren’t a little tired of this, but there’s a reason that our first virtual event is happening at the end of October, even though the pandemic shutdown began in the United States in early March. We didn’t just rush out the gate. We did not just go start launching things and putting them online. There was a very specific reason that we took our time and did it this way, and that’s because virtual event fatigue is not about the idea of being just tired or over-engaging digitally or engaging through electronic means. It’s about engaging poorly that is causing the fatigue.
If you think clearly from an audience perspective, what are they trying to get from an event virtually? What can’t they get virtually that they used to get physically and how do you try to build that, build a component of that into what you’re doing? Again, I don’t think virtual event fatigue is because people don’t want to do it. I think they just don’t want their time wasted. They want to make sure that they get a good experience, that they get as much of the elements of a physical event that provided them value in the past, and so we’ve been thoughtful, and deliberate, and taken seven months to come out of the gate on purpose.
And we’ve heard from a few folks in the industry going, “Man, aren’t you afraid of missing out? Everybody else is out there. Everybody else is producing.” And our answer has been, “No, we’re not afraid, because we’re going to do it right and when we do this, we’re gonna continue to provide as much value as we always have, rather than rush it through.” And we’ll see next week how it plays out, but I’m very confident in what’s been built and what the team’s going to do.
Carman Pirie: Man, I think there’s a lot of truth in what you’ve just said around it’s not that they have event fatigue. It’s that they have poor event fatigue, you know?
Christopher Barger: Yes.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Christopher Barger: Yes.
Carman Pirie: It would be really no different if you went to two or three conferences in person back to back and they were all garbage. I mean, we’ve all been there.
Christopher Barger: Right. Yes, we have.
Carman Pirie: The only good news about those is you at least have a decent bar or restaurant nearby and you can kind of forget about half of it.
Jeff White: But that even leads into really what is one of the most important parts of in-person events, and that’s the-
Carman Pirie: Well, giving a good segue to you, Jeff, is part of what I try to do on this show.
Jeff White: I know. But hey, pointing it out doesn’t help, though. You can’t name the thing. But so, part of what makes a good event a good event is really that interconnectivity with other human beings. The connection of not just sales opportunities and prospects and things like that, but also just people in the industry, and learning from each other, and networking, and getting that side of things. How are you addressing that component? Because it really does seem like that seems to be what’s missing a lot of the time in these events.
The content’s still good. You’re still getting great speakers out and you can record it and listen to it again and again, but the connectivity’s hard.
Christopher Barger: Connectivity is not as easy as it used to be and it’s probably changing a little bit in terms of how we define it. I think from the perspective of a digital or virtual event right now, there’s two ways that you can try to address this. First, we’ve all focused I think for the last seven or eight months on the content, and like you said, Jeff, content is still strong. People still have good information and good insight to share. But we focus so much on, “Oh my gosh, we’ve gotta find new ways to provide this content.” I feel like we’ve kind of overlooked the networking aspect to things.
As we think about virtual events and what we’re gonna put on not only next week, but going forward, you have to build in as much time for and as much emphasis on the networking, the chatroom, or even what we’re doing now where we can all see each other and engage. Every one of our speakers next week when they get done with their presentation will hop into a room like this and be able to field questions from the audience directly. And going back to our point about time and people not wanting to waste time, look. If I’ve just seen Jeff on stage and it was an interesting conversation, but I don’t have any interest in asking him a follow-up question, there are other places within the virtual event that I can now go and make the most use of my time.
On the other hand, if I’ve seen Jeff present and it was great, and there was a question I didn’t get to ask because it was either prerecorded, or live and we just kind of cycled through it, now I can ask those follow-ups. It’s more small group interaction. I can have a more genuine, and again, face-to-face kind of interaction now, where the video screen goes up. You try to facilitate that. The other thing I think that has been overlooked in the last few months as we’ve learned as an industry to put on virtual events is that we’re still looking at events from a point in time perspective. It’s on this day, and it happens from this time to this time, and tune in for our virtual event. There are a lot of reasons why even from a physical event standpoint, that wasn’t always the best way to look at it.
But certainly, from a virtual event standpoint, it’s really hard to network and really hard to make connections with people and continue to ask questions if it’s a one day period of time for six hours and it’s all full of content. What we’re trying to do and what we’re looking at not only for this event, but again in the future, is what do you do to make the actual get together the capstone, rather than the point of the whole event? What can we do for the three months ahead of time? What do we do for the three months after it happens to facilitate networking? To allow people to connect to each other? To allow for sales interactions? Sometimes people want that, sometimes people don’t. How do you kind of cordon that off and allow people to do it where they want to?
If you think about an event in terms of an extended period of time community, all of a sudden you’re not putting all the eggs in the basket of it has to happen on this date from this time, and I’m sorry if you had other things going on, or if you didn’t have time, or if there were other pieces of content. Now, you can actually begin to build that network out, and facilitate the same kind of connections that were so useful from a physical event. Will it be the same? It won’t. And we’re not going to pretend to ourselves or anyone else that it will be the same. But it’s a greater effort and a different way of thinking, and let’s be honest, guys. We’re all still feeling this out, too. We’re going to be learning as we go.
But at least from SME’s perspective as we think about our events, we’re starting from that period, that point of look, the reason people went, it was content. Certainly, you were going to see the people that were on the stage. But it was also that networking, that interaction. Can you connect a buyer and seller? Can I find somebody who might want to buy my machine? Can I find somebody who’s got a machine I might want to buy? You’ve gotta realize that people can get their content lots of other places now, so that networking becomes all the more important, and you gotta try and find a way to build it virtually.
Jeff White: I think that’s… The idea of this forced exclusivity time-boxed thing for everything in this day and age just feels like such a foreign concept now, you know?
Carman Pirie: I mean, obviously digital lends itself to asynchronous, but it’s just not… It is hard to necessarily translate that into how people connect and do so in a meaningful way. It’s like you say, we’re still very much feeling it out. One of my favorite artists is Conor Oberst, and he had in 2012, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band released an album and had a song called Normal on it. It’s like we’re back to normal, whatever normal was, was kind of the line. It just kind of occurs to me as we’re talking about this.
It’s like let’s put on our thinking caps a bit and say, “Okay, looking ahead to August-September 2021.” Even if there is a vaccine, which is obviously still in question, most of the scientific guidance out there is suggesting that we will still have mask mandates and physical distancing. It’s likely to persist through next year and potentially into 2022 even with a vaccine, and then meanwhile, so you have that happening. You have downtown office complexes all over North America basically as a ghost town. A lot of people obviously have migrated to working from home, so I’m trying to picture us trying to pull together and in person… kind of go back to normal, like we said, we’re gonna go back to normal in a year and a half time, when all the people that used to maybe attend those events and went back and worked in the office, well, now their work situation itself may never quite go back to what it was.
Christopher Barger: Right.
Carman Pirie: So, I guess as you think through all of that, are you folks really… I’m guessing you’re seeing this as a much more disruptive even than an interruptive one.
Christopher Barger: Absolutely. And I mean first of all, yes, absolutely. If you define it, interruptive is almost something you think you can survive or wait out. Things will get back to normal, it’s just an interruption in the way things are. We survive, we wait it out, and then we go back. Disruptive means that everything is different going forward. You have to rethink and reimagine the way you go about all of what you do. The important reason why I’ll argue or we argue that what’s happening right now is disruptive rather than interruptive is if you think about all the changes that we’re talking about, everything you just mentioned, Carman, from office space and work locations, to how training is done, to the event industry and how it’s done, there were changes afoot and things happening even before COVID.
Due to technology, due to behavioral changes as generations kind of switch in the industry, there weren’t as many people thinking, “Oh my gosh, I have to be at event X every year because that’s where it all happens.” That was a challenge the event industry was already having to try and think through. Workforce development training was happening from a perspective of what can we do with AR and VR? How do we use technologies to perhaps change how we do workforce development? How we train, how we teach people how to fix machines? The work environment that you just talked about, remote work has been something that people have been talking about and has been growing in popularity even before the pandemic started.
When you think of it in that context and realize that the pandemic has just been a force multiplier and accelerated the changes that were already taking place, now there is no going back. Whether there’s a vaccine or not, people have gotten used to working from home. Whether there is a vaccine or not, people have gotten used to doing business electronically and communicating the way we are now, on screen and on microphone rather than having to get together and shake hands. People are getting used to having a machine demonstrated to them virtually and using whether it’s VR or on screen or whatever else.
If we’re as an industry thinking, “Gosh, when there’s a vaccine, everything gets back to normal and we’re gonna go back to the 50,000 or 80,000 person event, and we’re gonna go back to in-person, instructor-led training, and it’s just gonna be the way it was.” I think that is a strategy for failure. Now, do I think that everything is going to change completely, and we’ll never go back to physical events and we’ll never go back to instructor training? No. That’s not true.
You talked at the beginning, Jeff, about sort of virtual fatigue, and I think that’s where this comes into play. We are tired of virtual interaction, because we crave physical interaction. There is still something valuable about getting together in person when it’s safe to do so. The smart play for all of us is going to be thinking not how long can we wait this out until it gets back to what we know. It’s when the future is a hybrid of what we know and what we don’t, are we gonna be threatened by that or are we gonna be proactive and try to figure out what does this look like? How do we shape it? How do we help the industry recognize what the new normal is and do business that way?
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Carman Pirie: I really like the idea in some weird way of being so optimistic what the new normal is is that we remove programming from when we get together as people. You know, like this notion of the networking is what’s really important, and if we can do so many of these other things virtually and we-
Jeff White: Potentially do them better.
Carman Pirie: Right. Can you combine doing those things virtually and then just making the in-person all about the networking, then.
Christopher Barger: Right.
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Christopher Barger: It expands… You know, to your exact point, if you’re thinking about it in terms of events, and I don’t want to focus only on those, but for the purposes of this, if you had a keynote session, or even in the biggest of shows, whether it’s an IMTS, or a FABTECH, or a Rapid + tct, or Formnext, or any of the rest of those, a keynote, the main speaker on each particular morning, you might get a few thousand people into an auditorium at most. Well, now we’re thinking about we could do this online if it’s promoted right and shared properly, we could get 10 times that many people to see the same content. It’s actually an opportunity from our perspective to go, “Okay, we can widen the audience for the content we have.”
And then to your exact point, when we have this capstone, when we have people getting together in person again, it can be about small group interaction. Now it can be about putting communities of people together in small groups who can help each other, whether it’s helping each other learn, help each other sell, help each other do business and grow, that happens at that small group level and you can facilitate a lot more of that in person now, and that’s what we all get out of events anyway.
It is perhaps optimistic. You know, it’s striking to think, “Oh my gosh, this is not a threat. This is an opportunity.” But it’s happening anyway, so rather than cower or be bothered by it, let’s be optimistic, let’s be proactive, and figure out how to turn this to the industry’s advantage and society’s advantage.
Jeff White: Man, I love… You just triggered something in my mind and a memory. I just love this idea that if we do get together in person again, maybe we tailor those interactions and the groups of people who are getting together so that they’re much more focused, can get a lot more done in a shorter period of time… I mean, I’ve been lucky to attend probably hundreds of conferences over my career and I still remember the very best one I ever went to was in 1998. I went to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and there were 35 people at this conference put on by the International Information Design group. It was just like people in this very small subset of design that were all very interested in human-computer interaction and wayfinding and things like that. Getting together at a really high-end university, and just having conversations for two days was the most I ever got out of a conference compared to these huge events with tens to hundreds of thousands of people, where you get to see some of your heroes and people you look up to-
Christopher Barger: Right.
Jeff White: You don’t get the same level of personal interaction.
Christopher Barger: You don’t, and I’ll step out of the manufacturing industry and go into the marketing industry. Whether you’re talking about the big event in Austin or the big event in Las Vegas, and I won’t bash them, but we all know which ones I’m talking about. What does everybody always say? The best part of those events are the hallway conversations. Well, if you can build an entire physical get together around facilitating those hallway conversations and use the tools that are available and the technology available to us to be the content element of an event, now you’re still providing value. Now you’re still giving people a reason to go to a physical event. And yet you’re not requiring it. It doesn’t become…
Let’s face it. There are a lot of businesses in the industry who have half of their sales plan for the year is what kind of leads can we develop at big show X. Well, now you don’t have to necessarily do that, so we did have to think about planning a little differently. We do have to think about metrics of success from an event standpoint. You know, if you used to look at… I’m defining success by whether we got 50,000 people in the door at a big convention center and that’s how we see whether we succeeded, to your point, Jeff, it might have been that only 10,000 of those 50,000 actually felt like they got something out of it, but we’re not paying attention to that because we’re looking at pure numbers.
Well, now if we are approaching it from the perspective of the experience, and is that 35-person get together in a small room for a couple of hours the most beneficial thing that I can give to Jeff and the thing that can incent him to show up in Pittsburgh? Well, now we’ve gotten… We’ve made an incredibly valuable experience for somebody. We’ve given them an incentive to continue engaging online even after this is over with. And we’ve continued to extend, and let’s face it, this is important. Extend the brand back to somebody that goes, “You know what? When I engage with these guys,” whoever it is, whether it’s SME or anyone else, “When I engage with them, I have a valuable experience. I get what I came there to do. I get something out of it. I can go back to my leadership and say there was a good reason I was there.” That’s what you’re trying to get to at this point.
Carman Pirie: I jotted down this notion as you were speaking, this how interesting it would be if the Boston Convention Center had no big rooms and it was just all hallways. You just show up so you can walk through a bunch of different hallways and see what you find.
Jeff White: It’s hard enough to find your way around the BCEC, to be honest.
Christopher Barger: I’m envisioning all the… You know, it’s Halloween season and I’ve got an eight-year-old, so we’ve been doing a lot of the apple farms and everything else, and I’m right now envisioning just a big, giant corn maze inside a convention center somewhere.
Carman Pirie: Exactly.
Jeff White: Designed to puzzle and amaze.
Carman Pirie: I think we all live in the same city, because we got billboards for those damn corn mazes around here.
Christopher Barger: Yes.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I’m wondering, are you seeing this conversation about how basically a pickle can’t be a cucumber again, the workforce is changing dramatically. COVID’s a dramatic accelerator. Are you seeing this conversation extend beyond events with your membership to them rethinking how they actually go to market, how they sell in a more holistic reinvention, given the current situation? Have you seen any kind of market shifts in their focus?
Christopher Barger: You know, there’s a shift in thinking. I can’t say that there’s a shift in having it figured it out yet. We’re all still, while I’ll maintain COVID didn’t cause this, we are all still almost only a few months into the realization that it’s happening this much faster and there is no going back. What we are seeing among our members is that recognition, that okay, this has gone on for long enough and there were other factors involved that there is no going back to use your phrase, which I’m going to blatantly steal the next time I’m talking internally. A pickle can’t be a cucumber again.
That recognition is there. People are beginning to recognize, and understand, and accept that the new normal is normal now. What we haven’t all as an industry or among our members really completely grabbed yet is what does that mean for sales cycles? What does that mean for planning? How do we do this? But the first step in getting there is recognizing that you need to get there, and I’m pleased to say that conversation is happening whether it’s on internal member chats, whether it’s conversations or content that our members are sharing with each other, I am absolutely seeing there’s not resistance, there’s not a what are you talking about, this is not right, we’re all gonna get back together again, you’ll see. That’s not happening.
In the scheme of things, even though it feels like we’ve been going through this forever, it’s really only been a few months, and that’s an incredibly short time to expect an industry or a group of people to be able to have figured out exactly how to respond to things. So, I’m confident we’ll get there. I’m confident that as an industry, as our members, as academic institutions, we’ll figure this out and we’ll figure it out soon. I just don’t know that anybody that I’ve seen really nail it down yet.
Carman Pirie: I’m encouraged by kind of what I hear in your voice there of at least folks leaning in to making the change, and understanding that they need to figure it out, versus we all know-
Jeff White: Fingers in your ears and it’s gonna all be fine.
Carman Pirie: There have been a few organizations out there, some more short-sighted manufacturers that have laid off their marketing department, or half of it, or whatever, and see it as just a storm to weather and tighten the belt and that’s that. But I don’t think that’s the norm. I think an awful lot of others know that this is something you need to aggressively work through and if the change is accelerating, you need to accelerate your work with it, not hit the pause button, you know?
Christopher Barger: That’s very right and I agree that while I understand why it happens, marketing and PR are not revenue centers, we’re cost centers. I get why that’s the first inclination. But the reality is you are going to, especially in a new environment, have to figure out how to sell yourself in a different way, how to reach an audience in a different way, and so what doesn’t make sense to cut back and it doesn’t make sense to eliminate a marketing or a communications department. What we need to do as practitioners of our profession within the industry, though, is just like in manufacturing, the skills that built you a strong career 20 years ago are not the skills that will build you a strong career today. It’s the same thing in marketing. We need to look at what are the skills gaps that we have in a post-COVID industry?
And not that I want to blame COVID, but just that’ll be probably what we call it. In a post-COVID industry, marketing is going to be different. What will the skills be that we need? What are the skills that we don’t have? Who do we need to go attract? How do we convince them that B2B marketing in a manufacturing environment is as compelling as going and working for a startup consumer tech company? Those are the kinds of things that as a marketing department within our industry, we gotta be thinking about, because just like the industry we serve, we have a skills gap, and we need to address it to be effective in the next version of the industry.
Carman Pirie: I love that. I don’t think… I haven’t heard anybody put it that succinctly and you know, because often that gap gets talked about through the lens of like a digital gap, or they’re laggard adopters of this, or that, therefore people need to get with religion. This is a different-
Jeff White: It is.
Carman Pirie: This is a different way of looking at it, though, to say this is… We’re gonna have to market and sell in a different world, and the skills required to do that are different than the ones that our organization fundamentally has today.
Jeff White: So, we gotta learn. We gotta get busy living.
Christopher Barger: Yeah. And you both made a… You’ve made a very good point, too, that it’s not just about the technologies that we will use. They’re a means to an end. When we talk about a new environment and get busy learning, it’s about mindset. Understanding what customers are, what behaviors are. What their expectations are. How we’re going to meet those now. Technology is great, but it is a means to that end, and if we make the mistake of just saying, “Oh, we need to go invest in this technology or bump up our spend in these areas,” that may or may not be as effective as really trying to understand the audience, which is what we’re all supposed to be doing in the first place, anyway.
Carman Pirie: Changing our processes and impacting people, and those are always the hard part. The tech’s the easy side of it, right?
Christopher Barger: Right.
Carman Pirie: It’s the stuff that this tech encounters, that is the bigger-
Jeff White: And enables you to do. Yeah.
Christopher Barger: Yeah. And we’ve all experienced it, whether in our current organizations or previous roles, where there’s the way it’s always been done, and somebody in the organization has the checklist of this is how you do this, this and this, and they start looking at that checklist and saying, “Well, now we’ve achieved it. Now we did what we’re supposed to do.” Those checklists are in a post-COVID world completely moot. They’re useless. We have to rethink the new checklist. And from a personal perspective, I hope we never go to a checklist. I hope we’re creative and individualized every time. But at bare minimum, we need to get the new toolkit, and the new checklist, and recognize that we used to do just isn’t gonna cut it now.
Jeff White: Man, I love that, and I think that ties a nice bow on this whole conversation.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, Chris. It’s been a pleasure to chat with you. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and expertise with The Kula Ring today. It’s been a pleasure.
Christopher Barger: Absolutely, gentlemen. Thank you very much and thank you to everybody who’s listening today.
Carman Pirie: All the best.
Jeff White: Thanks.
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Christopher BargerSenior Director of Communications
Christopher Barger joined SME in 2018 from Brain+Trust Partners, a consulting organization he helped establish. Barger has also served in communications leadership roles at Voce Communications, General Motors, and IBM. He has been recognized as a PR News Social Media Leader of the Year and is author of the Amazon marketing best-selling book “The Social Media Strategist” (McGraw-Hill, 2012). Barger is an active author, commentator, and thought leader. He has a master’s degree in public relations from Boston University and a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in political science from the University of Minnesota.