Under the radar, under the cover of the financial crisis, at the very bottom of the stock market, a one-page memo circulated inside the Bloomberg building in midtown Manhattan.
March 2009: The idea to bring a new style and thought process to "live" conferences was born. Bloomberg LINK would be different than other business summits that are held in convention centers and hotel ballrooms. They would start by choosing venues that are unique.
Bloomberg LINK, which is enjoying its fourth anniversary, launched its first live summit in November 2009 in Washington, DC. Since then, it has hosted many conferences in new and different venues. That simple step helped build the Bloomberg LINK brand.
Another differentiator has been the speed and efficiency of the summits. They take place in one day, sometimes two, with one panel or interview after another, with the only breaks being lunch. What's nice about that it gives attendees the freedom to step in and out of the conversations, network with one another, take a break in "an open kitchen setting, like the one we have in the Bloomberg building," said Robert Bierman, the Head of Bloomberg LINK in a phone interview.
Having attended dozens of LINK summits the past three years, this author, who has lived in Manhattan since 1993, can attest to the venues being different than other conferences, as I have visited new and old buildings I didn't know previously existed. Well-known venues, such as MOMA and St. Bart's Church, become different places, too, with a different air and feel in a Bloomberg LINK setting.
The efficiency of the events is another hallmark; so is gaining access to high-level industry thought leaders, from KKR's Henry Kravis to NYC SDDOJ Prosecutor Preet Bharara.
In the fall of 2009, when Bloomberg LP bought Businessweek to help the LINK brand accelerate its growth, it also acquired Businessweek's "Green" summit held in Shanghai. "The well attended, 500-person summit, was repeated last year in China," Robert Bierman stated.
Raising the Summit Bar with the Tentpole
This week in Chicago, Bloomberg will host its inaugural CEO conference, The Year Ahead: 2014.
It's part of Bloomberg's new global media franchise--The Year Ahead--which aims to arm CEOs and their leadership teams with forward-looking insights to help them shape their business. The two-day summit will become one of the brand's new tentpole conferences, which will likely be hosted in different cities each year.
The Year Ahead will be held at the Art Institute of Chicago (November 20-21). Bloomberg LINK sees the need for this summit: "Nearly every industry is somehow undergoing major transformation," said Bierman.
Before that conference goes live with the likes of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute, HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Michael Chertoff of the Chertoff Group, Henry R. Kravis of KKR & Co., a couple of U.S. senators and many other luminaries, Robert Bierman discussed on how far Bloomberg LINK has come in a short period of time.
"Bloomberg LINK was formed in 2009 during height of the financial crisis. We wanted to be producer of high content, with high editorial standards connected to Bloomberg News and Television. We felt the solid financial conference market was ripe for disruption. From that point, we built out the international base with 36 different conferences in 14 countries," Bierman said.
During many of those summits held in New York City, the often cheerful and impressible producer changes his demeanor. He becomes quiet, laser-like in focus. He does so to ensure that the conference keeps to the strict timeline of sessions and panel discussions, that guest speakers and Bloomberg journalists are comfortable and stay on their mark for lively and insightful discussions, and that the technical production, which is recorded, runs smoothly.
"The past couple of years, we are finding areas, communities we best serve," Bierman began to explain. "Technology is a strong category for us. We have a strong focus in the tech space in New York and United Kingdom, which become must attend calendar events for CIOs and CFOs each year."
On the Chicago summit, he said, "We have an industry focus on the Next Big Thing"--the name for one of their new 2013 conferences. "We take advantage of the current infrastructure in place at Bloomberg, where we are able to integrate media platforms, broadcast, news, online, to make sure the summits are bigger than other conference gatherings. We're always testing and trying."
That includes trying out new cities and new conference categories. For instance, when Bloomberg LINK launched its first annual Sports Business Summit in 2012, that category was born on a napkin.
"The one line pitch was put into an email that read, 'Outside of money, sports is our customers' second favorite thing,'" Bierman said. "We realized when people become successful they buy a team, such as real estate moguls."
The Launch of a New Live Conference
"Bloomberg LINK started with an internal memo within Bloomberg in March 2009. We had a few ideas of what the live conference might become. The process took a few months. We devised a plan, questioned every decision that goes into a conference, from the job to produce it to the experience for speakers and attendees," Robert Bierman said. "With our background in TV, magazines, digital media we began to rethink how this product should work. In November of that year, we held our first summit in DC. We then launched an Alternative Fuels Summit the following month in Los Angeles."
Bloomberg LINK hosted that summit in LA for a reason: They wanted to try it out, get some feedback, before holding their first summit in New York City, which is the company's home turf.
This month, Bloomberg Fuel Choices Summit was held in Tel Aviv, Israel, with German and Belgium industry experts, speakers, and international investors looking at alternative fuels options, or what Bierman said were, "Financial options with policy framework. The Fuel Choices Summit has been a collaborative one, where we often test a new platform in an outside market before bringing it home, such as the municipal bond conference (the first one was held in San Francisco), hedge fund conference, and the Markets 50 summit."
What differentiates Bloomberg LINK from competition is style. "We wanted to achieve the experience of what a person would expect to have back at the office, with a central kitchen to network," he said, noting, "For us, we are the only company that has all of the assets to pull off the live conferences around the world, run as complete multi-media events under one roof. No other company offers that or are able to mobilize like we do."
He emphasized: "The editorial quality is key, both to the speakers and the participants. You won't hear that anywhere else. There is no preamble from the journalist or that sort of thing, and there is no pay-to-play. They're not at the same level as we are."
Jason Kelly, a journalist who has been with Bloomberg News since 2002, came over this year to become Bloomberg LINK's Managing Editor. Kelly is the author of The New Tycoons: Inside the Trillion Dollar Private Equity Industry that Owns Everything. He oversees content for the firm's global conferences.
"Bloomberg LINK had the idea, the notion to bring a journalist to work on the content pieces as news driven, effectively Bloomberg journalism live on stage," Jason Kelly said. "My focus has been on context, as moderator, in a capacity to oversee resources, while have a focus on business, such as the Dealmakers Summit. It's a great opportunity to work in Bloomberg, a move within the organization that feels like a startup within the broader empire."
Kelly echoed many of the sentiments of Mr. Bierman, saying, "Our standing is to focus on new things, talk every day, how it could be new, special with the audience and the people on stage. We have a tech affinity towards alternative investment, such as the show Money Moves. We were in London 3 weeks ago... as a media company we wanted to increase our focus on business and CEOs, which became the impetus for the Chicago summit."
The news-driven format has worked well for Bloomberg LINK. But its real power might be found in the archival footage from its conferences, held in Singapore, Peru, the Gulf States, Europe, and all over North America. The opportunity to pull big data one day and capture a timeline of geopolitical and business events would be an intriguing pursuit in terms of metadata graphs and other insights.
After four years, Bloomberg LINK has become as much a window into the past as an inquiry in present day events at its different summits.
LINK has captured state officials, policymakers, influential public and banking figures to "put them on record at that moment of time, such as the Minister of Finance on record in Japan," Bierman pointed out. "The broader LINK team sits at the nexus to work with lots of different groups, from our core Terminal, with a geopolitical scope, such as the Doha conference, or our energy summits in Europe and Texas. There is an international scale to our conferences."
And a different style, too.