Featured Guest: Austin Harrison, Founder, Mental Health Marketing conference

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Today’s guest is Austin Harrison, founder of the Mental Health Marketing conference, which takes place next week in Nashville, Tennessee. He explains why he was inspired to bring together the worlds of consumer and healthcare marketing, describes how he has used both word of mouth and search engine optimization (SEO) to promote the conference and reveals a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put on this type of event. And in the closing segment, Jordan Young and Chip Henslee from Foundations Events stop by to share their tips for getting the most out of your experience as a conference attendee or exhibitor.

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Podcast Transcript: David Condos with Austin Harrison

David Condos: Hey guys, welcome to this episode of Recovery Unscripted, I’m David Condos, and this podcast is powered by Foundations Recovery Network. Today’s guest is Austin Harrison, founder of the Mental Health Marketing conference which takes place next week here in Nashville. He explains why he was inspired to bring together the worlds of consumer and clinical marketing and reveals a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put on this type of event. In the closing segment, Jordan and Chip from Foundations Events stop by to share their tips for getting the most out of your experience as a conference attendee or exhibitor. But first, here’s Austin. Hi, I’m here with Austin Harrison. Thank you for being with us today, Austin.

Austin: Thank you so much for having me. This is a cool little room you have here.

David: Yes, absolutely. Welcome to our official podcast studio. Let’s have you tell us a little bit about your personal story and how you became interested in the whole marketing mental health world.

Austin: I got very interested in college. Several people close to me have dealt with mental illness and so you have [laughs] a crash course I guess about learning about it when someone close to you is starting to deal with a mental health issue. I went from knowing absolutely nothing to trying to learn as much as I can almost overnight. I really got passionate about understanding, really for me being a marketer, how those people are marketed to by walking through the treatment process with a friend. It was really eye-opening for me just because I had no idea that there was so much confusion, so much stigma around the entire issue and so that’s where a lot of my passion started.

I ended up chasing a girl to Nashville, had a similar instance where she had a mental health issue. It was back to back, and I didn’t realize how prevalent it was and how big of an issue it was and so I’ve really felt it was a calling where I was where I was like right I’m supposed to do something with this I’m supposed to use these experiences and try to help fight against the stigma, the misunderstanding there is around mental health.

Through my day job in an animation studio and getting to work with lots of marketers, I saw that there was lots of really cool things being done in consumer marketing and wanted to try to bring some of those stories, some of those techniques to the mental health marketing sector the behavioral marketing sectors. Yes, that’s a little bit about me.

David: Yes, and so you mentioned your day job which doesn’t really have anything to do with this.

Austin: No, nothing at all.

David: Could you describe just real quick what you do at Identity Visuals?

Austin: Yes, so I am the relationship director for an animation studio called Identity Visuals or IV, we work with clients like Amazon and Reddit and CBS and JJ Abrams to do anything from ad work to title sequences to anything and so my job is really agency liaison. I travel around the country and I meet with ad agencies and show them work and try to partner with them. A part of that has been working with mental health organizations like NAMI, we’ve worked with the Center for State Governments to do some mental health training and explanation got to work with just a lot of different health care companies and got a lot of education on what that market is like.

David: That’s cool, you’ve been able to get some overlap there.

Austin: Yes, combining the two worlds was a really cool experience.

David: You had this history with these girls that you were dating and seeing it through their eyes and their journey firsthand. So then, what motivated you to have the idea to start a conference to help marketers in the mental health field?

Austin: Yes, it was definitely a long [laughs] process. I had talked about it over coffee and over lunch with a lot of different people about bringing consumer marketers in to talk to people that really have to deal with a lot of extra layers of issues like HIPAA compliance and things like that but helping them take lessons from the really big players in the marketing space, the consumer brands and people that are on TV all the time. But, taking some of the technology behind that and how we reach people when they’re looking to buy a product or taking that idea and taking to people that might be looking for treatment and how to get the best option in front of them at the right time.

That was the dream. Obviously, I was super unknowledgeable at the time of doing that because there are so many things with HIPAA compliance about re-targeting and things that you can’t do but it’s such a scary landscape to try to start innovating in because of the regulations that having experts at the top of their fields and ad agencies at other behavioral health companies to come in and talk about what’s worked for them and what’s been really successful for them.

I just thought that there could be an exponential growth there because when you reach a marketer, if you can help them market just a little bit better that could affect 100’s of people looking for treatment. I will say, there’s a few people that I would not have started the conference without Lipscomb really helped us out by donating the space Foundation’s Recovery Network which should be pretty familiar helped us out by helping us find some great speakers and being sponsors. Then FoxFuel creative was one of our first big agencies that came and spoke so.

David: You mentioned Lipscomb University and in looking at your website it seems like they play a big role beyond just hosting it, could you tell us a little bit about your relationship with them?

Austin: We got introduced to them quite early on in the process and not only were they interested in hosting it but they really wanted their staff and their students that were in their behavioral health programs to come and learn about how to market their services. We actually have a speaker this year that’s the head of their suicide prevention organization at Lipscomb which I’m really excited about her in another practitioner going to talk about the mindset of someone looking for treatment. Lipscomb is just been amazing from everything from the advice to really setting everything up and running everything for us.

David: As you’re putting all of this together, what are some of the steps that you took to create a mental health marketing conference and then launch it last year?

Austin: Yes, last year was the first conference. The first few steps were asked as many people for help as possible. I went to so many different coffee meetings just to be like “Hey, I know you started this conference can you give me some advice?” Also getting speakers and knowing that there are definitely people that want to speak [laughs] was really important for pulling the trigger.

Then just a lot of building partnerships with places like center stone which is a huge mental health organization to just be like “Hey, I don’t know that many people in my target market I need help.” So working together with partnerships and sponsorship’s to help get the word out as fast as possible.

David: So since you didn’t know a lot about the target market, what did you land on as the mission? As you were learning about it, what need did you feel like this conference was going to fill in that market?

Austin: The mission statement has always been directing individuals to treatment through modern marketing but I definitely learned a lot about the target market through the process and there are several points, one of the first ones was, how do you get started if you’re a single practitioner or a very small company, you’re either the founder or maybe the only marketing person. Where do you invest your time and budget? Because it’s a very limited resource on both so what are the best ways to jump start that? We had a really great topic on this year, last year which, one of the first places people are going to look is online for help so that’s really one of the main things that we found out about the target market is, first how to start.

The second one is, how to innovate with limitations like HIPAA how do we avoid the practices that would be violating that but also make it so we can reach people where they really need help? At the time they really need help and how do we follow that? Some I’m really excited to have Google speaking this year talking about ad words and especially combined with a SEO topic that we’re already having can be really powerful.

David: Like you said, you put on the conference last year. What are some things that you learned from that experience putting on the conference being in the trenches that helped you improve the event for this year?

Austin: Yes, so last year, I got over-excited and just wanted to get as many speakers that I thought would be helpful if possible I had around 20 speakers maybe a little more than that and so for a conference [laughs] that only has 140 people, key notes were great but breakout sessions that had three different breakout sessions, one would have 100 people in it and then one would have 20 people in it. Then one would have five people in it [laughs]. Another thing that people said was, “I came to hear two of your speakers, and they spoke at the same time.” I feel that’s always the case when I go to a conference.

Learned my lesson from last year, this year is very linear it’s all in the main stage but there’s just different time lengths of speaker. As far as what I learned, any person who has ever run a conference will learn that you will stress about tickets no matter what, we sold 80% of our tickets in the last two weeks last year which just blows my mind. Yes, you don’t stress if you’re starting a conference, well yes you’re going to be stressed no matter what but really just focus on getting the word out as many different ways as possible and trust the system to work.

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David: What are some ways that you’ve gotten the word out or seen success with that?

Austin: Yes, as I mentioned before partnerships is probably the number one way and that drives word of mouth as well, for instance will reach out to a mental health treatment center or a paper all treatment center and want to be like “Hey, we would love for you to come and we’d love for you to tell as many people as possible about this.” Through just that we’ve gotten people from California and Ohio and New York and I’m like, how did you hear about that? That’s one way, second way is just ads. We’ve done Facebook and LinkedIn ads and both of those at least had people call or e-mail me like, “Hey, I want to learn more about this.” We used a video to do that. The third way is SEO. SEO is so important. I’m extremely blessed to say that if you Google mental health marketing conference where the first nine entries I think, it also helps to be in blue waters.

There’s a lot of conferences in health care that talk about marketing but there’s few that are very specifically only marketing. Bringing in speakers from other parts of the country and then encouraging them to reach out to their network is also a really great way to do that. We have a speaker coming from New York, he’s already said, “I’m reaching out to the local mental health and behavioral health community in New York.” Just that, you can’t put a price tag on that, that’s a big thing.

David: Yes absolutely. The conference is here in Nashville. Could you say something about why you feel Nashville is kind of the right place at the right time for hosting this type of event?

Austin: Yes, Nashville just a really special place, it’s obviously known for its music and its creativity which I think is great for the conference. Just obviously marketing needs to be creative but I think even more important is it really is a center for healthcare and reaching those people that are already here. Then having Nashville being looked at as a beacon for mental health education and de-stigmatization.

I think it’s just really important. It’s just really well situated to have a big impact in that space from the arts that are done here. I think there’s a lot of untapped resources here to get the word out.

David: As we’ve mentioned 2017 conference is coming up next week, what are you excited about offering attendees at this year’s event?

Austin: The speaker list. It was great last year but this year I feel like we’ve been blessed in a lot of different ways to have speakers that reached out to us where like, “Hey we want to be a part of this.” I’ve already mentioned the guy from New York, Ready Set Rocket, he’s created a website called Intrusive Thoughts. I highly recommend checking that out.

David: What’s his name?

Austin: His name is Aaron Harvey. He’s going to be talking about his personal experience and then also this experience of creating intrusive thoughts which centers around OCD and then he is also going to be talking about just marketing strategy, a couple of things he’s learned along the way. Really excited for that. Google as I’ve already mentioned. We have two people coming and talking about ad words specifically for healthcare so they understand HIPAA. They understand what you can and can’t do.

That’ll be a really fantastic session. Also really excited to have Lee Pepper from FRN, Foundations Recovery Network, coming back. Last year he spoke on the experience he’s had as being the CMO for Foundations. I’m really excited for him to just talk and expand upon that.

David: A similar question, what would you say that you hope conference attendees take away from Mental Health Marketing conference?

Austin: The minimum thing that I hope they leave with is one new idea or strategy that they can implement in the next year. In most cases these people are overworked and under-budgeted and that’s not anyone’s fault it’s the industry. If they can have one key thing that they can take away and work on that would be amazing.

My goal and my hope is that they have 20 things to take away and work on but the minimum for what I would say is a success and the reason they come is to get one new idea that will help you reach someone that you never would have reached to otherwise. If that happens, then it will be a success.

David: Like we said, the conference is coming up really soon, so pretty soon, you’ll be I imagine neck deep in all kinds of things. Could you tell us just a little bit about some of the kind of behind the scenes, logistical tasks, challenges that you face in putting on an event like this?

Austin: Yes, there’s tons of things that you don’t think about six months before that the last month before. “Where am I getting coffee? Where am I getting the booklets? Where am I getting all that?” The first year that was just a nightmare. That’s where talking to those friends that have experience in creating conferences is really helpful. I highly recommend doing that, giving your speakers hard deadlines on when to get their session topics in. In is really important because you have to get the booklets printed ahead of time and if it doesn’t have a session description in there no one will understand or know why go.

Also the earlier you get your session descriptions online the easier it is for people that are considering coming to see what the actual sessions will be about. Video tape everything, I just did photography of my first year, I’ve regretted that every step of the way.

David: Because then for the subsequent year, you would be able to compile a little montage for your promotion.

Austin: It adds value for the people that take the time to come speak, it’s super helpful for them to be able to take this put it on their website and show that they’re a talented speaker, ensure that they’re passionate about certain issues. I would definitely say videotape all the sessions.

David: What are you going to be doing next week? Do you get to see any sessions or you’re just running around?

Austin: Yes, this year I’m hopefully going to be actually in the sessions little bit more. I generally try to introduce as many speakers I can mostly because I’ve had personal relationships with these people for the last few months that we’ve been talking. Just giving a little bit of a preview of what’s coming is usually something I love to do but after that I can chill out a little bit just actually enjoy the session. Also just being around for anyone who wants to talk about ideas or connections.

I’m hoping to be as available as possible to take people’s concerns and questions. Also I just wanted to give your listeners a discount code for 50% off the tickets. The tickets are pretty inexpensive, they’re at $75 for a two-day conference but we really just don’t want costs to be an issue for anyone. If you use the code “podcast” at checkout, you’ll get 50% off your ticket. Tickets are available at MHmarketing.org.

David: All right, thank you so much for offering that. That’s awesome. I would just wrap up with this last question. This is obviously a big passion of yours and really you could be doing anything with your free time voluntary in number of areas. Why is educating and bringing people together in the mental health field important to you?

Austin: Something that’s really important for anyone looking to volunteer is to really play to your strengths. If you really want have an impact taking what you’re already an expert in and trying to really pour your passion in to doing something helpful for other people through that, is going to be the most impact that you can have. For me, starting a conference was not what I originally intended. Really, my main skills are going to main skills are is bringing people together and connecting them and building relationships.

That translates very well into the actual conference part of it, maybe not. The minutiae of planning it but it was a great outpouring and a great way for me to help connect people that I thought should know each other. That’s why I jumped in. I highly recommend looking at what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about trying to combine those in some way.

David: If you’re passionate about mental health marketing, then come to Lipscomb University next week.

Austin: Definitely, I’d love to meet anyone and talk about what you’re passionate about and see if there’s any overlap.

David: Thank you for being with us today Austin.

Austin: Thank you so much for having me, it was a blast.

David: Thanks again to Austin for being with us today, now I’m happy to welcome Jordan Young and Chip Hensley from the Foundations Events team which puts on four great conferences for the behavioral health industry each year. As you may remember, they joined us a couple months ago to preview their summer conference Innovations in Behavioral Healthcare, and they’ll be back later this summer to preview their fall conference Moments of Change.

Today we’re going to do something a bit different since many of you may be heading out to conferences over the next few months as an attendee, sponsor or exhibitor, Jordan and Chip have been kind enough to join us today and share some of their conference tips, best practices for getting the most out of your experience. Welcome Jordan and Chip.

Jordan: Thanks David.

Chip: Thanks David, we’re happy to be here today.

David: All right, why don’t you dive right into it and tell us why we’re here.

Jordan: We are here to talk a little bit about conferences and not only do we help design and put on these conferences but we attend a lot of conferences. Over that experience, we feel as though we’ve developed a foolproof system to help you get the most from your investment of time and money in going to a conference. We can help you do that with a couple of tips that we try to always take advantage of before, during and after a conference.

Really the experience of the conference can start long before when you’re setting up meetings with people on site that you know will be in town, go ahead and reach out to those people say hey we’re both going to be in West Palm at the same time. Or hey we’re both going to be up in Nashville, be sure and stop by the booth I think that we could have a lot to talk about. Don’t think of the conference as just your time on site.

To that point when you are on site there are some things that we think people should be doing and some things that we feel are not in their best benefit to be doing. We just want to run through some of those utilizing your time when you are on site, that goes from the moment you step foot on the property, the welcome reception exhibitor set up– actually the exhibitor set up is a place where I had one of my most meaningful conversations ever. Chip and I when we go to conferences that’s one of our favorite places to connect with people because you don’t have as much of a crowd there, you don’t fight with an audience to have a conversation.

You’re on site to meet these people and network with these people. You may not have the opportunity to meet any other time that year or perhaps ever. It’s very important that you take the time and really be present in the moment, in the room, in the exhibit hall, in the session. Put down your phone and have deep and meaningful conversations with people and that’s going to benefit you long after the conference.

Chip: Yes, another tip that we want to throw out there for people is when you’re having a conversation with someone have a conversation, make it a two-way conversation. A lot of times when people go to conferences, you have your elevator pitch. You have it planned and you worked on it and it’s good. It’s tight. That elevator pitch may not be applicable to everyone. Find out about the people that you’re speaking with. Find out what they do. Where they’re from. If you find a little bit about someone that makes you realize your sales pitch is not applicable to them, spare them. You can develop a friend. You can develop a friendship that may lead to more business elsewhere. Don’t plan out or limit yourself to only a certain set of people to talk to. Realize that you’re not always being watched but you’re always a representative of that company.

If you want to put your best foot forward, I would recommend doing so from the time you get to the airport on departure till the time you get back home. Especially if you are an exhibitor or sponsor, you are competing with a lot of other organizations for that audience’s attention. How are you going to make yourself stand out from the crowd? Now you need to plan that out without a doubt.

The most heavily attended breakout session that we have ever had in the 13 conferences that I’ve been a part of, was one where they gave away a trip but you could only win that trip if you were in their breakout session. The room was full. We had to open the door. There were people standing out in the hallway. It may have been because it was great session but I think also the number of the people that were there where there for that trip give away. Doing things like that trying to incentive people to come to your booth.

When you have such a big group of exhibitors competing for people’s attention, you got to do something.

Jordan: Your kind of looking at it from the perspective of the other people of the conference so they may not know who you are. As they are walking around and they see all these people, when they see you what are they going to see? Why are they want to come over?

Chip: Absolutely. We have talk about what to do before the conference, what they are doing but a really important aspect is your follow up after. You can think of a conference as a growing season in farming where before the conference your planting the seeds. At the conference you are really tending those crops and you are developing those relationship. Well, after the conference your trying to do the harvest. Where you see what all that work you’ve put in before and during whether that, how that comes back to you in terms of a business relationship or offer a relationship and a lot of that really is produced after the conference. Have a good system in place to and make sure that your recording the notes because you will meet a lot of people on site. Just to make sure that your following up in a reasonable amount of time.

It’s an old southern proper society thing that the faster you write a thank you note, the less you have to say because people still remember exactly what happened. If you wait for three weeks after you contact somebody, you might have to really give your whole pitch again. So instead just try on the plane ride home reach out as soon as your back in the office. Start reaching out to those people and really harvest all those leads.

Jordan: Just some final words on conferences in general as we prepare for Moments of Change now. Make sure that you are as prepared as you can be that your putting your best foot forward because these conferences while there are more and more of them each and every year. The really special ones you want to make sure that you’re there. You’re present. You do your best to get a return on investment. The best return of investment you came from the conference.

David: All right. Thank you for being with us today, guys.

Chip: Thank you David.

David: This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today we have heard from Austin Harrison, founder of the Mental Health Marketing conference. For more of about this event, visit mhmarketing.org. Thank you for listening. Please take a second to leave us a review on apple podcast or your favorite podcast app. We’d love to hear what you think.

See you next time.