MeetingsNet’s Changemakers list recognizes outstanding meeting professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find the full 2023 Changemakers list here.
Director of Digital Strategy
For demonstrating the full potential of an event technologist to deliver solutions that benefit meeting hosts as well as their attendees
A self-described “theater kid” who started acting in middle school and worked in New York’s off-Broadway scene for several years, Justin Maddox landed at Memphis-based LEO Events in 2015. But over his first two years there, Maddox became interested in the ways that ever-advancing technology could improve both the planning process and the event experience itself.
After two more years where he balanced his event-production duties with strategizing what a digital-solutions department would look like and its short- and long-term goals, Maddox was named director of digital strategy at LEO in December 2019—exactly three months before the Covid pandemic shifted his department’s role towards online-event production.
“We had to learn how to do television rather than in-person events, and fast,” he says. “The proprietary software our three-person team was previously building for event registration and app components was transformed, in just six weeks, to a web-based portal to send videos back and forth and professionally produce them.”
By mid-2021, Maddox and his team—which includes a full-time code programmer—were once again focused mainly on building customizable event-app components to meet the needs of each event client. Building off Eventfinity’s hybrid-event software, the team developed a process to create bespoke apps that do far more than streamline registration, housing, and program information for each attendee; they also implement gamification, allow other engagement with attendees beyond polls and survey, and more. Just one example: there’s the ability for attendees to request songs that will be played during general-session interludes. Each app component is also built to conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines for a better experience for all users.
On the flip side, Maddox has led his team in building a staff-only area of each event app that features production and rehearsal schedules, back-of-the-house layouts, crew contact lists, and more. “If you’re already making an investment in an event app, there’s a huge advantage to creating the staff side of it too,” Maddox says. “It’s fairly easy to do, actually.”
For a recent annual meeting for a huge retailer, more than 300 LEO employees and contractors had access to the staff portal on the back end of the event app. “They’re all able to email or text one another directly; we post updated rehearsal schedules and use push notifications for when other items change,” says Maddox. “We can keep different groups up to date if the creative team or technical team is running a bit behind. And there are no more paper spreadsheets because we make them PDFs and upload them once, instead of emailing them out to a dozen different teams a dozen times. We can even do things like build an internal social wall for backstage action photos or other interesting moments in our work.”
To do all of this, “we basically took a tool we already had and leveraged it to the hilt,” says Maddox.
For other organizations that might be apprehensive about taking such a long technological leap, Maddox advises that “you just have to lean into it. Tech is not going away; the more you get comfortable with it, the easier everybody’s life is going to be, including your own.” Unless an organization is willing to pay for outside expertise, “you need to identify internal people who are inclined towards this stuff and let them take it on—and it is changing all the time, so their learning has to continue every single week.”
Further, it’s not just coding expertise that organizations will need for an event-technology initiative to succeed. “Data analysis is really important too,” Maddox says. “Maybe your people learn how to use artificial intelligence for that, because it can help you build attendee personas, create marketing messages, connect attendees,” and handle other app-related elements “in a fraction of the time.”