Organizers, attendees optimistic about Hilton Head lecture series despite low turnout

tbarton@islandpacket.comNovember 2, 2013 

Despite fewer-than-expected ticket sales, organizers and attendees of a three-day lecture and panel series last month on Hilton Head Island praised the inaugural effort.

But better marketing would attract more and younger participants, they concede.

About 200 to 225 people attended the Hilton Head Island Institute's ImagiNATION event Oct. 24-26 at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, according to institute executive director Jack Alderman. That's fewer than the 300 people organizers were expecting and much lower than the 500 to 1,000 attendance initially envisioned.

Organizers moved the event from the Coastal Discovery Museum to the arts center when it became apparent their earliest aspirations would not be met. Each day's events were also shortened from a full to a half-day.

"We were happy with that in year one, but we want it to grow and attract many more people in coming years," Alderman wrote in an email to The Island Packet. Attempts to reach him by telephone were unsuccessful.

The lecture and panel series aimed to raise the island's profile as a hub for intellectual thought and new ideas.

Each day of the ImagiNATION series focused on a specific topic, such as education, technology and creativity. Speakers included former Facebook marketing head Randi Zuckerberg, sister of company founder Mark Zuckerberg; education expert Tony Wagner; William Paul Young, who wrote the spiritual novel "The Shack"; and motivational speaker and former NFL quarterback Tom Flick.

Conspicuously absent from the audience, though, were young professionals.

"We want to draw more out-of-town folks and more young folks over time, and we'll be working on ways to spread the word more effectively to those people," Alderman said.

He said the institute is surveying all attendees, and early responses are "overwhelmingly positive."

Attendee Bill Miles, president and CEO of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, said he was impressed with the speakers and topics. He said he is optimistic about the event's future.

"Certainly, with the quality and caliber of the speakers, it would have been nice to have had better attendance," he said. "But if you look at the cornerstone events for the island, like the RBC Heritage, the Concours (d'Elegance) and the International Piano Competition, they have one thing in common -- and that is, it took time to develop them into the signature series they've become.

"It's a one-small-step-at-a-time process that I see leading to great things in years to come for the institute and Hilton Head Island."

Attendee Kumar Viswanathan, president and CEO of Asset Management Associates Inc. on Hilton Head, agreed.

"I hope this event takes hold and more people start attending -- and I think it will. I think the momentum will grow," he said. "I think the advertising and marketing needs to take better advantage of social media to get more young people to participate, but the word will get out."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

Related content: Randi Zuckerberg shares thoughts on social networking at Hilton Head lecture series: Oct. 25, 2013

Hilton Head Institute's ImagiNATION series moves venues: Oct. 8, 2013

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