A few short months ago, no one would have predicted large scale event cancellations were even a possibility. Like the sun is sure to rise, and the seasons change, major events returned each and every year like clockwork. As the world was turned upside-down, events large and small began scrambling to make a decisions on how to navigate these uncharted waters. Each event has to decide is which avenue is best: postponement, cancellation (resume in 2021) or go virtual.
Going virtual can seem like a large task, and many event organizers are not prepared to quickly make this shift. You may not have the equipment, the knowledge or the appropriate staffing. So it may seem like the most practical option is to cancel or postpone your event and cross your fingers the pandemic will be over by then.
Luckily, technology has made going virtual easier and cost-effective and there are numerous companies that specialize in this very thing.
There’s always room to make the best out of a bad situation if it’s what’s best for your event. Before you decide, here are six perks to going virtual:
1. Your potential audience increases
With in-person events, companies have to weigh the cost of going versus the possible return on investment. For smaller companies and ones with little to no travel budgets, going to in-person events just isn’t possible.
A virtual event opens up all new possibilities and, if done right, could yield even happier event participants as they make new connections they might have missed at an in-person event.
As some associations and smaller companies are postponing or canceling their events, others are diving right into experimentation. IBM moved its annual Think Event to a virtual format – and it paid off: Think Digital drew 90,000 attendees – four times their largest in-person event.
Adobe is another large company embracing change as they turned their annual summit from in-person to digital in just 3 weeks by pre-recording all of their keynotes and product demonstrations. Despite the event not being live, Adobe’s virtual experience drew 17,000 people when it opened and 450,000 website visits in the next coming days. In contrast, their in-person summit drew 20,000 attendees.
2. Potential increase in earned media coverage
As media budgets and resources are shrinking, many media organizations can’t afford to send staff to an in-person event. Therefore, an in-person event with no online presence severely limits the scope of potential publications covering your event.
And, while you may be thinking the media doesn’t want to cover anything outside of COVID-19, there are journalists looking for other stories. According to the 2020 Cision State of the Media Report, journalists are realistic about COVID-19 fatigue setting in with one journalist quoted saying they’d love to see more local stories not about COVID. Other journalists are focusing on COVID but are looking for human interest angles.
Finding a way to relate your virtual event to COVID in a tactful way, or highlighting ways your organization is helping cope with the pandemic, could mean more media coverage than an in-person event in ordinary times.
3. Content can be reused, recycled and tracked
For some organizations hosting virtual events, the content that comes out of their event is what dictates their content calendar for an entire year. A lot of information comes out of events and it is a lot to digest at one time. Repurposing material that comes out of keynotes and panels into different formats is a great way to increase longevity and gives audiences different ways to consume content. Converting video talks into blogs, white papers and eBooks quickly creates content for different parts of the buyer journey.
And of course, having content online has a whole new set of perks when it comes to tracking. In-person events do provide ways to see which attendees went to certain talks or sessions, but there’s no way to track their engagement or what really resonated with each attendee. With virtual events, you can have content displayed alongside keynotes, track engagement and create audience segments for demand generation. This allows for meaningful engagement even after the event is over and creates cohesion between event marketing and digital marketing.
4. Marketing can focus on the big picture
In-person events inherently create silos within organizations. Since there is so much to coordinate, the team that manages an event is so focused on the event itself (signage, logistics, travel arrangements, budgets, etc.) that they often forget to think about the big picture to create a multi-channel experience for their audience. They are so focused on the short-term deadlines, that they lose sight of longer-term strategies.
Since virtual events don’t have the physical needs that in-person events do, it allows event marketing to step back and think about how to work with the organization as a whole to create long-term interest and conversions. This naturally creates a cohesive experience that many CMOs are struggling to achieve.
5. Speaker (or Speakers’) reach increases
Speaking in-person creates an engaging experience since there is an immediate feedback loop. The speaker may tell a joke, which gets immediate feedback from the audience, which then feeds the speaker and shapes their tone, which then creates an even better experience for the audience. This give and take creates captivating experiences that video talks may lack.
While speaking in-person may be more fun for the speaker and the audience, a speaker’s main goal is usually to provide thought leadership or promote brand awareness to as many people as possible. However, physical events inherently have a maximum capacity. Virtual events remove space limitations and costs to attend, meaning that a compelling speaker can draw an almost limitless audience. For example, Digiday featured an article on how the New York Times is adapting its live event plans in the wake of COVID-19. Recently, NYT Well’s founding editor Tara Parker-Pope held a talk about the anxiety that teens are experiencing during the pandemic. The digital talk had 7,000 total viewers compared to 250 people at the Times’ last in-person live event on March 6.
6. Sponsor (or Sponsors’) Reach and Tracking
Attracting sponsors is a big revenue driver for most events. The best way to attract sponsors is creating memorable experiences that generate buzz and drive brand awareness. However, in order to keep sponsors coming back in the long term, showing ROI is of utmost importance.
While sponsoring a device charging lounge at an in-person event is a great way to get exposure, getting hard stats for ROI of that experience is hard to calculate. There’s no way to track the digital footprint of the event participants in that lounge after the event. With a virtual event, however, users can be tracked from event sponsorship appearance to conversion.
Sponsorships for virtual events do come with their challenges as well. Currently, sponsorships for virtual events aren’t translating to the same revenue. Some event organizers are citing sponsorship fees are one-quarter to half of what they see for in-person events.
While this may be of concern, the amount saved on physical event costs could offset that lower revenue, and long-term, virtual sponsorship costs will rise as sponsors start to see the extensive tracking data and proven ROI that comes with virtual experiences. With a little education and URL analytics tracking, sponsors can create personalized customer journeys based on a virtual event attendee’s internet trail.
Navigating the tide during this tumultuous time can be tough but you are not alone. Companies, organizations and associations of all sizes are searching for answers. As your business may need to quickly adapt to this changing media and travel landscape, Cision has a variety of ways to communicate brand updates, house virtual events and engage with consumers. We’re here to help.
Please stay safe and healthy, and let us know if there is anything we can help you with.
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