No longer just a cost-effective add-on, virtual events create an environment from which to grow communities and complement in-person offerings.
To put things in perspective, my career in B2B media began in online events. I was brought on to manage client sponsored webinars for Penton (now Informa), and then transitioned to become the company’s first virtual trade show manager. Ah, the good ole days…
Virtual events have historically been seen as one-off or one-day live event offerings. This can still be valuable to a certain degree, but that way of thinking truly limits the solution’s capabilities. Virtual events should be seen as part of an online environment that can create or grow a magazine brand’s online community, and a lot of companies fail to utilize them in this 24/7, 365 capacity.
A virtual event helps reach everyone in any time zone, day or night. Opening an environment like this, year-round, creates a content hub to keep track of what attendees are viewing, leading to additional revenue opportunities.
When virtual events were first introduced, the perceived benefits included cost savings driven by cutting back on attendees’ travel expenses while still delivering them the content they were interested in. This frightened a lot of in-person events folks—the idea that a virtual conference would keep people from traveling and attending their conference, encouraging them to opt for the less expensive virtual version instead.
This is a myth.
“Virtual events were introduced too early to the game, and people weren’t ready to move away from traditional events,” says Michael Nelson, a longtime expert in the format and CEO of the virtual event platform 6Connex. “Brands kept approaching a virtual event as a physical event, rather than a digital one. The big mistake was people trying to do this one-to-one comparison with live, in-person events.”
“Audiences still value in-person events, but they also expect to have things done virtually,” Nelson adds.
Virtual events complement a brands’ in-person events and conferences with an opportunity to create an audience year-round, and can help market the actual in-person event with similar content, strengthening the brand in the process.
Three ways media companies and their sponsors are using virtual events include:
1. Multi-sponsored events: Editorially driven events with sponsorship levels to sell and drive revenue. These could also be a spin-off or tie into an existing in-person event or conference.
2. Single-sponsored events: Sponsor driven, with collaboration to develop content.
3. Internal Hubs: Either for HR training or internal communications—aimed at internal cost savings.
Sponsored Events – Multi/Single
Whether it is tied into an in-person event or diving into a new editorially driven topic such as “The Digital Transformation in Manufacturing,” the same concepts apply when it comes to sponsorship opportunities.
These can be sold at different levels to incentivize clients to buy in. Limiting the amount of sponsorships will help sell them up front, and the beauty of a virtual event is that if people keep accessing them, there are more opportunities to create sponsorships over time. By creating a year-round event series, you are not limited to one-day interest.
When it comes to the content strategy of a virtual event, keep in mind it may be wiser to start with a broad topic and then, once inside the environment, become more specific with live webinars and other content assets. This way, people are getting into the environment and the reporting tools will keep track of what attendees are downloading, viewing, and interested in.
A crucial part of any virtual event platform is the ability to track and create custom reports for yourself and your sponsors. Always make sure that whatever platform you are buying into, there is a tracking system in place that works for you or it can send data into your own system.
Always remember, virtual events can create new value and thought leadership opportunities with your audience that will not only strengthen your brand, but generate additional revenue opportunities year-round.
Nelson concluded our conversation by saying, “Brands need to recognize [their] own value. Media companies have the ability to create new sales over and over with virtual events. Once you build it, you never have to break it down, you can keep using it over and over again. You have now established a new community.”
Nelson and I also agreed that, today, it’s best to avoid calling them “virtual trade shows.” The term makes people shutter. Better examples include event, summit, or conference.