Making the virtual move

Ben Chodor, president of Intrado Digital Media – which provides end-to-end software for hosting events and managing virtual event data – shares with event planners how to monetise online content and addresses the common misconceptions about the shift to online formats

What are some key differences in costs when hosting an event offline versus online?
Areas of spending are different for a virtual event versus a physical one. For example, hotel blocks, travel fees, F&B costs may be replaced by other fees like event software, tech support and online marketing or advertising.

A frequent misconception about virtual events is that they don’t require a significant investment of time and money. Producing a meaningful, impactful virtual event that delivers ROI requires companies to commit budget and resources to the event technology.

This may require a great deal of customisation and scale, depending on your event size and scope. (Costs are also incurred hiring) an internal team to support the event and (conducting) various online marketing efforts that will generate sign-ups.

What are some ways these virtual events can be monetised?
In terms of what can be monetised for a virtual event, there are many creative ways to do this. From digital branding and online advertisements to sponsored speaking sessions, breakout areas and virtual exhibitor booths – our clients find great opportunities to deliver value and measurable impact to their sponsors.

Virtual environments provide many opportunities for sponsorship and promotion for participating brands. And because these events are online, sponsorship doesn’t necessarily end on the last day of the conference. Sponsored content can live much longer through syndication. Intrado Digital Media events, for example, are live and accessible for up to a year.

Have you seen clients making some sessions free and charging for others? Are they adding extra features online to make up for the lack of face-to-face meetings?
Similarly to a physical conference, offering some free content or access can entice attendees to purchase full attendance packages.

We do encourage our clients to find ways to engage attendees and help them network with each other. There are lots of ways to build fun into a webcast or virtual tradeshow, such as including interactive quizzes, contests, virtual happy hours, trivia and themed sessions. Virtual attendees also tend to appreciate chat functionality for networking, bonding and engagement throughout the event.

What are some lessons learnt by planners, or concerns they have now while planning for virtual events?
Although virtual events can be turned over fairly quickly if necessary, we often find that there’s a misconception around time to market for large-scale events.

A strong virtual event can require the same level of planning as a physical one. Another mistake that we sometimes see is a rush on content production; cutting corners there can lead to a less-engaged audience that may not see value in the event.

Finally, it is absolutely critical to ‘dry run’ the event and ensure that producers, sponsors and speakers are comfortable with the event software.

What’s the most important thing event planners must take note of when planning a virtual event?
Virtual events need a strong marketing and promotional plan. This includes ensuring that there’s enough runway for promotion to create buzz and engagement to generate word-of-mouth and drive sign-ups.

The marketing message should focus on the value of the event for attendees – the quality of content, calibre of speakers and key learnings that the event will provide.

What do you think is the biggest benefit of online events?
While it may not be a direct cost-saving, it’s important to point out that a virtual event can have a serious, positive impact on a company’s carbon footprint. So many of our clients are focused on Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives; they’re a critical priority for their business, and virtual events are propelling them forward in green efforts.

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