Virtual events drive profitability: event owners

Speakers on PCMA’s How to Monetise Virtual and Hybrid Event Content webinar discuss how their organisation has benefitted from taking their events online

Media organisations that survived two fraught years caused by the Covid-19 pandemic are seeing light at the end of the tunnel after embracing digital transformation, investing in event technology, and committing to talent training.

Panellists on PCMA’s How to Monetise Virtual and Hybrid Event Content webinar, declared they were reaping “profits”, and that the “virtual” component of their events would be expanded this year to boost the bottomline.

Speakers on PCMA’s How to Monetise Virtual and Hybrid Event Content webinar discuss how their organisation has benefitted from taking their events online

Atifa Silk, Haymarket Asia (HA) managing director, based in Hong Kong, said its marketing communications and finance live events used to contribute 70 per cent of revenue. Now, digital events contribute more than 50 per cent of revenue.

Despite having no live events in 2020/2021, HA saw its “best financial performance in 10 years” and profitability was up “significantly”, with Silk noting the company was planning for “a year of full-virtual events”.

Razlan Manjaji, head of global events, South China Morning Post (SCMP), also based in Hong Kong, had planned a mix of virtual and in-person events in 2022, but had to shift to strictly virtual events “for different categories of clients and monetised differently” due to changing circumstances.

SCMP’s seven-year-old events arm, which used to organise 12 to 18 live events a year, held more than 56 virtual events in 2020 with the same team, Manjaji said, adding that the virtual event cost basis was much lower.

“While revenue is lower, the absolute profit margin is much bigger,” Manjaji noted when asked by moderator Deanna Varga, managing director, Mayvin Global, on changes in measuring ROI.

Manjaji said: “When you organise a virtual event enough times, it becomes a very profitable business.”

He explained that a virtual event could garner up to 7,000 registrations from more than 60 countries, with 3,000-plus participants tuning in. Compared to 300 for a live event, virtual events could create a win-win outcome for the organiser and sponsors.

“Every data point you collect can be analysed and a value put to it,” he said.

“And because of the flexibility of virtual events, organisers are able to secure good speakers on short notice,” he added, giving the example of SCMP’s relaunch of its flagship event – Women of Our Time virtual conference in 2021, in celebration of International Women’s Day. It featured Singapore president Halimah Yacob as a keynote speaker.

However, Silk acknowledged that while the “margins have been great”, costs have been going up, and the event technology investment had to continue to meet audience expectations and deliver a successful event.

With virtual event attendance fatigue setting in, registrations today, in particular for free events, have dropped compared to a year ago, Silk observed.

However, there were still opportunities, she noted, with the biggest ROI centred on the data generated by virtual events and being able to leverage the layers of data to give valuable feedback to sponsors and partners.

On what existing or new team members needed to develop a “monetising” mindset to deliver successful virtual or hybrid events, Manjaji said it was important to train staff rather than educate sponsors and partners, “learn on the job”, experiment and “try different things”.

He shared that for the first virtual event SCMP organised, the team did not realise there were eight minutes of video and audio silence, and described it as a “horrific experience”.

The “sponsor was furious”, Manjaji recalled, and management realised staff needed to attend “proper certification courses” to be exposed to different types of events and their operation, and to possess more “rounded knowledge” to properly execute a virtual event strategy.

Manjaji opined: “Virtual events are here to stay and will be a permanent part of our business.”

On the other hand, Bjoern Kempe, CEO and founder, Expos Global (formerly Expos Asia) – with offices in Singapore, Shanghai, commented that hybrid and virtual events worked better for conferences and corporate events, but are “not the cure for the absence of tradeshows”.

“Exhibitors and visitors are eagerly waiting to network again and to conduct business live and in person,” he pointed out.

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