Martin Fullard speaks to three corporate events professionals to discover learnings on delivering the attendee experience online and how virtual events can expand your brand reach.
How have your organisations approached online events during the pandemic?
Chloe Goddard, events manager, Halifax: “For us, it’s been a test and learn process. It was a completely new landscape so we had to start from scratch but we firmly believe they’ll be here to stay so we’ve had to up-skill, assess and discover new platforms on a continuous basis.”
Natalie Shattock, senior event manager EMEA for Morningstar: “We transitioned our regional, smaller weekly events to webinars using Zoom or BrightTALK, which involved relatively small amounts of training and were fairly easy to execute. Then we directed a significant investment into our annual conference, both in terms of resource and technology to ensure that it was impactful and engaging. That investment is definitely for the long-term.”
Tina Moynihan, events producer at The Guardian: “The Guardian has really embraced online events as they’ve really worked for our ‘in conversation’ and panel debate editorial formats. One of the main advantages has been the extended audience reach we’ve been able to command. Some of our events have attracted 5,000 plus people from countries including America and Australia so it has been a real voyage of discovery and incredibly beneficial to The Guardian’s global brand.”
How do you measure online engagement and how do you know the content is resonating?
Halifax’s Goddard: “We’ve analysed the best time of day to stage our events along with the optimum duration. How many people attend and the drop-off percentage after 45 minutes has allowed us to tweak the format. We found a condensed 30-minute event gives people a lot more to takeaway and ensures their full attention.”
The Guardian’s Moynihan: “We rely heavily on people submitting questions, either in advance or during the discussions. We did trial a hand raise system for a while but we found that it was more disruptive to the session so we resorted back to submitted questions. Online engagement strategies don’t have to be complex if they work.”
Morningstar’s Shattock: “We’ve found that done well, polling can have a really big impact on engagement. We take a poll at the beginning of each session to gauge the viewer’s views on a particular topic and then we’ll do a poll at the end to see if that view has changed or what has resonated most during that session. Anecdotally, viewers’ recollections of the sessions improve when there’s polling and the content resonates more. Short, sharp multiple choice questions will get us 75-100% engagement with each poll.”
Should viewers pay to attend a digital event?
The Guardian’s Moynihan: “We started off with a lot of free-to-attend events before moving to a contribution model and finally, we’ve started staging paid-for events now that we feel we’ve gained the trust of our audience. This step-by-step approach worked really well. A lot of people paid £5 or £10 when we tested the contribution option so it’s worth trialing. Sponsorship is harder to sell as an alternative way to monetise but hybrid could add additional value to that. I believe though we’ll continue to stage paid-for editorial events online because of the demand from a truly global audience.”
Halifax’s Goddard: “When we transition to a more hybrid model, it will be incredible expensive unless you monetise both elements. We researched whether or not audiences would be willing to pay for our digital event content and received a positive response. We’re only talking a nominal ticket price but if the content is of value, people will pay for it.”
Morningstar’s Shattock: “We are better equipped now to pitch digital sponsorship than a year ago but it’s still not the same experience for the sponsor as the live version so I don’t feel you can charge as much. You can incentivise people to visit sponsor stands but I’m personally not a fan of gamification. If you can monetise through sponsorship however, offering a free-to-attend event will always provide greater attendee value.”
What future do digital events have in your events programme post pandemic?
Halifax’s Goddard: “I’m developing a national events programme for the bank but we’ll definitely run digital in parallel with in-person activity. You can’t beat that face-to-face rapport, especially in finance where you need to build consumer trust. So live is important but there’s a demand for provide content that’s easily accessible online.”
Morningstar’s Shattock: “They will certainly have a place in the overall events mix. If you invest time at the beginning to establish a robust system of webinars and small bite-sized events, you can scale that process more easily by letting automation do the heavy lifting, leaving you to focus on the content for a more plug-in and play model. In a live environment, every venue and delegate touch-point is a cost. But with digital events, it’s ok to use a free webinar tool or a less expensive system whereby the more webinars you stage, the cheaper your cost-per-event will be.”
The Guardian’s Moynihan: “The Guardian produces 150 digital events per year and we don’t see an appetite for in-person live editorial sessions currently, although that may change once everyone is vaccinated and people may tire of going online for their event experience. To date, we have only focused on the formats we believed would translate online and we’ve put formats such as award ceremonies and larger conferences on-hold. So those will return in a live environment but editorial panel debates could see a future in digital.”
Tina Moynihan, Chloe Goddard and Natalie Shattock were speaking during the International Confex webinar: Do online events always have to be a compromise?