Adaptable formats, trust offer key to virtual media events

By Garth Thomas

The Globe and Mail

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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Over the past few years, The Globe and Mail invested heavily to diversify our revenue through a successful and growing series of branded events. This fiscal we planned to capitalise on this success and expand events outside of our Toronto headquarters location.

Then came the pandemic.

February and March were chaotic as The Globe and Mail, along with most of the world, realised large-scale live events were no longer realistic, wise, or — after March — even legal options. Like many media companies, The Globe saw an entire revenue stream contract disappear almost overnight, going from 35 live in-person events last year, capped at about 250 attendees, to a new unknown.

Virtual events will be a part of the future landscape, and media companies need to understand how to navigate them. Art courtesy of Armin Schreijäg from Pixabay.
Virtual events will be a part of the future landscape, and media companies need to understand how to navigate them. Art courtesy of Armin Schreijäg from Pixabay.

Two points became immediately clear:

First, with the uncertainty in the world, consumers were gravitating to leadership, guidance, and advice — areas of brand strength for The Globe for all our products, including in the event space.

Second, although we could no longer host in-person events, we couldn’t let our business momentum cease. So the team soon shifted its focus to helping event clients thrive in the new normal.

Here’s what The Globe’s vice president of marketing, Sean Humphrey, told me in a recent discussion about where the (near) future is headed for the media events business.

Virtual events can give clients a market advantage

Sponsors continue to search for ways to dominate the thought leadership space in the new COVID-19 reality, but it’s become more important to shift the focus on how our clients are helping attendees make sense of the world.

A virtual event we held with an online university was a perfect example of a client knowing its value proposition, understanding it has a service that’s helpful to people right now, and taking an early opportunity to confirm its market leadership with a virtual event. A sponsorship model has become more important as our virtual events are currently free (a shift from in-person paid events), but reach has become more important as our clients seek a leadership advantage in their respective industries.

Geography and physical space became irrelevant

Because The Globe has its own physical event space, pre-coronavirus events were marketed almost solely to local attendees. That’s clearly not an issue anymore. Virtual events provide the ability to target an audience based solely on interest as opposed to geographic location.

For instance, food security professionals located around the world might also attend a virtual event The Globe hosts, as opposed to those living only in Toronto who could make it to our location. Where we previously had to cap attendance at room capacity, we can now open events to thousands.

Adaptable formats are key to success

While many of our in-person events were full-day or half-day events with a mix of panels, networking, and keynote addresses, we’re currently testing what works best in the virtual environment. We’ve found an hour Webinar is a good standard — long enough to keep participants engaged, but not so long they suffer from video fatigue.

Seasonality matters less

The events year has a cycle, slowing in the winter and summer holiday seasons. Virtual events, with the ability to tune in from wherever you are, mean we’re not treating the summer as a quiet season. People are at home and will be limiting their travel plans for the foreseeable future. They have an appetite for learning breaks from work or professional development outside of the day-to-day to understand the new reality in their businesses or in their lives.

Networking will remain challenging

Although virtual events can offer networking opportunities through chats and break-out sessions, nothing has been able to replicate face-to-face networking. We believe this will return in the future. However, for the time being, events that would have had a primary focus on large-scale networking opportunities will struggle to have the same impact as before.

Increased readership will form a feedback loop

Like many media companies, The Globe saw a dramatic increase in digital readership during March and April, and a five-fold increase in normal registered user rates. We have more data and ways to reach people who have a particular interest in the events we offer. As these attendees begin to explore our offerings, we can also promote the benefit of a Globe subscription. It works the other way as well, as we can promote events to Globe subscribers.

Trust in brand remains paramount

Since you can’t check your e-mail these days without being invited to yet another Webinar, we need to make sure attendees know what differentiates a Globe event. It’s the rigour of our journalism and the integrity of our brand. Credibility in a time awash with information will remain of paramount importance to events and continues to be an advantage to our clients.

Banner image courtesy of StockSnap from Pixabay.

About Garth Thomas

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