COVID-19 forced 24sata to move its event business online, waste less resources, and make more money in the end. On Wednesday, INMA members attended a Webinar presented by Karlo Stojcevic, director of content and experience at 24sata, to learn about its journey of this successful event business transformation.
Stojcevic explained that Croatia is a traditional country where family and friends come before anything else. “I believe that’s exactly the reason why one of the dominant forces of Croatian culture is coffee shops.”
This is an important aspect when it comes to events, which have been a very important part of the 24sata business model. The company’s “Chill & Grill” springtime festival used to be the perfect example of how this fit in with Croatian culture, attracting 50,000-60,000 people in a country of four million.
Then, COVID-19 hit.
Before the pandemic, 24sata helped brands engage with about 50,000 people in outdoors events. The company spent a lot of resources, time, and money on third-party production, though events were still a side revenue stream and less profitable than other core businesses such as native, content, and digital projects.
“At the same time, we moved from our comfort zone of media and content production into the world of events,” Stojcevic said. This required expending more time and resources into that business model, and it was an important strategy because the audience craved the connection that came from in-person experiences.
Once the COVID lockdown went into effect, 24sata could no longer do those events and had to rethink the strategy. The team had to ask itself if there was any other way they could offer their customers a similar virtual experience centred around the same idea that would add value and keep them safe.
This posed a significant challenge because at that time, in March, the Chill & Grill event was only two months away. Adding to the issue was a major earthquake that struck Croatia at the same time.
“We tried to look at this as a business opportunity,” Stojcevic said. “When hard times happen, people need other people.”
Chill & Grill was transformed from a massive, multi-day event with famous chefs and live music acts to about a thousand separate, intimate events with social distancing on the chefs’ and musicians’ own balconies, rooftops, and yards.
“We realised that people still want to hang out with other people,” Stojcevic said. “We felt this thing could succeed if we spread these 50,000 people over many very small events.”
24sata spread the word about the new event through its own Web site, products, and social media channels.
The results were impressive, including:
- Increase in Facebook page visits to 3.8 million.
- More than 131,000 visits to the Chill & Grill Web site.
- More than 1,000 prize-winning game contestants and 200 prizes awarded — more than five times previous Chill & Grill events.
- Live shows reached more than 775,000 people.
- 10 cooking show videos reached 1,114,201 people.
- The profit margin grew by 96% over the 2019 event, though only 75% of the resources were used.
In a way, the lower quality of video done by everyday people and the accessibility of seeing them do it in their own kitchens and outside spaces added a level of realism and relatability that the 24sata audience loved, Stojcevic said.
Three key learnings for online event success
This experience left the 24sata team with valuable insight into moving in-person events to virtual or small-gathering events successfully.
- Avoid the COVID-19 sameness. When people miss other people, gather and use as much UGC as you can and give many small prizes. Edit out less than normally done. Don’t encourage COVID-19 talk.
- Authenticity rules. In the era of hyper-designed, staged experiences, authenticity is key. Put the journalist hat on, and use fewer celebrities and influencers and more “regular people.”
- DIY. People on your team know how to write and produce, so there’s little to no need for third-party support, big stages, or even famous performers. Audiences response just as well to no-name bands, 24sata found, which also means profits go up.
The increased profits meant that 24sata was able to put those resources into developing other events, which were also successful.
“We embraced the idea that we should repeat this, and maybe even do it from now on exclusively, no matter what,” Stojcevic said. “Our key learnings can be applied to most things.”
Banner image courtesy of Luis Quintero from Pexels.