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News UK shifts to digital events during pandemic, increases engagement 60%

By Natasha Banjo

News UK

London, UK

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During the hardest year ever for the events industry, News UK made a quick pivot to digital platforms to continue putting on events for our audiences whilst continuing to secure commercial revenue. 

The News UK event team ran 200 events a year pre-pandemic, ranging from our Times + subscriber events to our headline big-ticket sponsored events such as The Times CEO Summit and The Sunday Times Sportswoman of The Year Award. At this time last year, we were frantically trying to reschedule and replan our events, not knowing how long this was all going to last.

The Times CEO Summit is one of News UK's big-ticket sponsored events each year.
The Times CEO Summit is one of News UK's big-ticket sponsored events each year.

In April 2020, the team started investigating other ways to do things, making a quick pivot to virtual platforms. After reviewing over 30 providers, we ran a series of test events that enabled us to build an effective case study to take to market when speaking to commercial clients. This all happened weeks after the first lockdown was announced. 

By May last year, it was clear virtual platforms were here to stay, so we started to repurpose some of our big headline events into digital formats. The challenge would be taking our sponsors and commercial clients on the journey with us, securing the sponsorship revenue we had already agreed on, whilst proactively seeking new revenue opportunities.

We also had a lot of work to do in convincing brands that a virtual event provided them with a higher level of engagement and we could give them access to a broader, more targeted audience without the traditional benefits of face-to-face networking. 

Moving to a virtual events environment required a complete shift in strategy.
Moving to a virtual events environment required a complete shift in strategy.

The pivot to virtual events marked a complete shift in how we worked. We needed to learn quickly and adapt fast, a challenge the whole team fully embraced. As a result, we have driven more event revenue for the business than ever before and engagement is up 60% year over year. We discovered brands didn’t have the bandwidth internally to put on their own events, so they welcomed the opportunity to continue engaging with their customers and our readers. 

Our biggest challenge has been to convince sponsors and clients that digital events are worthwhile. We have also spent a lot of time ensuring that the quality of what we deliver reflects a premium engaging experience that is true to our brands. As with in-person events, the principles are the same and they require the same amount of attention, planning, and programming — although how you deliver them is slightly different. 

Both the audience and sponsors embraced the virtual format.
Both the audience and sponsors embraced the virtual format.

The focus for us now is embracing the hybrid (virtual and in-person) way of working, making sure we can deliver all formats of events to our audiences, across our brands, whilst delivering on client KPIs. It’s an exciting time to be in the industry as this shift has allowed us to fully assess how we do things, making us more accountable for the ROI for events activity. 

The News UK events team’s efforts during COVID were recognised by winning Consumer Event of The Year in the Campaign Publishing Awards 2021 for The Sunday Times Sportswoman of The Year.

About Natasha Banjo

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