The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world of events and conferences upside down, and The Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) events business is no exception. In March, the challenges for our Live Journalism marketing department were daunting: postponing and cancelling all in-person events, a wholesale pivot to online, campaigns abruptly halted.
Yet, in the world of professional audience recruitment, we are seeing a rapidly growing number of bright spots from our online endeavours, ones that are demanding us — for the better — to change our thinking and the way we conduct business.
So, what are the bright spots?
Quality and quantity are possible
WSJ events are renowned for convening power, both in terms of speakers and audience. Our online offerings have allowed us to scale exponentially while still maintaining the high calibre of attendees that fellow audience members and our sponsors want to engage with.
In fact, last quarter we welcomed more than double the attendees we did in the whole of 2019, while maintaining our standards for seniority level of vice president or higher.
Location is no longer a barrier
When you’re running an event in a given city on a given day, the geographic profile of the audience is somewhat self-fulfilling. This has completely changed with online spaces. We have been around the world in (less than) 80 days, with delegates tuning in from 156 countries, opening up a global community for both our audiences and our sponsors.
Last month, a one hour-long event in our Future of Everything series was viewed in 58 countries. Additionally, making recordings readily available after our events has significantly helped target Europe, the Middle East, Africa (EMEA), and Asia-Pacific (APAC) audiences, as well as our standard hubs in the Americas.
On the back of this pivot to online, we’re cracking open new and more diverse audience pools. We are marketing new events that look at the pandemic’s effects through a variety of different lenses and for different audiences. We have also added free or discounted ticket options to ensure we reach audiences beyond our subscribers who may not have previously had the opportunity to attend.
Our goal is to ensure we serve the public by making our events as widely accessible as possible, while still curating a community of valued professionals for our sponsors to engage with. By introducing new audiences to the WSJ brand, we also help build up the funnel for conversion to WSJ subscriptions.
Community and engagement
As humans, we still crave those moments of solidarity and interaction, a shared laugh or story. During a six-week innovation project, we examined how people like to interact and network in an online world. Our discoveries allowed us to lead the way in making meaningful connections.
By prioritising this feature at our events, we’re seeing our audiences show up in both quality and quantity — a result our sponsors find value in as well, as it gives them an opportunity to engage with attendees in a way that is proving difficult to do elsewhere.
A great example of this is with our Women In franchise. When these events were in person, each and every one was sold to capacity. Now in an online world, this community continues to have a huge appetite to connect, and these events are still sold out. The willingness of the Women In community to proactively engage in programmed breakout sessions is really encouraging, too.
In general, it is not uncommon for there to be a lack of audience participation at in-person events, as holding up one’s hand in a crowd can be intimidating. However, our online breakouts really buck this trend: Sessions have been full and the conversation is flowing.
Show me the money
But what about ticket sales? Initially, we simply wanted to prove to our audiences and clients that we could not only flawlessly deliver on our online promises but exceed expectations. We’re now putting ticket revenue models back in place.
You’ll see throughout our portfolio that we offer free livestream watch passes alongside paid passes that include networking and workshops, while also delivering VIP access that offers a concierge service to guide attendees through their experiences and broker introductions. These layered options are providing access for all, extending our brand beyond our typical audiences while allowing deeper interaction and knowledge if desired.
Our online events are crucial for lead generation across the business. They are an important component in building up our audience database for future events. But in the here and now, our free “watch pass” audiences are providing excellent upsell opportunities for our paid ticket options, and we have been able to roll out new opportunities for sponsors in the absence of in-person networking.
In summary, the last four months have been a wild ride, but the value of our learnings will shape our marketing strategies for years to come. Yes, like many, we look forward to the day when we re-introduce in-person events. However, we have already paved the way for a hybrid events model. This new frontier will see in-person and online moments woven together, creating a truly international, engaging, and limitless experience for our audiences and sponsors.