Audience Engagement Guest Columns
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How publishers can bring their events online: A guide

OPINION

Events have become a necessary part of many publishers’ business models in recent years and this trend has been accelerated by Covid-19 restrictions. However, for many publishing companies it is hard to know how to create an event that incorporates the best elements of live events with the opportunities that an online event can offer.

Yet as technology becomes more and more advanced and events open up again, blending the digital and real-world will allow larger audiences to be engaged than ever before. This affords publishers with a clear opportunity to increase audience reach, engagement and revenue at a time when other channels are facing serious headwinds.

As well as reaching larger audiences, there are many other advantages in moving an event online, such as accessibility and sustainability. It is a misconception however, to assume that eliminating physical overheads will slash expenditure, as traditional commercial revenues may be lost.

Publishing professionals need to be aware that an online event is definitely not a poorer, cheaper version of the real thing, but doing things differently can offer up unexpected benefits if the event is slick, professional and engaging.

Writing as the CEO of a professional events platform working with numerous publishers, here are some guidelines and questions to ask if you are thinking of running online events:

Be clear in your objectives

Is your event primarily to provide learning or networking opportunities? Is it an awards event? Who is your audience and what are their expectations? Answering these questions will help you define the scope of your event and allow you to adopt the right marketing strategies. The content creation, operational delivery and scheduling will follow from here.

Chose the right technology partner

Zoom can replace your need for a physical venue, but your online event will still require a website, registration page, ticket payment processing, speaker profiles and much else as with a live event. You may need to talk to multiple platform vendors to fulfil all your needs, and so you should put a detailed brief together including an overview of your audience and industry.

Considering the format of your event will allow you to choose the best software. Your event may be live or a combination of live and pre-recorded. You will need to ensure your technology, its design and user experience (UX) meets your audiences’ expectations from the moment they land on your website prior to, throughout and after the event.

Be realistic about your event team’s technical abilities as glitches can be a huge turnoff for audiences as the momentum is disrupted and your credibility eroded. Full-service technology specialists can be on-hand to ensure your event goes smoothly, and although you may feel they are expensive in the short-term, they can be good value in hindsight.

Creating a seamless experience

A seamless experience for your online attendees is key. As the world changed in March 2020, Incisive Media, the B2B media publisher, scaled down their event tech stack to just one provider in order to improve their users’ experience and reduce possible complications. Streamlined processes are key.

Going forward, consider whether you will be using technology that your audience will have used before, or will the virtual attendees be required to download any pre-event software?

A ‘dress rehearsal’ before the online event is also highly recommended. This ensures the events team is comfortable with all the technology and can iron out any unforeseen issues, just as would happen in a physical environment.

Hardware availability

Events run by teams fully based at home will require a significant amount of internet bandwidth and may benefit from the use of hardware such as microphones. There are suppliers available who can deliver this kind of equipment to speakers and hosts at their homes.

Planning for your awards

Awards ceremonies are unique in that they build long-lasting human connections on a much deeper level. Often formal yet personal, awards are a celebration for teams and individuals, a great opportunity to entertain clients or build moral. Online events should be approached with the same thorough strategy and planning as any other event.

A major benefit of an online event is the data insight available for commercial sponsors and partners. Virtual awards ceremonies offer a wealth of new and innovative commercial opportunities combined with some reimagined traditional sponsorship, depending on the capabilities of your technology supplier. There is plenty of scope for the event team to get creative with increasingly targeted advertising and branding throughout the event. However, it is as important online as offline that you find commercial partners whose objectives fit with your event format and audience. 

A significant challenge to hosting an online awards event is in creating a buzz around the winner being announced. To recreate a sense of excitement and achievement consider emailing the winner an instant digital prize and offer an interview to give them the profile they deserve. Send post-event promotional material for them to use on their website and social media.

For the majority of your audience not receiving an award, try to retain engagement by generating online polls and voting systems, use music and consider tactics such as creating a unique cocktail with the recipe sent to all attendees in advance.

And finally, remember entering awards can take up a huge amount of time so acknowledge shortlisted nominees with feedback on their entry from the judges. Being transparent about your judging process not only validates your event but also gives kudos to the judges for their decision-making. By providing this feedback, nominees will also be able to enhance their future entries ultimately providing value to those who have invested time in entering the awards.

Successful events online

As we look to the future of events for publishers there are many exciting opportunities to be exploited, whether by replacing a live event or consciously choosing to host a virtual event.

As one example, the PPA’s awards ceremony this year was a complete success, with 1,235 unique attendees from 318 different companies attending across the course of the streamed ceremony, compared with 800 people normally attending in person.

As lockdown eases and events open up, its highly likely that hybrid events are here to stay and that innovative tech will be used to ensure the digital and real-worlds are blended even more seamlessly. This year has shown all of us we can step up and change when we need to, and events really can shine in a digital environment.

Gary Clement
CEO, Evessio

Evessio is a software platform that hosts, manages and runs awards, conferences and exhibitions. Evessio delivers all the functionality required for publishers to organize and run events in a single environment. Visit www.evessio.com for more info.

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