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Have event companies found their cure for Coronavirus?

The events industry has been one of the hardest hit by the ongoing crisis, as mass gatherings have been cancelled and even been made illegal in an attempt to curb and control the pandemic. As hundreds of weddings, funerals, birthdays, and anniversary parties have been cancelled it would seem almost trivial to consider the cancellation of business conferences and events. This, however, would ignore the plight of the thousands of people employed within this industry, not to mention the knock-on effects on connected business’ such as venues or catering companies whose livelihoods depend on it.

There are, however, some business event companies who are implementing changes to remain profitable throughout these most challenging of times. These event companies are taking advantage of the current situation to increase their customer base, to keep their sponsors happy, and to grow their company while others flounder. How are they doing this?

The most straightforward answer is a simple, even perhaps obvious one; to run their current future events virtually. This would seem to make sense. If an event is successful in a physical format, why should a virtualized format be any different?

Virtual events have existed in their own right for some time now, long preceding the Coronavirus crisis and its effects. As both physical and virtual events have coexisted in the same market, it is important to understand that each has its own strengths (as well as weaknesses) and perhaps the same outcomes cannot be expected for both. As an outsourcing company specialising in business events, we have worked on dozens of virtual events over the past four years, giving us some experience in the differences in selling each format.

One thing that companies often fail to understand is just how competitive the digital content market actually is. When you virtualize your event, you are competing with an already overpopulated ecosystem before even considering your traditional event company competitors. Due to this, attracting and keeping an online audience engaged can be much more difficult than a physical event.

It is also crucial to remember that virtual events cannot replace the benefits of physical meetings and therefore will not replace them completely. The most important factor to consider here is that the sponsors pay for the majority of event costs. If there were no sponsors, it would be extremely difficult for an event to break even, let alone make any profit. If the sponsors don’t feel that they get enough return on their investments, they will end their relationship with the event.

The problem lies herein; how do you keep an audience who are ‘living’ in their own environment (looking at a screen) engaged as compared to actually having them live and feel the physical experiences as a traditional event? The audience will likely be engaged in sessions which interest them directly, but will probably not even tune into those that are not. They are also unlikely to engage with sessions which are strongly orientated towards a specific sponsor, unless the solution directly applies to their specific need (and they have the time at that moment). This is different to the traditional physical event experience, where many attendees will attend sessions based purely on the contained environment, with social interaction taking place in a much more natural setting.

At a physical event, the sponsor vendor has paid to be allowed to take the stage to promote their product in the manner they see best, invariably this will include themselves explaining the features and benefits and sometimes inviting a happy customer onto the stage with them, who can not only help to provide resonance to these claims, but also promote themselves and their company at the same time. It’s all very organized and controlled.

The audience is therefore an interactive element and are much easier to engage with. When your audience is scattered in location, watching through a screen, they are much more likely to become distracted and engagement levels can be lost. One common trait both physical and virtual events share is that there are smaller audience sizes at the end of the event than at the beginning, however it is much easier for a virtual event to disengage with its audience.

It is also important that the sponsors understand that they will not get the same returns as at a physical event. This isn’t to say that they won’t get the same value, just that the value they get will vary. If they adjust their objectives slightly, a virtual event can sometimes have even better outcomes for their business.

So what did we learn from working on virtual projects?

A common misconception is that, due to the audience not needing to travel or physically attend virtual events, the sales campaign will be easier. Another mistake is the belief that people are easier to contact while they are working from home. What we’ve actually found is that the ratio of people contacted about the virtual event compared to those who register is far higher than on the physical version of the same event. We’ve also noticed that it takes longer to reach individual targets, meaning people are less responsive when working from home than in the office.

We had to learn and adjust our way of working, using multiple channels, in order to make our clients virtual projects, especially throughout the pandemic. It is, however, fairly straightforward to virtualize your events and increase profits once you know how.

Should you or your company be thinking about launching a virtual event, we’d be more than happy to share our experiences and help you to avoid any common pitfalls.

Just drop us a line, we’re here to help!


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