Orson Francescone, head of FT Live, said that their virtual event numbers “are kind of blowing our model out of the water in the sense that we are bringing in a huge funnel of new subscribers into the FT machinery.” Virtual events, in some form, are not the only things we’ll keep post-pandemic. Audio and video have taken off. Crisis hubs have multiplied. Even sommeliers have been the stars of events. What will you be keeping of everything new you’ve tried?
Last week, The Washington Post published a story for their Outlook section titled What We’ll Keep. “The pandemic made us change our lives. Here are 11 ways we won’t change back.” Those ways include soft pants, spending time with pets, online ordering at in-person restaurants, appreciating essential workers, spending time outdoors, telecommuting and better home cooking.
Here are a few of those “keepsakes” for our industry:
Build more hubs.
Coronavirus news hubs brought large new audiences to publishers. Spidell’s was replete with special tax information, and they added webinars to address that further. Coleman added their Coleman Report Live daily videocasts to answer small banking and loan questions and hasn’t let up since (a show is pictured here, with a survey question, something else to keep). These shows have increased their audience, providing a bigger pool for their revenue-producing initiatives. MedLearn Media doubled its audience through new and expanded podcasts. Does the idea of a hub for expanded coverage only have to be around COVID? It wouldn’t be as universal, but for your specific niche a temporary hub on another vital topic could work well.
Offer more audio.
Text to audio has accelerated during the crisis. Dutch news website The Correspondent recently launched a new audio app for members. “We were a text-based site mostly, and our members asked us if we could also provide audio, because it’s easier to combine it with different activities like traveling or working out,” CEO Ernst-Jan Pfauth said. “We figured, well, it’s not our mission to provide text. It’s our mission to be a daily antidote to the news grind, to give an insight into how the world works. The medium isn’t that important, so if voice works better, let’s introduce that.”
Keep virtual events, in some form.
The global ease of attending a virtual event will not be going away. Last July, Questex produced the first REMOTE: The Connected Faculty Summit event. They hosted 26,000+ live attendees from 155 countries and 722 universities and colleges, with 2500+ questions asked to presenters and 47,000+ networking chats. It was such a success that they quickly scheduled the June 2021 all-virtual edition. “We can do SO much better for our students NOW than we could in January 2020,” writes David Levin, the event’s producer. Said Francescone, head of FT Live: “[In 2019] we had 24,000 delegates at our conferences. [In 2020] with 223 online events—that’s webinars, conferences and award shows—we’ve had 160,000 ‘digital delegates.’”
Satisfy a bigger thirst for data.
“There’s definitely more data that we were able to collect with the virtual event than with an in-person event,” Enit Nichani, vice president of marketing for North America at IGEL, told TechTarget. A reporting feature in vFairs—their digital platform of choice—enabled their marketing team “to see how many times a user visited a particular booth, what sessions they attended and how long they stayed for those sessions.” Before all this, maybe we counted the number of people in a session or at a keynote. But, of course, no one is watching when they leave or counting their visits to a booth. Must be a way to do more.
Double down on content.
When the pandemic hit, Morning Brew launched a guide telling readers how best to work from home. It quickly became a pop-up, three-days-a-week newsletter, The Essentials, with tips on how to be active, healthy and happy during quarantine.” It attracted more than 75,000 subscribers in the first three days. In November, after 80+ issues of The Essentials, the newsletter got a makeover to become Sidekick. Looks like it’s still going strong. “Another example of our mission and how we’re being a resource to readers…,” said Alex Lieberman, CEO and co-founder. “We are thinking differently about the media landscape.”
Provide more value.
“We feel that people are getting a lot more value this year,” said Jared Waters, training director for Business Valuation Resources, after they added bonus sessions before and after their Virtual Divorce Conference last year. There was a 50-minute conference preview two weeks before and three 100-minute, follow-up programs each of the three weeks after. Why can’t those virtual add-ons continue around a live event?
Offer shorter webinars.
The Association of Proposal Management Professionals initiated a Power ½ Hour Webinar Series. They are free for members and $75 for non-members.
One of the most reliable moving parts of virtual conferences is wine tastings. It seemed to check a lot of boxes for the last year: networking, joy, learning, diversity. So why stop? In-person events can easily kick off a networking happy hour with a 20-minute talk from a local sommelier about what we might be drinking tonight. For hybrid events, could be a way to give both audiences a similar experience and would be nice to have her or him around as a resource.