In a just-released events survey, Sophie Holt, global strategy director, Explori, said: “Online and hybrid seem to have a complementary role to play alongside [in-person] events. Not only will they give reassurance to visitors who are concerned about safety in the short term, but still want to connect with their community, but they may also have an important role to play in bringing new audiences to established events.”
That was exactly the case for Pro Farmer’s first-ever virtual Crop Tour held last month, Joe May, their marketing and sales director, told me yesterday.
“It went really well. We went into it with no idea how well it would be received and were very pleased. We’re lucky enough to be part of Farm Journal, so their TV crew produced a really professional looking broadcast for us each of the four nights. We never had a live broadcast component before.”
Historically, the typical audience to attend the in-person meetings across the four days and seven Midwest locations has ranged between 2,000 and 3,000. For the four online, 90-minute broadcasts, more than 18,000 total viewers watched—coming from all 50 states and 12 countries. (Crop Tour has always had a good global following, May said.) A total of 340,000 minutes were streamed, a number that even May sounded surprised to hear himself say.
“You can’t get that kind of reach in person,” said May, indicating that, as the above-mentioned survey predicted, Pro Farmer will most likely keep some of that digital component in future Crop Tours. “We would consider combining the two for next year. The farm audience has a reputation for being slower in participating with newer technologies for the most part. But our audience is also business people not just farmers. Adopting [new things] is part of their business strategy.”
For the post-COVID future, hybrid models make sense. If farmers are tuning in, then audiences that are in offices—home or business—all day probably would as well, if the content is good. Speaking of that, 52% of virtual event attendees surveyed in that report felt online-only events are as good, if not better than live events with respect to the content offered. And almost 80% have at least some interest in attending a hybrid event online in the future.
In the past, the decision not to stream an event live came partly from a worry that it would discourage people to attend in person—and publishers were reluctant to charge as much virtually. But given that content is proving to be just as strong virtually, that reluctance might dissipate.
Of course, the survey also reported that attendees cherish the in-person networking and virtual does not replicate that—though hopefully technology will continue to improve there. So May said that they really didn’t try to replicate any networking features.
“Pioneer has been a premium sponsor for 10 years, hosting a big meal and networking social before the meeting,” May said. “We were able to get them to still sponsor the digital broadcast with content items published and promotional items. In fact, we kept all the sponsors except maybe one—and they pulled out for a different reason—and added a couple new ones. And again, it was really well received.”
Having the experienced Farm Journal TV crew proved to be a huge benefit. They had been sending a crew for Crop Tour for many years, getting interviews and footage to use, and doing live setups. So setting up the live broadcast came naturally.
“We would have 15-20 minute segments, then maybe a commercial break, and then live questions from the audience, all highly produced and planned,” May said. “We kept it to 90 minutes, which is still a long time for a virtual broadcast, but people watched. There was just one technical glitch over the four nights that affected maybe five minutes. Some viewers reached out to tell us”—which may be a good thing because it means they are watching and they care.
Another advantage was that Pro Farmer could put their leaders from both the Western and Eastern tours on camera, and then patch in studio hosts from South Bend, Ind. Another reporter took questions from Twitter and Facebook with the Crop Tour hashtag, breaking in with live questions and screen questions too.
“We had [ample] questions every night,” May said. “It’s not like they were just sitting there. Sometimes people are intimidated in person to ask questions. Can be easier sitting behind a computer.
“We learned a lot—it really was continuous learning. You never know for sure [how something will turn out]. But this gave us the best of both worlds.”