While publishers and media companies worked hard last year to provide similar and even more value for their virtual events, one element that varied was pricing. Low-priced—and even free—registration became the norm. But a pricing consultant wants you to now remind your audience that 2020 was an outlier due to the pandemic, and you have to return to a sustainable model, especially as hybrid models get closer.
“I think discounting and knee-jerk reactions to make everything free need to stay in 2020,” said Michael Tatonetti, a consultant who specializes in organization pricing, in an excellent article on Associations Now. I understand that for 2020, we wanted to get the right education to our members. That’s noble, but moving forward, it’s not sustainable financially. It can undervalue you if you eventually decide to do hybrid [events] or if we go back to in person.”
No one had definitive answers on virtual event pricing in 2020. Attendance fees ran the gamut from free to $600, and no one seemed sure about their strategy—at least until after the fact. ASAE—after starting with a fee to attend—and The Atlantic both made their major annual events free, but with several sponsors.
I just checked CES which begins next week—it was $149 up until yesterday and now jumped to $499. That’s actually interesting; I would guess that they are trying to price against the major trend that people sign up very close to the start for virtual events. (Can be a bit nerve-racking, especially for a big event like that.) Will be good to check with them afterwards to see how that strategy works.
“Sit back and ask, what is the value? What are we charging? What is the strategy?” Tatonetti said. “When we get into conversations about value, we are actually having a conversation about innovation because we are saying, what else can we do? How else can we serve? What new things should we be doing? What should we stop doing? Is there anything that is no longer of value that we can sunset?”
Here are some pricing examples from last year:
Charge for access. The Financial Times put their value on special access and on-demand networking. For their FT Live event in October, they offered three tiers: The Knowledge Pass ($299) gave you access to the live talks and the Q&A and polls. The Professional Pass ($599) added meet-the-journalist sessions and that networking—and video—on demand. The Group Pass ($3,000) multiplied everything by six people.
Price low, aim high. On the lower end, Christine Weiser, content/brand director, Tech & Learning, a Future plc division, said they charged just $25 for a big virtual event they put on—with good value—and more than 1,300 people signed on! “We had no idea,” she said. “Will they pay more? For education they do have professional development budgets.” She said if you do price low be ready for late signups.
Add value. “We feel that people are getting a lot more value [this year],” Jared Waters, training director for BVR, said about their Virtual Divorce Conference. “We can do a lot of things to add value to an event. So we figure a price point—[they charged about half of last year]—and then throw a lot of value on it. It really is a great deal for our attendees.” That value included pre- and post-conference bonus sessions and a $200 credit on their registration to a future in-person event.
Waters will be delivering a webinar for us on Jan. 21 titled Pricing & Product Evolution from Single Sale to Multi-headed Monster. Register here – free for members.
Keep pricing similar but deliver more value. “There had been, at least back in March, a sense that virtual should be cheaper,” Heather Farley, COO of Access Intelligence, said at SIPA 2020 in June. “But people are starting to appreciate the value of what we bring [virtually]. It still has the value of live, and [brings] the experience to connect buyers and sellers. The connections that you’re bringing aren’t all of a sudden cheaper. And the same amount of time that goes into [putting together] live events goes into virtual events. We have to make sure we don’t give deep discounts.”
Cut prices but get more sponsors. TechCrunch’s Disrupt 2020 cut ticket and exhibition prices roughly in half. Individual ticket prices started at $350, down from $695 in 2019, while exhibition passes went from $1,000 to $445. There was also a Disrupt Digital Pass for $45 that offered access to one stage of programming, but did not include CrunchMatch. (It’s amazing how many names there are for virtual networking now.) Sponsorship revenue was actually up, thanks to more expensive packages (by about 6%).
When you do decide to raise prices, Tatonetti advises communicating the value you’re still providing to your audience. “As we do come back to some level of normal, now is the time to introduce some new things, and try some new things, and reprice a bit because it’s almost expected,” he said.