Vector of a large group of diverse people from different country standing on a world map

More audio and video, better data, global audiences and… wine? What we’ll keep post crisis.

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.

Use sommeliers.
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.

Woman connecting with her computer at home and following online courses, distance learning concept

Training Courses and Certification Make Dollars and Sense for This Digital Age

“WWD, The Economist Launch Education Offerings,” read last week’s MediaPost headline. These were just the latest media companies to jump on the online education/certification bandwagon. But smaller publishers may be leading the charge. I spoke with Lesley Ellen Harris of Copyrightlaws.com and Bob Coleman of Coleman Report to see what’s driving their success with online training courses.

“For our training, we do 8-10 weeks of hour-long courses, but we break each one up into 5 or 6 10-12 minute segments,” Coleman told me, speaking about their successful Coleman online training courses for the small business lender niche. They do four seasonal semesters; the winter quarter started on Feb. 1.

“We give reading assignments, homework, credit underwriting [assignments]—‘You drive down your street and see a commercial building, maybe a veterinarian or a standalone restaurant. What do you think it’s worth?’ We take questions—used to do that during office hours, but now that’s evolved into the daily web show [Coleman Report Live] where questions are put up on the screen.” Not only does this give people live interaction with experts, but it also provides marketing for the training courses, which cost between $695 and $1,295. They had 440 people watching yesterday for the 1 pm show.

When it comes to media companies and publishers diversifying revenue, online training and certification programs continue to trend up. Once started, they’re relatively easy to manage—especially as the platforms get better—can give new roles to your staff, reach a big audience, not require a huge investment and thus can be successfully carried out by companies small and big. Some other recent examples:

WWD teamed with the Parsons School of Design and the education platform Yellowbrick to produce Fashion Business Essentials—an online course delving into industry trends. The course provides 15 hours of instruction and project time in five modules. Students completing the program receive a noncredit Completion Certificate from Parsons. They are also using the courses to bring more diverse voices into the ranks.

The Economist has launched The Economist Executive Education, bringing “the rigor and intelligence we apply to our journalism to the growing world of online education,” says Bob Cohn, president of the global brand. Created by Economist journalists, it was developed in collaboration with GetSmarter, a brand of global education technology firm 2U, Inc. (Great to see the content team involved in that way, especially with events mostly sidelined.)

AM&P Network member Money-Media has their own ThinkTank website that allows users to earn continuing education credits toward a CFP designation (Chartered Financial Planner) by reading content on their website. “Our system is unique because we don’t require the user to answer test questions at the end,” Dan Fink, Money-Media managing director, said in an email. “We worked with the CFP Board to allow us to eliminate test questions, and they agreed because our technology utilizes time-on-page, along with other user actions (such as mouse movement). As a result, we can ensure users only get credit for active reading time and can’t game the system.”

Copyrightlaws.com offers a variety of online courses—many geared for about 12 weeks—that students can self-pace on. They range from 21 Virtual Ways to Build Copyright Awareness in Your Library or Organization ($199) to Licensing Digital Content ($749) to the Copyright Leadership Certificate ($1,499). “All the assignments are directly related to issues,” Lesley Ellen Harris told me. “We began using Thinkific in the fall as an experiment, and we have moved most of our courses to Thinkific now. All students love it as do I. It offers just enough features to customize a bit but is simple both for trainers and students.”

Harris calls Thinkific “a one-stop shop for teaching. Students get through the materials at their own pace, supplemented by an online discussion that I moderate,” she said. “I’ve learned that a full hour doesn’t work. You have to end at 10 to an hour now or people leave. Plus you can’t just talk for 50 minutes, so we have breakout rooms and I’ll get questions [that people submitted in advance] going. We’ll do polls in Zoom, maybe a true-false or multiple choice. Those are simple to set up. I don’t even have to be in the breakout room. If they’re having a good discussion, I don’t want to disrupt them, but I don’t give them that long either.”

As these examples show, these courses are not the bar exam or CPA test—the key is the learning, the engagement and the dollars, not making it too hard to pass. For Copyrightlaws.com, there’s a final assignment and then 20 questions and a digital certificate. Coleman asks students to write a credit memo or take an open-book exam of 100 questions; pass and they receive a nice plaque in the mail.

Components for Coleman courses—sessions get released every Tuesday—include training videos, reading assignments, quizzes and a Q&A session. Bob Coleman is in the process of refilming all their course videos for the next semester. They will change up a bit, he said. “Last time I did one whole course, and [the other instructor] did one. But now we’re going to cross-pollinate, do some interviews with experts, engage in dialogue—instead of just a lecture.”

Even in companies that are consumer-oriented, the B2B bent is obvious. After their first six-week course, “The New Global Order: How Politics, Business and Technology are Changing,” starts in May, The Economist’s second course will focus on business writing.

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‘It’s Comforting for People’; Airing Live Shows or Blogs Can Attract a Crowd

A common denominator began to form as I started checking on live shows that publishers I know started doing last year. They’re still going strong. And that’s smart. A new article reports that live blogs/reports are converting at a much better rate than standard articles. We like when people are live, especially now—even when things go slightly awry. It makes us feel better for our own Zoom showings.

The article by Max Willens on Digiday calls these live blogs, shows, briefings and informational chats “conversion monsters” for publishers. I’ve always been a big fan of doing things live when possible—just seems to add a positive spontaneity—and the pandemic has even built in a small cushion for minor tech slip-ups and such.

During most of last year, the Coleman Report was doing a live midday show and garnering huge crowds. “For the most part, people are so thirsty for any spot of normalcy,” Joseph Coleman told me, speaking about his audience of small business bankers and lenders. “We start at 1 pm Eastern time every day, no matter what. I think it’s comforting for people to log in for 30 minutes. It’s a ritual now.”

Hundreds of small-business lenders—and perhaps, Coleman had heard, the #2 at SBA—and more were tuning in every day to hear the latest news about the trillions of dollars that the government earmarked for loans. I was curious if these were still taking place, so after a short search, there they are, Coleman Report Live, still daily and around 20 minutes long! It was good to see Bob in his usual ebullient self.

“Welcome to Coleman Report Live. I’m Bob Coleman.” The show quickly hits home not only with where his guests are but with the first guest saying they had a “spat of the virus” in the office so everyone is home now.

“Our show is still the place for our audience to go,” Joseph Coleman told me last year. “There’s so much misinformation out there. Bob and I have been doing this for the last 10 years. We’ll try to keep the show going as long as possible. All of the new connections we make become staples of the daily show.” (On this show, Bob calls it “Tuesdays with Chris.”) These shows continue to lead to lots of goodwill and revenue for Coleman Report.

Then I turned over to Facebook to see if Chesapeake Family’s excellent Live Friday discussion show is still running, and happily it is. Friday’s topic: What benefits does nature play provide and how does it go beyond what a typical playground or play structure or yard can provide? Find out what you can do in your yard.

“I really like to do those virtual interviews as long as we can give 2-3 day notice,” Donna Jefferson told me last summer, adding it’s a good platform to talk about timely topics. Previous interviews focused on Virtual School From Home Tips and Navy Football Takes on Racism with an assistant coach and running back. (That interview received more than 700 views. “By doing virtual [and live] interviews, we get things out there quickly.”

The New York Times actually has an assistant managing editor of live, a new division charged with driving adoption of the Times’ live briefings, live blog and live chat formats across the newsroom, writes Willens. The Times would actually prefer more of their writers go live on Times’ formats rather than just tweeting. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s live blog has a subscriber conversion rate twice as high as their standard articles, he adds.

Publishers are also using these live talks to build their membership programs. Last April, TechCrunch introduced Extra Crunch Live, a virtual speaker series with live Q&A exclusive for Extra Crunch members. I just took a look and saw this headline: “Extra Crunch Live is back in 2021, connecting founders with tech giants and each other.”

Inc. launched a weekly interview called “Real Talk.” “It’s people who have had success and are willing to give back to entrepreneurs and the small business community and answer questions for an hour.” It’s hard to tell how recent they are, but there are a quite a few of them up there now including this one: Should You Release a New Product During a Pandemic? Here’s How to Know.

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Personalization, Sustainability and Apps Stand Out in 2020 Event Trends

“Experience is not something that you try to emulate. It’s part of your design. It’s part of your culture. One of the most valuable things a destination or a venue can offer is their support in incorporating their uniqueness and culture into that experience, and that extends to professional services and expertise.”

That’s from an article on today’s Event Management Blog (now a part of Skift) from Julius Solaris. I recently visited Bob and Joseph Coleman of the Coleman Report at an event they did here in Washington, D.C. for their small business banking audience. The happy hour mixer, which preceded a full-day event, took place in a very impressive law firm office. As the Event MB article said, the venue enhanced the uniqueness and culture of Coleman’s event. People were smiling, interacting and felt comfortable and important in a top DC building near the White House.

I’ve seen a lot of event trend articles lately; here are some that I believe apply to SIPA members:

Gamification remains popular. In their 100 event trends for 2020, The Event MB Studio team found that 10% of the apps they analyzed listed gamification features as part of the app. “Drive traffic through the exhibit floor by rewarding points for connecting to sponsors’ booths; let people win rewards for acing a quiz on the keynote. Leaderboards and awards have proven particularly effective, as attendees compete against one another for more recognition as well.” Our BIMS event had a very popular engagement leaderboard with a 2020 registration as the prize.

The new job: event technologist. “Event technologists will be largely responsible for planning and implementing the technological strategy of their organization’s events programs,” wrote the Event MB team. “They may be involved in sourcing the technology, and will probably be the point-of-contact for tech suppliers. Event technologists will need to be problem solvers with a strong penchant for data collection and analysis. Event technologists will take event and organization KPIs and translate the data gleaned from their tech stack into ROI reports.”

Diverse speaker lineups. There’s no excuse anymore for a speaker lineup that lacks women or young people or people of color. I find that it just takes a little more digging—a look at your LinkedIn connections and their connections, or going through the week’s headlines in your niche—but it could be well worth it because a diverse speaker lineup should also diversify, and increase, your attendees.

Better analytics dashboards. “For 2020, I see an appetite for aggregated analytics dashboards,” said Adam Parry, editor, Event Industry News, in an article on the site G2Planet. “These dashboards pull data from multiple sources such as CRM’s, registration solutions, marketing platforms, and social media. They will help whole organizations make data-driven decisions rather than basing them on historical experience or opinion.”

Tracking onsite engagement. “The biggest tech trend will be analyzing attendee behavior as part of an integrated event management pipeline,” said JT Long, content chief, Smart Meetings, in her response. “[That pipeline will] track activity from interest to registration, emotional responses, engagement with content, and learning over time after the event to inform better future content and create lasting relationships with the company and other attendees.”

Sustainability. Event organizers are looking for apps that reduce their paper consumption and waste, doing away with the need for big programs. You’re seeing more vegan choices for meals and snacks. Look at past years’ budgets to see what areas you over-used and which were on par with your budget. Identify which area you want to target and track the biggest impact.

Even more personalization. As I mentioned yesterday in the story on workshops, some organizations are reaching out to attendees before a conference to help them set up a personalized agenda—and even to know which groups to put them in at a workshop. A recent study by Salesforce found that 84% of customers say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business. And delivering personalized experiences drives customer loyalty, with 70% saying a company’s understanding of their individual needs influences their loyalty.