Getting Your Event Price Right May Take Some Experimenting and Adding or Shedding a Few Tiers

There was a famous play in 1924 titled What Price Glory by Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings (made into a 1952 film). Almost 100 years later, the title of a popular play in the publishing world might be What Price Virtual Events.
Up until now, pricing for these pivoted affairs has varied from free to $25 to $75 to half to full price and tiers. ASAE—after starting with a fee to attend—and The Atlantic both made their major annual events free, but with several sponsors. I saw a big 25% off sale for one publisher’s annual event last week. (It started at around $495.)
Here are some of the variations I’ve seen.
Charge low, hope registrations are high. Christine Weiser, content/brand director, Tech & Learning, a Future plc division, said they charged just $25 for a big virtual event they put on, but more than 1,300 people signed on, a number they were very pleased with. “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.
Give options but offer a relatively small discount. The American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians (ACOFP) already had 1,800+ people registered for their main event before they had to pivot to virtual. But what they then offered could still be a blueprint for planning a virtual event—a 25% discount for staying registered. More than 50% of the registrants took that deal. Just over 44% asked for and received a full refund. And 100 people deferred their registration to the 2021 conference. If you can provide similar value to your attendees from the in-person event, then don’t be shy about pricing it that way, they advised. Remember, attendees are saving huge dollars on travel costs.
Use pricing tiers. For their FT Live event in October, the Financial Times is offering three tiers: The Knowledge Pass ($299) gives you access to the live talks and the Q&A and polls. The Professional Pass ($599) adds meet-the-journalist sessions, networking and video on demand. And the Group Pass ($3,000) multiplies everything by six people. For its NAB Show in October, the National Association of Broadcasters is offering a $75 Marketplace Pass. There are then content passes that vary in number of days and in pricing–$149 to $499.
Keep pricing similar but you need to deliver similar 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.”
Keep pricing close to half but provide add-ons. “We feel that people are getting a lot more value [this year],” Jared Waters, training director for BVR, said about their recent Virtual Divorce Conference. “We can do a lot of things to add value to an event. So we figure a price point—[they are charging about half of what they charged 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.
Cut prices in half but get more sponsors. TechCrunch’s Disrupt 2020, taking place this week, cut ticket and exhibition prices this year roughly in half, reports Digiday. Individual ticket prices start at $350, down from $695 last year, while exhibition passes cost $445, down from over $1,000 in 2019. There’s also a Disrupt Digital Pass for $45 that offers access to one stage of programming, but does not include CrunchMatch. (It’s amazing how many names there are for virtual networking now.) TechCrunch expects between 10,000 and 15,000 attendees, close to last year’s attendance figures. However, sponsorship revenue will be up YoY, thanks to more expensive packages (by about 6%).

Live Interviews Can Draw a Big Audience and Be a Membership Perk

We’ve talked here before about initiatives that can be more effective during this unique time. Reaching a bigger—and if it applies, more global—audience through live interviews certainly ranks near the top. “With the dramatic drop in live conferences and events, it comes as no surprise that 72% of publishers have increased their virtual events and webinar offerings,” Brand United reports.
I spoke with Donna Jefferson yesterday of long-time SIPA member Chesapeake Family, and their 2 pm Friday live interviews continue to thrive—often taking on serious topics. She posts them on Facebook and their YouTube channel; here’s the description for Friday’s talk: “Join the discussion with coaches Stephy Samaras and John Downs III as we talk about the impact of COVID-19 on student athletes and what can be done to turn it into a positive experience.”
“I really like to do those virtual interviews as long as we can give 2-3 days notice,” Jefferson said, 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. I will report more on this great series titled Third Floor Views another day.) “By doing virtual interviews, we get things out there quickly.”
I love that Chesapeake Family’s Facebook promotion begins with “Join the discussion.” Remember the first advice yesterday that Christine Weiser of Future’s Tech & Learning gave: “Always have some opportunity for interaction with your audience. So if it’s a passive event that may not be outwardly compelling, we always add some live element. If it’s a pre-recorded keynote, we’ll end with a live Q&A. Also, if you can see the chat, that’s fun, it gets the audience interested and engaged through the Q&A.”
Publishers are also using these talks to build their membership programs (which Jefferson will also soon be initiating). TechCrunch has introduced Extra Crunch Live, a virtual speaker series with live Q&A exclusive for Extra Crunch members. Tomorrow they will feature Anu Duggal, founding partner at Female Founders Fund. “Hear from Duggal on how her thesis has changed, the competitive advantage of diversification, and what she defines as fast-growing and female-led.”
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,” said Scott Omelianuk, editor-in-chief and host.
A recent Real Talk featured one of my favorite speakers and was titled Daniel Pink: How to Not Be Overwhelmed Right Now. Along with the hour-long interview, they offer a short summation: “Start with small wins. Not long ago, popular business thought encouraged leaders to aim ‘for the moon’ to motivate themselves to stay on track in pursuit of goals, says Pink. But research has shown the opposite is true, he says. People are best inspired at work by making meaningful, day-to-day progress.”
They are also inspired by timely, live dialogues. According to WNIP, FT (Financial Times) Live drew 5,500 attendees to its four-day FT Digital Dialogues event in April. And FT Global Boardroom, a fully live, global digital event, had 100 remote speakers and 52,000 delegates.
“We now have unlimited inventory and seats in our virtual conference rooms,” FT Live’s MD Orson Francescone, told The Drum. “We can sell infinite tickets to a global audience. That is pretty powerful. Revolutionary, even.”

Two Event Pros Have Done the Virtual Trial and Error to Help You Succeed

On an American Society of Business Publication Editors webinar last week focusing on virtual events, Christine Weiser, content/brand director, Tech & Learning, a Future plc division, posted a sample agenda from one of the first virtual events they hosted this year. The agenda makes a chemical engineering flow chart look simple.

“I share this to say we did this, we survived, but don’t do this.” And she laughed.

The “conference had 7 tracks [and went] for 10 hours—exactly 10 hours, you can ask my colleagues—and it was very well-received. We had over 1,300 attendees. But this is not the place to start. This is where you learn your lessons.”

After learning their lessons, their events have been worthwhile. Since launching a series of virtual events in March, they’ve had over 4,100 registrants. “Events have been great to introduce our content and brand to a whole new audience,” Weiser said.
Components of the events hub they ended up building included sponsor booths, live chats, video, and a registrant directory—“networking is such a missing piece right now,” she said.
The other speaker was Stephanie Martinez, general manager of ASU GSV Summit. They launched a series of webinars with over 17,000 registrants and are now planning a virtual event at the end of September with over 5,000 attendees. She also pointed to the opportunities now to build a bigger audience.
“A ticket to the event I’m working on now was $3,300 last year; [this will be much less], but we’ll have a chance to extend to a new audience, especially globally,” Martinez said.
“I had googled Zoom fatigue and there are 143,000,000 results, so now we’re competing with the attention of our audience” with so many things… “We should respect the limited attention of our attendees and think about not only the form but the function. We want to connect with them and not demand that they sit for hours on end in a chair watching a screen. They won’t be happy with us and will disengage.”
She also laughed briefly—just at the enormity of the challenge I think.
Here are some of their recommendations:

Start simple. Or you’ll end up with the engineering flow chart agenda.

“Always have some opportunity for interaction with your audience,” Weiser said. “So if it’s a passive” event may not be outwardly compelling, “we always add some live element. If it’s a pre-recorded keynote, we’ll end with a live Q&A. Also, if you can see the chat, that’s fun, it gets the audience interested and engaged through the Q&A.”

Keep individual sessions short, said Martinez. A larger panel can extend it a little bit. Something I noticed very quickly is you can’t allow individuals to dominate. It’s tough enough in person, but virtual you’re watching other people get disengaged. We’ve seen people looking at their phones and turning off their cameras. You just don’t want to be in that situation. The moderator has to keep things moving along especially in a panel discussion, making sure they’re giving equal time to the presenters.”
Repurpose. Even if you do live events, you should repurpose for podcasting. With Zoom, it’s very easy to push out an audio after the event. “We put a podcast out every week and gotten really good response,” Martinez said. “It’s really good to meet your audience where they are.”
Be willing to learn new skills, said Weiser. And apply them to the virtual world, though it’s all fairly similar. It’s a big misconception that virtual events don’t require the same skills sets.
Target your audience to meet their needs. They said half-day afternoons are the best for them, Weiser said. “They’re teachers. The nice thing about access on demand is that people know they can pop in and out during the day.”
Market to a global audience. They don’t have to pay for flights.
Give some choices if possible. This is good because people like to have some control over their experience.
Choose your platform with attention to what your audience wants. It’s a misconception that if I just get this cool platform it will happen. Martinez said she got matched with six people she didn’t know for 5-minute conversations. “And if you like someone, then 5 minutes isn’t enough. (The platform was Run the World.)
Experiment with pricing. Weiser said they charged just $25 but the got over 1,300 people. “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.
An engaging speaker is an engaging speaker. Asked about the difference between presenting in-person and virtually, both did say that yes, there are differences—such as more speaker prep—but if they are a good speaker then it shouldn’t matter. Just ask how they prefer to present and check your contracts so the on-demand is included.