bobcoleman

‘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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Vendor: ‘Can We Do Another Box?’ Swag Boxes Piling up the Dollars and Fun

“It is crazy in our office. All those drive-by pickup people are coming today and tomorrow. We have about 20 sponsors—a school, a math tutoring company, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Girl Scouts, Maryland Hall for Creative Arts, Annapolis Pediatrics… We go live Monday night.”

 

That’s from an email from Donna Jefferson, publisher of Chesapeake Family, sent me last week with the accompanying picture you see. What’s going live is their annual STEAM Fair, pushed to the virtual stage this year but advanced forward by the “event boxes” that participants pay for.

 

There will be four days of early evening events, starting tonight, and although they are geared for kids, other publishers have proven that adults can have the same wide-eyed enthusiasm getting swag boxes as kids.

 

About a month ago, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, a Financial Times company, sent me a unique video that they “published on the value sponsors can get from sponsoring virtual events and providing swag.” In the very funny video, two young children open a swag box meant for one of their parents. You see the enthusiasm and playfulness of the kids, and it makes the point that what’s wrong with a little swag in all of our lives, young or older.

 

“I thought this video did a great job showing that virtual sponsorships can have huge value,” Fink wrote me. “Money-Media doesn’t do a lot of conferences, but our parent company’s conference division, FT Live, does tons of events. They asked to use the video clip as a way to encourage sponsors to provide swag for virtual events. Those are the video producer’s kids.”

 

Taking a step back, the idea of event boxes is many-fold: provide some of the swag that we’re used to getting at in-person events; help ensure that people registered for events will actually attend; give your sponsors and exhibitors another way—a very personal way—to connect with your audience; and inject some fun into a tough period.

 

Bustle Digital Group (BDG) started giving away product kits ahead of some of its sponsored events. These kits include items like yoga mats—for its virtual yoga retreat—and lip glosses in order to make for a more immersive experience, but also to get attendees more engaged with the sponsoring brands. The event kits were complementary for the first 150 attendees to RSVP.” Always good to set a limit like that—gives people more incentive to respond quickly.

 

“It’s important to get products into consumers’ hands,” said BDG president and CRO Jason Wagenheim, adding that this will enable them to promote via word of mouth and social media, turning attendees into micro-influencers for brand sponsors.

 

We know that vendors and exhibitors still very much need to connect with customers. “We work with sponsors and brand partners to acquire products, and we also go direct to factories to have specific products manufactured for every box,” says David Webb, editor-in-chief of Explore, which has also gone all in event boxes. “Our brand partners are a big part of the box—they appreciate that they can get their materials and products directly into the hands of active users and buyers through us.”

Explore now has a warehouse and factories on contract. They learned quickly that the boxes take a commitment to do, so now they do it for others. “We had to learn everything from the ground up,” Webb said. “We packed the first test box in our office, and the next one at a warehouse space. We learned it all on the fly, and used these lessons to be better with the next one.”

 

For Jefferson, while the office looks like a shipping warehouse, the process has been mostly smooth. Because Chesapeake Family is a regional publisher, people have the option of driving by and picking up the boxes, or, of course, they can be shipped.

 

“We used Fed Ex to do the shipping—that was the most expensive part, and only one complaint that it arrived damaged. We replaced it right away.”

 

She said the demand, as you can see, has been huge. “One vendor has already asked if we could do another box. So far, so good.”

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Ideas to Pump Up Your Virtual Event Volume and Encourage People to Attend

I wrote last week that there can be a lot to like about virtual events—global reach, access to more speakers, expanded Q&As. But one virtual events problem that’s not discussed as much—as say, the networking issue—that we don’t have for in-person events is getting registrants to actually attend. I mean, who isn’t going to Florida or California or Vegas after signing up and booking flights?
But getting on another Zoom-like event in the middle of a busy day takes some coaxing.
“Keep focusing on the what’s-in-it-for-me [angle],” said Matthew Cibellis of Cibellis Solutions. “Remind them on what they signed up for in the first place. It’s a lot of retargeting. You want them there live. You’ve promised sponsors certain types of personas. Send email and text reminders.” Make it easy for them to sign on. “And use testimonials: ‘Here’s why I’m going to the show.’”
When I sign up to attend an online event, the more draws that the organizer can program the better. Interesting topic, check. Q&A check. Some type of networking, check. Some gamification, check. Wine tasting, check.

 

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But there’s always room for newer and more fun ideas. Believe it or not, Goat-2- Meeting will bring a farm animal to mingle in your Zoom boxes. “Need a fresh face to brighten up your video conference meetings?” they ask. “The Sweet Farm Animal Ambassadors are here for you.”

“It’s hard to find fun things to incorporate into our virtual events right now. It’s like, how many wine tastings can we do?” said Katrina Kent, head of events for TD Ameritrade, in an article on Successful Meetings.
Here are a few ideas from that article and others I’ve seen:
Add a musical component. Since March, SongDivision has put on more than 400 digital events, with attendance ranging from 15 people to 15,000. TD Ameritrade hired them to write a custom song, “Invested Forever,” to honor the company’s 40-year history and highlighted major accomplishments from over the years. (That brings up another recent article I wrote here about celebrating company anniversaries.) The song kicked off the one-hour event. “People were completely blown away. It was totally unexpected and everyone wanted the MP3 of the song right away,” said Kent.
Add trivia or fun quiz questions or a giveaway. “There’s always been this big separation of church and state in the meetings industry. So, we have content and learning over here and engagement and fun over there, and don’t let them get anywhere near each other,” said Sharon Fisher, CEO of Play with a Purpose. “…the meetings that we’ve seen that are really, really successful blend the two and put engagement and content together.”
Add virtual photo elements. “There’s usually a line at the photo booth at every in-person event” writes Samantha Whitehorne in Associations Now. “And while you may think this is one element that has to go by the wayside in the virtual environment, think again. There are plenty of options out there that will allow participants to create and share fun photos and animated GIFs.” Donna Jefferson of Chesapeake Family has enjoyed success with her magazine photo contests—pets, kids, scenery. There could be a virtual contest during an event if it’s done in an expedient way.
Do a Digital Dine Around. I’ve missed my share of meals to take part in virtual events. In their Influence 2020 conference, the National Speakers Association made sure you ate well: “Have you ever wished you could share a meal with one of NSA luminaries?” they wrote in August. “This year, you can! We’re hosting Digital Dine Arounds where you can sit down for a casual ‘meal time conversation’ with NSA’s Board Members, Past Presidents, Cavett Award Recipients, CPAE winners, and more.”
Come up with an intriguing interview pairing. I saw another great example of this yesterday when Politics and Prose, an incredible independent bookstore in Washington, hosted a reading of author Tim Weiner (The Folly and the Glory) being interviewed by Asha Rangappa, CNN analyst, Yale lecturer and former FBI special agent. It proved to be a must-see-and-hear conversation. I was also sure to tune in last week to an interview with Nataki Garrett, artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. One big reason was the interviewer: 67 year-old Scottish director John Doyle who reimagined The Color Purple to Broadway success a couple years ago. The juxtaposition of the backgrounds of the two made for must-see Zooming. Often the interviewer can be just as important as the speaker.
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Innovation and Boldness Are Being Rewarded During Pandemic

“There are no ‘enemies’ of innovation, but it is a question of complacency and inertia, of innovation perhaps not being top of mind. I hear often ‘we’ve never done it that way’ or ‘we’ve always done it that way.’”
That quote comes from Kerstin Fröhlich, head of innovation management at German media company Spiegel Verlag in an article on FIPP’s World Media Congress on the What’s New in Publishing site. Fröhlich spoke about how the German media power is “baking innovation into its organizational culture. Despite everyone agreeing that innovation is something they want to prioritize, its value must be consistently reiterated.”
An initial response to publishing life in the pandemic might have been to play down innovation and go with what you know, but what we know has been upended. The more I read, it’s the companies that are being bold and innovative that are doing well.
Here are some successful ways I’ve come across.
Reach out into new areas. Future plc, a member of our Connectiv group, has just announced profits of around $110 million for 2020, up from operating profits of $68.7 million in 2019. How have they done it? “[Future] stands out in its confidence and performance,” independent media analyst Alex DeGroote told Digiday. “Some of its products skew towards gaming—like Techradar—and gaming has gone nuts in lockdown.” Speaking at FIPP, Claire MacLellan, COO at Future, said: “We set out to become global and to have multiple revenue streams. In acquisitions”—they recently acquired Marie Claire among other brands—“we look for ways of bringing in expertise that align with the strategy and really add to the business’s strengths.”
Come up with new event ideas. These event boxes are taking off. Donna Jefferson of Chesapeake Family told me that she is planning to mail out an “event box” to attendees to a virtual event they are holding in October—possibly with sponsorships on both the inside and outside of the box. Bustle Digital Group has started giving away product kits ahead of some of its sponsored events. These kits include items like yoga mats—for its virtual yoga retreat—and lip glosses in order to make for a more immersive experience, but also to get attendees more engaged with the sponsoring brands. The event kits were complementary for the first 150 attendees to RSVP.” Always good to set a limit like that.
Strive for interactivity. This is a different industry but… Geffen “Stayhouse” (formerly Playhouse) in Los Angeles has a new show which follows the hugely successful The Present—which featured those mailed event boxes. “Inside the Box takes us into the exhilarating world of games with New York Times crossword constructor David Kwong. Twenty-four guests will have a front-row seat to an entirely interactive show of puzzles, while David regales them with stories of the most extraordinary puzzle-makers throughout history.” Q&As, roundtables, chat rooms, trivia games, polling… whatever you can do to be interactive, do it.
Adapt your content to audience needs. “There have been real challenges with COVID-19, but the significant point is that our audiences required something different through this time, so we had to pivot quite quickly to create content that mattered to them during some of the most difficult times of their lives,” said MacLellan. The pandemic has augmented the role of the media in people’s lives, and “scale brings opportunity,” she added. Jared Waters, training director for BVR who planned their Virtual Divorce Conference this week, said this is “not a personal growth year. It’s, ‘What do I need to know to survive?’ It’s all COVID-19 related.” Content from people in your community on the frontlines has been hugely rewarding these last few months.
Use virtual’s strengths. I just saw that Mario Garcia, who was a hit at our BIMS conference last year, keynoted WAN IFRA’s Asian Media Leaders eSummit in July. And why not. This year, a trip across the globe to speak has become a trip to your home office to speak. Think big for your speakers. “One of the interesting things about working from home [is] that we could dive in, get on a phone call very quickly and agree that we want to do this and we don’t have time to do 100 meetings,” said Scott Havens, chief growth officer and global head of strategic partnerships at Bloomberg Media U.S. “Hopefully this moment will be a breeding ground for new innovations to connect digital and live in a much more profound way than we do today.”
Did someone say, “hybrid”?
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Thinking Out of the Box, Marketers Come Up With Event Boxes

“Work fun swag into your [virtual event] plans. If you have the budget, you might be able to differentiate yourself and bring a little joy to attendees during a tough time by still including conference swag.”
That’s from Higher Logic. Back in May I happened on a new online show called The Present by magician Heider Guimaraes, where ticket holders are mailed a box with surprise contents that they are directed not to open until their Zoom show starts.
It’s been a hit.
“How do you reach out of the computer and into the audience?” asked Matt Shakman, artistic director of the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, where the show has sold out extensions through October. “The idea would be to hold something in your hand and be part of the process. That’s how you make Zoom as interesting as a black box theater.”
B2B and B2C have followed along. Donna Jefferson of Chesapeake Family told me that she is planning to mail out an “event box” to attendees to a virtual event they are holding in October—possibly with sponsorships on both the inside and outside of the box.
And then I saw this last week in Digiday: “Bustle Digital Group’s new commerce play is tied to its virtual events strategy, where it has started giving away product kits ahead of some of its sponsored events. These kits include items like yoga mats and lip glosses that are tied to the event in order to make for a more immersive experience, but also to get attendees more engaged with the sponsoring brands.
“So far, BDG has created these event kits for its virtual yoga retreat in May that was produced for advertiser Nature’s Way, and for its Self-Care Saturday event this past Saturday that was built with advertiser lip filler brand Restylane Kysse. The event kits were complementary for the first 150 attendees to RSVP.”
We know that vendors and exhibitors still very much need to connect with customers. “We work with sponsors and brand partners to acquire products, and we also go direct to factories to have specific products manufactured for every box,” says David Webb, editor-in-chief of Explore. “Our brand partners are a big part of the box—they appreciate that they can get their materials and products directly into the hands of active users and buyers through us.”
Explore now has a warehouse and factories on contract. They learned quickly that the boxes take a commitment to do, so now they do it for others. “We had to learn everything from the ground up,” Webb said. “We packed the first test box in our office, and the next one at a warehouse space. We learned it all on the fly, and used these lessons to be better with the next one.”
“It’s important to get products into consumers’ hands,” said BDG president and CRO Jason Wagenheim, adding that this will enable them to promote via word of mouth and social media, turning attendees into micro-influencers for brand sponsors.
The Nature’s Way Yoga Retreat, for example, had a 53% higher Instagram Story video completion rate than its benchmark and a 250% higher Instagram post click through rate than expected.
The boxes can also be digital. “Many publishers now have a range of events, master classes, special talks and other digital goodies that they could package as part of a monthly ‘box,'” a FIPP report says. “Is it a money-can’t-buy 30-minute fireside interview with the publishers’ crossword-setter? Or a free ticket to a session” with your favorite writer? Digital “goodies” can also be personalized by seeing what the customer has shown the most interest in.
It’s about providing “subscribers with an experience they’re not getting elsewhere,” said Michell Panzer of Hearst Autos.