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‘Figuring Out a Happy Medium’; Finding a Balance of Value and Price for Events

In an article last month on the Eventbrite blogAdriana Gascoigne of Girls in Tech was asked the most compelling element to get attendees to attend their virtual events? “…the speakers: high-caliber speakers and content that’s difficult for attendees to access if it weren’t for [us].”

In a normal year, a Girls in Tech Conference costs $300 and maybe their Global Classrooms anywhere from $35 to $150. When the pandemic began, they went to free. “But as the year moves on,” Gascoigne says, “we’re figuring out a happy medium for next year’s event to offer up a fee that keeps them signing up and actually attending the event. We’re trying to figure out what that number is.”

There is nothing trickier than event pricing right now. We’ve seen prices run the gamut from free to $600, and no one seems sure about their strategy—at least until after the fact. Gascoigne looks at the bright side, however. “We’re able to produce more and reach a lot more people globally through digital programming and it’s also less expensive overall to produce.”

That Eventbrite article listed these three foundational strategies to price your event:

  • Create demand with discounted prices for new events.
  • Cover your business costs.
  • Play up your value to attendees.

Let’s focus on that third one: value. 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.

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. I’ll bet they charge a little more next time.

“We feel that people are getting a lot more value [this year],” Jared Waters, training director for Business Valuation Resources, 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.

“Consider the value [of] what people are getting in exchange for what they’re paying,” said Darrah Brustein, lifestyle designer and founder of Network Under 40, a series of networking events for professionals in Atlanta, Nashville, and Baltimore. Brustein only charges $10-$25 for her networking events but $97-$297 for her summit because she knows it provides in-depth value.

The National Association of Broadcasters broke pricing down for their big October event, offering a $75 Marketplace Pass, and then content passes that varied in number of days and in pricing—$149 to $499.

“We started off at a lower number when we first offered our classes,” Susie Martin, co-founder, It’s for Charity! Events, said. “Once we saw the popularity, we slowly raised our prices until we found a good spot. It was experimental.”

Experimental is a good word for these times. Your audience is unique so what works for you in pricing may be as well.

Then there’s the Bloody Mary Festival. “The normal in-person festival costs $50 (general admission) and you get two-and-a-half hours sampling Bloody Marys from 10-15 different vendors,” Evan Weiss said. “The virtual event ticket costs $75 and includes five bottles of artisanal Bloody Mary mix from around the country shipped direct to the ticket holder. Then on October 10th, each ticket holder can tune into the virtual Bloody Mary Festival.”

Whether attendees make it that far after getting their swag boxes is a story for another day.

 

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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%).