reutersnext

Virtual and Hybrid Events Need Their Own Analytics and Designs to Work Best

We’ve talked about content metrics, and that publishers believe that feedback loops must also be part of the measurement equation. So why should events be different? Thus it was impressive to read that Reuters Events is “maniacal about analytics” and based their agenda for Reuters Next on continual polling of the needs of its audience. What else are publishers doing to amp up their virtual and hybrid events?

“This is an opportunity to see and think things differently,” reads a tagline for Reuters Next. “… This December, it is your chance to be a part of the world’s largest movement to tackle change, head on.” In October 2019, Reuters bought the British-based specialist events business FCBI. Rebranded Reuters Events, it has put on more than 60 virtual conferences and events since then.

In an article in The Drum, Josh London, chief marketing officer for Reuters, says the high level of interest in Reuters Next—which debuted in January—was a culmination of a strategy which “all stems from customer experience… Thousands of hours’ worth of research [was conducted] to understand the needs of the delegates and match that with a speaker agenda so that we can make sure that the time that they are investing is best spent.”

Here are a few other virtual and hybrid event strategies that are paying dividends:

Virtual – Sell premium perks. While registration was mostly free for Reuters Next, they  sold “professional passes” costing $699 offering a post-event report and access to a networking program which enabled one-to-one meetings with attendees and speakers. “This is something that both parties would opt into and the system would set up a time for you to connect,” says London. “It’s similar to real world [conferences] but with some advantages; so you are not standing on the outside of a circle waiting for a break in the conversation.”

Hybrid – Do what’s best for each audience. At Meeting Professionals International’s recent World Education Congress (WEC)—600 in person, 1000 virtual—virtual sessions were conducted by many of the in-person presenters but at different times and days, Informa’s Meetings Net reported. “The only in-person sessions that were livestreamed were our general sessions, and we engaged the virtual audience in real time with things like ‘fan cams’ and a European region co-host,” says Melinda Burdette, director of events for MPI. Adds James Frankis, director of product for Convene: “The key is to build in a few ‘peak moments’ that are simultaneous for both, such as keynote presentations and critical breakout sessions—opportunities for the two audiences to come together through real-time surveying that guides the direction of a session.”

Virtual – Be interactive. “Say I’ve got a half-hour experience that I’m creating—the audience is an important part of that experience,” said John Capano, SVP of Impact XM. “So yeah, I’m going to deliver some content, but in between the content, what am I going to do to get that audience engaged? And it’s just being thoughtful about that, based on what is the content? What is the event? What is the audience? And what is their appetite for that?” At Reuters Next, all delegates had access to Q&A and audience polling.

Hybrid – Be confident in your pricing and prepare your staffing. For that WEC event, MPI charged $799 for the in-person experience, which featured four concurrent sessions in each time slot; and $299 for virtual attendees who got three concurrent sessions per time slot. However, they “underestimated the number of staff needed to manage the digital experience,” said Jessie States, director of the MPI Academy. “You need a moderator for each room to monitor the chat, mute participants and generally manage the technology.”

Virtual and Hybrid – Emphasize sustainability. Almost 3/4 (74%) of their audience told Condé Nast that companies behaving more sustainably took on more importance because of coronavirus. Young people especially have indicated in surveys that it affects their decision-making. “Live events take a lot and have a big carbon footprint,” Capano said. “And so doing an event where maybe it’s a smaller live portion, but a much larger online portion, you can get the same benefit and the same engagement for a much smaller carbon footprint. And obviously, that is important and should be important to many of the folks that we work with. So this is really a ton of benefits there.”

Hybrid – Don’t let anyone feel like they’re missing out. States from MPI said that some of their “digital participants expressed interest in a few in-person sessions that were not offered virtually. Our takeaway is that we should capture those in-person sessions for on-demand viewing.” FOMO is real. While virtual cannot replicate the networking and exhibit hall, it should be able deliver on content.

Bobcat

Beyond Virtual Events: 3 Replacements for Live Events That Are Taking Center Stage in 2021

The cancellation of live events in 2020 (and for most, at least the first half of 2021) has forced publishers to find new ways to connect buyers and sellers, particularly as sponsors shifted ad dollars earmarked for events into all-digital channels.

Virtual events were the obvious answer but if you talk to most publishers and sponsors privately, they’ll admit they see “traditional” virtual facsimiles of live events as a stopgap to be abandoned as soon as the world goes back to normal.

Here we look at three solutions developed in response to the crisis that have performed so well that they will continue to be offered even as live events return.

1.  Social Simulcasts

AC Business Media (ACBM) covers markets ranging from heavy construction to manufacturing to supply chain and that means serving sponsors with heavy equipment to sell. As events canceled, giving customers a way to get products in front of potential buyers was critical.

“We were at CONEXPO last March just as the world started imploding,” says ACBM Chief Digital Officer Kris Heineman. “Big manufacturers had already paid millions to ship machines out to the show but they didn’t come themselves because they didn’t want their staffs exposed to COVID. When events go away they’re not going to stop producing products, they’ll start looking for other outlets.”

While many publishers produced virtual product showcases within proprietary digital platforms, ACMB created simulcasts—basically live streaming—that leveraged social media to expand the reach of its audience.

In one example, ACBM created a single livestream that played simultaneously across the seven different Facebook pages devoted to its Construction brands.

“When we first started doing this, we were concerned that the channels would start overlapping with each other but it’s actually a case of more is more—with each platform you get a certain percentage of your overall audience,” says Heineman. “Let’s say you have 1 million Facebook followers—Facebook won’t let you organically reach all those people. But if you stream to 10 different Facebook pages, maybe you reach 40,000 here and 60,000 there, so it’s all complementary.”

ACBM created a simulcast for equipment manufacturer Bobcat that drove more than 100,000 views and 800 interactions in the first few days.

“For B2B, those are high numbers,” says Heineman. “When most people in B2B say they put something on Facebook they’re usually getting two or three interactions. Not everyone thinks there’s opportunity in B2B for social media but this product proves that wrong.”

Customers continue to clamor for the live streams even as ACBM begins exploring the return of live events. “We can’t produce enough video,” says Heineman. “We’re already sold out on some channels through 2021.”

[Editor’s note: For more on how ACBM is creating social simulcasts, register for our upcoming webcast this Thursday, March 25 at 1pm ET on New Revenue From Social Media: How To Build a Live Product Showcase.]

2. Marketing Services

Marketing services have grown faster than digital display advertising in B2B media for several years now but prior to last year still took a backseat to events as an overall revenue producer for most publishers.

Marketing services has always been tied closely to events for Government Executive Media Group (GEMG) but in 2020 came to the forefront by helping customers meet their event objectives when live events came to a standstill (and finished the year with revenue up 43 percent as a group while helping to drive 20 percent topline growth for the overall company).

Frank Salatto, GEMG

“It wasn’t just about helping customers achieve their event objectives with us but their event objectives writ large,” says Frank Salatto, Vice President and General Manager of Marketing and Communications at GEMG. “Honestly, we were part of the conversation with clients like never before in how to rebuild their event programs.”

GEMG transitioned quickly to an all-digital environment by turning large live events into multi-part integrated digital programs, using content as the connector to drive audience from one touchpoint to another.

“Digital events were part of that but it’s a series of digital events that would allow you to recreate what you would get with a live event but in between those you need additive content that keeps the conversation going,” says Salatto.

Data collection and diverse capabilities helped GEMG keep revenue whole for all but one live event booked prior to the pandemic.

“There is opportunity in the data that you can collect,” says Salatto. “That’s always been a pain point for live events. But in digital we know what customers are interacting with across a much longer time-period and we know more about them including how interested they are and how ready they are to buy.”

Branded websites proved to be a winner for GEMG last year and will continue to be a key product in 2021. “That turned out to be a great vehicle for brands to tell their story and drive sustained engagement over time but also a way for us to have a center piece for really large, long term programs and have tack-on revenue beyond the initial build,” says Salatto.

GEMG expects a similar marketing environment in 2021 and is looking to capitalize on its stable which includes branded microsites, immersive articles, video and audio, digital event integration and data visualization.

“We believe this is sustainable and there’s room to grow,” says Salatto. “The net of this is that 14 out of our 15 top clients have marketing services central to the program they bought with us. We are not a huge piece of the revenue pie as an individual unit but we are a driver of topline revenue and a significant part of the pathway to bigger revenue programs.”

3. Attendee Data

You’ve likely heard of first party data and third-party data but how about zero party data?

At our recent Business Information and Media Summit, Informa Markets chief digital officer Jason Brown, who leads a newly created group called Informa Markets DNA, showed how the company is finding new revenue by leveraging event audience data into a new take on lead gen that not only creates revenue in the interim but promises to elevate the value of Informa’s live events when they return.

That includes creating online marketplaces that are enhanced versions of the show directories that Informa produces for its live events. Customers can use the online marketplaces to search products and suppliers, discover new products via a recommendation engine, make connections, create a virtual “walking” or favorites list and register for other Informa physical and virtual events.

The online marketplaces also provide Informa with “zero party data” where users offer direct insight into their interests through their use of the marketplaces, which helps Informa create authenticated data that shows not only who a lead is also their buying intent.

“We take our first party data, the third-party data that we can buy or borrow and the zero-party data given to us by our audience when they are specifically after something and combine that information together to create something called authenticated data,” says Brown. “If we do all of that correctly, our gray cloud of a data lake becomes a green cloud of known buyer status. That’s where we can say who our buyer is and where they are in the funnel.”

In addition to the traditional model of offering leads as part of a one-off sponsorship, Informa is moving toward an annual subscription model that includes,

  • continuous access to fresh data
  • ability to count, segment and modify criteria for best data selection
  • intent scoring
  • ability to create a sales pipeline that feeds directly into the customer’s CRM

“Instead of bundling and packaging programs, this is an annual program that you can subscribe to and we can present different layers and opportunities to you,” says Brown.

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

‘It’s All About the Ability to Connect’; Can Virtual Events Be Successfully Reinvented?

Virtual events present good content. We know that. But so do webinars, podcasts, blogs and whitepapers. So given the resources they require, can they be made more viable for sponsors and vendors? We talked to one vendor who, instead of putting her faith in the events world that she used to cherish, started a weekly conversation/happy hour/innovation chat that’s flourishing. Can virtual events facilitate that same connection?
“Originally it was, ‘Let’s try to mimic an in-person event’—with virtual expos, exhibit halls, so we can walk the hallways, step into a booth—instead of embracing digital differently. We saw that doesn’t work. Some vendors [believe] that virtual events are now just about brand awareness, sponsoring breakout sessions or getting their logo out there. So now publishers are finding other ways [to create connections]—and really being creative. ‘How can I position you as a thought leader in the industry?’ Podcasts are creating new opportunities. For us [as a vendor], it’s all about leads. People want to have meaningful conversations.”

That comes from Joanne Persico, president of ONEcount, a customer data platform vendor. She decided quickly last year when the pandemic hit not to depend on others, and hold those conversations herself. So for the last 46 weeks, she’s hosted the Bold Minds Virtual Mixers. Number 47 takes place tomorrow from 5:30 to 7 pm.

“They’re Wednesdays, mid-week, inspirational—it’s at 5:30 so we all bring cocktails,” Persico said. (The Mixers average around 20 people.) “And nothing is recorded. So people share information and are non-competitive. It has been a great way to get people to engage, have fun and drive leads for us.”

Kudos to Persico for coming up with an innovative solution. As virtual events move into a new phase—kind of an if-we-still-need-to-do-this-we-gotta-offer-sponsors-something-different phase—Samantha Whitehorne of Associations Now offered suggestions for 2021. She based it off of a manifesto of legal technology vendors who came together for a Virtual Value Workshop.

Get vendors involved during the planning stage. “Invite us to offer suggestions, give feedback and share the lessons we’re learning (and the solutions we’re seeing) before you go your own way.”

Rethink the virtual expo hall. Organize the hall around the problems that attendees are looking to solve, or even around conference tracks. “Vendors might choose to be in more than one area, depending on the variety of solutions and services they offer.”

Build small curated exhibit spaces. “Make attendees leave their virtual sessions through a curated, mini vendor hall where they might be exposed to solutions connected with the session they just attended.”

Offer discounts in exchange for engagement and data. “If registration discounts aren’t something your [organization] would consider, you could offer other benefits like prizes or access to additional content.”

Persico has seen that type of gamification and admits it does have merit, but attending a recent event with 3,000 people, three virtual expos and “so many booths that are impossible to all go to,” she was glad that she wasn’t a sponsor. “You see a logo and you have no idea what this logo is, what they do,” she said. “There was just an overwhelming number of people and sponsors and booths.”

Instead she praises chat rooms that follow a session—“People are looking more for the content”—or an idea she saw recently at a CMSWire event. “They had something with Slack where you create a profile, indicate a couple interests, then drag yourself to a breakout room and get right in on the conversation. The leader brought me in, and I started talking to people.

“Sponsors don’t feel like they’re getting a return on investment on most of these [big events],” she said. “And if they’re free, then the leads might not be qualified enough. It might be just people thinking that the topic seems interesting, so let me join.

“It’s all about the ability to connect. People still want that human connection,” Persico went on. “As a host, I’ve really perfected [getting those conversations flowing]. I scan the room and bring people in. Christine knows trade shows and conferences, she can answer that. Leslie does sales training. We have multi-pronged conversations and get a lot of forward thinkers, so for us, even though it’s 90 minutes, no one is fatigued. In fact, they usually hate to go.”

Persico also knows that putting on virtual events is not cheap. “There are costs with technologies—it’s not one size fits all. Breakout rooms, chats, speed dating all may require different technologies. Then someone has to moderate every panel and breakout room. That can be intensive. One of my attendees had to lower her price—she was having a hard time justifying the increases” without any food, receptions or real networking involved.

“Instead of asking, ‘How can we do online what we’ve always done in person?’” wrote Whitehorne, “you should ask, ‘How can we do online what we’ve never been able to do in person?’ And then answer it well.”

It’s a challenge. While not everyone has the bandwidth to do what Persico has—47 and counting!—her success points to three things: a push for more innovative thinking, the willingness to try different strategies, and the ongoing need for making connections.

You can email Persico for more information about attending the Mixers.

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

‘Blowing Our Model Out of the Water…’; for Some, Virtual Events Have Major Virtues

“How you define events is really the key here,” Orson Francescone (pictured), head of FT Live, told us at BIMS in December. “If you’re a trade show organizer then trying to go digital is tough. If you’re a conference organizer trying to go digital, it’s easier. We’re really good at delivering content.” As all of us get better at virtual events, the lure of the bigger audience should incent publishers small and big to keep at it.

“Can I give you some numbers?” Francescone, asked during the events Power Panel at BIMS 2020. “FT is a newspaper, and we reached a million subscribers a year ago. Our strategy is to drive subscriptions and we’re doing that very successfully. Events were always a big part of that strategy because subscribers who attend events tend to be better engaged [and bring] longer lifetime value.

“Last year we had 24,000 delegates at our conferences. [In 2020] with 220 online events”—plus three more December events were still to come—“that’s webinars, conferences and award shows, we’ve had 160,000 ‘digital delegates.’ So suddenly those 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. That’s a very attractive proposition to someone who owns an integrated media platform like us.”

Taking a quick look at the FT Live events homepage, I count 17 virtual events in March, from Women in Technology on March 3, to FTWeekend Digital Festival – Spring Weekend on March 18, to the New Leadership Conversation on March 25. Obviously, we all can’t be the Financial Times, but in a way their idea of cultivating a more global audience can work even better for a publisher with less resources.

Here’s some advice from experts who have experienced success with virtual events.

Keep it short. “The most important thing we tell clients first is [keep it] short,” said John Capano, SVP of Impact XM, an experiential marketing agency, in a recent EventBuzz podcast. “If you’re talking about a keynote that would usually last a half an hour or 45 minutes, [now that might mean] it’s 8-12 minutes. You’re just not going to keep people virtually.” Matthew Cibellis of Cibellis Solutions suggests thinking through a sponsorable monthly series, rather than one or two big annual events as a means of engaging attendees and sponsors.”

Be interactive. “People want to feel like they’re interacting with another living being,” said Shaul Olmert, CEO of Playbuzz, in an article on Huffington Post. “As such, content needs to provide users with interactive material that actively engages them. Playbuzz “Story” enables publishers to “present the content of an article in a series of interactive formats (think polls, flip cards, quizzes), text and visuals. With this format, people spend an average of 3-4 minutes per visit.” Adds Capano: “Say I’ve got a half-hour experience that I’m creating—the audience is an important part of that experience. So yeah, I’m going to deliver some content, but in between the content, what am I going to do to get that audience engaged? And it’s just being thoughtful about that, based on what is the content? What is the event? What is the audience? And what is their appetite for that?”

Choose the right technology. “A lot of folks end up picking their platform before they answer any of these questions and then they realize the platform can’t do what they want creatively,” Capano said. “And so we’re always telling our clients, start early and figure out these questions about what you want this event to be and how you want to engage. And then we’ll go find the right platform. There’s a million platforms. Sometimes the cart gets before the horse on that one.”

Showcase your content people. Of course, FT posts all the big names first for their Spring Festival like Diane Von Furstenberg, authors Martin Amis and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and, wow, the London Symphony Orchestra. But then they follow with FT staffers like wine columnist Jancis Robinson, editor-at-large Gillian Tett, How to Spend It editor Jo Ellison and drink columnist Alice Lascelles. (Wine tastings may still be virtual’s biggest draw.) Put your people front and center—this is a time to showcase them to a bigger audience.

Help your audience do virtual better. 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. The idea was “to provide a forum to identify and promote the best possible pedagogy, techniques and tools by faculty for online and blended learning and to help faculty design the most engaging experience for learners.” They did not hesitate in scheduling the 2021 all-virtual edition. “We’ve learned so much in the last year,” writes David Levin, the event’s producer. “Student behaviors and expectations have changed. Workplace and professional practice have been significantly reshaped. We can do SO much better for our students NOW than we could in January 2020.”

Parse the data, even while the event is going on. “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.” Use the data to even make changes during the event, if need be. Maybe some type of Q&A worked particularly well on the first day or a chatroom or exhibitor showroom didn’t. You’ll know.

Informa Markets

3 Ways B2B Giant Informa is Reinventing Lead Gen

With more than 500 trade shows and exhibitions that in a typical year generate more than 60 percent of its total revenue, few companies have borne the brunt of COVID-19’s impact on events more than Informa.

But the way forward is turning crisis into opportunity and Informa is aggressively creating new businesses out of its existing events model and the enormous cache of audience data those events create.

At our recent Business Information and Media Summit, Informa Markets chief digital officer Jason Brown, who leads a newly created group called Informa Markets DNA, showed how the company is finding new revenue by leveraging event audience data into a new take on lead gen that not only creates revenue in the interim but promises to elevate the value of Informa’s live events when they return (replays of that session are available in the BIMS archive and AM&P Network members can reach out to me at mkinsman@siia.net for a link).

“We were hit hard with corona, but on the back of that, we’re working hard to look at alternative ways we can generate revenue from a similar mix of audience,” says Brown. “We’re not seeking to replicate what a show would do but instead offer year-round engagement with buyers and sellers which will mold itself to physical trade shows when they come back over the next 12 months.”

Three-Part Combo: Online Marketplaces, Authenticated Data and Audience Extension

Informa’s new approach leverages three components—Online Marketplaces, Authenticated Data and Audience Extension—that work together to generate data, convert that data into highly detailed and actionable intelligence and ultimately leverage that intelligence and Informa’s scale in connecting buyers and sellers across its own properties and beyond.

Online Marketplaces are enhanced versions of the show directories that Informa produces for its live events. Customers can use the online marketplaces to search products and suppliers, discover new products via a recommendation engine, make connections, create a virtual “walking” or favorites list and register for other Informa physical and virtual events.

“We let attendees figure out what they want to do,” says Brown. “It’s not about driving traffic to physical shows but creating engagement for 52 weeks a year. We’re allowing buyers and sellers to connect now without the ultimate destination of a physical trade show.”

The online marketplaces also provide Informa with “zero party data” where users offer direct insight into their interests through their use of the marketplaces, which helps Informa create the next component—Authenticated Data.

Identity and Buying Intent

If the top of the buyer funnel is about generating awareness, the bottom of the funnel is about decision and action. Informa is offering its customers authenticated data that shows not only who a lead is but also their buying intent.

“We take our first party data, the third-party data that we can buy or borrow and the zero-party data given to us by visitors and our audience when they are specifically after something and combine that information together to create something called authenticated data,” says Brown.

Getting the data right is the most important part. Informa aggregates its full spectrum of audience data into a data lake, including event registrations, online behavior and third-party data from services such as Bombora. Informa then uses that information to build a picture of a user and create an intent score.

“If we do all of that correctly, our gray cloud of a data lake becomes a green cloud of known buyer status,” says Brown. “That’s where we can say who our buyer is and where they are in the funnel.”

“Right Person, Right Time, Right Message”

Audience extension—reaching customers not only on your own branded properties but beyond—is something Informa and other publishers have been doing for years (and it’s why social platforms have become such an existential threat to publishers). But the addition of highly targeted, highly accurate data makes Informa’s audience extension efforts even more powerful.

“We ask our clients what kind of customer they are looking for, then we work with several third-party companies to find that lookalike audience and present a marketing message,” says Brown.

This is something Informa has seen success with particularly in the ag vertical, where it runs events such as the Farm Progress Show. “We can take a farmer, find hundreds of thousands of other farmers just like them, find whatever device they are on and target them with a message,” says Brown. “Right person, right time, right message.”

“Giving You the Needle, Not the Haystack”

And while audience extension is about scale and Informa still sells many traditional lead gen projects (including CRM feeds, webinar series, email promotion, programmatic remarketing, geo fencing and market intelligence reports), providing access to qualified buyers is the ultimate goal.

“We don’t want to give you access to 9,000 people; we want to give you access to 12,” says Brown. “Customers say, ‘don’t give us the haystack, give us the needle inside it.’ If you do a webinar today, you might get between 200-500 attendees and that’s great, but you’re not sure how qualified they are. Here, we are talking about creating a qualified buyer and then working with clients to create a webinar for 20 people, but a very distilled audience of 20 people who have shared with us their intent.”

Changing the Ways Leads Are Sold

Traditionally, publishers sell a sponsor on a content-driven program such as a webinar, then hand over the audience list to that sponsor. That’s a risky and outdated approach for both publishers and sponsors, according to Brown.

“The current model in many places of giving away the crown jewels of our data is not a good business model,” says Brown. “The danger in handing over those leads is that they can be abused quickly. Files also start aging from day one—and not like fine wine but like moldy cheese. As soon as you hand it over to someone, their journey in that buyer funnel may have changed the next day.”

Informa is moving away from selling leads as part of a one-off sponsorship and instead offering an annual subscription, which includes,

  • continuous access to fresh data
  • ability to count, segment and modify criteria for best data selection
  • intent scoring
  • ability to create a sales pipeline that feeds directly into the customer’s CRM

Informa also enables subscribers to Bring You Own Data, in which customers can give the publisher their data and Informa will cleanse it, authenticate it and attach an intent score for the customer’s own audience.

“Instead of bundling and packaging programs, this is an annual program that you can subscribe to and we can present different layers and opportunities to you,” says Brown.

Not for Everyone

It’s an approach that requires a skillset and an infrastructure that not everyone—including both publishers and advertisers—can take advantage of. Informa has developed a criteria for assessing markets and clients that could benefit, which include,

  • an active digital market
  • a sophisticated digital sales team on the client side
  • market pricing
  • a client with existing audience data

“The markets need to be fairly advanced. We look at whether they are buying on social, on Google, how much are they spending with us and can we convert what they are spending elsewhere,” says Brown. “We’re not selling Webinars, we’re selling access to data. We need to work with really smart digital salespeople who we can train to cross-sell access to data.”