Updated: Jan 19, 2022
Virtual events have taken over the industry since the start of the pandemic. When event organizers started shifting their live events to a virtual setting, hosts and marketers quickly found tremendous value in providing unique digital experiences.
With all the revenue generated by virtual events, it’s astounding that the majority of event planners are still not monetizing their online events. In our inaugural episode of Cadence, we invited experts who gave their best advice on how event hosts can make the most out of their virtual events.
Cadence is a monthly program created by Ace Virtual Events and beedance for professionals in the events, communication, and marketing industries. Each episode aims to tackle a different topic around cadence in business. For our very first Cadence program, our invited speakers were Christy Burcham, Deborah Greif, Mary Beth Micucci, and Barry Upbin. The program was hosted by our amazing moderator, Steve Boyce.
Speakers at the first Cadence episode
Christy Burcham is the Director of Education and Training at Bernina of America. She has spent her career training and teaching sewing, quilting, and embroidery to sewing enthusiasts and independent retailers around the world. Starting as an educator, then project manager, and now executive, Christy has been on all sides of the training equation, and understands the value of translating training and education into measurable sales results.
Deborah Greif is the Director of Corporate Relations and Business Development at American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA). Deborah joined the ASA in November 2016, bringing more than fifteen years of business development, marketing, and event strategy experience. Her responsibilities include partner relations, business development, and product development – with an emphasis on attendee and exhibitor engagement for ASA’s conferences and meetings portfolio. Prior to joining the ASA, Deborah worked in different capacities, where she was responsible for strategic operations, marketing, event growth strategies, and growing audience engagement through digital event platforms.
Mary Beth Micucci is the President of MBM Strategic Consulting. For over 15years, Mary Beth has been helping companies future-proof their events. She prepares Event organizers to lead the design, delivery, monetization, and measurement of effective and highly interactive online gatherings that outperform expectations for participant engagement and ROI. An industry veteran, Mary Beth teaches monetization strategy for The Digital Event Strategist certification offered by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA).
Finally, Barry Upbin is a Partner at Achieve Engagement. A community builder, Barry Upbin has been bringing people together via events (online and in-person) for the past 15 years. As a Partner and Head of Community, he spearheads Achieve Engagement’s program design, partner outreach, and event operations. Prior to Achieve Engagement, Barry was with the Human Capital Institute for 11 years, most of which was spent on the Executive Team building out their community, program design, and managing sponsor sales. Deeply passionate about the future of work and employee experience, he has a skill for spreading best practices and insights to impact the way organizations reap success through their people.
Our panelists exchanged practical advice on how to increase revenue through virtual and hybrid events by figuring out the best strategy through research and communication with stakeholders, creating a package that offers real value and measurable success, and offering unique engagement opportunities and personalized experiences for guests and sponsors.
The best strategy for virtual transformation
When the pandemic started, stringent lockdowns were enforced and movement was restricted, which meant that many companies were obligated to shift their major events to a virtual venue. This was the case with the ASA; they made a decision to switch their annual fall meeting to a completely virtual experience for the first time. Deborah Greif spoke on the challenges they faced and the effect it had on their sponsorship revenue opportunities.
She mentioned that, at that time, several companies and organizations were approaching virtual events similarly as they would face-to-face meetings. As a result, the ASA opted to use the same terminology exhibits, and tried to replicate the same experiences and revenue generated. Although they had really good support from their vendors, they quickly realized that a pause was needed to rethink their strategy. Since they were in a different environment, they needed to have a different purpose.
After revisiting their end goal, they understood that the only way to recreate the experience was by researching and using the right virtual event tools. One of the platforms that offered them creative and interesting tools to achieve the goals for their virtual meeting was Remo. Ultimately, Deborah emphasized that the most important and most difficult part of planning a virtual event is to learn the best tactics and to stay focused on a planned strategy.
Mary Beth Micucci echoed a similar statement, recognizing that many individuals and companies who launched into virtual wanted to get something out to their members as quickly as possible, but they had a difficult time defining their success metrics because they didn’t know their strategy. She highlighted that having a strategic plan in place “can be a huge win in order to continue to move your project and your success metrics”.
How to get your sponsors on board
Once you have a strategy in place, it’s important to communicate it with all stakeholders and sponsors to bring them on board so they’re not hesitant to make investments. Deborah mentioned that the ASA had to educate their sponsors on the new tools they were using and they had to revise their sponsors’ expectations. Different verbiage and metrics were used, which resulted in different dollar values for sponsors.
Eventually, they were able to come up with packages that included different tools and created substantial value. However, Deborah recalled that it involved a lot of re-educating on ASA’s end to work with their sponsors and corporate partners so that they knew beforehand what to expect.
Christy Burcham’s company, Bernina, experienced a similar challenge as they had to swiftly change their annual training convention, Bernina University, to an online setting for the first time. She explained that their convention is held yearly for their dealers and partners to come in and learn how to use the new products so they can distribute them effectively.
The challenge came when they had to figure out a way to teach their dealers how to use and sell the products without them actually sitting in front of the product and using it themselves. This made both the dealers and the Bernina team hesitant to hold a virtual convention, since their products are very hands-on. Nevertheless, once they accepted that they couldn’t recreate the same experience and they decided to rethink their tactics and metrics, their virtual convention was a complete success.
The benefits of turning to virtual
One of the reasons why Bernina’s virtual convention was such a success was because their dealers had access to the materials for a longer period of time. As opposed to having training on how to use the products for only three days, they had indefinite access to the training videos and this gave them the confidence to experience the machines on their own and to sell the products to customers.
For Bernina, their convention is critical in driving sales to their dealers, considering that they don’t sell directly to end users. Christy shared that Bernina conducts around 30% of their business through their annual Bernina University, so it’s imperative that during the convention, they have one-on-one meetings between sales managers and clients to guarantee sales.
This meant that, in addition to providing valuable content, they had to create the environment and opportunities for their managers to connect directly with their dealers and actually close those sales. Thanks to their research and training, Bernina boasted a record year. Switching their convention to a virtual experience gave them the ability to continue to connect their sales teams with their clients and to provide up-to-date content, which in turn, helped them exceed their sales objectives.
Barry Upbin’s company, Achieve Engagement, also benefited from the pandemic. Since they never had a large, long standing event already in place that needed to be moved online, the company was able to move pretty quickly to launch a virtual event. Although they had no preconceived idea of what the business outcomes for their partners would be, they decided to focus on what other events were lacking.
He observed that a lot of earlier digital events seemed as if they were carelessly thrown together; they were held on rudimentary platforms and offered a poor experience to guests. On the other hand, Achieve Engagement decided to build a program that allowed people access to their program for free, for the sole purpose of building a sense of community. The number of registrants to their free program meant that they could then approach sponsors for their event.
Creating measurable value through sponsorship packages
Once Achieve Engagement was certain that they would have thousands of sign-ups, they went to their partners and sponsors and made them a cost per lead (CPL) offer, a pricing model whereby the sponsor pays a set price for each lead generated. This attracted unfamiliar partners as well, who still needed to fill in their marketing channels, especially since the larger trade shows that they had money earmarked for were canceled. Barry mentioned that a lot of major companies were quick to open up their checkbooks where they probably wouldn’t have if the pandemic had never happened.
Steve Boyce concurred that digital experiences were a very unfamiliar territory for many organizations who were suddenly forced to not only figure out how to keep their engagement with key stakeholders, but also know who to turn to for help in the virtual events industry. Barry agreed and pointed out that people are still trying to understand what works best for them.
From a buyer’s perspective, Barry believes that if a formal CPL strategy is not offered, no marketer is going to present it to his team. Sponsors need to know the value that will come out of a package, so virtual event hosts need to have a good value proposition, and the main thing that sponsors look for is the amount of people that will be present. They might not even care about the quality of the attendees; they just need to know that it's going to land on as many ears as possible and make them look good.
Aside from the number of registrants and number of attendees, sponsors are also interested in other types of metrics. Deborah mentioned that in her experience, companies were less interested in branding opportunities and more keen on obtaining trackable data.
For the ASA sponsors, they wanted to be seen as thought leaders and be a part of the conversation. They wanted to be a part of the agenda and deliver sessions.
After the event, they wanted to know how many people watched their sessions live, how many people asked to watch it on-demand, how many people asked questions, and how many people participated in the table talk discussions.
These were all really important metrics to her sponsors, and they wouldn’t have been captured at a face-to-face event.
Engagement techniques and custom experiences that drive value
One way in which the ASA offered more value to sponsors was by giving them the option to set up virtual booths. Deborah cautions that while the booths are innovative, they are not one size fits all. She recounts that in the first virtual event the ASA hosted, they included custom made booths with graphics and videos to complement the sessions and discussions. The problem, however, was that a lot of attendees weren’t accessing the products and information because there were too many options.
Consequently, for their second virtual event, they didn’t give the attendees options. They set up virtual exhibit halls and called them “Product Information Centers”. This provided a much better experience because it allowed them to put the resources into their education sessions, and this made the discussion boards and information on the booths more relevant.
Another great suggestion, made by Barry, to drive value to virtual events is to create private, more personalized experiences. Barry acknowledged that having a large number of attendees is important to his clients, so he does create an all-access event, but he also does a follow-up, more exclusive event for the partners and directors. In an event with 2,500 registrants, he’ll invite 150 or 200 people through a merged personal email to an invite-only program, creating an exclusivity to the experience.
He suggests using the Remo platform to create impactful moments where clients can get real feedback and one-on-one time with their prospects. Barry observed that most people miss the opportunity to sit across the table from other people in similar roles, so Remo is the perfect tool to curate those unique experiences for the audience and sponsors as well.
Objectives of a virtual event
Ideally, virtual events will generate leads and bring in revenue for hosts and sponsors. Nevertheless, monetization potential should not be the primary objective of a virtual event.
In the case of Bernina, Christy said that while they are happy to generate revenue, education is the core of what they do. During the pandemic, they sold out on sewing machines, so they aimed to find ways to stay connected. They started reaching out to customers four times a year with direct events, and they moved up to two events per month, because they wanted to consistently deliver content.
The result was that they started reaching international people and they were able to increase their revenue. Christy saw the value of virtual events because while a few people always attended their in-person event, their attendance more than tripled in number when they went virtual.
The inaugural episode of Cadence was a complete success. The incredible lineup of panelists shared their unique ideas and perspectives and weren’t shy in taking questions from the audience throughout the event. The audience walked away knowing practical ways to monetize virtual events by coming up with a good strategy, creating value packages for sponsors, and utilizing engagement opportunities that drive value.
To attend or participate in future Cadence programs, please follow us on LinkedIn. If you wish to host your own event using the Remo platform that offers interactive tools and one-on-one engagement, feel free to reach out to us and we’ll gladly set up a meeting with you.