Having worked in the world of conferences and events my entire working life (to date) I have seen many fads and fashions come and go. Sometimes these have been technology and gimmicks used for the sake of it – clients and producers just wanting to have the latest bleeding edge product. Sometimes it has been a theme or approach inspired by some topical event, TV series or film.(Although I do lay claim to pitching a client an X-Factor theme a good decade before the TV series landed!). Something else that arrived around the mid 90’s but has proved itself much more than a fad (quite rightly), is ‘measurement’.
Previously clients were happy with a good ‘gut feeling’ or a reasonable number of (metaphorical) slaps on the back as the measure of success of a conference or event. But ever increasingly powerful procurement departments decided that just wasn’t good enough any more; it was necessary to prove that objectives were being met, that the return on investment justified the cost, that events work!
Along the way they took a lot of the fun out of the business. Conferences and events by and large grew more sterile, less creative… but at least they had statistics, graphs and balance sheets that proved their value! But there is the problem; a lot of dry data is produced which is often difficult to digest and even harder to interpret. And who really believes statistics anyway?
Last month I learnt there is an organisation out there called Fr3dom Health, that has realised the problem with this approach and that numbers alone are not enough! Not only that, they have developed a platform to provide a sophisticated quantitative and qualitative measurement service for event owners that goes way beyond the spreadsheet. We were contracted by them to produce video content to support the measurement of the success of a large Department of Health event Innovation Expo 2013. As Toby Knightley-Day, MD of Fr3dom Health puts it
“Its about telling stories”.
That’s music to my ears.
Here is Toby talking about the event…
Conference recording and web-casting are ideal ways to add value to your event because they:
- Allow members/staff/customers/prospects who cannot attend in person to participate.
- Give physical attendees access to all the concurrent sessions.
- Extend the availability of the content beyond the few days of the conference itself
- Provide content that can be used to promote programs, sponsors and future events.
- Offer increased opportunities for sponsors and exhibitors to connect to your audience.
But for most organizers the real issues are will these activities reduce physical attendance and will they generate revenue. The fact is that the conference industry is probably past the tipping point with providing content on-line.
Let’s take a clue from the entertainment industry. In the 90’s the music industry was slow to adapt to on-line delivery and their profits were decimated by piracy. Yet Hollywood embraced on-line delivery and today more films will be watched online (legally) than purchased as physical products. According to IHS Screen Digest Americans watched 3.4 billion movies online in 2012, a considerably larger number than the 2.4 billion DVDs sold. In the meantime, the music industry has been playing catch up. Between 2000 and 2010 CD sales declined by 50% and last year digital music sales surpassed physical music sales making up 50.3% of all music sold. So its clear content owners ignore online delivery at their peril.
Bringing these learnings back to the conference world and combining it with our extensive experience of recording and streaming conferences across many different sectors, we recommend organizers deploy some or all of the following tactics if they want to profit from what are increasingly being called ‘hybrid events’.
- Provide members with live coverage of plenary/general sessions. But give remote viewers a voice; allow them to participate by submitting questions to the presenters or responding to polls. Events streamed live create interest in your organization, promote future events and expose your message to news media and social media. Depending on your objectives, you can limit access to members (or other specific group) and invited guests.
- Record all sessions to improve the value offer for physical attendees. A large conference or congress would normally require require attendees to choose between simultaneous sessions. They may be torn as to which to choose, or may decide to skip a session in favour of networking time. It’s a powerful offer to allow them to catch all the sessions that interest them later at preferential rates as a ‘thank you’ for being there.
- Create an on-line Conference TV channel that offers daily updates on activities at the conference. The schedule might include interviews with speakers and delegates, plenary/general session coverage, social media check-ins, promotions for upcoming activities and exhibit floor tours. All of this activity generates buzz and allows viewers to see what they are missing. Conference TV can be advertiser/sponsor supported and offered free of charge to maximise reach.
- Poll your audience on relevant issues and on the sessions they view / attend. This information can be invaluable to conference organizers. Find out what worked well and what did not. Discover insights into the views and practices of your members. Consider offering your exhibitors a poll as a paid upgrade.
Perhaps by now you are convinced that streaming elements of your conference on-line is a valuable exercise and is probably something you are going to have to do sooner or later anyway.
In my next blog I will look at some of the specific models that can be applied to generating revenue and also some of the techniques that can be applied to reduce or avoid piracy.