Thought Leadership Strategy Public Relations

Getting the Most Value Out of Virtual Events

By Caroline Harvey

With major shows like CES and AWS re:Invent on the horizon, Q4 usually brings with it a flurry of planning, coordination, and travel for in-person events. But as we continue to take necessary pandemic precautions, running around convention centers, setting up in-person activations, and meeting reporters for lunch are likely behind us for a while. Events look different now, so how we prepare for and derive value from them needs to change too.

Over the past several months, we’ve had clients host, attend, and participate in virtual events. While they do pose some new challenges from a communications perspective, they also hold plenty of opportunities to get creative with how we interact with target audiences. As you assess the value of virtual events and how they fit into your overall marketing mix, consider these insights and tips we’ve picked up along the way.

Prep in Advance, but Delay Your Big Push

Most people travel for in-person events. From an attendee perspective, that means they know their schedules, are planning ahead, and can commit to being somewhere far in advance. From an event planning perspective, it means logistics are finalized months ahead of time, leaving little room for flexibility. If an event is virtual, almost all of that coordination phase goes away. Attendees don’t have to make plans until much closer to the event date, and coordinators are able to continually make adjustments.

This has changed how we help prepare clients for an event. You should still map out your communications plan in advance, but cut down the amount of time you’d typically use to execute on it. This includes when you push to drive event registrations, pre-pitch news announcements, share pieces of content, and set up meetings with media and analysts. If you start to execute too early, the event is likely not on anyone’s mind yet, and you run the risk of your effort going unnoticed.

We’ve found that a few weeks ahead is about as early as people are firming up plans, and even then, some wait until just a day or two before. While it can be nerve-wracking to wait it out, spend that lead time making sure all of your details are ironed out and assets are created, so when you get closer to the event, you can quickly move forward.   

Zero In on Your Goal for the Event

Virtual events are noisy, and attendees and media alike are taking in information from all directions. In this format, it’s important to take a step back and ask what your main goal is. As part of your strategy for the event, you might be publishing a press release, preparing an executive for a speaking session, conducting an interview – or all of the above and more. What is the central message that needs to come across? Are you trying to connect with future partners to feed your sales pipeline? Are you trying to redefine how analysts position your company externally? As you prepare, define what you really want to achieve and then build your communications plan around that.

Connect with Event Organizers – and Stay in Touch

This year is the first time many events are moving to a fully virtual model, meaning event organizers are still figuring out their approach. Use this as an opportunity to connect with them early on to understand their plan and share your perspective. You could potentially inform the agenda, propose a particular topic you’d like to speak on, or simply better understand how to maximize the networking opportunities they’re offering. By starting a conversation in the early planning phases, you can influence some of these opportunities and position yourself or your clients as resources for the future. 

Figure Out What Media and Analysts Actually Need (or Want)

Just as virtual events are a new experience for marketing and PR professionals, they’re new for media and analysts, too. They’re probably still figuring out how they like to interact with event attendees or vendors, so take the time to check-in and see how you can best support them. Are they planning to cover the full event or just the announcements that come out of it? Are they looking for specific commentary? Is it more helpful to brief them on news or just share via email? These are all questions that media and analysts are starting to provide their perspective on, and even though we’re all remote, there’s still opportunity to foster those relationships.

Consider reaching out to a couple of your regular contacts to get a feel for what is most useful to them, and then use that to shape your strategy. Also, keeping up with them on social media is a great way to gather additional tidbits on their preferences. 

Capitalize on Lead Gen Opportunities and Audience Insights

One of the biggest challenges we’ve seen brought up around virtual events is limited networking opportunities. And while that’s true in some ways, virtual events also bring more streamlined access and insight into your target audiences. If you’re exhibiting at an event, many platforms prompt registrants to specify their interests and willingness to be contacted when they’re registering, and then share that information with exhibitors. This data can help you quickly qualify leads and identify potential customers. If you’re hosting an event, metrics around which sessions are viewed the most and who is attending provide significant insight into your audience and what they care about.

Use All of Your Channels

Virtual events lend themselves well to a fully integrated communications strategy. Since everyone is already online during the event, leverage social media to highlight insights that stood out from sessions, and interact with other attendees or speakers. This can be a good way to establish yourself as a relevant resource for media and sales prospects alike and to foster new connections with others in your industry.

Similarly, virtual events often offer session recordings on-demand after the event, which you can use to highlight some of your favorite moments and provide added commentary in a LinkedIn post or blog. If you’re the event host, sharing event content can drive additional site traffic, as well as boost attendance for future virtual events. If you’re an attendee, this is a way to bolster your credibility as a thought leader.

This year, virtual events became a fixture across industries out of necessity. But as event software continues to improve and organizations see the benefits of going remote, like streamlined logistics and increased content opportunities, these fully digital experiences may stick around for a while. As you start to plan for the year ahead, consider incorporating both in-person and virtual events into your marketing strategy, so you’re ready to make the most of whatever comes your company’s way.