Got Free Milk? Virtual Events that Won’t Kill The Cash Cow

Despite their brave faces, the producers of live events are still frightened about the impact of virtual events to erode their attendee base and diminish their profit margins. After all, if you can get the milk for free, why buy the cow? There’s been talk about employees at some associations fearing they might lose their jobs and the subject has been on the agenda of more than a few executive meetings. Apparently the “There’s no substitute for face-to-face meetings” mantra hasn’t convinced everyone.

(Image courtesy Virtual Edge Summit.)

Next week’s Virtual Edge Summit will help attendees (both virtual and live) parse through the pros and cons of virtual and hybrid meetings (and trade shows). As part of a PCMA VES Joint Plenary Session on “Using Virtual and Hybrid Meetings to Develop More Value,” Chris Price, vice president, Graphic Arts Show Company, will help the audience understand the benefits, outcomes, and learning curve associated with using virtual events to drive attendance at live trade shows and conferences. When he’s finished, there won’t be a dry udder in the room.

Chris Price and his team are among the few brave souls to go down the virtual path despite producing the hugely successful Graph Expo live exhibition and conference. Over a year ago, after attending the ConnexLive Meeting where he was exposed to virtual technology, he decided to experiment a little and develop a virtual show using the INXPO platform prior to his live event. The main purpose was to provide visitors with a juicy preview of the live event and entice them to attend in person. He arranged for a three-phase virtual roll-out of content: the virtual preview to highlight the benefits of the live event, an archive of the preview which was shut down immediately prior to the live show, and a post-show wrap-up.

While there were lots of takeaways from his experience, Chris will discuss some of the main “lessons” learned from the experience, which he says earned him 182 attendees—people who attended the virtual preview and subsequently attended Graph Expo in real life:

  • Using virtual events as part of the mix of product offerings requires new metrics and new ways of looking at return on investment.
  • One of the highlights of a virtual platform is the richness of the metrics and the ability to use them as sales tools for future forays into the virtual realm.
  • The success of virtual exhibitors is dependent upon a number of factors: their own familiarity with the platform, use of video and other engagement techniques besides chat, and the speed with which visitors are engaged by exhibitors upon entering the booth.
  • The results of the virtual event—especially the availability of the metrics—have huge implications for refinements in the face-to-face event.

Price came away from his first virtual experience having invested “a painful amount of time,” but with insights about the next generation of attendees, the value of networking online vs. offline, and the agony and ecstasy of being the first to try a new technology. Next week at the Virtual Edge Summit, he will dish about those topics, plus how to use virtual platforms as sales engines, costs, partnering, and what he will never do again. Drink up!

(Article reprinted with permission from Michelle Bruno’s Fork in the Road blog.)

michelle@brunogroup.com'

Michelle Bruno

Michelle Bruno of Bruno Group Signature Events is a career meeting planner and exhibition organizer who has written several hundred articles for leading meetings and exhibition industry publications. Her white papers on key exhibitors and attendees are acclaimed as some of the finest research available in the field. With participation in face-to-face meetings as a supplier, organizer and writer, she has the experience and insight to chronicle emerging technologies and their impact on meetings, conferences and exhibitions.