The pandemic pushed many events into the virtual realm, and while the format may have changed, the programme remained the same. “As far as marketing is concerned, there are not big differences between marketing a live event or a digital event,” explains Isabelle Deniaud-Lassara, Director PCO & Asset Development, MCI Benelux. “Of course, digital marketing should be privileged, but it was already the tendency.”
Events have to be monetized by registration fees, so delegates should still expect to pay for access to the digital version, but registration fees can vary depending on the level of accessibility, Deniaud-Lassara explains. For example, rates can differ for content access only, virtual exhibition access or networking ad matchmaking modules. In the end, participants are saving money since they aren’t incurring travel expenses.
“Virtual events also have a longer life span since they can remain available online for a longer period of time, and they can be available to a larger audience, including the people who did not have the time or money to make the trip and attend the F2F event in the first place,” adds Yannis Antoniou M.Sc., Operational Excellence Manager, GCO Meetings & Events. “Both of these elements will sound very interesting to potential sponsors, but the main difficulty is to convince sponsors how this will be a good investment for them to consider. It will take a solid strategy to accomplish that; uncertainty and resistance to change are the main obstacles organizers will need to tackle.”
Invest on exposure
Revenue from sponsors and exhibitors, therefore, will vary depending on the amount they want to invest on exposure, how they want to participate in the programme, if they want to have a virtual booth, and if they are interested in accessing qualitative data on customer behaviour after the conference is finished. “If you have exhibitors at your physical event, you should also give them a platform on a virtual version,” advises Silvano Schär, Head of Sales & Marketing, Congrex Switzerland. “The exhibitors should have the possibility to chat with delegates in real time so they can get the most out of their experience. If you offer your sponsors the same benefits as they would have at a physical conference, there is no need to lower the price.”
Clients are making the quick decision to turn conferences planned in a few weeks’ time from F2F to digital, which means they will need a strategic digital marketing campaign that defines the target group and reaches a defined audience without large investments. This is where digital marketing comes into play through resources like Google Ads. “A well-planned digital marketing campaign can activate interest in your event on short notice, but it’s important to see which social media channels your prospects are most active in,” says Schär.
Congrex Switzerland, for example, recently organised the country’s first fully virtual conference and exhibition, two-day medArt Basel, held in early May. The decision to go digital was made two and a half weeks before the actual event, but organizers still managed to attract 3,700 participants—nearly 2.5 times the amount the live version usually gathers. The conference typically brings general practitioners from the German-speaking part of Switzerland, but without the issue of geographical limits, participants from all across Switzerland, Austria and Germany tuned in. Since attendees didn’t have to worry about choosing between parallel sessions, and could watch when they wanted, the conference was able to focus more on participant engagement—and managed to keep nearly 1,200 people engaged at a time.