When the Coronavirus pandemic sparked shutdowns across Australia’s small business sector, the Franchise Council of Australia launched a new digital event series to keep members informed on issues of critical importance to them.
The FCA is the peak body for franchising in Australia, which contributes about $184 billion annually to the national economy. There are more than 1340 franchise systems in operation in the country, supporting close to 90,000 small businesses and employing more than half a million people.
The FCA provides a platform for franchisors, franchisees, business advisors and small to medium businesses to influence government policy, communicate with political leaders and key decision makers, network with peers and engage in debate on policy areas affecting the sector.
The association runs a comprehensive events program that usually comprises more than 100 events a year. It is also a long-term proponent of digital events, which it runs in partnership with Redback Connect.
FCA Executive Manager Peter White says the new webinar series, produced in conjunction with Redback, has proven to be very popular, attracting record attendances.
The webinars have covered crucial issues such as how to utilise the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program, information on commercial rent relief and mental health advice during remote working and social isolation.
On the back of this experience, and with social distancing likely to continue for the foreseeable future, the FCA is also looking to convert more face-to-face events to an online experience.
Peter joined us to discuss the change in FCA’s approach to digital and hybrid events…
Peter, Thanks for sharing the FCA’s experience with Redback. Tell us more about the latest series of webinars.
Recent webcasts have focused on practical advice to help members deal with COVID-19 issues. A lot of our members are in retail, food, fitness, home services or in-home aged and family care, so when the crisis hit, it was imperative to communicate regularly with them in a format that they can consume, whenever and wherever it suits them.
Webinars have really been the communication medium of the moment. Our recent webinar about accessing the Australian government’s JobKeeper program dealt with a very important issue for any small business owner and attracted a record number of participants. Well over 350 people logged in and watched the entire webcast.
What topics are you covering in your series?
It changes, but usually deals with the topical issues of the day for our members and small business in general. For example, when the Government released the Mandatory Code of Conduct for commercial rent relief, we created a webinar to explain it.
When our members asked for more information on JobKeeper, we organised the content, the speakers and the platform within 24 hours. Redback built a registration page, the links were there and we could push it to market within two days. We can quickly load all the content resources which allows us to be very responsive.
How would you describe your overall digital and face-to-face event strategy?
We run about 100 face-to-face events nationally, and last year we ran about 14 digital events over the full calendar year in conjunction with Redback. We’ve already run six to seven online events this year.
We usually get about 800 attendees to our annual national conference, but it won’t be able to go ahead in its usual form this year as we can’t have that number of people physically attending due to social distancing restrictions. We’re working with the Redback team to recreate it as a hybrid event. It’s usually a three-day conference but now we’re planning to run it in segments over a period of a few months.
It makes sense to convert physical events to digital events in the current situation. For example, we hold bimonthly coffee catch-ups where 10-15 members get together over a coffee to discuss a particular topic. We can’t do them in person anymore so we’ve been doing them online. Twice the number of people made their own coffee and sat down and joined the online chat.
How many people are attending your webinar events at the moment?
A normal attendance would be around 80+ business people, depending on the topic. For those we’ve been holding throughout the Coronavirus period, we’ve been getting up to four times that number. That’s between 300-350 people attending live, and then up to 80 or so people later coming online to watch the recorded program on demand.
Were you expecting such strong attendance levels?
We weren’t expecting them to be this strong. I think it’s a case of more people having the need and time in their business to be able to come online and connect. The fact that we’re getting such a high number of attendees means we know we are delivering the right content to members. That’s why people pay membership fees – they want relevance and tangible value in their membership.
How does the FCA approach to digital events compare with similar organisations?
We’re part of a global association which includes our overseas colleagues — the World Franchise Council – and they recently asked how we’ve been getting such good attendance rates at our events. The answer is that it’s all about providing the right content, the quality of what we’re putting together, and reliability of the delivery platform that enables us to get to each one of our intended recipients.
What’s your experience been like working with Redback on your events?
On the Redback platform, we’ve been able to bring in different presenters from all around the country without them having to leave their home office or wherever they might be working.
We had a psychologist last week do a webinar where we were talking about the mental health issues franchisees are experiencing. There was full interaction through polls and live chats. It made it more engaging.
Redback is a professional platform compared with self-managed Zoom meetings where you’re very limited in what you can do around controlling attendees and having a secure and managed platform in which to deliver the information.
Our goal is to ensure we’re providing digital events that are a valuable service to members, offering relevance and making it easy for people to attend.
How have you found the switch to using remote presenters?
We’ve had a number of webinars broadcast from Redback’s studios. Now we’re in a situation due to Coronavirus where we need to have presenters and subject matter experts able to present from wherever they are.
You can’t control what the relevant person’s internet is going to do, but we have confidence that there is redundancy in Redback’s technology that protects FCA’s reputation and brand. We’ve done quite a number of webcasts and we haven’t had an issue with anyone not being able to connect, or not connecting with full video and audio feeds.
It’s testament to the strength of the product. Plus there’s always a backup option — everyone knows the PIN number and our presenters know if there’s a connectivity issue they’ll be back as soon as they can dial back in.
Do you think the way people participate in events will change permanently because of Coronavirus?
The world’s going to change moving forward. More people are going to consume more information in this format. The most difficult thing to replace is that face-to-face networking factor, but in relation to sharing valuable content, you can actually get more value from a digital event.
We’re all time-poor. We’ve got a lot of members in the Eastern states and logistically, it can be very challenging for members in Tasmania or Western Australia to take time out of their business to attend a face-to-face event. It’s much easier for them to attend online.
Are you expecting increased attendance to future digital or hybrid events?
It’s uncharted territory but we’re really excited about where this could take us.
For our legal symposium, which is part of our national conference, we would normally get about 300 lawyers attending in person. We can increase that by 20-25% based on making it available digitally. It’s also not a point-in-time event. This gives you the ability to have certain areas available for people to review at different times.
We had a certain way of doing things. Sometimes it takes a major event like Coronavirus to make you rethink your business. For us, it’s a new era in the way we connect with members and deliver content digitally.