When business-to-business publisher Intermedia planned its 2020 schedule of physical conferences and awards nights last year, it could never have foreseen that none of those events would be able to go ahead quite as expected.
Instead, Intermedia has launched an entirely new division dedicated to virtual events after pivoting to counteract the impact of COVID-19 on its business — specifically its face-to-face event portfolio.
Intermedia publishes news and business information in 12 vertical markets, including hospitality, retail, aged care, media, printing and others. The company publishes more than 25 magazines, as well as websites and newsletters targeting businesses in those verticals, and holds more than 20 face-to-face events a year. It reaches 600,000 magazine readers, 300,000 newsletter recipients and more than 120,000 followers via social channels, as well as delivering up to a million page views a month.
Events and Operations Manager Beth Tobin, who joined Intermedia in November to run a number of the company’s established physical events, has since led plans to develop a new virtual event business.
From full-day virtual conferences to panel discussions, round tables, and product launches, the virtual event portfolio was designed to complement Intermedia’s existing print and digital assets, and offer advertisers and sponsors a means of reaching B2B audiences via engaging online formats.
Intermedia is not doing things by halves. The first virtual event it ran this year attracted 1700 registrations and 1100 live views — big numbers by anyone’s standard — and featured a studio presenter and no less than 12 live remote interviews.
“We help Intermedia design and deliver their customer virtual events,” Redback Head of Digital Events Michael Bunker says. “Their first two webinars were hugely challenging and they pushed the limits on what we can deliver with 12-plus remote presenters joining for interviews and round table discussions.
“They were complex but very exciting to run and had great participant feedback. None of their competitors have been able to deliver virtual events of the same quality.”
Here, Beth discusses how the future of B2B events has changed, and how Intermedia has worked with Redback to deliver a portfolio of sophisticated virtual events that provide value for sponsors as well as viewers.
Hi Beth. Thanks so much for agreeing to share your experience of pivoting to virtual events.
How do your new virtual events work with your existing portfolio of digital and print media assets?
Beth: Generally, the existing masthead brands host our virtual events and then we bring sponsors on board. We’ve pitched virtual events to a number of clients, who are looking for ways to get cut-through in the current climate.
Our first event was hosted by HM — Hotel Management — and provided an industry update on the hotel and travel industry. We had a massive response — 1700 registrations and 1100 live views, which is way above average. If you have the right content, then people will respond.
We expect a lot of events will convert to digital or be hybrid going forward. We see opportunities for growth in the ability to add on a webinar as part of a digital marketing campaign — for example, a product launch.
But consumers’ expectations are going to become very high in terms of the virtual experience and what they think is acceptable.
Have you ever run a virtual event before? What has your journey been like so far?
I have a number of physical events that I was employed to run and I haven’t delivered any of them as planned. Instead I developed a whole new virtual events division for The Intermedia Group.
The opening up of this virtual world has created a whole other market for industry content and updates that are immediate and relevant.
Some of the events we’ve hosted specifically respond to COVID-19 and its impact on an industry. It’s hearing from the industry professionals themselves and what they’ve been doing to pivot and get through. It’s customers coming out of the first wave and talking about what they have been doing to adapt — and then some have gone back into a second wave.
We have the industry contacts. And people are thirsty for this knowledge and this information. When COVID hit, readership increased across all of our brands.
As a result we developed a separate media kit for virtual events including everything from one-day summits to panel presentations, interactive product launches and tastings.
Tell us about some of the events you’ve run so far this year.
The first one, as I mentioned, was for HM. It was titled The Recovery Starts Now and dealt with what the accommodation industry is doing in response to COVID-19.
Editor-in-chief James Wilkinson was live in the Redback studio and crossed to 12 remote guests one after the other in a series of short-form interviews. Guests included the CEOs of hotel Group Accor and Tourism Accommodation Australia and were hosted from destinations across the Asia Pacific region including Hong Kong and New Zealand.
We have also run an event for 3 of our hospitality mastheads. Titled The Road to Recovery, this event included four editors or journalists as hosts. We were going to have the 4 hosts live in the studios but one of our editors had been at the Crossroads Hotel [the source of a recent COVID-19 cluster] so we brought her in remotely.
Another recent event was for our title Australian Ageing Agenda on the operational recovery in the aged care industry called Recovery 2020: For Those in Charge of Change. This one brought together three sponsors as hosts and a care facility as a case study.
We are currently working on a new virtual product launch concept, which involves sending out samples and inviting people to log in virtually while the client talks about the product and runs a tasting. These ideas are a lot of fun and can provide a truly unique experience..
What other kinds of virtual events do you have planned?
We have a physical event planned for the fast-moving consumer goods industry in New Zealand at the end of September. It was going ahead as a one day physical summit, but we’ve just relaunched it as a new hybrid event and included a live streaming component for those who can no longer physically travel to Auckland.
In general, you’ve chosen fairly complex formats for your events. What drove some of those decisions?
Some of our competitors have held virtual events via Zoom and the end user experience has been poor due to the facilitation capabilities
We’ve been hosting ours from the Redback studios and conducting moderated panel discussions, bringing in specialist industry commentators and interviewing remote guests, which adds another dynamic to the event.
In one of our events, each of the editors conducted their own panel discussion with three remote panellists. There was no way I was going to attempt to cope with all the logistical elements of that myself. Redback manages the webcast for us from the studio.
What kind of response have you had from your audience?
All of our events to date have been free to register and each has been above the industry average of live views, which has historically been around 30%. This shows the strength of our events, because we know these markets and we can access these executives and provide very relevant B2B content — whether it’s delivered physically or virtually.
Our first event, as I mentioned, had a massive response, with 1700 registering and 65%, viewing live. This surpassed anything we expected.
Our second one attracted 759 registrations and 46% watched live.
Our third event experienced some technical issues that delayed the start, but we didn’t lose any viewers — audience numbers were stable, the data shows. However we have had to address sponsor concerns and Redback has implemented some new procedures to avoid those issues in the future.
How do your presenters like presenting virtually?
It’s quite varied. One of our editors, James Wilkinson, is very used to being on camera, regularly appearing on Channel 7 and has his own show talking about the travel industry called The Wayfarer TV Show.
At the other end of the scale, some editors are not used to being on camera and it can be a steep learning curve. But the more you practice beforehand, the better the live event is.
No one’s expecting presenters to be broadcast-TV standard. It’s the content and the warmth and how genuinely you can come across that are the important things.
What has the response been like from advertisers?
It’s a rapidly changing world. Even back in April, advertisers were taking a wait-and-see approach. Now, the acceptance of the need for companies to move into virtual events with sponsorship is huge. It’s seen as a permanent feature of the business world.
Some sponsors are looking for lead generation, and some want branding. It’s also the branding they can get through our newsletters and digital assets with logo placement or sponsored content. Some sponsors aren’t too concerned about the numbers — they want to reach a very specific audience.
We consciously supply sponsors with MP4 files of the footage they can cut and use as content on their own channels.
Also with our own events, we cut them down into smaller chunks and generate a lot of value after the live event.
Last week, the content was more aligned to the sponsors and they were able to present as part of their agreement. It was very well received, according to those industry providers.
What’s your experience been of the financial side of running virtual events compared with physical events?
There’s some latency at the moment in terms of converting registration or sponsorship revenue to virtual events. The bottom line is quite different.
Our focus has been on maintaining engagement. You need to be in this space. At the moment, the options are limited. The virtual event space is here to stay. We’re a publishing company and you have to respond to market demand and stay ahead of the game
We are planning to charge for attendance for some events — for example, the hybrid event we’re holding in New Zealand. Virtual ticket prices will be at a different price point.
Every one of our mastheads has a different financial environment, so the way their virtual events will need to be priced is very different.
We’re experimenting and getting a feel for different industry sectors now, which is important for being ahead of the game. It’s the two-model approach: accessibility at lower price point or fewer registrations and a higher price point. It depends a lot on the content.
What will the role of virtual events be going forward?
I think it has completely changed. Virtual events are definitely here to stay. Three months ago I wouldn’t have said that was the case.
I don’t think virtual can replace the physical aspect of people wanting to be together. But this is part of the future — the new normal. There’s an expectation now that there will be a live stream or on-demand content related to most events.
Virtual formats tend to be shorter, snappier pieces and need to provide different ways to engage, such as polls and Q&A. We are continuing to accelerate into this space with a program of virtual events.