Case Study: Online ConferencesOctober 23, 2020
Bec and Sharney chat about a client who pivoted his conference strategy to a fully online experience, covid style.
Sharney: You’re listening to MASH Pod, digital marketing that’s actionable, insightful and understandable. No pitching, just takeaways.
All right. So this episode is all about how do you take a community-based event and turn it online such as a conference or a networking meeting or a lunch and learn type of scenario. It’s not something we’ve ever had to come across before. However, one of our clients normally does a conference around Australia. Due to COVID he had to cancel that and he rang me and said, “Okay, Sharney. What can you guys come up with? What can you do? Because, you know, I get all my sponsors and really build engagement in my industry, we have all these offers and all of this stuff prepared and I don’t want it to go to waste.” So that was our challenge, wasn’t it, Bec? What can we do to turn a conference, a national conference into an online experience?
Sharney: So can you tell us…yeah, how did you end up coming up with a solution for this one?
Bec: Yeah. Well, I stuck my foot right in it with this one. So I…
Sharney: It was quite a challenge.
Bec: It was. And, you know, it’s good, though. It’s good to stretch yourself. You know, even…there’s always new things in marketing and also just how you do things as well but we hadn’t had like a huge challenge like this for a while. And I had just recently I think taken half a day off to go to an online conference and I thought, “Oh, this is gonna be…it’s gonna be like a prerecorded thing which, you know, I might not pay attention to,” but the thing was, even though that’s the case, it was set up really well and I just thought it was super convenient because this is a conference that was normally in New York and clearly, it’s not something I’m gonna pop over there for like one or two days and then come back. And it was really simply set up. Like, there was nothing super fancy about it but all of the information I needed was there, all of the resources were there. And yeah. It was just really informative. So taking sort of that lead, I suggested we do something similar to that because this client’s event was meant to be sort of a roadshow as well. It was meant to be in a couple of different states. So normally, it’s a logistically kind of…not nightmare I suppose but a logistical challenge. And with this idea, we sort of flipped the challenge around and thought, “Okay. Well, we’re also doing this from the one area but their customers are gonna get the same information and experience and specials and things like that.” So that’s where we kinda started from.
Sharney: Yeah. And just for anyone listening, we’ll let you know not necessarily who the client is but we’ll let you know it was a very industrial B2B. So when we say it was a bit of a challenge, going from people knowing that this is a conference that’s happening to then getting those same people to engage online was something we had to address on its own.
Bec: Yeah. Definitely a challenge because, you know, a lot of these events, you know…people go there 60% for the networking and beers afterwards and 40% for their actual business needs because, you know, when it’s such a big industry like this as well, everyone wants to know what everyone else is doing and there’s always new technology and new things like that that they wanna see and it’s just so much easier to give people a bit of a break while they’re working to sort of get that information. So, you know, it would’ve been really disappointing for all those people to sort of not have it. But, I mean, that’s where we’re at in the moment. Everyone’s sort of moving everything online. But this was such a dry industry, that was definitely one of the bigger challenges.
Sharney: All right. So now everybody knows it was a very challenging task. I think what everyone wants to know now, Bec, is what did we actually do? What was the solution and the…what did we come up with?
Bec: Yeah. So what we did was we created an online portal for this conference that basically required all the sponsors to give me all of their resources, videos of their speeches that they would normally do at the conference, downloadable materials, company profiles, links, you know, email forms, things like that and, you know, we sort of…I sort of sat down with Patrice and we kind of nutted out, “Okay, how are we gonna do all this? How are we gonna sort of set it all up so it’s really easy for their virtual attendees to find?” And then the biggest task, getting it all together.
Sharney: Yes. So, all right. Let’s dig deep into that. How did you get it together? What was the steps that you had to take to move something that is normally show up at this event, get up on the stage at this time and give a bit of a talk to an online forum?
Bec: Yeah, well, it wasn’t easy, to be honest. So after speaking with the client and getting put in contact with all those sponsors, I then got in contact with them all personally and we sort of talked through what the needs were because they were a little confused. They were like, “Hang on. Why am I sponsoring something I’m not showing up to?” And, you know, then I had to sort of put my sales hat on and say, “Well, you are attending it but you’re just attending it with me and everyone will be sort of looking at it after the fact but you’re still getting…you’re probably gonna get more of a reach with what you’re getting than you would’ve if you were a normal conference.” Because, I mean, some of these suppliers would go to one state only or maybe two and they get in front of like say 300 people, 400 people, but what…and I’ll get to this in sort of part 2 of it, they’re now getting in front of thousands and thousands of people and they didn’t even have to leave the stage to do it. So, you know, over like a month or two, I interviewed some of them online with Zoom video calls or they sent me their slideshows and we just came up with some really cool presentations that encapsulated what their new products were, what the state of their industry was and anything new in their company. And we basically got, you know, five really cool punchy videos that we could sort of put on that online portal for their potential clients to see.
Sharney: And the added benefit of them having created this digital content is they can then use that over and over again. They can use it to…you know, for their own business, within their own social media channels and client basis as well as for our client with this digital conference.
Bec: Yeah, and that’s something that we stressed to them at the beginning as well is like, “This is you. This is your face so this is your content. Do with it as you will. I mean, share away. I mean, we’re in a world now where sharing things online is encouraged rather than discouraged because the more everybody shares all that content, the more eyes are gonna get on your brand.” And it sort of becomes a branding exercise for them as well as for our key client who was actually putting on the conference. So we’ve all of a sudden got like six different companies all sort of sharing in this nationwide visibility.
Sharney: All right. So we went from coming up with a strategy to move this from a roadshow to a digital conference. We then went from taking these on-stage performances into a video and compiling all the handouts and everything into this online platform. So I guess that leads to the next question which is, all right. How did you then market this event? Because, you know, like you said before, 60% of people probably go more for that face to face contact. So what did you do to sort of come up with a plan to strategize, to engage and to get people involved?
Bec: Yeah, good question. How did we leave that horse to water? So we decided that just to sort of kick things off, we needed to do some paid advertising. Now being that this was sort of an industry that isn’t sort of Instagram happy or on Twitter, it’s not that kind of industry, we decided to use LinkedIn as they are a big B2B industry. LinkedIn is probably the best platform for business to business communication. So we set up events on LinkedIn and Facebook, and we decided to do Facebook because it is still sort of a universal meeting point with a lot of demographics. So we didn’t really want that part of it to sort of slip through the cracks. So we chose to do it on both platforms and we’ve done a branding campaign for the client themselves promoting the event which has a very familiar name to everyone in the industry so everyone would’ve seen it popping up and going, “Oh, are we actually going to this this year? I’m in lockdown.” And, you know, when they see it, they go, “Oh, it’s actually online and I can just…you know, I can just do it from my lounge or my home office.” And then because we had five sponsors as well, we crafted some advertising for them as well. So they didn’t just get their online platform and their online content and some videos out of this. They also got two weeks’ worth of online promotions that was basically pay per click. And, you know, we don’t have the final report numbers yet but they’re getting quite a lot of engagement. And I think for them it was something that was really great because it was hands off as well. I mean, you’ve got big marketing departments out there going, “How do we coordinate this ourselves?” But, you know, with someone like us sort of taking that and running with it and handling all the branding and the distribution, I think, you know, we’ve had a really great response from the sponsors and the client.
Sharney: Yeah. And I guess the other thing would be people probably don’t realize it can be done, or like this conference has being closed. And it wasn’t that big a task. Like, obviously, it was challenging for us to start with because we’ve never really done anything like this. This was the first thing like…that we’ve had to come up with. You know, but now that we’ve gone through it, we’ve got the solution, you know, we know how to schedule it all, we know what works to promote these kinds of events and it was actually pretty cost effective. From memory, it was a lot more cost effective than the actual event itself would’ve been.
Bec: Oh, gosh, yeah. I mean, even the ad spend was a fraction of what they would’ve spent on things like, you know, marquee hire, ticketing, venue hire, food, things like that and not to discount the fact that all of that stuff is completely necessary for an in-person event and good. You know, everyone’s trying to cut costs at the moment but they don’t wanna cut the experience. And this was a really great halfway measure because everyone’s still got what they came for and nobody had to spend a huge amount of money, especially at a time when they’re probably not making a huge amount of money.
Sharney: And the other thing I think as well, if you’re going to a conference, you’ve got like one or two days. What happens if something comes up and you can’t make it and you just miss out on everything to do with that event? Because of the fact that this is online, you know, we’ve made it last over a two-month period. So there’s certain, you know, sponsors that their information and their offers will open up on certain weeks but we’ve now created something that normally attendees only have two days to go to and now they’ve got two months where they can tune in, grab something.
Bec: Yeah, that’s exactly it. So we…yes. So all of the sponsors’ content was being released in a staggered way. So we weren’t just releasing it all at once because from my experiences online with conferences, that does give you a lot of fatigue. So you’ll go through one or two presentations and then sort of go, “Eh, I’ll look at it later.” And then you don’t do it. But, you know, if we’re giving you new content every week or two, it’s something new and it is something you can look at in your lunch break or it’s something you can look at, you know, with your morning coffee and it is something that you go, “Oh, okay, cool. Look at all these really awesome deals we’re getting from this sponsor. Let’s put this into this month’s sort of order list.” So there’s much less fatigue happening with their target audience.
Sharney: Yep, and prolonged engagement. So really the client’s gone from having a problem to having a cost effective high performing solution.
Bec: Yeah. And of course…and like you said, it goes for two months as opposed to two days. I mean, thinking about the amount of overheads you would need for a two-day event in four states, now you’ve got a two-month event across the entire nation so…because it’s a worldwide company, sorry, a nationwide company. So people in states where they wouldn’t normally be a branch or maybe wouldn’t be an event can now sort of attend that and getting that awareness. So it’s actually sort of spreading the reach of the client as well.
Sharney: Well, yeah. And you know what? Even though it’s, they’re Australia wide, the fact of the matter is because it’s online, it’s available globally. So it can get out to a wider demographic if we want, you know, if it takes on life of its own, something that definitely couldn’t happen at a conference in person.
Bec: Yeah, definitely. And especially for the sponsors because some of the sponsors are worldwide companies and, you know, they might…you know, their Australian and New Zealand branch might not get the recognition it sort of deserves from the worldwide head office, but if they see what they’re doing here with their marketing and it does get them a lot of engagement, then, you know, that might be good news for them for next year and they might be able to sponsor with, you know, more dollars, more specials, more things for the Australian audience.
Sharney: Yeah. Exactly. It’s…yeah. I’ve actually really enjoyed this project.
Bec: Yeah, me too. And it’s been like…it’s been pretty good like just talking to all the people involved as well, you know, getting them sort of used to it. Like, it was really fun for me getting a couple of people used to the camera even though it was just from their laptop. You know, not everyone has the experience sort of to record to a machine. It’s very, very cold and unforgiving. So just having someone there to warm you up a little bit is always sort of kinda fun.
Sharney: Well, sometimes even if someone’s got you there to warm them up, they still crack it and go, “No.”
Sharney: Remember when MASH was gonna shoot all those videos and I, at the last minute, went, “No, I’m not doing it,” and walked out?
Bec: Yes, I…
Sharney: Kind of like the rest of [crosstalk 00:15:07] videos.
Bec: Yes, I vividly remember that.
Sharney: Joys of being the boss.
Bec: Definitely, yeah. What you say goes, so if you wanna go downstairs and have a coffee, you do it.
Sharney: But, yes, I can definitely relate to those that go, “The idea of having to get on video and do something is completely horrifying.” Because I was definitely there. But even then, I have to say from being on podcast interviews, it’s a little less daunting doing it over Zoom in your own space than what it is when you’re going somewhere where there’s like huge, big lights and cameras in your face and there’s people that are sort of staring at you. I mean, that can be really daunting so [crosstalk 00:15:52]
Bec: It’s incredibly daunting.
Sharney: Yeah. So I mean, doing it online, you can have a practice, you can go through it a little bit, have a bit of a chat with someone first, feel comfortable.
Bec: Yeah, [crosstalk 00:16:02] a bit and you can really do it. You know, re-did one with one of the sponsors, no problem and, you know, once we sort of…once I sort of realized how…like what his speech patterns were like, what he likes to talk about, the second time around it was just so much easier and we did it in just one shot. It was great.
Sharney: Yeah. So I guess the big takeout from this was things that used to happen traditionally and in community-based events, although they might not be able to happen right away, you know, think outside the square. You know, there’s just about always a digital solution. It’s just trying to come up with what that might look like. And if you do go down that path, I mean, like we said before, it’s turned out to be much more beneficial than we ever would’ve imagined for both the customer, the clients and for the sponsors, so…
Bec: Yeah. I guess everyone walked into this…
Sharney: [crosstalk 00:16:54] square.
Bec: Everyone walked into this thinking it was sort of a stopgap measure just so that they could continue with an activity, but yeah, like you said, it’s become something sort of bigger than what it was originally and we can definitely see the benefits.
Sharney: Yep. So looking forward to turning this one into a case study and putting it on our website. So stay tuned for that one.
Sharney: Yeah. So thanks, Bec, for sharing all that information. I hope we gave you some ideas to the community out there on what they can do online, the power of online.
Bec: Yeah, definitely. I think we’ll probably do this again if not just with this client but other ones that might wanna do sort of more of a broad-based conference. So anyone out there that’s got, you know, any tips or if you’ve attended any really cool online conferences that you liked, let us know because, yeah, the more research, the better.