How a small publisher launched a global virtual event

Live trade events are great – and essential for cementing new business relationships, but for small media owners, they can be high risk, and in today’s busy world, getting people physically in one space on one day can be challenging.  I’ve written previously on how virtual events can complement live exhibitions and conferences, and the extent to which they can provide inspiration, discovery of new suppliers, networking and peer learning, in “Can a virtual trade show replace a live event?”  This article prompted a very lively debate on the Specialist Media Network on Linked-in, with contributions from Ben Greenish, James Ormiston, Graham Ruddick and Ben Heald.  The conclusion seemed to be that a multi-channel approach was  the answer, with virtual events sitting somewhere between a good b2b website and face to face meetings.   So I was very interested to chat to Neil Fagg at Confex about his recent innovative launch, Virtual Event World, and what he has learnt in its first few weeks: invaluable to any other media owners planning to test the virtual event waters:

1. Why was the show created?

Neil publishes Stand Out magazine for the live events industry, and his advertisers had been asking him to launch a show, but as a small media owner this seemed a risky venture. He also wanted to reach a global audience and create opportunities for smaller exhibitors to reach event organisers.  He set up a joint venture with Ivent management to create Virtual Event World, which launched on 14 Feb 2011 and will run for 10 months.

2. What can visitors do at the show?

Visitors can source new suppliers, watch videos and download documents, chat online with staff and network with other visitors to the event.  They can attend seminars and listen to podcasts.  In the first two weeks, the show achieved a footfall of 8734 from a dozen different countries; an impressive global reach for a small UK-based magazine.  The virtual environment logs statistics on all activity: clicks, views, downloads for every stand.

3. What is the value for exhibitors?

So far the event has 86 exhibitors, and Neil plans to open a fourth hall in April.  Exhibitors get regular statistical feedback on how their stands are performing, and can take part in promotions to improve lead generation opportunities.  It’s not designed to replace current live events – like Confex – but instead to help smaller exhibitors access a global audience.

4. How is it working for the organiser?

Running an event for 10 months allows the organiser to monitor the activity on individual stands and use targeted promotions to help generate more leads for exhibitors.  Neil has a rolling programme of virtual seminars (I’m running one on 7 April on social media for events organisers) and can gauge interest in each topic before commissioning future seminars.  CIM online, the company behind StandOut magazine, plans to launch similar events in other sectors.

5. What new technology is being used?

There are many “pseudo” virtual event environments, which simply create online booths for exhibitors.  The arrangement with Ivent means that Virtual Event World can offer visitors the opportunity to create their own avatars and take part in simulated virtual meetings, networking and seminars.  The seminars take place live but visitors can catch up with a podcast.

This is an impressively ambitious move by a small publisher to test a global event – and has been shortlisted as a Media Pioneer for the Specialist Media Show.  If you’ve tried out Virtual Event World or other virtual events and have experiences to share do comment below, or join the Specialist Media Network on Linked in to swap ideas with over 500 specialist media people.

As an event organiser myself, I’m watching with interest, as there may be opportunities to expand the Specialist Media Show into virtual channels.

About the author: Carolyn Morgan runs Penmaen Media, which creates practical digital media and marketing strategy for media businesses.  She also runs the Specialist Media Show.  If you’d like to discuss your specialist event strategy, please contact us for an initial chat.