When the world is connected and all content is digital, is there any point these days in publishers running live events, whether conferences, exhibitions or festivals?
Media is not the only sector to worry about the live vs digital experience. Last week I met Shearer West, the newly appointed VC of Nottingham University, and she felt that higher education has also done some soul searching about the value of the lecture-based university experience. But the HE sector has discovered that students still really value the inspiring, articulate, expert lecturer, and the chance to question and discuss in small groups; those in person experiences that digital learning can’t quite yet replicate. And the sense of community created by living and studying with other students is just not possible when learning solo and remotely behind a screen.
So a sigh of relief for HE, and also for media businesses, especially in business sectors, who are seeing revenues from live events grow even while digital eats up their traditional print income.
In the last couple of months I have been interviewing senior B2B media execs for a report on events strategy. You’ll have to wait till the Autumn for the full results, but it has made me reflect on the importance of live, in person occasions for a media brand…
Why are live events so valuable?
Listening to industry leaders, disruptive insurgents, experts and provocative speakers prompts new ideas and changes views and priorities – this all still has so much more force in real life.
2. Best practice sharing
Establishing a rapport with your industry colleagues and peers is so much easier face to face, and lays the groundwork for sharing problems and listening to alternative solutions.
Live events can define an industry, and build connections between buyers, sellers, policy makers, trade associations, advisors and competitors. Smart media brands can use events to associate themselves with the community around the sector and become more closely intertwined.
4. Feedback and research
An event is an unrivalled chance to talk to your audience informally, and learn how they feel about hot topics in their sector, and your products and services.
5. Content creation
Events spark unexpected debates, explore controversial topics and showcase new technology and new thinking. They are excellent for launching new research and can create plenty of valuable content for the media part of your business.
6. Commercial opportunities
Sponsors and clients value the chance to showcase their technology, their ideas and their expertise, and build lasting relationships with potential customers. Carefully handled, live events add immensely to a marketing campaign.
What are the challenges in building events?
But launching, growing and sustaining live events remains very challenging. Calendars are crowded, venues are scarce, competition from independents is fierce, and it is hard to develop a truly distinctive proposition.
The events that thrive are often based on incredibly thorough research and building of partnerships and alliances across the industry. In some ways media brands have far less control over a live event than their content business, as there are so many stakeholders.
Formats must be refreshed – the traditional conference model of death by powerpoint in a dark basement packed with 200 suited execs, is no longer appealing to a more informal, networked, diverse and demanding audience. Hence the move towards more varied, festival style events with multiple paths for learning and connecting with other delegates.
Marketing events is changing, with an overload of options and limited time, plus a shift from email marketing to social and content.
And delivering events is frequently challenging for media teams, with peaks of intense activity, the uncertainty of live scheduling, limitations of venues and complex logistics.
But there are plenty of examples of media owners who are successfully identifying opportunities for new event launches, and re-invigorating established events with new formats and content.
So even in this digital age, the face to face rapport built at a live event, or the sheer excitement of being in the same room as an enthralling speaker or walking on stage at an industry awards night, is still a powerful part of a strong media brand.
If you have experiences to share about building live events, you’re welcome to comment below or get in touch.
Watch this space for the results of my research into B2B events strategy later this year.
And if you’d like to discuss your own events strategy and the opportunities available, I’m happy to share my thoughts over the phone or over a coffee. Just get in touch.
About the author:
Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on digital publishing strategy.