44 Tips For Maximizing Revenue From Virtual Events
As the market for virtual events has expanded, so have the options available to publishers looking to monetize this channel. Depending on the type of event produced and platform chosen, revenue from sponsors and attendees can be increased through sophisticated new features and sales strategies, as well as the online equivalent of tried-and-true practices long trusted in the brick-and-mortar realm. Publishing Executive asks a number of platform providers and event presenters to share what works.
President & CEO Onstream/Marketplace365
Onstream Media Corporation provides events through its MarketPlace365 platform, designed to create information exchange within market sectors.
5 ways to make money on virtual events.
Selman identifies five core strategies for monetizing virtual events:
1. pay per lead;
2. rental fees for booth space;
3. paying to do a presentation;
4. sponsorships; and
5. revenue from attendees (entrance fees).
The approach, or combination of approaches, you use depends on the content offered and structure of the show. Charging attendees, for instance, works best with information that is seen as mandatory to one's performance or career advancement.
Single-show sponsors usually prefer highly focused events: "Typically a single sponsor would pay for a group of subject matter experts in one potential category or vertical market to speak as thought leaders," Selman notes. Multiple sponsors and booth sponsorships are usually used for multifaceted, larger shows.
1. Lead generation: your BFF.
Lead generation is usually the key to monetization. According to Selman, at the heart of the virtual show business model are the goals of generating traffic and having a base of advertisers willing to pay to access that traffic. "You can generate any kind of revenue flow from that that you want," Selman says. "It's all about lead generation—people who pay the money are looking to generate more business for their organization."
2. Setting up a permanent venue opens up new options.
A permanent show venue, often called a perpetual environment, can keep audiences engaged and increase opportunities for lead generation. "It opens up new directions, and it takes the pressure off having to … generate enough leads during a one or two day event," he says. Perpetual environments also work well with a "hybrid" model, combining physical and virtual shows, because the momentum from the physical show can be carried over into the online space.
3. Events can be a valuable audience development tool.
Search optimization, social media integration and "outward facing" rich media can drive audiences to a virtual space, Selman says. Perpetual spaces, if designed properly, are rich depositories of valuable, curated information that can attract and retain audiences from the open Web.
Lead Sales Account Executive
Expos2 offers a virtual events platform and consulting services for trade shows, job fairs, e-commerce and conferences.
4. Be sure you articulate value to sponsors.
While sponsorship and booth space at virtual shows don't bring what they would at live events (Aouriri says you generally want to charge 1/3 to 1/2 of what you would at a physical event), make sure you are communicating to potential sponsors the true value of what you offer by stressing the value of broader exposure and one-on-one interactions.
5. Attendees want to speak with people.
Don't let the fact that you can archive shows distract from the importance of direct connections. "We've found that what people really want when they show up during the live portion is to speak with people. Your best opportunity as a vendor to get quality leads is during the interactions you make while staffing your booth," he says. Stress with exhibitors the importance of having someone in the booth for the live event.
6. Allow breaks in the schedule so people can visit the exhibit hall.
"We've exhibited at some events where the presentation schedule was so packed attendees did not have time to visit the exhibit hall," he says. "Create some gaps—some time to encourage people to go to the hall and interact." Aouriri says a public address mechanism, which sends an announcement letting people know the exhibit hall is open and there will be no sessions for a given period of time, is a good idea.
7. Be cautious about giving away booth space.
While booth space can be used as a "value ad" for partners or association members, "a person's natural tendency is to not take the project as seriously as [they would] if the organization had dropped a couple thousand [dollars] to attend," Aouriri cautions. You want booths to offer real value in the form of live staffing and educational materials, and this requires real commitment from sponsors.
8. For the same reason, consider charging for attendance.
"If you charge for attendance, you generally get less attendance than if it was free, but your registration ratios are significantly higher," he says. If you do charge, he adds, seek a "sweet spot"—an amount not so much as to push people away, but enough to make them take attending seriously. He recommends $25 as an amount that confirms a commitment, but fits neatly within nearly everyone's expense account.
9. If you do charge, try tiered attendee access.
As with physical shows, you can offer VIP registrations that include total access, and other levels that may restrict access to some sessions (but always allow entrance to the exhibit hall).
"That's been an effective way to balance monetizing valuable content, while at the same time adding value to our exhibitors … because we want to try to get them as much traffic as possible," he says. Tiered registrations also allow producers to set up multiple registration fields and collect different types of information from each category of registrant.
Group Vice President
Inxpo provides branded virtual conferences, events, trade shows, webcasts and interactive business environments.
10. Find new ways to incorporate branding and messaging into events.
In addition to the standard banners and booth space, Klombers recommends incorporating interactive activities such as social games. "I happen to be a huge fan of a trivia game, where the host of the event or sponsor of the game writes the questions and the answers, so there's intelligence and education taking place," she says. "… You are fostering connections as well as networking among attendees or between attendees and sponsors."
Another idea is video ads—short clips or commercials placed in selected areas of the event. "Attendees might opti-view the video by clicking on the video player, or it can play automatically when, for instance, an attendee enters a networking lounge for the first time," Klombers says.
A third way to incorporate branding is through scrolling text similar to ticker tape, which can appear in various parts of the digital environment. "They can include hyperlinks to both external Web pages or internal spaces such as a sponsor booth," she says.
11. Promote sponsors' social media presence.
"I like the use of social media integration … to create chatter within digital event platforms," she says. Bringing social media content into the event can mean setting up a "social suite" featuring attendees' and sponsors' social media content, with direct links to Facebook fan pages.
12. Encourage certain audience behaviors with incentives.
InExpo incorporates prizes and giveaways into events, earned through points. Attendees earn points by attending sessions and booths, with more points given based on the value of the interaction (such as 100 points for a direct interaction with a booth sponsor).
13. Pre-populate a show bag or briefcase with sponsor materials and information.
These could include whitepapers, brochures or multimedia content.
14. Try in-event e-mails.
"A sponsor's message can be pushed out to attendees based on attendee type," Klombers says. She calls e-mails a "highly valuable direct form of contact that many respond to because it's a direct note."
15. Make tiered sponsorship packages a clear sell.
Tiered sponsorship levels—gold, platinum, etc.—are a mainstay of physical and virtual trade shows. In the virtual space, however, it's even more important to establish what Klombers calls a "clean difference" between these tiers, and not create too many. "That scarcity is a selling tool," she says. "If somebody wants to start with silver, but sees additional features and capabilities of going to gold or platinum, it's a very easy way to upsell."
Tier differentiation can take the form of booth features, she adds, such as allowing platinum sponsors to put videos in booths.
President and Chief Strategist
GreenBiz Group Inc.
GreenBiz Group, a media company targeting chief sustainability officers at major corporations, runs live forums in multiple cities and the Verge virtual conference. The events are international in scope and utilize a hybrid (physical and virtual) model. Greenbiz uses an events platform provided by Unisfair.
16. Hybrid events can enhance lead-gen opportunities.
GreenBiz is live with an online platform at the same time it runs physical events, allowing the events to achieve multiple goals. "It was really eye opening because we achieved what we were hoping—a very high-touch physical event with ability for senior executives to meet and network with peers," Faurot says. "At the same time, because of the virtual environment, there was a tremendous lead-gen opportunity for all of our sponsors."
17. If you have a perpetual environment, send audiences there all year round.
GreenBiz actively drives users of its website and other digital products to its virtual environment. "When we write an article around smarter building on our traditional website, for instance, we will put a link through to this virtual environment to encourage people to go check out what we have there, because all the stuff we have will be on demand," he says. This means sponsors continue to have people downloading whitepapers, and are building category-specific lead pools, even when events are not live.
18. Train booth sponsors.
There is a learning curve in the beginning for booth sponsors, Faurot says. Show producers can help sponsors understand how best to set up booths and staff them, incentivize with prizes and giveaways, and utilize other best practices.
19. Temporal events are important.
While maintaining a 12-month platform, GreenBiz holds monthly events and webcasts that bring large numbers of people through the virtual show environment. "On-demand is nice … but people like to have something in their calendar that says I am going to watch this at 10 a.m. on Tuesday," Faurot says. "It really helps."
20. Expand your definition of 'booth.'
"We're moving to less of a booth metaphor," says Faurot, because what sponsors set up in his environment are really better described as resource centers, with lounge-like virtual spaces and multimedia capabilities.
Vice President, Investor Relations Products and Services
PR Newswire runs monthly investor relations conferences online, providing a platform for publicly-traded companies to reach out to investors.
21. Drive attendees directly to sponsor booths at the conclusion of sessions.
Built in exit actions can take session attendees right to sponsors' booths for direct interaction and further discussion of topics relevant to their message. For PR Newswire, this is accomplished through Q&A sessions that transfer attendees from presentation to booth as they engage with a company.
22. Tout extended reach to a target audience.
One of the great advantages of virtual shows for the presenting sponsors is unprecedented access to a wide target audience, Viglotti says. The investor relations conferences, for instance, allow individual investors the type of access they would normally only have if traveling to a company's annual meeting.
23. More content = more attendees (and sponsors).
"The more content we have for our conference, the more attendees we end up having, and the more engagement," Viglotti says. To increase breadth of content, he is looking to shorten presentation times, decreasing presentation slots from one hour to 30 minutes.
"It's more like the live world," he says. "The dialogue can continue in the booth, and by shortening the presentation time, I can bring in more presenting companies."
24. Promoting the next show can increase exposure to previous shows.
Producers that hold regular events can reap an extra benefit by bringing new show registrants to an archived show environment. "One thing I stress with companies is we are really providing 90 days of visibility," he says. "I've had companies get 400-percent greater viewership of their presentation in archive. … As new registrations come in, as we promote the next show, there's that opportunity to be exposed to other companies."
Senior Vice President of Business and Development
UBM Studios is a digital events and marketing services provider owned by UBM LLC, which also owns PR Newswire.
25. Smaller shows can be an easier sell.
Depending on your audience and goals, targeted, limited-purpose shows can sometimes provide surer return on investment (ROI) than a broad-based show. One example would be an online product launch featuring a launch video and demo, and if desired, product demonstrations, chats with project managers and other features.
26. Create a community first.
A great way to build an audience for trade shows is to start by establishing individual communities, nurturing them with social media and then integrating virtual events. "It's been difficult, especially for publishers, to just throw together a virtual environment," Beaulieu says. "It's a big step, a lot of work to put these environments together. So instead, start with a smaller step. First build up the need and the want … then push them into these environments"—a strategy UBM Studios calls a community-based model.
27. Give yourself enough time to sell.
"The biggest thing people stumble on is definitely the ramp-up time to sell these shows," she says. Pushing sales into the same quarter as the show itself means you are getting "leftover dollars" from sponsors, instead of money budgeted ahead of time for marketing. "You need six to eight months to sell these things appropriately," she says.
28. Consider giving away a benchmark sponsorship.
Especially if you are new to the virtual show game, giving away a sponsorship to the right partner can establish the value of your event in the eyes of others. "If you can say X huge sponsor is going to be on it, [other potential sponsors] do not need to know that it was given away free," she says. "That helps with the pitch for the sales team. They can say, 'Look, we've already got somebody on.' Nobody wants to be the first one. Plus it kind of justifies your pricing."
Director of Product Marketing
Unisfair was acquired by Intercall in March 2011, bringing a virtual events platform to Intercall's line of conferencing, Web seminar and virtual classroom services.
29. Hybrid events offer upselling opportunities.
Offering a virtual component to in-person events means more revenue can be tacked on to an event sponsorship. The argument is especially compelling if you can offer expanded access and exposure to a client's message on top of an exclusive, intimate physical gathering.
30. Put together a virtual room or lounge around a topic.
Offering custom rooms in addition to an exhibit hall can be a great way to increase value for sponsors and exhibitors.
31. Think outside the booth.
For a recent virtual show put on by an association, exhibitors "got into a competition over who could build the best virtual booth," Vidal says. "They were more like virtual rooms. Some of them looked like a store." Technology such as Flash can enable sophisticated engagement with products and brands within these environments. such as offering the ability to hover a mouse over a product and have a picture or video pop up.
32. Bring e-commerce to the booth space.
Related to the above, some shows are now enabling vendors to include e-commerce options in their presentation spaces. "You can look at products, browse and actually buy from right within the virtual booth," Vidal says. PE