Forrester's Global Head of Events on Shifting from In-Person Summit to Paid Virtual Event
The events business has been hit hard by COVID-19, causing organizations to make decisions to either cancel events, postpone until it's safer to gather again, or make their events virtual. Each decision comes with its own set of challenges, as well, especially when considering the possibility of lost revenue.
When Forrester was faced with this same conundrum regarding its flagship Summit 2020 — an annual gathering of sales, marketing, and product leaders — the market research company decided to turn the Summit into a four-day paid virtual event in early May.
Target Marketing had the opportunity to talk with Forrester's Global Head of Events Lisa Riley about the decision to transition the Summit into a paid virtual event, the effects it had on the programming, as well as both the successes and challenges derived from the decision.
When shifting from an in-person event to a virtual event, how did the content program have to be adjusted, if at all?
Digital and live events are very different when it comes to audience engagement. Transitioning from an in-person to a digital event challenged us to rethink our entire content program.
As you know, both presenters and the audience feed off energy from each other, which can be a limitation in a digital environment. To keep our content interactive and our audience engaged, we built a completely new agenda. Our goal was to offer the same content experience that our attendees have come to expect from our event, while being mindful of audience attention spans in a digital environment.
As a result, we did not cut back on any sessions. Instead, we adapted the content and condensed the event hours and session times to maximize audience engagement. We also replaced certain sessions that were contingent on audience participation and would not have worked as well in a digital environment.
The Summit opted to be a paid virtual event. But a lot of in-person events, when adapting to virtual, shift over to some version of free (or reduced). Aside from bringing in revenue, what are the benefits of being a paid virtual event?
We were confident in our ability to provide the same experience and deliver the same value that our attendees have come to expect from our in-person events. We decided to keep the ticket price for the digital event the same as our live event for the following reasons:
- A paid event ensures attracting qualified buyers who are genuinely interested in learning about an organization’s products and services. As a result, it also helps attract the right sponsors.
- A paid event ensures a higher percentage of attendance (free or complimentary events have a much higher no-show rate).
Also, we take pride in the community of sales, marketing, and product leaders we have built over the years. Peer learning and the quality of the interactions are really important to this community. We did not want to dilute that.
What were some of the biggest successes of adjusting the Summit from an in-person event to a virtual event?
We are very proud of the fact that we were able to pivot, develop, and launch a very successful event in less than six weeks, with no previous playbook to pull a page from!
We had to improvise, innovate, and reconsider everything. As mentioned above, content consumption on a digital platform is very different than in a live environment. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our attendees, which is very gratifying.
What were some of the largest challenges of adjusting the Summit from an in-person event to a virtual event?
The biggest challenge was twofold: developing and launching the digital platform in less than six weeks’ time. It was a true software “sprint” that we followed to get the product into a viable state for our customers.
The second [challenge] was defining and differentiating our digital event — taking the time to define the overall experience, which was interactive, sophisticated, and much more robust than other free virtual events that are being offered through video collaboration platforms.
Is there anything you think Forrester would have done differently regarding the Summit going paid virtual?
No. We are very proud of what we accomplished. At a time when most organizations were canceling their events, we quickly pivoted to deliver a fully immersive virtual experience. We built a strong playbook from scratch and tapped into cross-functional teams to help us execute on our vision.
We had a clear vision, defined strategy, and support from our CEO, which empowered us to innovate and unleash creativity without the fear of failure. As a result, we could adapt quickly, drive an agile development, and execute on time.
What are some best practices you could share for marketers considering not only adjusting their in-person events to virtual, but to paid virtual?
Content is king. If your content is valuable and aimed at helping/supporting your customers to be successful, it justifies the cost.