As with the evolution of all new technologies it takes a little while for the terminology to settle down and become general use. For the early adopters this can be an incredibly frustrating experience. Why? Because we’ve already been part of the (extensive and believe me exhaustive) debate, discussion and intellectual tussle and just as we sign off on that particular topic, along come the newbies and start it all again.
So it is in the land of virtual/online/hybrid events. As conference professionals and other interested organisations begin to understand that the technology isn’t going to go away; that rather than being frightening in its complexity the right solution can simplify marketing and communications; and that there are other people just like them creating very successful conferences and events; so does the supplier network. The latter are not slow at getting on a successful bandwagon, and nor should they be, but never does caveat emptor apply more than in an emerging market. Not least because you won’t get many chances to get this right with your audiences, and if you are billing something as a hybrid which falls in any way short of other experiences they may have had, your credibility will be questioned.
With hybrid events rapidly becoming flavour of the month, it is incredibly important that conference organisers are very clear about what constitutes a hybrid and what does not. So here’s a quick synopsis:
- A recording of the event posted online two or three days afterwards; sorry but this is just an online post-event recording.
- A live event with a Twitter feed running on a screen at an event; no – this is just an injection of social commentary into your live event
- A selection of individual blogs, chatrooms and social media forums; aren’t these already essential parts of your integrated communications strategy?
- A series of event photos; honestly…?
And if you are a purist you would also say:
- A simultaneous stand-alone webcast; because this is a stand-alone webcast
Why are none of the above really hybrid events? Because they fundamentally miss the point. A hybrid is something where two parts meld seamlessly together to form a unified whole. A post-event recording doesn’t allow first-time viewers to participate in the debate; a twitter feed is a one-way stream of consciousness; and a standalone webcast does not allow the live and online audiences to interact with one another.
What a hybrid event IS:
- An event where a technology solution is used to permit both a live and an online audience to view the same content at the same time. PLUS,
- Where the online and live audiences can interact simultaneously with the speakers and other commentators via spoken questions and typed chat. AND,
- Where the online and live audiences can interact with each other within the timeframe of the live event.
With the right technology solution, or blend of solutions the latter point could also be extended so that the conversation with the audience starts in advance of the live date(s), is developed with the input of relevant and well-informed experts and then continues post event. What is imperative is that you, the conference or event organiser, create an environment, beit online, live or a hybrid of the two, where there is no barrier to integrated conversation and networking.
Hybrid events are delivering great results for organisations such as The Economist so they are there to be embraced. Just make sure that when you step into the water you are taking the right equipment with you.
Having recovered at last from all of the excitement of London2012 I am reminded of a comment made to me by one of my children at the end of last year. As I opened the envelope to reveal the results of recent exams I reacted with unbridled delight to the thinly veiled surprise of my son. “What did you expect Mum?” was his retort as he turned on his heels and went off to play football with a group of friends.
I’d like to think that everyone involved in that wonderful spectacle that took over our world for two weeks this August is reacting with similar insouciance. Because after all, what exactly were we expecting?
The UK boasts (we’re not good at using that word) one of the world’s finest event and exhibition industries, packed with brilliantly creative employers, employees and freelancers, backed by exemplary technical expertise and sound health and safety practices. Across the country there are thousands of students studying the intricacies of all aspects of event management and every day teams of hard-working and downright clever individuals are producing some form of festival, exhibition or meeting. Year in, year out very talented people create mass events such as The Edinburgh Festival, Trooping of the Colour, Glastonbury, Glyndebourne, Goodwood etc*… with the odd Jubilee and Royal Wedding thrown in for good measure. And if you have been to the West End recently and seen what a proficient and professional technical crew can create in what is a relatively small space then the wonderful sets at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies can be celebrated as a showcase of the mastery of this particular craft.
There are so many, many things to celebrate: our attention to detail (though I think David Brailsford has now set the bar just that little bit higher); our ability to create laughter and joy; our respect for every culture and idiosycracy (including our own); and just how good we are at events.
So go on: give yourselves a pat on the back; walk tall; talk yourself up; look the world in the eye and say:
“Of course it was great. What did you expect?”
p.s. and a huge pat on the back to every athlete whether they were a medal winner or not, Katherine Grainger in particular.
* events that popped into my head at random
Your brochure is finished. The design is great (though you haven’t left a lot of white space because you’ve got to keep on giving those punters reasons to attend) and you think the copy covers all the bases.
Bet I can guess what phrase you have used to describe your conference/awards/expo?
… is the Must Attend Event for … professionals/lovers of jazz music etc. etc.
Oh how I wish I had a penny for every time that phrase is used. Why not a pound? I hear you ask. That’s because I am so confident of the number of times it has been used that I think I will still benefit financially. And indeed I am proved correct: a Google search on the phrase ‘must attend event’ yields no fewer than 6,580,000 results! Even if I narrow the search criteria down to the last twelve months it yields 403,000 results.
It’s a facetious point well made. Why do marketers describe their events in such hackneyed terms?
And is it marketing’s problem, or is it something more fundamental to do with the way we create events, particularly large scale exhibitions, multi-streamed conferences and awards ceremonies?
Probably a bit of both if the truth be told.
It’s easy(ish) to market a rock concert. You know which band is playing, you tell their fans where and when and hopefully they will buy tickets. Simple, single stage sell. But how do you get 5,000 people to a medical device exhibition or 100 delegates to attend a conference on social networking? You could tell them what’s on offer, but you’ll need to present the message differently to each of your audience sectors, and that causes problems because you might not be able to offer them all the same super attractive package. And then of course you might be the only marketer trying to cover off a number of events and your creative juices are spread too thinly.
So the easy option is to describe your product as the must attend event for ‘anyone involved in the medical device industry’ or ‘anyone who wants to use social networking to leverage their business’. Phew – got all the potential audience covered - can sign off on the copy.
Stop and look again though. Instead of trying to find phrases that fit all, remember what motivates people to come to events. There will be a core of people who attend because they come every year; the health services that buy medical devices perhaps, and they make up 40% of your audience. You can clearly identify another 40%. So why not create copy that talks to these people? Because I will miss the other 20% you reply. But what makes that other 20% come along every year… they seek you out. And it wasn’t because you kept harping on about the fact that you are the must attend event for… it’s because they were looking for something and they found it in your copy/online content etc. and subsequently your event.
Be brave. Stop trying to talk to everyone at once. Create a series of miniture marketing pieces within your main message. Create multiple calls to action (and if you are asking someone to spend £750 on a conference place please don’t use Book Now) that drive individuals to yet more compelling and targetted content. Tell a small business in Irving why embracing Facebook could transform their sales performance; explain to a manufacturer what installing a clean-room could do to their business; encourage an advertising agency in Coventry to enter an industry award.
Then, and only then, will your event be truly must attend.