The past year taught us a thing or two about adaptation and agility. Like it or not, we have all just undergone a major digital transformation upgrade, except fast-forwarded and came out of the blue. First, it was online events; today, as the world slowly opens up again, the hybrid future awaits. Who knows what other virtual experiences are ahead of us?
As we prepare for the hybrid transformation, we thought it’d be a good idea to look back at some of our biggest events of 2020 and search for clues that could help us deliver even more value for our clients. And we found exactly what we were looking for - five strategies to make your virtual event profitable.
Please meet Anne Balart Michaels, the President of ARB Meetings & Events. a full-service meeting, event and trade show program management company we partnered up with for the annual NAMPI (National Association of Medicaid Integrity) and NAMD (National Association of Medicaid Directors) virtual conferences.
Shock, overwhelm & sheer determination
Anne remembers the first couple of days after news about the pandemic broke out very well. There was nothing but overwhelm, followed by a series of panicked calls and emails from her clients and uncertainty about her own business and livelihood. “In March 2020, I thought my business was over and that I’d never recover," she said. But once the initial shock was over, Anne and her team committed to only looking forward, and they got to work - they had two prominent conferences to plan. Anne knew that the only way out of this situation was to take the events online, but the last thing she wanted was to turn a live event into a digital one - her goal was to build an engaging and value-driven virtual experience from the ground up.
That’s when our roads crossed. We’re always on the lookout for partners that share the same values – commitment to excellence, customer-first approach to problem solving and constantly redefining what’s possible using our virtual experiences platform. It’s why Anne stood out to us. She wanted to be actively involved in the event planning process and create something outstanding together.
According to Anne, while all the other event companies she reviewed were pitching their technology and as just another vendor-client relationship, Nextech AR was different; it felt like a true partnership. “From my first conversation with Pete, we already hit the ground running with exciting ideas,” Anne recalled of her brainstorming session with Nextech’s VP of Mergers & Acquisitions. But the thing that really convinced her that Nextech AR was the right partner was the ability to create a truly unique virtual experience together, and she felt NextechAR was fully invested in helping her succeed.
Needless to say, both conferences, the National Association of Medicaid Integrity and National Association of Medicaid Directors, were a resounding success - and not just in terms of the attendance but also profits. Sponsorships were steady and despite bringing in slightly less revenue than the year before, expenses were significantly lower, which actually led to higher profit margins.
Overall, ARB not only pulled off two digital experiences from scratch, but also delivered valuable engagement and networking opportunities for her clients. Looking back, Anne says she’s grateful she didn’t give up and that her team embraced going virtual. On the heels of two profitable events, ARB and Nextech want to share with event planners key insights on how to make their virtual events a success.
5 Strategies to Make Your Virtual Event Profitable
1. Have a game plan.
Whether your event is large or small, in-person or digital, you must have a strategy. What are your top goals and the overall concept? Is your event live, on-demand, or hybrid? For ARB, they wanted to find a solution for their events during Covid, generate revenue, and deliver value for their clients. In order to do that, they made sure to define their format, be clear on the outcomes, and create an easy workflow.
For example, Anne created a registration process where sponsors and participants were charged tiered rates depending on whether they were state or federal attendees. It’s also important to plan which KPIs and data you want to track. ARB’s events measured their success through attendee participation, sponsor & exhibitor signups, and overall revenue and costs. In the case of NAMD, their virtual event actually saw a 35% jump in profit year over year due to lower hard costs!
2. Know your audience.
Get an idea of what your audience is interested in so that you can curate your event accordingly. To do this, ARB sent out surveys to their clients to build a strong demographic profile. One of their surveys asked both sponsors and industry players what they could offer each other. Then using that data, ARB created a Match Making event where attendees can book time slots and network with the right people.
Once you have a good grasp on who your audience is, it’s so much easier to keep them engaged. For example, after finding out that NAMD’s attendees were often fun, outgoing, salt of the earth, ARB hosted a successful Masterclass cocktail hour for the group on the first night! Which leads us to our next tip…
3. Provide incentives.
People will always turn up when there’s an incentive. In addition to the live Masterclass cocktail hour that kept participants engaged, ARB offered various incentives to get attendees to the booths. ARB drove engagement by tripling their Exhibit Hall giveaway budget from $500 to $1500 and did multiple raffles a day for prizes such as iPads. Another great idea they implemented was creating a fundraising dashboard coupled with a challenge that made a donation to a non-profit for every booth an attendee visited.
4. Encourage engagement.
In addition to providing incentives, always actively encourage engagement. The era of build it and they will come is over – it’s all about speaking directly to customers and providing solutions. For ARB’s virtual conferences, they created a survey and then delivered engagement through networking opportunities and giveaways. The key here is making your event as interactive as possible. Perhaps you can involve participants in polls, puzzles, and quizzes. Are you hosting a Webinar? You could ask live questions or get viewers to submit questions or live-tweet. Does your platform provide you with tools for engagement? Nextech AR offers a host of interactive features such as gamification, polling, quizzing, live feedback, AR holograms, AR portals and more.
5. Have fun.
Make your event easy, valuable and fun! When you go virtual, it’s harder to hold attention, so as a rule of thumb, make your events short and sweet. For example, ARB did shorter breakouts and bookable time-slots for their Match Making and networking events. Thinking outside the box and keeping things light without always trying to sell will make your event more
enjoyable for attendees. ARB found huge success in their Masterclass sessions and giveaways, but perhaps you can bring in live performers, or host a game!
Pivoting to virtual events is not an easy decision to make, especially if you spent months planning your live trade show or conference. The stakes are high - you have your brand reputation to maintain and a business to run, regardless whether you're a company owner or event planner (or both!). But while a fraction of worldwide organizations decided to wait this one out and cancel their events altogether, many have successfully (and profitably) pivoted to virtual events.
It's like anything in life - it depends who's by your side, supporting and guiding you through the event planning process. We truly believe that your choice of the virtual event provider can make or break your event, virtual or hybrid, and so we put the needs of our clients and partners above anything else.
Want to hear more about how Nextech AR can help make your next virtual or hybrid event happen? Contact us today or book a free demo!