Purpose, preparation and press engagement: Five top tips for running a virtual event 

online events

The cancellation of trade shows and press events has forced a huge rethink of marketers’ strategies.

Conferences and press events – which have been integral for brand visibility, networking, and engagement – disappeared overnight, prompting communications professionals to look to virtual events to engage the market and the media.

But not all virtual events are created equal. And with so many companies leveraging online events, Katie Finn, Associate Director, Babel PR explains how can you ensure yours stands out.

In a recent panel event, speakers from the BBC, PA Media, and one of the world’s largest virtual conferences, All Day DevOps, joined Babel PR and set out to establish how businesses can  optimise virtual events. From online conferences to webinars and media roundtables, the panel examined success factors for different types of events, and explored everything from picking a platform to pitching press. Below, Babel Associate Director, Katie Finn, shares some of the panel’s top insights with Business Matters:

Be clear on what you want to achieve

Have a clear purpose and set measurable objectives. Don’t launch a virtual event just because your competitors are doing it – understand what you want to achieve, what the draw is for media or prospects, and then use this to help formulate your agenda. Put in place a measurement framework well ahead of time so you can evaluate its success, and use these learnings to shape future events.

Remember that amplification is everything. Think beyond the day itself, and look at how you can engage your audience both in the run-up to the event and the months after. This could include Slack channels or Q&As with speakers to build momentum, and pre-event blogs publicised  over social media. Events themselves produce a wealth of content which can be used to support lead generation or PR activity; insights can be turned into whitepapers, recordings shared to reach a greater audience, and articles based on the discussion pitched into the media. Derek Weeks, Co-Founder of All Day DevOps, advocates a 60:1:60 strategy – understanding what you’re doing to engage your audience in both the 60 days before and the 60 days after to maximise touchpoints and engagement.

A good event experience requires plenty of preparation

Think experiential. At a time when most of us are suffering from Zoom fatigue, think carefully about how you can make your event into a real experience that extends far beyond just sharing a screen. Whether that’s sending cocktails to participants, hosting viewing parties, or even just running polls to drive dialogue, find a way to make your audience feel involved. As a number of our panelists advocated, learn from those who are experienced at the experiential – like TV directors and concert producers.

Don’t underestimate the importance of preparation. It may seem like an obvious point, but proper preparation can often be overlooked. Do plenty of practice runs and source feedback on how you come across on camera. Undertake media training if you’re inviting the press. Time yourself to ensure you don’t run over. Source your panelists’ talking points ahead of time to steer the discussion and avoid any surprises. And crucially for any virtual event, have a backup should internet connectivity go down.

Be clear about the benefits for the media

Time-poor journalists are much less likely to attend your event if there isn’t a clear story, and if all they get from the event is what’s in the press release. Before pitching press, think carefully about what’s in it for them – can you offer first access to news, and 1:1 interviews with senior spokespeople? Can you have your event chaired by an academic to provide a fresh perspective? Crucially, make sure your talking points are topical, timely, and relevant to the journalist’s area of interest – without this, you’re unlikely to get much media engagement.

Launching a virtual event for the first time can seem daunting, particularly with so much competition. But with plenty of preparation, a clear purpose, and positive press engagement, they can more than compensate for physical events. They can unlock a whole host of new benefits in their own right.