Virtual & Hybrid Event Marketing Checklist: Pre-Event Phase (at least three months before the virtual event)
2020 will go down as the year that universally brought virtual events into greater prominence for businesses. For many marketing teams, strategizing and executing virtual events has been an all-new playing field. And while many marketers have seen turbulence and loss this year, we have also experienced a valuable amount learning and adapting. We are convinced that this is an industry disruption that will inevitably expand the breadth of how we engage prospects and customers in the future.
With virtual events, marketers are seeing how they can widen their reach globally in a single campaign at a lower cost, as well as gather untapped streams of attendee data from online interactions.
The shift from in-person to virtual has brought marketers an expanded list of details to mindful of pre-, during and post event. We thought it would be helpful to put together a checklist of important tasks and considerations to make it more manageable and a little less stressful! This checklist combines our own marketing team’s learnings alongside what we’ve heard from customers and industry peers.
Check out the first installment of our virtual event marketing checklist (with a few added tips for those of you who are considering a hybrid strategy) below, focusing in the pre-event phase:
✅ Establish Event Campaigns Purpose and Goals
This is the foundational step for any event campaign, and one that every later action will refer to. Decide on your event campaign’s primary goals, the key metrics you will need to show ROI, and its purpose (the “why” for your brand and target audience).
- Ensure that your goals align with your organization and stakeholders. Check in with your organization’s KPIs. Get input and feedback from past attendees. Research your target audience, speakers, and sponsors. Find out what matters to them and let that feedback inform your high-level goals.
- Define your target audience(s). Which brands or accounts and personas within those accounts do you want to engage? If sales is important, your target account list should provide a set list to start planning from.
- Once you have the “why” you need the “how.” How will your event’s campaign metrics be measured?
✅ Determine the virtual event format to achieve your goals (live, simu-live and/or pre-recorded)
- Legacy events: You may have a popular, recurring brand conference that stakeholders want replicated in a virtual format. Virtual events can (and often have) familiar structures that your stakeholders know and love, with featured keynotes, breakout sessions, sponsor booths, networking activities and so on. But as you translate the foundational structure of your conference, you can still surprise and delight your attendees with new elements that take advantage of the excellent virtual event technology now available.
- *Shameless Plug: An event experience platform like Certain allows you to pivot. It gives you everything you need to manage complex virtual or hybrid events with a professional online experience for attendees, while capturing and routing your attendee data flow. This is technology that “plays well with others,” allowing you to integrate additional technologies that will enhance the virtual experience.
- On the other hand, you might be looking to explore new event formats. Consider what will be most effective for engaging your target audience and get creative in the ideation process.
- We are now living in the “attention economy”, so think like a reality tv show producer or broadcast professional when designing your virtual event format and content. Think about activating the senses and emotions of your target audience through sound and vision.
- With virtual events, there are fewer restrictions. Traditions around timing have changed; the time zones your speakers and attendees will participate from will vary, and the length or duration of your experiences can be reimagined. Does your event need to be compressed into one day or several consecutive days? Is it more manageable to break it into bite sized experiences over several weeks? How will you thread these experiences together?
- Think less about managing a finite event, and more about nurturing your growing community. An engagement app can foster and engage this community before, during and after your events.
- Create foundational event branding materials (i.e., logo, tagline, event description, sponsorship tiers, etc.) These materials should animate your event and brand and set your event apart from the never-ending stream of content already out there.
- With your chosen format in mind, walk yourself through the virtual attendee journeys and jot everything down from start to finish.
- Select the event date(s) and time(s), don’t forget to research other events planned to take place at the same time targeting the same audience. The less competition you have for your target audience’s attention, the better.
- Put together a presentation deck that puts forward the business case for the virtual event investment along with high-level details about the campaign for stakeholder buy-in and feedback. Some of the future creative and promotional marketing will also cascade from this deck.
- If you haven’t engrained yourself in a community of event profs, we strongly suggest joining one. Virtual event planning can be made much easier with market research and learning from the successes and mistakes of others. That’s why Certain created this group on Linkedin. We encourage you to join!
✅ Develop a Unique Hybrid Event Concept with a Strategic Balance of Environments according to Current Safety Standards
At present, with restrictions on public gatherings, the larger percentage of your hybrid events will be virtual. Your in-person gathering may be a panel discussion in one location broadcasted to a larger, virtual audience. Or, it might be tailored for important prospects or customers in a specific region. The in-person gathering may be a live “main event” broadcast to virtual attendees while some online sessions spotlight vertical specific content (think commercial breaks during a big sports game featuring the local news). What will make your event different from other hybrid events? You can always refine your concept later.
- Some research considerations: What are the current safety restrictions in the location of your on-property event, and what measures do you need to have in place to protect everyone in attendance.
- Until we have a Coronavirus vaccine widely available, in-person attendees will need a strong reason to show up on physical properties. Once it’s safe to host in-person gatherings, you can use the uniqueness of your venue to generate excitement towards attending in-person rather than staying home. Or, your on-site attendees can be comprised of local brand advocates and media reps that bring their own built-in audience of online followers along for the ride.
✅ Determine the Essential Technology for your Event
The virtual engagement technology available today has made a quantum leap from even a year ago. A panoply of products is currently hitting the market in a bid to replicate some of the magic of in-person interactions and create more immersive virtual environments. While these are exciting, the necessity of attendee data has not changed.
- We recommend having a unified platform that allows you complete orchestration of your virtual event campaign, capturing your attendee engagement data from start to finish. You will rely on the analytics to measure the performance of every aspect of your event campaign. It will inform marketing and sales, and help you improve and personalize your event campaigns going forward.
- The platform should address your goals, integrate well with leading web streaming applications (Zoom, ON24, Microsoft Teams, etc.), and sync attendee data into your marketing automation platform and CRM in real time. It will integrate with new or unique engagement features you may be looking to include and ensure that no data is lost from any touchpoints. Remember, any one solution won’t be able to do everything you want, but one thing is non-negotiable: attendee data. At the end of the campaign, if you don’t have detailed event analytics, it’s as if it never happened in the world of your business.
- The platform will offer networking capabilities. Whether it’s for breakouts, networking sessions, 1:1 meetings or virtual happy hours, networking is still extremely important to attendees and sponsors.
- The platform will integrate with a mobile event app, which can be used as an interactive “second screen” for audience engagement. It should include features such as push notifications, activity feeds, chat, live polling, networking, and gamification options.
- Give you a customizable, central registration website, and a hub for your event info, schedule, and content. Registrants should be able to customize their agendas according to their interests.
- Your provider should offer you a customer support team that is available to help you achieve your goals at every step of the campaign.
- Your chosen platform should meet standard security requirements to protect your attendees’ confidential information and conform to PCI and GDPR guidelines.
- CAUTION: Remember to keep it simple – don’t activate tons of different features in a campaign for the sake of appearance. It will only confuse the audience. Aim for incorporating what will enhance the audience experience in alignment with your event goals.
✅ Be Extremely Thoughtful about Content and Preparation
With so many virtual events happening, people have become video/webinar weary. Expectations around content are higher than ever. It should be theme-based, informative, interactive and condensed. As Certain’s Director of Customer Success, Becky Fittro says, “If we can’t engage directly as attendees and viewers, then we want to hear and watch genuinely engaging content, as we do with podcasts and television.” She also stresses the importance of the on-camera hosts and speakers bringing as much of their personality forward as possible.
- Skilled emcees and hosts can orient and interact with the virtual audience and help drive participation.
- Check the delivery styles and setups for your speakers, ideally, they will be open to best practices and/or suggestions for more dynamic presentations.
- Shorter, or ‘Bite-sized’ content is the current trend. It becomes harder to maintain audience interest in a single session after 30 minutes. Some marketers will even argue for even shorter durations!
- Rehearse with your speakers and moderators. They will need to be set up for success, familiar with their technical cues and talking points, and understand how they are coming across on-screen. For Certain’s recent virtual event campaign, guest speakers were offered suggested home studio enhancements in lieu of a typical gift or fee. The speakers welcomed the chance to upgrade their home studios, and it also helped up-level the quality of the event’s content.
- Test all technical transitions and cues leading up to the event. Set rehearsals up with your internal team to practice transitions.
- HYBRID: (On-site) Ensure that your on-the-ground AV setup and high-speed internet is suitable for what you need. Shrewdly, some physical venues are incorporating studio settings in preparation for hybrid events and will have special promotions to incentivize us to get our events back on-site.
- Where possible, pre-record presentations in case the event pivots to fully virtual, or if technical difficulties surface with your various guests beaming in.
- On-screen, allow attendees to be seen and heard within sessions, whether that is in a session Q&A or a roundtable discussion, many attendees will welcome the exposure, and will makes the session more engaging.
- HYBRID: (On-site) There are more LCD screens being used to display information, and even used as attendee stand-ins. You may have noticed this on your favorite television talk show. Remember those remote-controlled telecommuter robots? We might see more of those motoring around physical show sites. Hardware as ‘audience avatars’ could be a trend to watch that lets virtual attendees feel more incorporated into hybrid events.
- You can grow a larger attendee community around your event with pre- and post-event activities and conversations via your online presence and engagement app.
- Likewise, use social media platforms like Linkedin, Facebook and Instragram (wherever your delegates are most likely to be) to amplify engagement and interest before, during, and after the event.
- Leave gaps in your event programming for attendee and sponsor networking, private meetings and breaks for the at-home attendees to get up and move around. There are several things you can broadcast during these breaks, like behind the scenes interviews, special entertainment, or sponsor promos to fill time.
- Contingency plans! Have backup plans for every key participant. Any number of things personal or technical can happen with your hosts and speakers, make sure to have ‘Plan B’ people in place, and pre-recordings on deck to keep the event going whatever happens. At a minimum, having a backup moderator for any onscreen discussion is essential.
“If we can’t engage directly as attendees and viewers, then we want to hear and watch genuinely engaging content, as we do with podcasts and television.”
– Becky Fittro, Director of Customer Success at Certain
✅ Create the Virtual Event Budget
Knowing the numbers will give you clarity on where to allocate money, keep you from overspending, and allow you to measure ROI. Virtual event budgets differ from in-person event campaigns where the majority may go to venue and F&B costs. With virtual events, you can anticipate roughly 75% – 80% of the budget going to technology and content production. In general, virtual events cost less than in-person events. Here are some of the best practices for composing your campaign budget:
- List income: Every way that you foresee money coming in. This will be things like online ticket sales, sponsorships and paid certifications.
- List expenses: All possible expenses based on your campaign objectives and vision. This includes the technology platform(s), A/V equipment and production, promotional (advertising) costs, speaker fees, entertainment and swag.
- Always include an extra ‘emergency fund’ line item (I call mine ‘Misc. or Unforeseen Expenses’) because inevitably, things will pop up that will cost you more than anticipated during the campaign.
- Include two budget columns: Estimated vs Actual expenses in your budget. Fill in the Actual column as you go. You’ll have gotten approval on the estimated spend and then the actual expense numbers will tell you where you’ll need to adjust along the way. Having these two columns will improve your planning and budgeting for future campaigns and will factor into calculating return.
✅ Draft Your Marketing Plan, Timeline, and Team Roles
- Recruit your team and clearly communicate the vision, goals, roles and expectations for the campaign. Factor in time for team members to learn the skills necessary for running virtual events. You’ll need support in managing speakers, technical issues, managing the event app and audience interactions, running on-screen transitions, fielding questions from attendees, and monitoring social media to name some.
- Partner with your technology provider, and if budget allows a virtual event production company, that understands the virtual event process and can help you fill in gaps.
- About a month before the event, create a ‘virtual command center’ for your team. These days your team may be scattered in various geographic locations. The Certain team has been using Slack with a company-wide channel for updates about the event, along with a private channel for troubleshooting that includes just the team members that are running the event.
- When promoting the event, segment your mailing lists to send more personalized and relevant messaging highlighting what matters to that prospect or customer. Consider offering exclusive incentives or experiences to your top target account invites to get them to attend live.
- HYBRID: Clearly communicate that the format is a hybrid event, and what experiences the attendees can expect in-person.
- HYBRID: For in-person registrants, over-communicate the safety measures put in place so that they know they will be protected.
- HYBRID: As mentioned before, have a compelling purpose for why your targeted on-property guests will want to attend in person. Keep them updated on the status of the in-person gathering and what they can expect on the event day(s).
- Create and promote your online presence as a venue in and of itself. It’s the ultimate destination for your virtual attendees. And it can package the recorded event content once it’s over and generate more leads.
- HYBRID: Set up the registration process to allow registrants to choose the path that works best for them (face-to-face or online).
- Short promotional videos are a terrific way to highlight experiences you are planning for the virtual audience and to build excitement about your event.
- HYBRID: Consider doing venue walk-through video(s) for on-site attendance
- For guest retention, include “add-to-calendar” invites (with virtual content join links) and send reminder emails to those who have registered a week before and on the day of the event. Include detailed instructions on how to access the event content and include contact info for support reps that will be available to help them should they run into any difficulties.
- We suggest drafting an “event brief” for your teammates, so that everyone is doubly clear with their roles and tasks. Here at Certain, we like to create “storyboards” for those team members controlling whatever is happening onscreen.
Whew! You made it this far, which means you’re hooked, right? Well stay tuned — next we’ll tackle the during and post-event phases to round out your full virtual (and hybrid!) event marketing checklist.
And until then, be sure to get in touch to talk to one of our event marketing experts about how to pump up your virtual events using Certain’s event experience platform.
Kent W. Martin is a digital and event marketer by day, and an Italian lifestyle aficionado by night. He’s been running digital and field events at Certain since 2015 and currently heads up the #EVENTS360 Community.