Four industry experts share insights on innovating live events

Monetising physical content is increasingly difficult in a digital world. One need only look to the music industry to see how the goalposts have shifted in recent years. Beyonce’s 2016 Formation World Tour generated a reported US$250m in ticket sales. Downloads of the album that the tour was promoting, not so much. When Kanye West released the The Life of Pablo in the same year, writes The Washington Post, “he simply sold tickets, starting at $25 – double the price of an album – to a worldwide album release event.” The paradigm has shifted, from using live events as a marketing channel to leveraging that content to attract eyeballs and generate ticket sales.

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For publishers with established brands, this reordering of marketing flow is also possible. But it requires dedication, and the acceptance that it is simply more difficult to generate revenue by guiding physical eyeballs towards live content than it has been to sell publications to those eyeballs. 

Below we gathered the insights of four leading industry experts who spoke at the recent PPA Festival in London and Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin recently.

***Join us at the 41st FIPP World Congress, 9-11 October 2017, to hear from the likes of David Davies, executive creative director of Cannes Lions, Deepak Lamba, CEO of Worldwide Media, and others about how events and experiences have become an integral part of their business models, and how they go about delivering on the events promise. Find out more here***

Jonny Sullens, head of events at Future

“I’ve worked in events for most of my working life, and I joined Future in 2012. Then we had just two events, the T3 Awards and the wonderfully titled Golden Joystick Awards. We now have 18 events taking place across the UK and US and have grown events to make up 20 per cent of our revenues with a hugely diverse portfolio. The other thing is that if you are running an event that you would like to be seen as the industry standard then you have to consider how to include competitors, however painful that may be. We consciously made sure that we were not seen to be promoting our products and services ahead of anyone else’s at our shows, and our social account shares content from competitors.”

“We’ve taken huge steps to integrate technology and update the format of our events. The PC Gaming Show for example is a live streamed event that takes place alongside E3 in LA – it’s part press conference, part chat show and part product game launch platform, and it’s streamed live. We had 622,000 concurrent live views last year, giving us an enormous audience that can far exceed that of a single room. Live streaming and wider technologies are important to events more generally. I believe Facebook is a game changer. Firstly, it’s so easy to do, all you need is your iPhone. Secondly, the production expectations are extremely realistic, it requires no high production values. Most importantly, promoting Facebook Live videos is – at the moment at least – extremely cost effective. You don’t need a large social media account with a huge following.” 

“There are events for event tech! so myself and my team try and attend those, and we’ve found a couple of solutions there. iBeacons offer a good example. They provide location-based technology that works with your smartphone. With so many visitors and exhibitors, shows can be competitive for eyeballs. With this sort of technology we can tailor messages to visitors as they walk past. They must have downloaded the show app of course in the first instance, and have location services turned on, so we’re just following up with visitors from recent events to see if it was popular, but I really like how precise and personalised it can be.” 

Melanie Shah, head of live events at The Drum 

“The Drum has a magazine, a website, an in house marketing agency, etc., and then we also have live events, which is what I head up. Doing events in the media and marketing sectors can be particularly tough, because it is such a competitive and saturated marketplace. In fact, what we’re actually seeing these days is a whole new breed of competitor such as digital suppliers, agencies, and communities, hosting their own events, so in actual fact our traditional audiences have to a large extent become our competitors in recent years. For that reason we felt the need to innovate, and we had to get thinking quite fast about how we stand out, especially because our model is to charge delegates to attend.”  

“Rather than go head to head with some of the bigger, glamorous events, we took our existing formats and tweaked them slightly. The Programmatic Punch for example was launched two years ago and it’s an area we feel that our audiences expect to see us in, but it’s a hugely saturated space. During our first programmatic event, things had got very heated, and somebody reported that ‘a fight nearly broke out on stage!’ And so from there it clicked. We came up with the idea to host a programmatic event in a boxing ring, complete with gloves, bell, a CEO in full boxing gear, and the Rocky Eye of The Tiger soundtrack in full force. It stood out in people’s minds and the sponsors really liked it, because it was something different. We couldn’t change the content and the faces, which you see at many events, but we could change the way we portrayed it, which was with the boxing theme…”

“In terms of format and content we’ve experimented with the more traditional conference model further still. At one of our Future of Marketing events for example we experimented with a ‘pay per session’ model. You get to pick and choose the specific talks you want to attend and you could only come and see the keynote if you booked for the full day. Our ‘Do It Day’ flagship event was created because we felt that we wanted that one event that reflected our identity. It plays on the hackathon idea and is based on the notion that rather than having delegates come and listen to case studies, why not get them actually creating those case studies and being a part of it? Innovation is continuous – we’re constantly thinking of how we can do things better.” 

Fraser Allen, CEO of White Light Media

“Innovative events can be a really good revenue source for publishers, but they can also be really consuming of both time and money. So we got to thinking is there a better way? And that is the premise of World Whisky Day. This is a completely new and invented day that we designated to be the third Saturday in May, and it really took off. Hundreds of thousands of people started getting involved. This included all kinds of people but gave us an especially young, open minded, and adventurous audience: basically the next generation of people that whisky companies wanted to engage with. And as a content marketing agency and publisher of a magazine, we felt that this was a concept that we could monetise to help whisky brands to directly reach this target audience.”  

“Quite early on in the process of launching World Whisky Day, people began organising their own whiskey events around the world – this included bars, whiskey societies, brands, etc. In 2015 people attended whiskey parties across seven continents, including two events in Antarctica. From that audience we created a platform for our brands to be able to communicate with whiskey enthusiasts all year long. By last year we had financial investment from big whisky brands, BBC Scotland came to film, and on the day we had a reach of 35m people on Twitter alone. There was mainstream media coverage all over the world, and celebrity brand involvement. We’re now launching a world whiskey weekender, combining the idea of a traditional music festival with live bands, activities, etc. You can’t police the whole world, but we do protect the World Whiskey Day brand through trademarks and so on. And the reality is that most of our revenues in this area come from big brands, so they’d be reluctant to be seen go against the spirit of these community events and set up their own alternatives anyway.”

David Chalmers, senior marketing director Europe, Cvent

“There’s a lot of technology that people are using in terms of techniques for marketing the event, promoting the event, generating the audience. They’re all pretty standard these days and aligned with what people are doing online anyway with their audiences. I think the big thing that I would focus on is taking technology into the live experience itself. So looking at things like how we can track data for what people are doing at the events, really taking all the rich content we can get from what people are doing from what they pre-register and tell you all about themselves, but more importantly from what they actually do at the event. So the seminars and the sessions that they go to, the exhibitors they talked to, and what you’re doing all around the event.” 

“There’s technology now that allows you to track all of that, and to capture from start to finish what they’re doing at the actual event from the moment they arrive, which gives you a huge amount of information that would be really challenging to get from a website and website interactions. So the kind of thing we’re now applying on websites is the kind of thing you can apply to an event experience. Capturing all of that data allows you to personalise the experience during that event, so you’re making sure you’re giving them very relevant and personal information and rich content, through all kinds of interactive technologies.” 

“This could include iBeacons to allow you to send personalised notifications to people, and even video beacons which are now allowing you to do a minority report type video experience. So you can walk up to a digital monitor and it’s not just a generic list of a schedule. It’s like ‘Hi David, I see you’re registered for this that and the next thing, and you’re next thing is here, and here’s the map, etc.’ So there’s that kind of stuff in terms of making sure you’re capturing what you know about your attendees, and bringing that into how they’re interacting with it. Even things like polling and live Q&A, and different things you can do with an app, through to networking. So people can find out whose there, and engage, message, and even book one-to-one appointments with them.” 

“Then additionally the other big technologies I would focus on are things like Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, which is really about changing the experience in terms of what they have when they come there. Using VR to give them a much more dynamic experience for things that you can’t bring into the event, but you can put that into VR and allow them to experience that during the event. Or using AR techniques to add into what they’re seeing at the event. So adding in much more contextual information and location based information.” 

“With declining revenues in print, and even struggling revenues from digital, more and more publishers are moving into events as an additional revenue stream. We have a whole bunch of clients like Haymarket, B2B Publishing, Incisive, who are now using events as a major thrust in terms of getting more engagement with all of this rich content that they’re curating anyway as part of their publications and bringing it into a live experience. This is much more impactful, much more engaging, but then also using that content to produce additional content from a live event experience, which might be much more expensive and less dynamic to produce in more of a kind of studio environment. And then also taking that user generated content that people are brining, and it gives you a huge amount of rich content to bring back into your other publishing environments be that digital or otherwise.” 

“Events are the most powerful way of capturing lots of data, and insight, and intelligence about your audience. You can then bring that back into your normal marketing environments and use that for everything. Just the data that you capture at an event can be used for personalised content on a website: so they come to an event, you know everything about them, next time they come to your website take that data and put it into their personal profile. And then you’ve got a much more streamlined process of getting more personalised engagement through personalised content through your website and the content you’re delivering.”  

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