The publishing world has done a remarkable job of adding live events as a revenue stream over the past several years. We watched in awe as Marvin Shanken, the man behind Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado and Whisky Advocate, began calling himself an “experience maker” in addition to being a content creator. Other publishers launched dining experiences as a way to extend their reach and engagement with their audiences. Regional publishers found new audiences and ad partners hosting locally-sourced events. And of course, industry-based events have long been a source of enthusiasm and new opportunities.
Then there was a pandemic, and events were canceled or moved quickly into online formats. Now what?
The “business as usual we’ll just move it all online” approach hasn’t been a great success, and the publishing industry must now grapple with how to reimagine, rather than recreate, the event experience.
“In the early days of COVID, several publishers quickly ‘copy and pasted’ their face-to-face events online. No one blames them – it was a quick and logical fix,” writes Rob Ristagno in Publishing Executive. “However, many of the digital replica events did not deliver the impact the producers would have expected to see in-person. Technology platform failures, attendee multi-tasking, lack of two-way engagement, and other flaws led some of these virtual conferences or trade shows to fall flat.”
Ristagno offers some ideas, starting with recognizing that the “one and done” reality of an in-person event doesn’t have to limit your virtual event.
“A steady flow of high-impact content is particularly important for those who are looking to hold onto cash from would-be attendees. If you postponed your in-person event, you need to provide an incentive for them not to ask for a refund. A quality webinar series may be the key,” he suggests.
With sponsors and advertisers pulling back or pulling out when an event goes digital, publishers must demonstrate to their partners they truly understand what these events are all about from their perspective – quality lead generation.
Eric Kammerzelt, CTO of Endeavor Business Media, suggests creating microsites, “complete with valuable content and lead generation forms for critical sponsors and advertisers. For example, the American Heart Association has launched Heart Hubs, with meaningful information related to the quality of care and outcomes research,” Ristagno notes.
This is where publishers can absolutely shine. If there’s one thing they know cold, it’s how to produce incredible content, no matter the platform. Paid content, subscriptions and membership sites are having a moment, so this idea of leveraging your event footprint like this could be an innovative solution that’s within reach.
“Ultimately, the magic of events is in their ability to build community,” Ristagno concludes. “They’re a way to help your brand and your sponsors meaningfully and authentically connect with your audience. But there are other ways to achieve those same goals, and now is the perfect time to round out your strategy and explore other avenues, if you haven’t in the past. Diversification will ensure publishers are well-positioned to not only survive but thrive in the future.”