Meeting Mentor Magazine

August 2020

Cover Story

Profiting from the ‘Fusion’ of Face-to-Face and Virtual Events

These are turbulent times for producers of exhibitions and conferences, as they try to blend physical and virtual events within their portfolios.

For TechWeb, a division of United Business Media, there’s a “very interesting fusion” when virtual events — from webcasts to tradeshows and now to perpetual communities — are branded with physical events. They don’t disintermediate live events, said Tony Uphoff, CEO (left). “Impressive titles, like C-level, are actively participating,” he noted, “and engagement rates have been phenomenal.”

What he’s learned:

  • The power of the event is in its content. Mash it up in many ways so that the audience can find what it’s looking for.

  • The issues in face-to-face events don’t go away in the virtual world. You still have to manage expectations of attendees and sponsors and deliver on customer service. “This is still tricky stuff for even very experienced customers,” he said.

  • The value and power of an elegant user interface — looks, engagement, and function — cannot be understated.

Expect that learning to help Uphoff bring Comdex (his company bought the brand rights for $1 as part of a transaction) back in a virtual way. Also watch for some virtual events that TechWeb creates in 2010 to become physical events. “The toughest thing in launching an event is the audience,” he said. “But if you’ve got this virtual community resonating with content and brand…”

Pushing this fusion of physical and virtual events are media professionals like Scott Pierce, Vice President of Digital Development at ALM. Although uncertain if its core audience of lawyers would really attend an online version of its LegalTech, ALM created Virtual LegalTech. The interactive, year-round, virtual environment with an exhibition center and auditorium is free for attendees who qualify; sponsorships and booths sell for a full-year price. Every quarter, ALM drives everyone to show up at a “live” day with a program of eight webcast seminars. Some offer continuing legal education credit for which attendees pay, and these help drive up attendance.

“Without good content and marketing, you’re sunk,” Pierce said. So his team created a video to show the audience what it would be like to attend a virtual tradeshow. And they’re serious about training exhibitors to offer prizes, demonstrations, and documents like white papers, which pull in more visitors. “If you exhibit virtually the way you do physically, you’ll have a bad show,” he noted.

In March, 2,275 attended (46 percent of 4,882). Upwards of 45 percent stayed two hours, 31 percent more than half a day. Views of the exhibition hall total 7,825 to date, and visits per booth range from 350 to 450, with 8 minutes the average booth visit time. With 87 percent of attendees either satisfied or very satisfied with the experience, ALM found its success metrics.

And the real winner in the fusion of face-to-face and virtual events is…the brand. — Maxine Golding

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