Selling tech without touch—a virtual trade show paradox

by | Jan 4, 2021 | Analysis, Public Relations

I remember attending my first client tradeshow, a big travel industry event at the McCormick Place in Chicago. My client at the time, a technology upstart looking to disrupt the corporate travel booking process, had high hopes for the show. It had debuted its latest tech platform and secured numerous industry partnerships. I felt like I was in a sweat for four days, running from partner booth to partner booth to make sure they had our press materials displayed prominently, and back and forth to the media room to coordinate interviews. The event was big, loud, crowded, had brand name entertainers and endless parties. And I got to spend time in a fun city.

You may have had a similar experience even 10 months ago. And then, in practically a matter of days, live events ended. Hello virtual events. Could a virtual event capture the hustle, chaos, results, immersion, engagement and experience of a live event? Well, we’ve given it a good shot, but the answer is no.

Virtual events aren’t replicating live events. But that’s a good thing.

Live events will be back, likely a bit different, but still, it’s a proven way to get business done. That said, virtual events are here to stay. 2020 moved us beyond the standard webinar to into different experiences, and that’s why this is the aforementioned good thing. Virtual events give companies, and their sales, marketing and PR teams (and the agencies that support these businesses, of course) a new avenue and format to connect with audiences.

As a public relations professional, your responsibilities around event support have changed greatly this year. Let’s embrace the new possibilities of virtual events. The following four considerations should be on every PR professionals’ list of action items for 2021.

Provide access and assets

That important CEO or executive that you’ve always wanted to play a more prominent role in your live event? She probably has more time to participate now due to reduced/eliminated travel schedules. Also, by recording, or even pre-recording your event content, you now have assets that can live as owned media on the company site or blog, and shared across social channels.

Design more

There’s a lot of online competition out there for audiences in a virtual event world. We are supporting clients at RSNA 2020, normally a giant, multi-day show. This year, RSNA content stretches from November into January. Wow. More than six weeks to remain relevant to customers and prospects in the radiology industry’s biggest event. To be visible and compelling in this universe, looks matter. Develop a dynamic visual presence with memorable imagery that tells a story to the virtual event attendee, produce podcasts and captivating video and animation, and deliver meaningful calls to action to attendees.

Define what must be measured

What are your metrics? The number of media appointments you secure? The volume of press releases issued? Specific event messaging goals? From a PR perspective, a lot of our work for live events might not play as well in a virtual event. Media may not be as engaged or even attend your event. Press releases may make sense for an industry event but maybe not so much for your private company event.

After establishing your goals, take a step back and see what you can do to augment your virtual event, or reimagine it. For a client, we recently assembled a panel of prominent doctors talking about unique considerations around COVID-19 and invited tier-one media to attend this exclusive event. The ability for media attendees to hear from a high-level panel and have immediate, live access to them during the session helped elevate our client, more than being part of a sea of sameness in a big industry event ever could.

Embrace ABM

As marketing and PR continue to blur, account-based marketing (ABM) may be key to meeting publicity and sales goals for a virtual event. Consider email marketing, content-generation from virtual event presentations, paid and organic social media posts, press releases and blogs posts, and even direct mail as ways to extend your company’s message. The varying returns from virtual events should be reason enough to try as many communications channels as possible to reach a prospect.

We’ll hit the road again at some point. Until then, put your creative PR brains to work figuring out how to make virtual events even more compelling, successful and profitable in 2021.

Mark O'Toole
Mark O’Toole is Group Vice President, Public Relations + Content at Mower.