Launch pad: GreenBiz leverages virtual event technology for physical event

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Eric Faurot, president of GreenBiz Group, did not want to introduce the company's newest event property as a traditional trade show. He wanted to foster regional conversations among thought leaders shaping the way that mainstream businesses handle sustainability initiatives. He wanted to deliver those conversations to more stakeholders in real time. And he wanted the event brand to gain an instant global foothold. “We want to have the intellectual high ground,” he said. “We'll develop the trade show over time.” GreenBiz launched the hybrid Verge event in June, pairing the intimacy of a physical conference with the reach of a virtual platform. In doing so, GreenBiz hoped to create an event property with instant scalability. The media company worked with its executive network and large foundational sponsors to build exclusive roundtable events in London, Shanghai and San Francisco. Each event saw 50 leaders in the category stripped of their laptops and smartphones, and seated at a long table with GreenBiz moderators. The moderators orchestrated the conversation and kept an eye on a Twitter feed of questions coming in from a virtual audience. A breakfast and networking lunch allowed sponsors to interact with physical participants—and potential prospects. GreenBiz streamed high-quality video of the event in London and San Francisco. (Bandwidth issues meant the Shanghai live stream contained only audio, with video available later on demand.) Instant messaging capabilities were used not only for event organizers to communicate information from one section of the table to the other but also to overcome a last-minute glitch with slide advancement just before the Shanghai event went live. “You have to test, test, test,” Faurot said. The 50-delegate cap, cameras and virtual audience interaction created a sense of drama, Faurot said: “Physical participants could feel they were at the beginning of something big.” The virtual platform amplified the event. About 1,100 online attendees joined the conversations via live feed, submitting questions and networking, with other attendees in a virtual environment hosted by platform provider Intercall. The San Francisco event featured an expo hall and post-roundtable sessions that dove deeper into related topics. “We were able to make so much more noise in the market by having a virtual component,” Faurot said. “The physical event is all about the visceral and emotional reaction. In a virtual event, the evaluation ends up being based on lead generation. That is why a hybrid is so important: It lets the event touch both points.” The virtual turnout exceeded expectations, Faurot said, and it was a financial success. “A launch event should be able to break even at the gross margin level,” he said. “We surpassed that goal.” Both delegates and sponsors have expressed interest in moving forward with the event, he said. The model will expand to five or six new regions next year, including India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, and the company is developing a three-day hybrid conference that will be held in Washington, D.C. “We will continue to expand,” Faurot said. “We captured a global audience.”
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