Publishers poised to provide virtual event audience, expertise

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Michael Doyle heads the Virtual Edge Institute, a consulting company that promotes the development of virtual events technology and best practices. A publisher with experience in event organization and online community development, he shared his views about the future of virtual events, the assets media companies bring to the table and a promising new concept that could leave Google AdWords in the dust.

Media Business: Virtual events are on the rise. What is fueling the media industry's interest in this medium? Doyle: Publishers have come to the realization that the world has changed. The way advertisers invest money in their marketing programs has changed forever. Just relying on [traditional] properties is not going to be a sustainable model. We need to look at other ways to leverage community and subscribers.

MB: How do you think virtual events will evolve in the publishing industry? Doyle: It's going [to be about] perpetual environments, where your readers can come on an ongoing basis and get information and connect to suppliers or peers in their industry. They are going to be able to communicate and become much more collaborative within their areas of interest. It will be a place where digital events happen and information is made available.

That direction is really going to have the biggest impact on the publishing industry. I see it as a tremendous opportunity to really get control of a market space, a niche, and become much more important than Google AdWords.

[Like] an iceberg, you have a part that is visible above the water—the magazine's website—and what is going to be built out is this rich immersive environment, the [year-round] virtual environment where most of the deeper connections and communications really take place. That's really where the publishing industry will be able to build strong relationships to their audiences.

MB: Publishing companies have tended to focus on the lead-generation function of virtual events. Are there untapped opportunities they could be contemplating? Doyle: By and large, yes. One of the business cases that marketers are really trying to achieve is lead generation, and another [one] that is still quite strong is thought leadership. A category that's not fully developed but is going to be pretty rapidly developing: lead nurturing and relationship building. That's an area where a publisher could really focus and do well. An example would be something like [United Business Media] has done. They produce events for their marketers.

It's about more than the database. Leveraging the database is important, but it's about getting back to what publishers are really good at: Taking the right content and finding the right people to address the content—and helping to build the audience as well. That, to me, is a big opportunity. There are many [marketers] who can benefit from having a virtual event, but do they really want to build that expertise internally? I wouldn't think so. I think publishers could easily find opportunity there.

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