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Taking risks with events, communication can engage attendees

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Haymarket Media made its first foray into virtual environments with the 2007 debut of an online career fair for its PR Week brand but found the medium best-suited to SC Magazine readers. The company worked with virtual platform developer Intercall to create a 24/7 virtual event platform that houses 20 events for the magazine's information-technology audience. At the same time, Haymarket also grew individual events programs for each of its other magazine brands. The overall digital events portfolio sees about 50% of registrants make it to the live online event, spending an average of more than 90 minutes in the environment. Media Business spoke with Natasha Mulla, events director at Haymarket, about developing a virtual events strategy, engaging attendees and the value of taking risks. Media Business: What is your virtual events strategy? Natasha Mulla: We're actively pursuing ways to continue to grow the platform. Each brand is a little different. We take the time to look at the market—what they want and the environment they want it in. It may not be just presentation webcasts and booths. It may be a virtual career fair, a talent summit or an interactive, conversationlike forum. We play around with what will work best, what angle we need to work for each one and grow it that way. Sometimes you just take a risk and try something new and different. For SC Magazine, initially, we had virtual events that were e-conferences, which were full-day virtual events. Those were on heavy-hitter topics that we knew would resonate with the crowd. Then we interspersed them with e-symposiums, which were small 2½-to-3-hour events that had fewer webcasts and required less manpower, and were a bit more niche in subject matter. If something niche was exciting enough to develop into a larger event, we allowed that to happen. We let it become a longer day and expanded the number of webcasts and the number of people we were trying to recruit to attend. It helped us try out different areas of content and take that risk on how we wanted to present content and topics. MB: How do you promote the events? Mulla: We do email promotions and online promotions to get people to register. Once they've registered, they get reminders. And we also do prize giveaways, but only if you attend live are you eligible for it. We play up that, on the live day, you're able to ask the speakers questions. There's a much greater benefit to attending live than visiting on demand. MB: How do you interact with sponsors? Mulla: The sales teams work really hard to communicate with them to see what they're looking for and relay it to the editorial teams; and the editorial teams will think about what their readers are looking for and relay that to the sales team and see where we can sync up. (We work together, but they are very separated.) We do offer the opportunity for sponsors to produce their own webcasts that they pick speakers for; and we suggest topics that we want them to talk about based on what our readers are looking for. If they want to do something that will fit, then that works out great. MB:What is your advice to other organizers? Mulla: Encourage interactivity once the audience is in (the environment). It is very easy for someone to pop in and not know what to do, and then leave and not come back. Have a welcome video and pop-up announcements with giveaways or suggestions of things to do, webcasts (that are) about to start. It really does help keep someone in the environment longer.
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