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Traditional meets virtual

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Worldwide Business Research expands its portfolio with online events Global conference producer Worldwide Business Research made the unprecedented move of purchasing a virtual trade show earlier this year, snatching up three-year-old eComXpo and co-locating it with eTailXpo, a new virtual companion to its regional eTail conferences. The virtual e-commerce events, powered by technology partner InXpo, drew more than 10,000 attendees, setting a record for eComXpo and helping boost attendance at the eTail conference held a month later. “We think that virtual events will help grow our physical events by broadening our database and our reach,” said Amit Das, managing director of Worldwide Business Research's U.S. division. The company will host three virtual events during the first quarter of next year. The establishment and growth of a virtual portfolio will help the company achieve its goal of 25% growth annually, Das said. That strategy reflects the growing momentum of the virtual events industry. Media Business caught up with Das to discuss a traditional conference producer's push into the virtual world. MB: What drove World Business Research to look at the virtual events market? Das: [Virtual shows] allow a greater audience to experience the quality of the shows that we put together, as well as give a different marketing touch point to our sponsors and exhibitors. We felt it was a perfect complement, in no way detracting from them. There are a couple of things that we feel add value. Attendance is free. It's a high cost for our physical shows, and we attract a very senior level audience. We felt this business model could [provide] a deeper reach into existing companies that attend our conferences. If they could only send one person to the physical show, they could have a team of people attend a show virtually. It also extends the reach globally. MB: How have exhibitors responded? Das: People enjoyed building their booths, the chat functions, the level of interaction you can have with customers, as well as the level of detail you can get on attendee activities at the show. It gives a rich data profile of prospects. MB: Why did you co-locate eTail and eComXpo? Will the collaboration continue? Das: We used the co-location as a launchpad so we could get brand recognition and leverage, but we're going to spin them off and run them separately. It was a go-to-market strategy. It's easier to launch a new show online if you have an existing, very solid brand behind it that's already run virtually many times before. MB: Are certain markets better primed for virtual events than others? Das: The three shows launching are tied to physical events because there is a learning curve. There needs to be a high Internet adoption within the target audience. We poll our customers almost continually, and this is one of the questions we've been asking them recently, even before we made the purchase. A lot of our customers are looking for this solution. MB: You've talked about using the virtual space to create year-round communities. What will those communities look like? Das: The long-term strategy is to have a community around a job function. We're building up show archives where all the content delivered at the shows can be accessed on a year-round basis. In the future, we'll regularly update that content with our physical show educational material, the online show educational material, as well as any webcasts or webinars—whatever we may do in the intervening months to add fresh content to the site. MB: Some people say virtual events are still being tested. How hard a sell was this technology? Das: Webcasts and webinars are very much proven as a revenue-generating model. This is a much more sophisticated step. We may be a first mover, and we'll take risks. We feel it's a pretty calculated risk.
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