Virtual events building momentum

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B-to-b sites are adding online trade shows and conferences as platforms evolve Virtual trade show platforms, online venues that emulate real-world trade shows, are evolving. So, too, are b-to-b media sites that are using or considering them. While the wizardry of avatars and three-dimensional graphics gave virtual trade shows a “wow” appeal in their early days, vendors have shifted their priorities to improving usability for attendees and measurability for exhibitors—making them much more attractive as money-makers for b-to-b media sites. United Business Media's InformationWeek Business Technology Network (IWBTN) recently conducted a best-practices research study among 545 professional IT buyers and found that they are attending one virtual event per quarter on average. Eighty-two percent consider virtual events to be a valuable source for learning about new technologies, and 62% agreed with the statement, “They are an efficient use of my time, enabling me to see a variety of technologies in one place.” Although most b-to-b media companies are still in the experimental stage with virtual events, at least two are making major commitments to them going into 2009. At IDG Communications' Computerworld and Infoworld, Jill Martay is possibly the first person in the industry to hold the title of VP-virtual events and to make the development of virtual events a full-time job. In the post since May, Martay has been identifying topical opportunities—such as virtualization, security, enterprise storage and data centers—that would have enough audience and exhibitor interest for a virtual event. For 2009, she has developed a calendar of several virtual trade shows, with events scheduled roughly six weeks apart. The virtual trade show model involves eight to 10 educational sessions and eight to 20 exhibitors. Sponsors are offered packages that provide different levels of engagement. At the highest level, for example, an exhibitor can have up to 200 content assets, from white papers to videos, in its booth. Martay said the “sweet spot for pre-registration is about 1,000 people, and 45% to 50% will attend some portion of the live event.” The average attendee spends 4.2 hours at an eight-hour event. Elliot Markowitz, editorial director of webcasts/digital events at Nielsen Business Media since August 2006, is a relative veteran in the virtual trade show business, having produced his first event in December 2004 when he was with Ziff Davis (before its split into Ziff Davis Enterprise and Ziff Davis Media). In 2007, Nielsen Business Media produced two virtual trade shows; by the end of this year, it will have held eight. “In our model, we try to digitally replicate everything you would get at a face-to-face event,” Markowitz said. “There are four main components. First, we have three to four webcasts, because the content drives the audience. Second, is the virtual trade show floor where exhibitors can house anything they would house in a regular booth, as long as it's downloadable. “Third, we facilitate live interaction through chat between attendees and exhibitors, but the attendee not the exhibitor, must initiate the conversation in the booths. Finally, we create networking opportunities, such as live forums, so attendees can meet and talk to one another.” Markowitz emphasized that content is the linchpin of virtual events. “The key is to have educational tracks that really resonate with the audience,” he said. Nella Veldran is VP-group publisher of Nielsen's Travel & Performance Group, which includes Successful Meetings, MeetingNews and Business Travel News. The meetings group's Virtual Meeting World, which launched in January of this year, is Nielsen's biggest virtual trade show. In addition to four live days a year, it is available online 365 days a year, 24/7. “We have live days in January, April, July and October,” Veldran said. “We have three or four educational webinars over the course of the day that are produced, directed and hosted by our editors, leading analysts and market experts. Webinar attendance ranges from 200 to 400.” “The virtual trade show was a lot of work and a bit of a gamble going in,” Veldran said, “but it has totally exceeded our expectations.” M
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