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Virtual shows in new phase

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Business publishers getting down to brass tacks about the benefits of online events, trade shows As clients grow more comfortable with virtual trade shows as sales vehicles, business publishers are moving aggressively to change the conversation about the value of virtual events. “The conversation has shifted from a graphical nature to the business end,” said Eric Biener, VP-business development at Nielsen Business Media, which is marketing 12 virtual shows this year, up from just one in 2007. “It's our responsibility as show producers and consultants not just to build a beautiful playground for our audiences [in virtual programming] but to educate our marketing partners on how to achieve success.” The latest addition to Nielsen Business Media's virtual portfolio is the Photo District News Photographers' Virtual Show. The show featured two live events in May and June that combined garnered more than 18,000 registrants and generated about 2,000 one-to-one chats between visitors. Each event tied to the show had about 31 exhibitors, including Canon USA and FujiFilm USA. Biener stressed that effectively selling virtual shows and driving “high volume” ROI now requires a more integrated approach among corporate marketers, brand marketers and the marketing director of the client buying virtual exhibition space or sponsorships at the virtual event. “We steer our clients in a direction that places them in a position to help grow their business by taking advantage of our virtual environment experience, coupled with our knowledge about our audience relationships,” Biener said. As virtual shows become a bigger slice in the sales and marketing pie, business publishers are also trying to sharpen the demographics of virtual audiences so exhibitors (advertisers) and sponsors have a better shot at some sales lift. ChannelWeb, for example, a part of United Business Media, has reduced the average number of registrants attending its virtual shows this year to 1,700 from 2,300 in 2008, said Chris Sullivan, VP-managing director. “We're trying to target better so people who attend are more qualified,” he said. ChannelWeb is marketing seven virtual shows this year, up from four in 2008. The shows focus on the security and storage market, the SMB market and software as a service. Akin to other b-to-b publishers marketing virtual events, the number of leads ChannelWeb guarantees to exhibitors depends on the level of the buy. A Platinum buy offers an advertiser the opportunity to sponsor and present content during the show and guarantees 1,000 leads; a Silver buy offers a virtual exhibitor booth and 400 guaranteed leads. About 25% of ChannelWeb's advertising at its virtual shows consists of repeat sponsors. “They're finding the value,” Sullivan said, pointing to advertisers such as Computer Associates and Salesforce.com. Sharat Sharan, CEO of ON24, which produces virtual events and whose clients run the b-to-b publishing gamut, said business publishers are between “phases one and two” in the marketing of virtual shows. “Phase one is the "aha' moment, in which clients require hand-holding and a lot more work to support collateral marketing,” he said. “[In] phase two, the publisher wants to know: "How do I register my ad base? How do I deliver leads to my exhibitors?' ” Technology publisher IDG has seen a spike in interest in virtual trade shows across the board, said Adam Dennison, national program director of IDG's Custom Solutions Group. IDG is marketing four virtual shows this year, in the areas of security and virtualization; it had none in 2008. “We're getting interest from the Ciscos and the Microsofts; midtier players; and niche players,” Dennison said. “We're educating them on lead-gen opportunities and how virtual shows are a great way to give their brands shelf life” because the shows are archived for three to six months after the live event. Dennison added that virtual events are now an inherent part of IDG's sales. “It's the responsibility of the entire sales team to understand the benefits of virtual and convey them to the vendor.” M
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