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Measurable results and support for new media have advertisers increasing their investment in webinars By Charlotte Woolard Marketers that want to sponsor a NetWorld Alliance webinar before the holidays steal audience mindshare will want to get their orders in early. The online events are in season, as many of the company's advertisers wring the last of their annual budgets for value, said Tom Harper, president of the digital media company. “We keep a calendar, and the inventory is getting pretty scarce,” he said. The company will produce 35 webinars in 2010 and next year expects to grow that number by at least 20%. “Demand has steadily increased because of the quality of the results,” he said. Media companies big and small are discovering new revenue opportunities as marketers increase their investment in the medium and look for the guidance of partners with expertise in content and audience development. About 50% of the 406 marketers who responded to an online Forrester Research poll conducted in January said they expected to spend more on webinars this year. The custom marketing division of Cygnus Business Media sees webinars as an opportunity to expand what had been a printcentric footprint, said Gerry Whitty, projects director. “We're revamping our custom side,” he said. “We're looking at the webcast as we reinvent our skill set. It's an opportunity to showcase some of the resources we have in our family.” The division had two webinars in production in late September, and Whitty said he expects volume to grow. “People are getting a better understanding of what is possible,” he said. The webinar schedule at United Business Media's EE Times Group also filled out this year. “Last year, we saw a decline in the number of webinars we were producing,” said Briana Cosofret, webinar and e-learning manager. “No one had the budget. Unexpectedly, starting in January this year, we were back up to 2008 levels in the blink of an eye. We're doing six to seven webinars a week. From the client perspective, webinars are a hot thing.” Media companies have been working to increase audience engagement with the medium, tweaking the technology to facilitate the introduction of video clips, social media and other features. In July, EE Times replaced the model of its console with an Adobe Flash Player-based console, a technical detail that translates into a more successful webinar. “We've seen huge gains in terms of retaining audience members for longer periods of time,” Cosofret said. “The number of tech support questions was significantly reduced to just one or two. Quality is increased.” The new platform supports animations and allows prerecorded video clips to be inserted into a presentation. The company also has played with a whiteboard feature that allows a speaker to draw on presentation slides in real time. An experiment with a social webcasting widget last summer proved what the company already knew: Its audience has yet to fully embrace Twitter, but that doesn't mean it never will. “We have it as an option now,” Cosofret said. “It's one of those things that's yet to be seen.” EE Times also expanded its virtual conferencing business, creating custom and editorial events that encompass a series of webinars and supporting collateral. It has put together 12 editorially driven virtual events since June 2009, and it has seen marketers begin to embrace the concept of custom virtual events. “We're at a period of rapid evolution and adoption, at least in the electronics industry,” said Christian Fahlen, director-virtual and new media products at EE Times. More complex virtual events are outpacing their simpler cousins at Hanley Wood, said Andreas Schmidt, general manager of e-media for the company. There, the editorial focus is on the next generation of online conferences and digital sponsor showcases, events that often incorporate or build on webinar features. The number of webinars the company produces held steady this year, Schmidt said. “You're attracting very similar advertiser dollars, and virtual events just have more of a value proposition than discrete webinars have,” he said. “We do continue to see a lot of interest in the marketplace and therefore growth potential for webinars. So by no means is that an indication that the webinar business is going away.” Webinars also are retaining their strength at Penton Custom Solutions. “We have seen consistent growth year after year,” said Tim Stark, director of online events. “Because of the level of reporting that webinars give, it's one of the first things a customer would want to go after, versus a banner ad or some other type of e-media.” While the medium itself is evolving, the core drivers remain the same. “We try to really engage the customer to find out what their needs are,” said Scott Biehl, VP-Penton Custom Solutions. “We align the products that we have to their objectives. If they say lead generation is important, we are naturally going to get a webinar program.”
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