Making Virtual Events Work
The pandemic has forced many of us to adjust all aspects of our lives, both personally and professionally, to operate safely within a socially distant world. One traditional business element critical to public relations that COVID-19 abruptly disrupted was the event industry. Almost one year later, many are still trying to figure out how to make trade shows and conferences as valuable as possible in a virtual landscape. We may not see the return of in-person events until the latter part of the year. So, with that in mind, how can we make the most of online events?
To gain further insight into how tech companies can set themselves up for success in an online event environment, Engage PR attended Cision’s webinar, “Planning, Pitching & Placements: Paving the Way to Virtual Success,” with Sarah Brown, Director of Event Communications for CES®/Consumer Technology Association; Jason Hiner, Editorial Director of CNET; and Glenn Frates, Cision Regional Vice President.
Below are PR insights from the panelists. Many of these tips your public agency should embrace. If not, Engage PR can help.
Best PR event practices:
- Be prepared for virtual media interviews. Make sure your spokesperson is ready ahead of the event. That includes making sure they are prepared to communicate your corporate message, how to answer tough media questions and of course look their best on camera since they may record the interview.
- Start early. Provide a heads-up to those editors you would like to speak with as soon as possible; the earlier, the better.
- Do your research. Make sure your team fully understands how the event operates. Also, quality outreach is much more effective than quantity outreach.
- Create high-quality media assets. The most interesting and visually appealing b-roll received is what will ultimately reach more eyes.
- Be available. Understand that reporters’ deadlines can come up day or night. Make sure you have listed the correct contacts, including mobile phones.
- Take advantage of PR opportunities. There are likely standard PR opportunities at larger events that you should not ignore, such as a b-roll book that participating companies can contribute to.
Virtual pitching advice:
- Have something new to share. Even minor product add-ons are more newsworthy than pitching a more significant but three-month-old story.
- Prioritize existing relationships with journalists. Journalists get bombarded with pitches before significant events, and it can be impossible for them to read all of them. In these cases, most will prioritize emails from those PR pros they know.
- Do pre-briefs as early as possible. The more preparation time journalists have before the event, the more thought-out their stories will be.
- Share video b-roll and still images. This year especially, journalists will have less time and opportunities to take their own photos and videos. This could also be a good opportunity to create videos of product demos etc. that the reporter can see.
- Offer media-trained leaders for interviews. Interviewees must be well-spoken leaders who have something interesting to share. Also consider those outside the C-Suite, such as a product engineer who can speak more in-depth about a topic. Executives who are media trained have a more likely chance of being quoted. Read more here.
- Consider social media reach-outs. This strategy can help cut through the noise but is only appropriate if a journalist’s social media account is clearly used as a professional extension.
Press release insights:
- Include multimedia. There is higher engagement on Cision for press releases that include PDFs, infographics and high-res imagery.
- Don’t assume that you have to release your news on the hour or half-hour. Most companies issue their press releases on the hour and half-hour. Take yourself out of this noisy environment by sending it at an off time, such as 7:43.
- Include a call for action. Instruct the readers on how to engage further with your company at the end of a press release.
There is a large effort to make traditionally impactful industry events, such as CES 2021, just as impactful as a virtual event as it was in-person. Event coordinators are broadening their inspirations and learning from other industries because they are aware people in all industries are fatigued with virtual events and that there have been some lackluster experiences with virtual events in 2020.
Regardless of the timeline for when it is safe to travel and gather with groups of people in-person, many event teams are considering strategies on how to blend both in-person and virtual events in 2021.