Seth Oilman, our VP of Sales & Marketing, has been with MediaPost since 2007 and has overseen and attended hundreds of our summits. Recently, we sat down with him to discuss how the company has pivoted because of the pandemic to create a series of successful virtual summits.
Q. People who come to our events rave about the off-the-record round tables that take place every day because they give attendees a chance to talk with others up close and personal. How do the round tables work when people aren't in the same room? Can they really connect with others on Zoom?
A. Zoom has been very effective in helping us replicate the experience we have with the roundtables sessions at our live events. To get the conversation started, we begin with a quick mini-panel with five brand marketers. This serves to loosen everyone up and help facilitate an extended conversation.
Our roundtables have averaged 35 - 40 participants, which we think is the perfect size to get a wide array of perspectives while also being intimate enough where everyone can feel like they truly get to know one another.
Q. Everyone loves our swag. Do we still give away things like t-shirts?
A. Swag is always a part of the element of fun that goes along with the live events and our sponsors always do a great job of delivering great branded giveaways. We are obviously in a new environment right now and it is logistically difficult to get the swag people usually receive at our events in-hand to our attendees.
We have been relying on virtual touch-free giveaways, like sponsored lunch deliveries that come via DoorDash. We have also been able to hold cocktail parties as well, thanks to other delivery partners. We've also had a sponsor deliver branded Moscow Mule mugs to all of our attendees via a third-party delivery service. Yet another thing we have been able to do is deliver t-shirts to winners of our trivia contests that take place during the events.
All of these have added an element of fun to these events that people are accustomed to from our history with the live Insider Summits.
Q. People get a lot out of the presentations but can they stare at a screen for 45 minutes at a clip?
A. When producing a virtual event, it's really important to be cognizant of this new context for delivering our content. Of course, it's a lot different than holding a live event over 3-plus days at a resort where people are away from work and all other distractions. Also, with so much in flux for every company right now, you have to be aware that condensing the duration of the sessions is important. Interviews, panels and fireside chats that were once 30 - 45 minutes are now a more digestible 15 - 25 minutes. The sponsor presentations have also been condensed from 15 - 20 minutes to 10.
We aim for and deliver an audience of very high-level marketers. These professionals are as busy as ever right now, so our new format is a two-hour program for two straight days vs. our traditional three-to-four-hour program for three straight days. The change has really worked as we have been able to keep the audience engaged and tuned-in for the duration of these virtual events.
Q. Companies would be saving money on travel costs by having their employees attend a virtual summit but does it cost the same to attend via Zoom as it did in real life?
A. Our live Insider Summit ticket prices are $2,895 - $4,095. These virtual events are $495. At our live events, that includes all meals and access to cocktail parties and evening dinners, etc. We do this to ensure the whole group stays together for the full 3-plus day experience and no one goes off on their own at night. This is really a key component to what makes our experience unique and special. When you're holding these events at the most premium resorts and restaurants in the country, our cost per attendee is quite high.
Some have said to us that the pricing is higher than they would expect for a virtual event, but we feel the price point has ensured that only serious participants pursue it. It has also helped us to create a unique opportunity for agencies and solutions providers to attend an event that has three or four marketers to every one vendor. That helps every paying attendee truly stand out.
Also, with the pricing we have for these virtual events, we can make the event possible for more first-time attendees to get a true sense of the quality of our productions that we put together. We hope this will lead to some new faces at the live Insider Summits when we can go back to holding them.
Q. What about follow-up questions attendees might have? Since they won't "run into" people over the regular three-day event, can they get in touch with them via email or text?
A. One of the keys to our success with our live events is that our format is tailor-made for everyone to get to know each other on a first-name basis. The group size is capped and we keep everyone together for 12-14 hours a day over content, meals, bus rides and evening activities so that everyone can share in an experience that creates fertile ground to build business relationships when they return home.
When creating this virtual format, our main challenge was to find a way to replicate that feeling when we cannot bring people together physically. We rely on the Direct Message function available during the virtual events for people to interact. We also offer up sponsorable 1:1 meetings where we connect marketers with vendors. We also make the name and company of all attendees available upon request. The feedback we have received from post-show conversations and surveys is that our new virtual format has led to new business opportunities and relationships for all. That has been very encouraging for us to hear as we build these new experiences out.
One thing we hear over and over again is how much we are needed right now to continue to serve as a connector between the buy-side and sell-side in all the channels and categories we cover. One of the results of this crisis has been the inability of people to get together for meetings. So much collaborative learning and problem solving comes out of those get-togethers. We want to offer a way to continue to enable those conversations.
Finally, whenever there is change, conferences like ours are important ways for the industry leaders to step outside their work and see what is happening in the broader marketplace. This is an unprecedented period of change and every piece of feedback we get is that these events are more important than ever. We will continue to try our best to be creative and deliver the best experience possible for all.