With any new initiative, the ability to tie results to objectives is instrumental for receiving continued stakeholder support for the initiative. While many vendors tout their capabilities to provide detailed statistics, the question is how to go beyond raw data to actionable data. Furthermore, how easily can I take this data to develop the right reports and analysis for my stakeholders.
In this installment of PRMM Interview, I spoke with Dennis Shiao, author of the It’s All Virtual blog and “Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events.” This video highlights the motivation behind writing his book, top tips for generating leads via virtual events, and a special offer for his book.
As I believe virtual events will or have already become an integral part of a marketing strategy, my goal is to highlight how to leverage this technology most effectively to achieve your communications and marketing objectives. In the essence of full disclosure, I was previously employed by two vendors in this space (Inxpo and On24) and am currently assisting Virtual Edge Institute for their January Summit in Las Vegas. I hope to engage key vendors and thought leaders in the space with more Q&A’s to follow. To kick off the series, I interviewed Miguel Arias of Imaste, a leading provider of virtual job fairs and tradeshow platforms based in Europe, via Skype and over email.
Miguel Arias is co-founder and COO of IMASTE. Miguel is also a proactive start up mentor, integrated in the Instituto de Empresa Business School Venture Lab programme. Miguel holds a MSc Degree in Civil Engineering from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, and a Professional MBA from the Instituto de Empresa Business School, and is fluent in 4 languages. You can read his thoughts about the industry on his blog or follow him on twitter (@imasteips or @mike_arias).
Tell me about Imaste and how you began
Imaste is Europe’s leading specialist in virtual events, fairs and trade shows. Since its launch, we have delivered more the 100 virtual experiences in more than 15 countries. Imaste has strong partnerships with some of the major job boards across the globe, as well as with global corporations and interactive agencies, with a strong focus in the European and South American markets.
We started with physical job fairs and then moved to virtual, starting our work in Spain, and expanding afterward in the main European markets. We started by managing all the aspects of a physical event from organization, conception, logistics, sales, marketing to execution. We saw the real needs of our customers to go virtual and how they could benefit from technological platforms to obtain better results. 30 percent of our business is still physical with 70 percent virtual.
One of our first international clients was Monster, which provided us more awareness and an opportunity to work in many regions in a short period of time and also cooperate with other leading job boards, like curriculum.com.br in Brazil, Dridco in Argentina, Venezuela, etc.
Our market to date is 60-70% virtual job fairs and 30% mainstream tradeshows, with little demand for corporate events at this time. We’re strongly diversifying our reach; delivering more and more generic virtual trade shows (MBA trade shows, entrepreneur virtual events, franchising events, automotive industry trade shows…)
Does your physical background provide you an advantage?
We believe delivering a great virtual event is not just about the number of features or backend capabilities. It’s more about delivering a live experience that is equivalent to real life, and we’re experts in that.
Our solutions have an engaging look & feel and interface design, compared to other applications. Our attendees experience the feeling of taking part in a real event, where they can interact with others, learn, share and network. While other American competing platforms may have more reporting or data mining tools, we are focused on the user experience and real results gathering.
Is this all custom work?
Actually not. We completely customize the look and feel of our virtual events, and we also offer a great array of customization possibilities in the platform configuration and 3D environment set up. But we offer each exhibitor a complete backend to manage their content, leads and live interactions.
We will organize about 70 events this year in more than 18 countries. Therefore we have gathered a lot of experience in language customization, adaptation to cultural differences in many regions and server and data integration with various systems and infrastructures.
What is your webinar technology?
We have our own webinar application, but we have seen great apps being developed out there. Therefore we integrate our platform with other solutions. We also integrate with other type of applications such as Ustream and dimdim.
We believe that most of the virtual event platforms will be able to integrate with many of the existing webinar solutions in the future, therefore webinars are going to be a commodity in the market.
Tell me about a typical event?
We usually deliver main stream events that are open 7-10 days with 40-80 exhibitors for an event. We have an average of 100,000 unique visitors per event with a maximum of over 300,000 unique users and peaks of 80,000 users a day in Argentina. We’ve had simultaneous chats up of 1,000 attendees.
The landing page, interfaces look & feel and even 3D environments are customized on a case by case basis. For each client work, we work as an agency, offering training and continuous technical and operations support, which helps the client.
We also offer orientation tests, which is a compatibility test that matches an attendee with prospective exhibitors that match his or her profile. This is used for all kind of trade shows, not just virtual job fairs. We narrow down the best prospects and affinity based on the responses. The exhibitors then also provide their responses which is how the matching works.
This information is stored in the attendee’s profile. The companies can also view the matches for follow up for sales and recruitment pre-screening.
What is the cost for your events?
We deliver low-end, basic solutions with look and feeling customization, but no registration or feature customization. Using one of our templates with basic functionality and 25 exhibitor booths the cost is about US$12,000.
High-end, standard solutions with complete functionality (registration tool, real time written and video interaction, orientation tests, etc), some degree of customization and around 40 customers is about US$30,0000.
If we incorporate video production and complete customization, then this can be up to US$60-80,000.
What is the timeline for an event?
We can develop an event in one month and the bottleneck normally is on the client side, in their sales process. Normally we provide marketing training, sales training and logistics training to communicate the work load and the expectations. A virtual event is not just a fancy website. The partner needs to understand how dynamic the event is. Sometimes in Spain, we even do the sales and logistics.
We are a partner throughout the whole process, providing timelines, documentation, control, etc.
What are your future plans?
We go where the client needs us. We have created corporate environments and believe there is more need for all kinds of virtual trade shows, not just virtual job fairs.
Till now, Europe doesn’t have much business in virtual events, but this is rapidly changing. We will face the challenge to remain leaders when the market consolidates and the American players start their operations here. But Europe is a difficult market, with many particularities, and we have the experience, contacts and resources to grow in our own playground.
We plan to deliver some events in the US by the end of the year, but our main market is Europe and South America.
Where do you see the industry going?
A definite trend is that most physical events are going hybrid event, as physical want to go virtual with tighter integration. As an attendee, you’ll go to a physical exhibit and shout your experience in Facebook, while you favorite some content virtually and gather physical samples. You’ll have networking in virtual and meet in physical.
We are continuously developing our platform; in the next weeks we will announce the new version, with many exciting new features. We are moving into full screen mode with more smooth video integration and much more.
We do not believe in avatar based immersive technologies for virtual trade show purposes, As users lose so much time learning how to set up their avatar and walking around, and the event is about getting information and interaction as soon as possible.
There will be an increase in networking, in 3D experience, physical virtual connection, and interaction (better chat, 1:1, etc.).
In the end it’s all about online collaboration with real time interaction and communication tools in 3D alike intuitive environments, having a sense of being there, then.
I authored a guest post on ”Using Social Media to Drive Virtual Tradeshow Leads“ for It’s All Virtual, an influential blog exploring virtual events and environments. In my post, I highlight key strategies on how you can leverage social media:
1. Identify influencers
2. Engage in conversations
3. Advertise Socially
4. Share Freely
5. Measurement and Tracking
I conclude my post by stating:
One word of warning is to first research and evaluate before plunging in with a social media marketing program, especially when contacting individuals and bloggers or participating in online discussions. While social media marketing takes time and effort, when done well, the results can be spectacular!
What has worked for you?
Note: This has been cross-posted on my previous former employer’s company’s blog, which . Furthermore, my company offers virtual events solutions.
Over the past year, virtual events (e.g. virtual conference, virtual tradeshow, etc.) have gained in popularity due to the economic recession and budget restrictions. As more conferences consider a virtual companion to a physical conference or even going virtual all together, this represents a new arena for public relations professionals:
- - No longer can you stand outside the press room and grab journalists for an impromptu interview
- - You don’t have to walk or run a mile to get from one meeting to another with your client close behind
- - What? – no late night cocktails with the reporter listening to a band from the 80’s?
How Public Relations Can Take Advantage of a Virtual Event
All kidding aside, I think this is something that will become more commonplace. Here are my recommendations the next time your client attends an event with a virtual component:
* Staff the Booth: In a virtual world, there are no limitations on the number of booth staff. Your team can now staff a virtual booth alongside your customer. You will get to read what customers and prospects are seeking, which will make you more informed about your customer’s business. When a media or analyst comes to the booth, you would be the go-to person.
* Include Media-Ready Content in the Booth: Depending on the virtual event, the client will have 3-5 tabs for content. Recommend that one tab includes information that would be valuable to press and analysts, such as fact sheets, company backgrounder, link to the corporate blog, link to your online newsroom, and other resources.
* Participate in the Networking Lounge and Auditorium Chats: Most of the participants are in these two locations. Participate in these discussions as reporters may be asking questions of attendees, seeking resources, or participating in a subject-matter discussion. If the topic discusses your company or product, consider inviting the reporter to a private chat or to come by the booth to learn more. As everything, just make sure to be relevant to the reporter.
* Hold a “Virtual Press Conference” in Your Booth: Like a physical event, you can schedule time to have a “virtual press conference” for an announcement and Q&A with your executives. The benefit is that you can potentially drive more participants as there are not travel requirements. The Q&A would take place via the group chat, recognizing that this is visible to everyone. And remember, this takes the same amount of preparation as a normal press conference!
* Invite Press/Analyst to the Virtual Event: Virtual conference and tradeshows are fairly uncommon. If this is one of the first events in your industry, then press and analysts may be curious to learn more. Take this opportunity to invite them to the virtual event and discuss why your company is participating in the virtual trade show. Just be aware that registration is required to attend. Since most of this is free, consider setting up email aliases, e.g. email@example.com, to manage reminders directly with the reporter. Otherwise, have the reporter sign up directly.
In the end, a virtual conference or trade show represents an opportunity for public relations. I’ve heard of a few instances where press and analysts have been invited to invitation-only events online, I do anticipate this to increase as larger, more public conferences consider virtual components. When this happens, will you be prepared?
Part of this is due to the heightened scrutiny on how financial institutions are spending money since the financial meltdown. Starting with AIG and now with Morgan Stanley’s announcement, public corporations are weary of holding large “destination” events that are seen as too extravagant. In addition to outright canceling these events, this is giving rise to virtual events.
I’ve been noticing an interesting trend in my LinkedIn discussions recently. People are concerned about the decline of attendance at physical events or the outright cancellation of these events. Event organizers from publishers to corporate planners are struggling with how to maintain relevancy at a time when the bottom line is ruling decisions about corporate events.
Are Virtual Events the Answer?
Virtual events are seen as more cost-effective for both the company and attendees – no travel, no lodging, and no catering costs. Furthermore, there are various technology tools available to ease person-to-person communications or to recreate a networking environment.
While I am a huge advocate of virtual events ranging from online seminars, virtual summits, virtual tradeshows to conferences and sales meetings, I do believe that going virtual isn’t necessarily the right answer for everyone. Instead, if you take a step back and look at the larger picture, there may be other options available to you and your customers.
Questions to Ask
What is the objective of your event? – Determine why you’re holding this event. Is this an employee motivation get together, a white-glove customer event or a sales training meeting. I would argue that a white-glove customer event is important for future business while a sales training meeting can easily be moved to an online format. As for the employee motivation get together, this can be done in a hybrid approach which I will describe below.
How technically savvy is your audience? - If you decide to do a virtual event, you have to confirm that your audience is computer literate and has access to the minimal computer requirements. For example, my sister is a nurse. While she has access to a personal computer, her hospital doesn’t. So you have to consider the logistics of holding an online event with these constraints and how your audience will be able to view and interact with your content.
Will your audience prefer in-person, virtual only or both? – In addition to technical savvy, another consideration is how your audience prefers to interact. If they prefer in-person, then you can consider other ways to provide an in-person experience while minimizing cost considerations.
Why not a hybrid approach? – I think one overlooked strategy is looking at what I call a hybrid approach – an in-person event with a virtual component. This approach works when a core segment of your audience prefers in-person events for educational networking purposes, while another segment may be unable to attend due to personal, professional or cost reasons. I also believe that this works when looking at corporate events. For example, Cisco announced that they were canceling their global sales meeting in favor of a virtual event. Assuming that one of the main reasons for a sales meeting is to recognize your top sales folks, you can still hold regional in-person events to recognize these individuals or have an invite-only webcast with the CEO. This imparts exclusivity, while holding a virtual event for general sales training.
If you decide to go virtual, then what tools are there to facilitate your objective? – There are many virtual trade show and world vendors on the market, such as InXpo, Unisfair, Nortel’s web.alive and even Second Life, who can work with you to build out the right environment. Alternatively, you can start small with a web conferencing type of solution to create a webinar program. Regardless of how you decide to proceed, you can then layer social media tools (many are free) to further engage your audiences. And if this is truly a dedicated audience, possibly nurture a community built from the event itself.
Right now, the first reaction is how to cut costs by eliminating physical events. Furthermore, the current market conditions will enable virtual worlds/events vendors to grow and demonstrate the true value of going virtual.
I believe that as companies and event organizers take a step back, people will realize that there are different options available to them to achieve the same objectives cost-effectively.
Cece Salomon-Lee is director of marketing for ACTIVE Network, Business Solutions division, and author of PR Meets Marketing, which explores the intersection of public relations, marketing, and social media.
This blog contains Cece's personal opinions and are not representative of her company's.
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