The New Normal: Budgeting and Scheduling with Contingencies In Mind

By Wendy Cook, Head of Production

Like all of our clients, we at Trademark have learned to pivot...so much so that we need steel-toed boots to stay on our toes! And our clients are becoming proficient at changing direction as well. The world of events is no longer a linear, singular track.

In 2019, 100% of our events were in the real world. In 2020, 100% were virtual. In 2021, 20% were (or are about to be) IRW, 90% are virtual. Events we’re planning for 2021 are 90% Hybrid.

Event planners, marketing groups, and companies of all sizes have had to learn not only to change plans quickly but also to budget for and allocate time for contingencies. As we approach the end of 2021, we’ve learned a lot about how to make the planning process accurate, easier, and realistic.

Let’s talk cost

One of the first assumptions our clients have is: “Since we’re going virtual, we’ll save a ton of money!” Short answer: yes! But some costs increase. Let me explain.

While virtual events lack the expense of travel, venue, and catering, there are new costs introduced to the process. Virtual events fall flat when they are just a series of on-demand or scheduled virtual meetings. Even the best speakers find it difficult to keep the attention of the audience when email, daily workload, personal activities, and cute cat videos are just a click away. Virtual keynotes, product demonstrations, presentations, and activities require scripting and production quality that can engage and inspire viewers. Event producers should be thinking of these presentations differently. Speakers need to deliver information in a compelling fashion, in a fraction of the time, with TV-quality production. It has to be valuable enough that viewers will want to pass it along to colleagues.

The most successful virtual events have engaging live content for keynotes or special presentations and are supported with a host of on-demand content that gives viewers choice. The virtual event platform must accommodate a new model of event attendee: the viewer. In our experience, while viewers dial in for keynotes or exciting announcements, the majority of virtual event viewership comes in the following weeks and months. This long digital tail is a key asset and can deliver a return on investment long after the event is over.

The good news: You’re going to reach exponentially more people with virtual content. The other good news: producing TV-quality virtual event “programming” is possible, and manageable, if properly funded. Here are a few examples to consider:

  • The event platform -- There are several sophisticated virtual meeting platforms out there. Depending on the scope and complexity of the event, they can host a group of 100 viewers to tens of thousands. Event platforms offer a variety of pricing models -- and different platforms fit different profiles of events.

“We’ve learned that precise content management and delivery is essential to managing successful virtual events. In addition, the quality and performance of the platform itself can make or break an event. Companies have to earn the attention of viewers every minute, and issues such as poor production, faulty delivery or confusing user interfaces can kill even the most compelling presentations.” Brandee Plott, MeetingPlay

  • Session production -- Live events take place at a venue, generally with one or two large stages which create the event theme and the desired emotions and reactions of attendees. Virtual and hybrid events use a platform as their venue. And because speakers are often geographically dispersed, session production happens across a variety of locations, necessitating a Control Room of production equipment, crews, training, and capturing of content. Coordination and equipment and staff can be a much bigger budget than single-location event, since virtual production content capture happens over 2-3 weeks vs 2-3 days for live events!
  • Attendee Tickets -- Most attendees will pay a nominal amount to attend an event, either virtual or real world. But, the content has to be compelling enough for them to open their wallets. Without the opportunity to network and interact with peers, virtual events can’t command the level of ticket price that real-world events can.
  • Gamification -- Budget once spent on catering or on-site activities is now spent on virtual experiences and games. These strategies help keep attendees tuned in.
  • Hosting and post-production amplification -- marketing programs that extend the reach of your event can increase overall value.

Let’s talk time:

I can’t tell you how many times the keynote presentation is “final” just hours before the keynote. This works in real-world events because the speaker is able to personally engage the audience and has the help of staging, lighting, sound, images, and experiences to support the content. Not so in virtual events.

Virtual events must tell a compelling story in a very short amount of time. And, they must capture viewers immediately and hold them through the presentation. This requires professional production. In the last two years, we’ve honed our already strong production skills, and have helped hundreds of speakers strengthen their content, delivery, and timing.

But this takes time. The quality of production now required for virtual events requires that all content be set weeks in advance -- giving producers, videographers, digital marketers, and effects people the opportunity to refine and produce quality content that engages audiences.

This is also true of sponsor content. Virtual booths are not as effective as interactive sessions that offer the same level of production quality. Sponsor “content”, including downloadable experiences or information, apps, product trials, etc. must be ready weeks in advance of the virtual event, rather than days.

Takeaways

  1. Plan on a similar budget -- but different line items that determine overall costs.
  2. Consider the long digital tail of virtual or hybrid events to determine the overall ROI. Plan on how to leverage each piece of high-produced content to help you reach your audience in the future, on-demand.
  3. Don’t count on attendee registration to fund your conference. It will really be you and the sponsors.
  4. Don’t skimp on creativity or production quality, your audience can leave you with a click.
  5. Plan on more time for production -- roughly double the time of an in-person event. And note that some of your content may need to be captured a full month before your event to allow time for post-production, QA, and loading and testing on the platform.
  6. Train your presenters to be entertainers, compelling speakers, and engaging storytellers. Boring content is dead from the time the attendee presses play.
  7. Be ready to change. Many clients do parallel budgeting and scheduling in the early stages of event planning as they determine whether an event will be 100% real world, 100% virtual, or a hybrid event. Often these approaches change as conditions change. Be ready to pivot.

Trademark is among the most experienced virtual and real-world event producers in the nation. We have the strategies, creativity, and expert team members required to deliver events of any profile. To accommodate the changing dynamics of corporate events, we’ve created an Event Cost Calculator. While only a simple modeling tool, we hope it helps you get a feel for event components and costs. If you’d like a more precise event scope and cost, we’d be happy to talk to you!


Download the event calculator template.