Event Marketing: How to Replace the Face-to-Face

by Colin Zink

Experiential marketing is typically the in-person promotion around an organization’s participation at a trade show, conference, or forum- but what happens when in-person is no longer an option? While things like travel and large gatherings must grind to a halt to curb COVID-19, businesses can still move forward while eliminating much of the planning and logistics and instead focus on the more critical marketing and PR efforts.

A global pandemic is not a business opportunity, it’s a disaster, and should be treated seriously. Just as people around the world are turning to the web for social interaction now missing from their daily lives, businesses must do the same. After all, event marketing is, at its core, the promotion of a brand, service, or product through an interactive experience. While event marketing has historically been a face-to-face interaction, you’ll be surprised how much you accomplish without asking your employees or your audience to leave their homes.

We’ve got a few tips for doing so:

1. Pivot to an online keynote

Since all the analysts, potential customers, and members of the media you’d want to reach are stuck at home, bring the keynote to them. Web conferencing software makes it simple to present your talk, along with visual aides, to dozens if not hundreds or thousands of attendees. And since your presenters will be presenting from home, encourage them to make use of the digital backdrops provided by most video conferencing programs; you can even import a video to use as a backdrop and present from a sunny beach or serene mountain top. Finally, make sure to record the keynote (most conferencing software has this feature built-in) and follow up with attendees or those who couldn’t make it with a link to the recording. You can also turn it into web or social media collateral. If it’s long, consider chopping it up into short segments for easy web consumption, or editing together a highlight reel.

2. Host a virtual happy hour

At trade shows, attendees come for the product reveals and announcements, but they stay for the networking. Recreate the experience online and provide some much needed social interaction for your guests. Up top, have some kind of introduction that moves into discussion prompts, but leave time for attendees to ask questions and talk amongst themselves. Consider creating breakout rooms (a simple task with most conferencing software) so people can chat in small groups. If you’re assigning breakouts randomly, make sure to kick it off with a prompt that will spur discussion.

If you deem it appropriate, schedule it for the end of the workday and encourage people to dial in with a glass of wine. If that’s not your style, or you just want to host earlier in the day, suggest that they come with a cup of coffee – nothing perks up conversation like a little caffeine.

3. Open a dialogue on social media

With social distancing efforts in place, companies should be letting the public know the steps they’re taking to keep employees and customers safe, both to set a good example and to explain why their services may have changed. It can also serve as a jumping-off point for a conversation with customers. Try asking your followers on Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook or Instagram, “what’s one positive thing about being home all day?” or “how are your pet(s) adapting to having you home all day?” You can also ask your followers to share any tips they have for getting work done while kids are home from school, or for good shows to binge-watch, either alone or with a family. The result is highlighting examples of good public health behavior and positive interaction with a brand.

4. Live tweeting

Boost brand awareness before, during, and after an online event through a Twitter campaign. Capture the play-by-play in real-time once it launches and engage your attendees as well as those who weren’t able to join during the livecast. Play the role of a news reporter and keep your audience informed of all of the activities, breaking news, and reactions taking place. Create a branded event hashtag or a hashtag series, tag relevant stakeholders, and document posts with quotes, photos, and videos. And don’t forget to retweet. Create an interactive, fun experience, while sharing informative content to draw in new followers, and in the process, build your reputation as an industry news source. After the event, repurpose all of this great content in multiple ways, from blog posts and white papers, to a launching pad for your next virtual event.

5. Build a community

Meet attendees from around the world or down the block online. One of the greatest value propositions that an event provides is its networking appeal. And that translates just as well into a virtual face-to-face interaction. Engaging with peers not only enriches your event experience but perhaps even more importantly, has the potential of evolving into fruitful relationships that extend well beyond the scope of the forum.

Adopt one-on-one virtual meetings. Facilitate interactive forums. Assemble dedicated slack channels. Create an online community portal that encourages interaction before and during your event – consider doing so on a continuing basis. There are lots of opportunities that you can give attendees to network and meet with each other.

For more tips on navigating these challenging times, read our blog post on PR & Marketing Tips For Covid-19 and Beyond.

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About the Author

Colin Zink is Sparkpr’s senior marketing manager based in San Francisco, leading marketing, digital, events, and social media strategy for clients. He has two decades of experience heading event portfolios at B2B and B2C media organizations and driving event strategy, event management, and event marketing & PR for brands and startups spanning across emerging technology, HR tech, and media & entertainment.