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Pivot or swivel, but don’t abandon your live events just yet!

These days, it seems the only thing that's certain is that we have to stay away from each other — which means no more live events. Mahlab’s Head of Strategy, Kim Richards, says this doesn’t mean you have to abandon your plans -  instead, adapt them to the new reality.

These days, it seems the only thing that’s certain is that we have to stay away from each other — which means no more live events. Mahlab’s Head of Strategy, Kim Richards, says this doesn’t mean you have to abandon your plans –  instead, adapt them to the new reality.

There are two words being grossly overused at the moment; ‘unprecedented’ and ‘pivot’. So let me say straight off the bat that I’m going to challenge myself to get through this post without using either of them. 

Like the rest of Australia, I am learning how to live with the confusion and uncertainty of a global pandemic. Everything in this weird, difficult era is painted in shades of grey. (Not the Fifty Shades Of variety, although I am told sociologists predict a baby boom to come off the back of this isolation.) Anyway, I digress.

When I say “shades of grey” I mean that there is no distinction between home and work, weekends and weekdays, recreation and profession. I am a mother, a colleague and a teacher all at once. At a moment’s notice, I switch between being a cook, a cleaner, a mediator, a manager, a nurse and a strategist. Life is being lived in smaller increments — there’s no nine-to-five block anymore.

What is helping me is reminding myself that we must accept what we cannot change and look to change what we cannot accept. I’m taking this approach to everything I face. There are myriad analogies I could use here to explain what I mean, particularly when it comes to parenting, but I’m going to carve out this moment to put my professional hat on and talk to you as a strategist.

Mahlab has a long history of working with associations and organisations who host live events. For some of our clients, these events are only a side hustle, but for others their entire annual plan centres around them. (See, I could have said pivot there, but I didn’t!)

Last year, we worked with Engineers Australia on content for its World Engineering Conference, and a year earlier on its Australian Engineering Conference. Most recently, we developed a video series for CPA’s Congress, and we have worked closely with Salesforce on its renowned World Tour for many years. 

My colleague recently wrote about her experience of ‘reimagining’ World Tour in early March amid the onset of this global crisis. But she can only teach us so much; in just four short weeks the operational parameters that guided that event conversion are no longer applicable. 

For many of our clients, the decision to postpone or abandon their 2020 events is not an easy one. For member-based organisations there is both a member value proposition that is jeopardised and the loss of a crucial revenue stream. For other clients, like Salesforce, a year’s worth of qualified leads has gone up in smoke. For others, such as ANZ Institutional Bank, they’re looking at an absence of vital networking. 

What can anyone do with circumstances such as these? Accept what you can’t change, and change what you can’t accept.

Organisations must accept that we can no longer facilitate live events, and we must change our approach. But that doesn’t mean you abandon the objectives — just the execution. Let me explain.

Event objectives

  1. Maintain a high engagement rate with the event audience. 
  2. Provide each audience with relevant or targeted content and outcomes.
  3. Deliver value to the audience, the sponsors and industry partners. 

Stakeholders and needs

  1. Event delegates looking for insights, information, education and connection.
  2. Partners and sponsors wanting direct access to new leads and increased inflows to their products and services. 
  3. Brands or businesses that need to continue to offer value and be seen as a valuable source of information and a trusted connection. 

Given these needs and objectives, and the reality that they can’t be achieved at a conference or other live event, you have to imagine ways they can be achieved by people isolated in their homes. 

How do you engage people who are craving the interactivity of a buzzing conference hall? You must deliver them something that satisfies the craving: interactive content that heightens engagement and provides a sense of human connection. 

It would be remiss of me to not point out that there is in fact no real substitute for face-to-face engagement. To be absolutely blunt, I think the lack of connection is something we are all struggling with. We may only come to appreciate just how much it means when we can, at last, commit this pandemic to history. 

The content pivot swivel

Mahlab believes in the power of content. So our approach is to move a live event to an on-demand content play. 

This is not the same as merely live-streaming what would have otherwise been a presenter and 1000 people in a room. Remember those shades of grey? It won’t work anymore; no one has the capacity to commit to a rigid time and place (generally in their home office or at the kitchen table) to participate in this type of event when, as I explained earlier, life is being lived in small increments. 

We are working with our clients to take their event plan and overlay it with a new plan that, ahem, swivels it into tangible content. Some event items lend themselves to static content, others to interactive forms and some could be gated to generate leads — particularly content produced by or for sponsors or partners. 

Say you had an event speaker who has a really interesting presentation that’s also quite dense and packed with information. This is the kind of thing that you could switch into a longer explainer blog, or even a white paper. 

Or imagine you had a series of panel discussions that just won’t be as good on a confusing, laggy live video conference. Why not turn them into a podcast series?

We’ve taken to sorting the mixture of content into three buckets:

Library (static) content

  • Blog/vlog
  • Longform content
  • Case studies
  • Infographics
  • Templates 
  • Checklists 
  • How-tos
  • Infographics

Interactive content 

  • Interviews
  • Q&As
  • Live chats
  • Videos
  • Webinars
  • Tutorials
  • Calculators/tools
  • Podcasts

Gated content

  • eBooks
  • White papers
  • Webinars
  • Templates
  • Guides

There’s plenty to think about. And if you want to talk more about how it might work for you, just reach out to me and we can dive deeper into your specific event. 

A whole other blog would be required to explain how we register delegates for access to the on-demand content, figure out their needs, preferences and interests, and then cross-reference those with content tags so the experience is both personal and personalised. 

Equally important is the audience generation for the content. Are you using eDMs or a social strategy? What formats, frequency and channels will work best for you?

I’d love to tell you more but, alas, my increment of professional time has expired. I have an 11-year-old who wants help with punctuation and a 14-year-old who needs to cook his food technology recipe before the theoretical bell rings at 3pm. At least that’s dinner taken care of. 

These are indeed unprecedented times. 🙂

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