How do you talk to your organization’s leadership about the power of digital events to drive organizational goals? Three leading executives answered this question from the corporate, association and third-party perspectives during a session at PCMA Digital Experience Institute’s annual Virtual Edge Summit on November 11th.
Three key pieces of advice emerged:
1. It is a long-term engagement strategy. Too often digital events are deployed with the idea of immediate return on investment — a jump in revenue or in membership numbers, for example, said Deborah Long Sexton, president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association. The reality is “digital is a long game,” she said. “It’s not one-off, but part and parcel of the entire engagement strategy for the organization.”
As more and more associations necessarily shift from a member-only focus to a continuous engagement with both member and non-member, the value of digital as a strategic tool will grow, Sexton asserted. “People are time-deprived. They want information and education when it works for them. We need to provide that whether they are members or not, to remove the obstacles,” she said. “Digital events allows us to spread our educational brand to a much larger, global audience.”
Organizations can be much more strategic in designing tools, products and education to fit specific audiences using digital outreach, Sexton said. “It’s a big world out there and we want to touch more of it.” And if associations don’t step up to the plate, they can be sure that someone else will.
2. Define digital events as a tool, not a goal. Association execs often ask how they can implement digital into their conferences, when actually the question they should be asking is “how can digital help with our long-term goals?” shared Mathias Posch president and partner, International Conference Services, Ltd. The Canadian-based company has a track record of working with medical associations in creating global face-to-face and hybrid meetings.
When talking with medical association CEOs about digital, Posch stresses three key benefits that tie into long-term goals:
- Gives associations the ability to “own” the education space in their focus area
- Makes the world a smaller place in that it gives the association a global reach
- Provides “just-in-time” education or information on topics of emerging or breaking-news interest, such as the Zika virus.
Digital platforms also provide a way to address thorny issues around compliance that medical associations increasingly must deal with. As an example, Pharma companies, which are now prohibited from giving gifts that are not education related, can buy access codes from the association for its CME digital libraries and give them as gifts to doctors. “It’s a virtual strategy that works on multiple levels to further the association’s long term goals,” Posch said.
3. Build a pilot program to open the door to bigger investment. Lisa Fingerhut is strategic engagement lead for the McDonald’s Corporation. Every two years the company holds a convention for franchises around the world in Orlando, Fla., drawing some 15,000 attendees — a fraction of the company’s global franchisees. The 2014 convention was the company’s first hybrid event, greatly extending the reach of the meeting. Since then the company has expanded its use of digital events, platforms and tools to “amplify our message and drive content out to the markets around the world,” Fingerhut said.
“People are eager for information that they can consume on demand. Start small and see what attendees like,” she advised, adding that it’s important to define event objectives that align with corporate goals. Once you have a track record of delivering success, “it’s easier to sell it up the chain to the C-suite.”