The first hours of this consultancy contract had not gone to plan. In a typically stuffy boardroom I sat with my elbows stoically placed on my closed laptop awaiting the CEO. He would moments later bound through the door and ask why I was tinkering with his finely tuned schedule while announcing confusion at why I had suggested that the last thing they should do was run any online events. 

This was almost three years ago when I was initially hired to help that CEO and his organisation develop an online strategy for their events. The business seemed ripe for the online move. They ran over 50 events a year, had events in several countries and had potential customers spread all over the world. So it may seem peculiar that only five hours into the consultancy I was suggesting that online shouldn’t be their focus.

Putting your ducks in order

I’ve decided to relive that meeting in this blog as the issues will be of interest to every organisation that run events. This particular anecdote demonstrates one wonderful bit of vision but also gives out a clear warning when it comes to online. So in order to learn from both let’s look at each one in detail.

The wise move – online events have to be seriously and strategically considered

It was commendable that this events business had identified the need to be strategic when considering the online delivery of their events. If you think back to 2010 “hybrid event” was still a pretty new term and many event businesses had not even considered this space, however my client:

  • had identified that taking their content online was a major opportunity as well as a significant risk 
  • wanted to make sure that every aspect was scrutinised and every potential path thought out
  • had rightly identified that there was too much risk in a trial and error approach
  • realised that any online engagement had to be strategic and
  • had engaged an external consultant

This demonstrated the first key point I wanted to raise: if you are considering delivering online events you should be strategic about it

online events

I’ve had several conversations recently with a whole host of event businesses who are considering online events and they all agree with this advice: seriously consider online and do it strategically. 

There is wisdom in a strategic and measured approach to online events, take The Economist for example who as part of a three year strategic plan to take events online are already earning 50% of their income from their online events. Fantastic evidence indeed that a strategic approach to online events pays dividend.

Although a ‘hot’ topic your approach to online events could be ‘chilly’

The second key point I wanted to cover in this blog is that online events might not be for you or at least not for now. So to expand on that point back to my slightly awkward conversation with a CEO from one of the largest associations in Europe.

So there I was after only a few hours poking around the events department saying “no” to online: rejecting the CEO’s idea that for them “online was now”. You can probably imagine how well this was going down but what is a consultant for if not for speaking their mind?

The reason for my position was that there were more, many more important aspects to address within the events business before they should even consider online events. The department was not making money and their physical events were, well, not great.

I explained that the focus should really be about sorting out these bigger issues and then, and only then, attacking the online world. We ripped up the initial scope of my consultancy and concentrated on restructuring the department and focussing on the content and marketing of the physical events.

The important point here is that online will possibly be very important for your events business but it is likely to sit on top, or at least alongside, your current event business. So make sure the ship is steady before raising the sails.

Not to take a strategic, timely and measured approach to an online events business is to court the Sirens and steer your events business to the bottom of a very dark sea.

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