News and Insights

Virtual events and the PR opportunity

June 16, 2020

Depending on the sector you specialise in, an event can either seem like a few weeks of work that rears its head once a year, or the culmination of a year’s work, with all activities up to that point focused on those vital few days.

It’s no secret that the events sector is hurting right now. All major conferences and events have been cancelled or put on indefinite hiatus, and many of the event professionals we work alongside have been furloughed or made redundant.

The events industry is not just rolling over and accepting defeat though, moving events online and doing what it can to survive in a situation that appeared rapidly and derailed months’ worth of work and planning.  As the events industry recalibrates, what can we as PRs do to support our clients, and what difficulties does this new normal present?

Virtual events

As a healthtech public relations firm, we know that technology is an invaluable tool for keeping the events industry afloat during these troubled times. The virtualisation of events was arguably always going to be a 2020 trend, but the current situation has accelerated its momentum. In-person speaking slots have moved online, panels have become webinars, and awards shows have been assembled ahead of time and broadcast in ‘live’ streams.

This may at first be a reaction to the current lockdown and travel bans but even when the COVID-19 crisis is over, virtual and hybrid events will still offer advantages for clients. They can open up the events to people all over the globe, cutting down on travel and accommodation costs that might deter visitors. Speaking of travel, the events industry has historically struggled to argue its case against detractors on the grounds of sustainability, and virtual and hybrid events could play an important role in lowering carbon footprints.

In my own experience, the virtualisation of events we’ve seen in the past few months has been largely successful thus far, but there’s a sense that, given the circumstances under which they were created, the online channel hasn’t been taken advantage of fully. Content that was meant for physical events has been transposed online, and inevitably something has been lost in the translation.

Tailored communications

If virtual events do persist beyond the crisis, alongside physical events, we as PRs have the opportunity to play a key role in content development and delivery. As we’ve all experienced under lockdown, communication through virtual channels is markedly different to being in a room with people, and the same holds true for speaking slots and presentations.

Just as we media train spokespeople for broadcast, so too could we train speakers for virtual events, where a speaker’s invaluable ability to ‘read the room’ is largely absent, and personal charisma is muted by the digital divide.

We will also have to readjust our approach to media relations around virtual events. One of the lures for journalists of a physical event is the ability to meet a variety of spokespeople from various companies in the space of a few days. Relationships are built over coffees or drinks (with us picking up the tab of course), but with a virtual event, these motivators are lost. How do we incentivise journalists to have a Zoom or Teams or Skype with our client around a virtual event?

The changing nature of the events space is a puzzling one for PR. There is opportunity to deepen our value with our clients, but also key challenges that may impede the ultimate goal for PR in events – media contact and coverage. We as an industry will need to take stock when it comes to virtual events, and figure out new ways to approach speaking slots and the media.