“Making Money with Digital Events” highlighted the successful approaches of two leading organizations, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS). Todd Helton, AICPA’s director, meetings, conferences and online learning events, kicked off the session with a backgrounder on how AICPA has increased its revenues from digital initiatives by 400 percent over the course of just a few years.
Helton said that AICPA expanded into virtual in 2010 as a result of the recession’s impact on face-to face attendance, starting by live streaming a selection of sessions at 10 of the organization’s 50-plus conferences a year. In 2013, the meetings team altered the approach. The association began video streaming only general sessions and offering the rest of the sessions as audio-only accompanied by presentation slides. These changes and others have proven so successful that AIPCA is now able to charge the same registration fee for the on-site and virtual participation at its hybrid meetings.
AIPC also offers packs of eight sessions available on-demand for 60 to 70 percent of the total registration fee, and has made “significant strides” in group sales with larger companies. “You have to find the secret attendee, the one watching remotely without registering,” he said.
Other advice for maximizing revenue opportunities: “Play with pricing. You might charge group x one price and group y another price,” Helton said. “See what’s out there similar to your organization. Google around and find out what the marketplace is bearing.” Just don’t offer your content for free: “I firmly believe that you have to charge a fee for this at the start, because otherwise it’s going to be hard to go back and ask for a fee further down the road.”
For AIPCA, online events now contribute 25 percent of overall event revenues, Helton said, “and the margins on virtual are pure profit once you cover costs.”
The “if you build it they will come” approach doesn’t work when it comes to digital events, cautioned panelist Mary Beth Micucci, DES, director of digital events for HIMSS Media. Good content is essential to draw audiences and to successfully monetize virtual events. Chat threads, she’s found, are excellent source material for developing high-demand content for digital programming. Her “biggest steal” lately has been adopting a TED Talks format for some of HIMSS virtual programs, shortening them to 18 minutes to keep them highly engaging.
HIMSS prices virtual events using the following criteria: If the content is mission critical, it “won’t be cancelled if we don’t have a sponsor and will be offered free,” Micucci said. Sessions that are lead-generating opportunities for sponsors are offered free. Online conferences have a registration fee. Hybrid conferences involve a lower registration fee for remote participants than those onsite because only a portion of the live event is captured online.
“Experiment with different models. Find the sweet spot that works best for your organization,” Micucci advised. “And make sure you have the right audience for [what you are offering.] Ten of the right people is always better than 100 who are the wrong audience.”