Public relations as an industry has had to stay agile in recent years, much the same as the rest of the business landscape. Whereas brands were used to hosting lavish physical events before 2020 to market their products and services and to talk to journalists and other stakeholders, COVID-19 forced a change in attitudes. Now we are emerging from the worst of the pandemic, you have a choice to go back to fully in-person presentations or to embrace virtual or hybrid events for PR.
And there are real advantages of taking PR events online:
- 45.9% of people attend ten or more online events compared to 12.6% who participate in in-person events
- 88% of PR professionals believe the future of the field lies in digital storytelling, and online events – hybrid or fully virtual – can play an important role in this strategy.
This article explores the difference between hybrid and virtual events and how they can bolster your PR efforts. It also explores best practices for organising them and pulling them off successfully.
Virtual and hybrid events: The future
Live, in-person events were always the go-to in the PR industry, but the world is changing in terms of where and when people work. PR professionals have realised that, to spread their message as widely as possible, there must be another way to engage the media, thought leaders, influencers and other stakeholders.
Virtual and hybrid events are the future because they bring PRs closer to the people with whom they most want to network. Here is the difference between the two formats:
|Fully-virtual||The presenter hosts from a studio, office, home office or anywhere with an internet connection, and the entire audience attends remotely on their devices.|
|Hybrid||The presenter usually hosts from a venue. Some audience members attend in person at the venue, with the rest joining remotely.|
Keep reading to find the pros and cons of both formats and how to use them to increase the effectiveness of your public relations events.
When putting on a virtual event, be it a webinar, a conference or something else, you can present it from a professional studio in order to create an impressive first impression on your guests.
However, it is also possible to run fully-virtual events from your office or even your home. As all attendees will access the event remotely, the only consideration when it comes to the location of your host and speakers is the way that it looks on screen.
Pros of virtual events
Increase the number of attendees
It makes sense that holding an event completely online allows more people to attend. There are no concerns about travel time and potential overnight stays for virtual attendees. They only need to clear room in their diary for the length of the event itself. You can also engage people in other countries so and enable them to attend remotely.
Widen the field of potential speakers
Just as you can attract larger virtual audiences for your PR event, you can also widen the field of available speakers and guests. Being able to attract impressive, high-profile guests can be a great sell to attendees and will bring more attention to your message. Not having to worry about the logistics of attending your event makes it more accessible to the speakers who will make your event pop.
A fully virtual PR event can save a significant amount of money for the company. Without the outlay on the venue hire, accommodation, travel costs, refreshments and print-outs, you can reduce your expenses greatly.
There is another benefit of cutting out travel to events and not handing out hard copies of documents. It supports your sustainability efforts and reduces the carbon footprint of the event as a whole. This can be a real selling point for your PR webinar, as often, such events produce significant amounts of waste in the form of handouts and goodie bags.
Cons of virtual events
Fear of the unknown
We have had webinars for many years, but they can still seem like a novelty for some people. As such, they might be reticent to engage with an online event that would have previously been held in person. You may be worried that some potential attendees may opt not to join your webinar.
Finding the right platform
Not all webinar platforms are created equal. You need to research the right solution for you and make sure the provider can handle all of the requirements you have to get your brand message out to as many people as possible.
Best practices for virtual events
- Use a reputable and professional provider to run the technical aspects of your event. Company Webcast has more than a decade of experience creating engaging events for some of the biggest companies in Europe and beyond.
- Engage with your audience and allow them to interact with the event. Rather than simply showing a live stream of your event, use a provider that offers features to allow you to run polls and for attendees, post questions and even chat. This helps them become more invested in the content of your event.
- Prepare your audience for the event by talking them through how to access it and what to expect. This helps ease any concerns of your less tech-savvy attendees.
Hybrid events bring the benefits of the live in-person experience and the convenience of remote attendance together. You offer your guests the choice of how to attend, depending on their preference. By working to ensure that you provide an equal level of attention to both types of attendees, everyone should gain the same outcomes from your PR event.
Pros of hybrid events
Very similar to virtual events
Of course, many of the pros of virtual events are also the benefits of hybrid PR events. Although you cannot discount venue hire and refreshment costs as well as accommodation and travel expenses, they are reduced compared to a fully in-person event.
At the same time, the fact that there is an online element to the event allows you to increase your potential reach for audience members and guests, just like with a fully virtual event.
Then, there are also these pros of hybrid events:
Gives people options
Everyone is different, and your target audience will all have different preferences when it comes to how they want to engage with you. Some people prefer the convenience of remote events; others enjoy the atmosphere of a live meeting. Hybrid offers the best of both worlds. It is a more inclusive way of running events.
Hybrid events provide flexibility for attendees but also for your business. If you already have a hybrid setup and there is another event in the future that requires us to once again abandon in-person events, you can quickly pivot to fully virtual events again. You can also move back to the hybrid model seamlessly afterwards, showing an agility that causes the least possible disruption to your PR efforts.
Although life in many countries is getting back to a form of normality, COVID-19 still exists and continues to spread around communities. For those who are cautious about joining large groups of people or who are immunosuppressed, adding a hybrid element to your live PR efforts means they don’t have to miss out on your event. They can also have their say or ask questions.
Cons of hybrid events
Getting the setup right
It is challenging to manage an event that combines live and virtual elements and carry it out in a manner that ensures both audiences receive the full experience. This means that you will need an expert webinar provider’s hybrid event platform to help you achieve an event that truly showcases the best of both worlds for physical and virtual audiences.
Best practices for hybrid events
- Use virtual event platforms like Company Webcast that provide interactive features for online viewers, allowing them to get involved in the event just like those in the room. Virtual experiences should match those in the room for the ability to engage in the matters at hand.
- Allow your guest speakers to choose how they address the event. Some may be more comfortable attending remotely, whilst others may thrive from being in front of a live audience. Offering both options provides flexibility that widens the potential pool of speakers and allows them to appear in a manner in which they feel able to perform to the best of their ability. This is beneficial for your event.
- Ensure both audiences have the same experience. Your hybrid event shouldn’t be geared towards just one of the audiences and ignore the other. For example, if the live in-person audience can ask questions, the organiser should offer the same opportunity to the online attendees. This is a key element of a truly hybrid event. Otherwise, you have a live event with a live stream. The online audience is passive, not active.
How do you make virtual and hybrid events interactive?
Using a platform like Company Webcast allows virtual attendees to engage with questions, polls, a chat function and other interactive features. These keep the online audience engaged and provide content for your event, as well as interesting on-demand content for use on your website later.
How do you engage virtual participants?
In addition to using interactive features for the virtual component, you should use storytelling to grab the attention of all participants and make sure your presentation is visually stimulating. The event industry thrives on engaging presentations.
How do you evaluate the success of your virtual or hybrid event?
Asking for feedback after the event helps you monitor performance to ensure you run a successful event. With the details that you take on sign-up, you can engage your audience afterwards and follow up on the topics discussed.
There is no doubt that virtual or hybrid events are the future for all industries, including the PR sector. Solely in-person events are more costly, less environmentally friendly and restrict your ability to attract a large audience or high-calibre speaker that will make your event stand out ahead of your competitors. You do need to make a choice between fully virtual and hybrid, and that choice is down to your individual company and what your target audience would prefer.
Whatever you decide, leave nothing to chance. Company Webcast can ensure your event runs smoothly, offers a stellar experience to all audiences and helps keep your message high in the mind of your attendees. Request a free demo of Company Webcast for your company today to find out how we can transform your future events.
References and further reading:
- Why organise hybrid events?
- Infographic: virtual marketing events
- How to create a winning external communications strategy
- 12 steps to a successful webinar