Virtual Trade Shows Can Yield A Very Real Pay-Off
When Wireless Week publisher Debby Denton launched her first virtual conference two years ago, she didn’t know what to expect. “We were the only wireless publication doing anything like this,” she says. But the online Wireless Expo, launched in November 2004, generated a 50 percent profit margin and $130,000 in revenue on a $65,000 investment.
Whether they’re called virtual trade shows, e-seminars or Webinars, publishers are just beginning to realize how profitable online events can be. “Typically when you talk about monetizing an event, you’re looking at getting back double or triple your investment,” says Gonen Ziv, vice president of operations for Unisfair, the company that has provided Reed Business Information publications such as Wireless Week, and other publishers with the technology to host online events.
Wireless Week hosted two additional online events last year. “We did one in June and one in November, and we had 5,000 total registrants,” Denton says. “Someone said ‘Yeah, great, how many do you think will show up?’ Well, you hope it’s somewhere around 50 percent. We had 3,500 people show up.”
Ziff Davis has had similar successes with its virtual trade shows and seminars, according to Elliot Markowitz, editorial director, Ziff Davis Media eSeminars. The company offers seminars on a weekly basis, and custom trade shows and their own trade shows several times a year. “We’ve been in the e-seminars business since 2001,” Markowitz said. “And what we wanted to do was to take a face-to-face trade show and recreate it online. We have the speakers. We have the audience interacting with each other. We have keynote speakers and session tracks. We have the trade show booths where the audience can talk to vendors and download white papers from them. Anything a vendor can do at a regular trade show, they can do on a virtual trade show.”
Denton says the experience is almost surreal as attendees move around a virtual conference center, enter virtual session rooms and even wander a virtual exhibit hall. “It really speaks to where we are at this time,” she says.
Most online trade shows do not charge a fee to attendees and therefore profit margins are dependent on sponsorships and vendor booths. “We want people to come to the event,” Denton says. “It’s what our sponsors and our vendors want. It’s a pretty hefty fee you pay for the platform so everything is based on sponsorship and booth sales.”
Tallying the Cost
Unisfair’s Ziv says it can cost a publisher as little as $25,000 to put on a small trade show and upwards of $100,000 for a large event. Sponsors and exhibitors at virtual shows are not only given the chance to market their products and services to the show’s attendees, they also receive all of the registrants’ information. “Sponsor support for our shows has been tremendous because it is a big lead generator,” Markowitz said. “We have 400 to 800 registrants for each of our e-seminars and as many as 5,000 for our trade shows and we turn over all that information to our sponsors.”
Although Unisfair handles all the technological aspects of the show, from sending out e-mail alerts to entice possible registrants, to the follow-up questionnaire after the show is over, it’s up to the publisher to provide speakers, the content and secure sponsors and vendors. “As exciting as it is, it’s an enormous amount of work,” says Denton. “When we started doing it, we didn’t realize how much work went into it. I would say for a conference it takes no less than 80 hours.”
This year, Wireless Week held its first virtual job fair, which was also heavily attended—the event drew 2,700 registrants from 59 countries—and everyone from entry-level employees to CEOs and top level management in the wireless industry, Denton says. She says the publication plans to continue to do both job fairs and trade shows in the future. “As long as there’s good content,” she adds. “You need the sponsors and booths, but content is the key to getting people there and keeping them there.”
About virtual trade shows, conferences and seminars:
• Events can last for as little as a few hours or as long as several days.
• Registrants usually attend the events for free. Money is made through sponsorships and exhibitors.
• Events can cost as little as $25,000 or as much as $100,000 to hold.
• Publishers typically report a double or triple return on investment.
• Content is king. Publishers can spend several hours or as long as several weeks planning an event depending on the size.