While many groups have already had their first taste of virtual meetings and many have had multiple shots at it, identifying the type of engagement you want for a specific meeting and then creating an accurate budget for that event can be challenging.
Cindy Lo, CEO of Red Velvet, a full-service creative events agency based in Austin, related her company’s experiences for the last 11 months assisting clients with their virtual meetings during the PCMA Gulf States Chapter on-line event, Crafting a Budget for Your Virtual Event, last week.
Lo focused on identifying the areas to construct your budget like platform-choice, technical support and questions you must ask all suppliers to match your dollars with the execution and the quality of the program you want to put forth.
One of the first steps is identifying what you are trying to accomplish with your on-line meeting. “Is it a webinar?; is it a conference?; is it an exhibitor?; is it an incentive?,” Lo stated in explaining how to choose a platform for the event. “In my opinion, for every one of these you need to be using a different type of platform. It is not one size fits all.”
Lo does say that if you are doing meetings monthly, you might want to sign a long-term contract with one platform to get a better deal, but more importantly get the analytics that come with it.
“The data you get with it is irreplaceable. It is going to be valuable to you,” Lo stressed. “How long did they stay engaged?; did they register last minute?; did they have trouble?; what sessions did they jump into and out of? Because that data is going to help you become a better meeting planner.”
One question Lo says is a critical question to ask a platform provider is, “What level of technical support do I get with this?”
What many planners found when choosing a platform last year was there was little-to-no technical support. Many or most of the work fell on the planners and their team. Lo feels you need to partner with a strong audio visual provider that can assist you with speaker recordings, creative and production.
Many of these providers have their own platforms or can work with another platform a planner chooses while also having the ability to incorporate your CRM or registration company as well.
“If you are not technical or you do not have an internal tech team, I highly encourage you to sign the (platform) level that has technical support,” Lo stated. “Because every single person who is coming to your event, unlike in person, the challenge is that everyone is logging in with a different machine. You need to be able to help them and support them. And the best way honestly to do that is to outsource that back to your tech team or your AV Team.
“I highly, highly encourage studio and AV support even if you can’t afford an agency like us at least budget money for the support,” explained Lo who went on to talk about a larger event they produced. “There is a reason why we did lean on some bigger AV companies to help partner with us on this because they already had the gear in place. And if we realized we needed more gear they could just pull it from their warehouse since we were already there physically.”
Lo admits costs will grow incrementally with the quality of your production, but she says those costs are necessary if you want a quality product.
“I know that some people have questioned when we are pricing this (AV). They were like why should it be that much,” continued Lo who’s graphic showed a price of $20,000++. “I go, ‘Have you ever watched any of the movies?; Have you seen them roll the credits at the end?’ To truly do something that is movie-like or that is truly engaging and not boring like another Zoom call, you really need the right technical support there. I do encourage it. What I love about having the studio AV support is you can do the lower-thirds (bottom graphic identifier), you can add in music and blend it in, you can do lighting effects. And we have just gotten so creative with coming up with ways to make it more exciting.”
Lo listed considerations when listing your needs:
- Do you need a studio for pre-recorded sessions?
- Will you need to brand and edit the pre-recorded videos?
- Are you budgeting technical and dress rehearsal in the studio?
- Do you need to ship lighting or audio equipment to key speakers?
- Will you require day-of AV support?
Having quality art graphics were also on Lo’s must-have list that need to be accounted for in your budget. And much like the AV costs, art work and graphic design can run you from $5,000 for Good, $10,000 for Better to over $25,000 for Best, she says.
“First priority is AV or tech support and the second priority is art direction and graphic design,” said Lo who says if you don’t have internal art and graphics department, you should outsource this work. “The reason why is because all the things from the time you start with your email blasts to your social media to even the presentations … when it feels cohesive and it feels more like a TV show, you are going to stay more in tune because you feel like they invested time in it.”
Another budgetary area, Lo says should be accounted for are attendee gifts. However, the costs for these items can sometimes be offset by sponsorship. She said that this is another area where you can outsource the project in order save you work internally.
Lo cautions against slashing your speakers’ fees when it comes to fine tuning your on-line budget. Although you won’t have the travel and per diem expenses, she says you may need a big-name speaker to draw in an audience.
“If that speaker can help draw those numbers higher, it might be worth it,” said Lo, noting that her team has found that you can get some larger name speakers cheaper for a virtual meeting over an in-person one. “Believe it or not some of the speakers, since you are not having to spend on your travel fees, they are willing to reduce their fees a little bit.”
Lo said you can use Cameo, a talent app, which allows you to incorporate short video recordings of celebrities and even “talking animals” to say some words about your event to the attendees, as filler or as an entertainment element.”