Going Virtual: Embrace the New Normal for PR Events

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Young woman having a discussion meeting in video call with her team - Technology and smart work concept - Focus on handZoom. Skype. Instagram. FaceTime. Facebook. No matter your preferred app, these virtual meeting tools have allowed both business and personal interactions to safely continue during the spread of COVID-19.  While the shift to going virtual was swift—practically overnight—the Sikich PR team has gleaned some guidelines from moving various PR events and projects to virtual mode during the pandemic.

Herewith are lessons learned.

Lesson 1: Commit to the virtual shift.

The first step in successfully executing a virtual event is committing to the pivot away from an in-person event. As we’ve seen in the past few months, it would have been futile and frustrating to delay projects or events until conditions changed or were “back to normal.” In this uncertain environment, it’s best to be flexible and assume that restrictions may tighten rather than loosen in the time between now and the date of your event.

Serving as the confident voice of reason will help your client and other affected stakeholders—like influencers and their audiences—who require certainty in order to commit to participating. Make the best decision with the information available, and forge ahead as leaders.

For example, we planned to launch a new product for one of our clients this past spring. We were already setting up partnerships with influencers to participate in an in-person, 5K race on the brand’s behalf in April. By mid-March, societal conditions were changing rapidly due to the spread of coronavirus. At that point, we committed to shifting the traditional running race into a virtual 5K walk/run event, even before race organizers cancelled the in-person race. This prompt pivot allowed us to keep planning along a new path, without losing precious preparation time. And, our client and partners appreciated our thoughtful approach to keep everyone safe.

Lesson 2: Consider how all stakeholders are affected.

Any event has multiple parties of interest involved, and as an event planner, you’ll need to consider how a pivot to virtual will affect each of them. Importantly, if you’ve already shared invitations, or simply hinted at plans for your event, you’ll need to quickly manage the expectations for all involved. This may include direct communication with consumers, influencers and other partners.

Don’t forget to immediately cancel with vendors, as you don’t want to be on the hook for an event space or caterer you can’t use. Read any contract you may have signed and be informed of cancellation policies. Now more than ever, it’s important to read the fine print, before you commit to anything.

Beyond direct communications, cover your bases by sharing the updated event plans via social media and e-newsletters as needed.

Taking these steps immediately after we shifted our 5K race to a virtual walk/run kept all involved parties on the same page. Everyone felt heard and respected, leading to a consensus that this virtual shift was the right move for our client’s event.

Lesson 3: Engage virtual audience with consistent, creative communication.

Consistent communication with your now-virtual audience will prove even more important during a shift to an online event. Engage with them via multiple virtual channels in the time leading up to the event, so everyone is on board and invested in the event itself.

Embrace this opportunity to explore creative communication alternatives. Can you share expert tips via Instagram Stories leading up to your event? Can you connect your partners to each other virtually, since you can’t introduce them in person? Does a series of “teaser” content leading up to the big day make sense for your brand? Perhaps a prize giveaway?

Beyond social media, consider traditional media relations as a strong method to attract attention to your virtual event. Newsrooms realize that the in-person events they once covered have evaporated, so they may be looking for similarly engaging content to fill that void.

We worked with our 5K influencers to act as coaches, leading our client’s online community in a month of virtual training before the run/walk. We realized that our event’s audience was craving connection, distraction and even entertainment during this time of social isolation. These influencers encouraged participation in the event for the physical, mental and social benefits that exercising together-apart could provide to families who were stuck at home. It made everything feel a bit more “normal” to know that everyone was in this together—and it drove excitement to participate in the virtual 5K.

Lesson 4: Embrace the benefits of hosting a virtual event.

The good news is, despite the initial headache of changing plans, benefits abound for virtual events. A key factor is cost—often, the virtual event bill will be smaller without the need to rent an event space, manage local or national travel for participants, provide food and beverages and favors, etc.

Additionally, virtual events have more flexibility built into them, which can often lead to a more well-attended event. If someone can tune into or participate in an event from their own home or neighborhood, rather than traveling to a specific place at a specific day and time, they’re more likely to get involved.

Further, the folks who do attend are often more diverse geographically and demographically. For instance, parents from around the country were able to be included in our virtual 5K; whereas only local families could have participated in the originally planned 5K in-person race.  

Lemons to Lemonade

Morphing an in-person PR event into a virtual one can pay dividends, but only if you put in  some additional thought and creativity to your planning. Early commitment, followed by communication that is clear, consistent and compelling, will make or break it. Engaging stakeholders in this way can lead to an event that becomes more inclusive, and more expansive, with more easily measured virtual results than the traditional concept.

Their multitude of benefits indicate that virtual events are likely to outlast this pandemic moment. To tap the expertise of a team experienced in virtual events, contact us at https://www.sikich.com/public-relations/

About our authors

Molly Summa

Molly Summa

Molly Summa is an account manager in Sikich’s public relations practice. She has 10 years of experience handling public relations efforts for a wide mix of internationally-known brands. At Sikich, Molly manages consumer product clients with a focus on juvenile products and healthcare. She writes an array of client content, leads traditional media and social media efforts, in addition to crisis work and client counsel. She began her career in healthcare and journalism. Molly lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and toddler.

Kara Hamstra

Kara Hamstra

Kara Hamstra is a director at Sikich Public Relations with more than 14 years of experience in Business-to-Consumer PR. At Sikich, Kara leads the consumer product division of the full-service PR team for a wide variety of clients, including high-end juvenile products and health-related organizations. She handles crisis work at Sikich, including client counsel, corporate communications and media relations for data breaches and other reputational issues. Prior to joining Sikich in 2013, Kara worked for two large, international PR firms working for the world’s leading CPG companies.

This publication contains general information only and Sikich is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or any other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should you use it as a basis for any decision, action or omission that may affect you or your business. Before making any decision, taking any action or omitting an action that may affect you or your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. You acknowledge that Sikich shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by you or any person who relies on this publication.

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