5 Marketing Lessons Learned from C&EN’s Inaugural Virtual Symposium

By Wendy Wise

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The C&EN Media Group, together with partner Bioconference Live, held its first-ever, one-day virtual symposium, Advances in Drug Discovery and Development, on September 24, 2014. As a marketing team, we were enthusiastic about crafting an integrated campaign around an event that would attract loyal C&EN readers, ACS members, and an ACS Publications audience interested in the technologies and innovations of drug discovery and development. We promised to deliver over 20 speakers from industry and academia right to attendees’ desktops, for free, along with access to a virtual exhibit hall featuring 17 booths. Visitors could download key educational materials and ask questions of company representatives, learning more about leaders in their industry.

The event ended with more than 7,300 registrants, a live attendance rate of over 40%, and an average of 870 leads delivered to our sponsors.

We saw attendees logged in and engaged with the event for an average of 2.5 hours – far exceeding our expectations and our benchmarks for success. The encouragement we received from sponsors and attendees alike dictates that there will likely be more virtual symposia in C&EN’s future.

However, success did not come without a few marketing lessons along the way! From our team to yours, here are some of the “teachable moments” we experienced while marketing the virtual symposium, which we we hope you as professionals can both relate to, and learn from.

Lesson 1: Diversify Your Marketing Efforts

Though we saw personalized email invitations net the most registrations, other avenues accounted for over 25% of the virtual symposium audience. They also accounted for 70% of our workload and budget! These efforts included rich media ads, Google AdWords,  a cover tip on the Sept 8th issue of C&EN, barter agreements, social media campaigns, and promotion of the event at related trade shows. Though we may have grumbled about the time it took to put these extra efforts together, the result was a broader awareness of the event for potential registrants, sponsors, and collaborators. Even those who declined to register let us know that while they did not have a interest in this particular symposium topic, they would look out for information regarding future endeavors.

In the end, 25% more was worth the extra effort – and may translate to bigger registration numbers in the future.

Lesson 2: Content Marketing Works

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as the strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience. We tapped into this strategy and saw record click through rates for our one-on-one interviews with speakers Alexander Kamb, Greg Verdine, Jennifer Leeds, Fiona Marshall and Nick Terrett.

Teasing potential registrants and enticing them to sign up for the event by providing interesting, sharable information was definitely a high point of our campaign. So for your next promotion, don’t be afraid to think outside the box to find content you can share with your own audience.

Lesson 3: Keep Your Audience Top of Mind

Our partners, Bioconference Live, assisted with production of the speaker talks, and recommended using webcams to stream presenters during the live event. Prior to this event, we’d only run a successful, but mostly slide and audio-based webinar program, so our group was a little timid to take on the new, robust video format. Turns out, we had nothing to worry about. All in all, the video portions of the presentations contributed to the overall interactive look of the program and humanized the platform, hitting home that you really can attend events virtually. The lesson here? Don’t be afraid to adopt something, especially when it has your audiences’ best interests in mind.

Lesson 4: Mistakes Happen

Our first email invitation had a roaring response rate and secured over 1,000 registrations within a 48-hour period. Our second email…not so much. What happened? We checked the timing, – seemed fine. We checked the call to action, – confirmed sufficient urgency. Then we checked the link. Ooops.

You’ll hear it in panels at conferences, within your own team, and (hopefully) from leadership, but when push comes to shove, you just have to embrace the fact that these things will happen. Be sure to step up to the plate when they do and show your team how to move on.

Lesson 5: It Takes a Village

Every team member helped contribute to the success of this program – from the C&EN editors, to the exhibit sponsors, and internal marketing staff  – going beyond defined job roles took on new meaning. Learning from each other’s strengths, sharing ideas, and spreading the work around is what really made the production and marketing for this event a success for our group.

[alert type=white ]”I’d like to impart that I really enjoyed the Virtual Symposium, and thank Sigma for being a part of it. The way it was set up was fabulous; from the informative seminars to the vendor booths with chat option, and socialization areas. It was the next best thing to physically being at a meeting (sans expense). I really hope this catches on and expands.” – symposium attendee[/alert]

Of course, we could not end this post without thanking our sponsors Thermo Fisher Scientific, Sigma Aldrich, VWR, Chiral Technologies, Regis Technologies, Malvern, Shimadzu, and Spectrum Chemicals for making an event like this possible. For more information about virtual symposiums, content marketing, social media, or connecting with your audience, check out more articles on the rest of our Marketing Elements blog. And we hope to see you at our next Virtual Symposium in 2015!

You can also browse our gallery of the virtual event below, and even check out the presentations for another few months online by entering your email here.

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