How Publishers Can Drive Revenue Through Virtual Events

The last event NetLine attended before things were suspended was in late February. Since then, we’ve been doing a heckuva lotta Zoom calls, ON24 webinars, and virtual conference attendance. Just like you, we miss face-to-face events.

For more than a decade, in-person events were a reliable revenue source for media companies, offering publishers a chance to both reconnect with and reacquire the buyers and sellers that had seemingly moved on to more sophisticated digital marketing offerings. Now, publishers and media companies don’t have this same luxury of connecting IRL. 

For the time being, publishers still holding out hope that things will return to the land of February 2020 are ignoring the facts.

In this article, we’ll cover the current realities of the publishing industry and how the loss of live events affects it, where the opportunities are for innovation, and how NetLine supports Publishers’ revenue amplification efforts.

Where Do Publishers Go From Here?

When COVID-19 hit the U.S., events and the financial guarantees and opportunities it brought with them vanished. Replacing these events were a slew of questions somehow stuffed into the SWAG bags. Within a few weeks of the pandemic, both the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) and the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) wrote letters to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and both houses of Congress, asking that stimulus benefits be extended to the events sector.

In the time since these pleas to Washington were written, the industry has had to grapple with the new realities of work post-COVID-19.

Familiar Revenue Models Are No More

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

Imagine if 70% of your revenue opportunities seemingly dried up overnight, vanishing into the ether, never to be heard from again. This is a reality that Questex doesn’t have to imagine, unfortunately — they’re living it. As of March 2020, the B2B publisher drove 70% of its business from live events, something they cannot expect to be true moving forward.

Even as they plan to utilize contactless registration and booking social distance-friendly exhibit halls and meeting spaces that are disinfected frequently, people aren’t going to be attending conferences in droves for awhile. As lockdowns end (for now), society naturally wants to know if all we’ve done has been enough to restore some semblance of order for Fall 2020 and beyond. When Informa announced that a small number of trade shows would go on in Asia during Q3, the publisher saw an 8% stock jump, signaling just how desperate we are to return to normal or at least the sense of normal.

As it stands, at least in America, live events won’t be returning any time soon. The trade shows and epic three-day conferences so many of us had grown used to as being a staple of our revenue goals and projections aren’t happening. 

Advertising Revenues and Opportunities Have Dried Up

According to a survey conducted by The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), buyers anticipated that their digital ad spending would be down 33% compared with original plans from March to June, while traditional media would decrease by 39%. 

Of the 400 professionals surveyed, 44% said the impact of the Coronavirus will be “substantially” worse than in the 2008-09 financial crisis, with another 30% say it will be “somewhat” worse. These significant drops in spend mean there is less to go around for publishers, especially if events represented revenue from both traditional and digital advertising. But as Steve Barrett, Vice President and Editorial Director of PRWeek, said to SIIA in a recent interview, “You’ve got to be bold in business.”

“Let’s rethink everything.”

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

After a dozen years of being a major revenue driver for so many in the publisher space, physical events no longer offer the same level of safety and predictability they once did. This certainly frightens and flummoxes many, but there is a silver lining.

In a recent episode of the Cornett Group’s Digging Deeper podcast, host Jason Falls spoke with guest Jay Baer about how brands can best navigate these unfamiliar waters. In the middle of their discussion, Baer said something that struck me as both brilliant and blatantly obvious. “[Life during the pandemic] is unprecedented, and it sucks, and it’s terrible, but it’s also — I believe — the greatest opportunity to create market share in your entire life. You can literally start over right now in a way you never could before.”

Questex CEO Paul Miller agrees with Baer. In an interview with Folio this May, Miller said that he felt the time was right to make a change to the publisher business model even before the pandemic essentially wiped out the 2020 calendar. “Is a one-location, three-day event really the future?” Miller said. “Or is it 12 locations, with a keynote broadcast live and a breakaway for local programming? Are these the things that people might appreciate, not having to get on a plane or give up five days of their week? We’re in a crisis, let’s not waste it. Let’s rethink everything.”

Piggybacking off Baer and Miller’s thoughts was Caysey Welton, Content Director of Folio. “The future of your business is digital,” Welton said. “This is a truth a lot of our peers have all been lying to themselves about for at least a decade. It’s time for some publishers to stop clutching their pearls while trying to maintain a business model that is primarily reliant on one or two products.”

Welton was quick to clarify that publishers shouldn’t take his comments as saying print and live events are dead and buried; he just knows it’s long been time for change.  

Instead, he’s imploring publishers to diversify their digital businesses, all while continuing to monetize content through traditional routes. “…a future-proofed digital publishing model is a suite of products that also includes virtual events, affiliate marketing and e-commerce.”

How NetLine Helps Publishers Generate Revenues From Virtual Events

As publishers seek innovative ways to generate new streams of revenue, budgets are being shifted from in-person events to virtual conferences and forums. 

With thousands of digital events taking place each week across a multitude of topics, demand for virtual registrants has never been higher. This means more competition to simply get attendees “in the door”. The easiest way to attract attendees is by offering free admission. Considering that most virtual events and webinars are free, Publishers need to find alternative methods of monetization. This is where NetLine’s Publisher Platform provides a lifeline. 

NetLine enables publishers to monetize the registration process where publishers would normally generate no revenue at all. This solution has already helped select Publishers earn as much as 6 figures. This technology also affords Publishers a unique way to generate revenue without doing anything extra: promoting their own content to their own audience

Beyond monetizing the registration process, Publishers lean on NetLine to meet the demand for registrants they may be struggling to reach on their own. If, for example, a publisher is unable to fulfill the attendee volume they had expected or promised a sponsor through their own promotional efforts for a webinar/event, they can tap into NetLine’s on-demand audience at any time without an IO or contract. This helps publishers avoid the awkwardness of going back to their clients with the bad news that they couldn’t generate the leads they ordered. This feature of the platform allows publisher sales teams to sell larger deals with greater confidence.

The cost structure of the platform is another benefit to Publishers. With NetLine, clients only pay for leads who fit their target criteria on a CPL basis. Their leads can be sent to any 3rd party platform in real-time via the NetLine connector — no need to manually upload the leads into another platform/system. Not only are you able to provide the leads that your sponsors are looking for, but on top of this, you can provide custom reporting both internally or externally where you will be able to visualize the data for the campaign you are running.

Regardless of what comes next, Publishers using NetLine are ready for the future. They feel secure knowing they’ve diversified their revenue streams without any retrofitting or cumbersome integrations. 

Embracing Change

In spite of their track record of success, even the best and most reliable sources of revenue eventually dry up. While live events were truly taken from us as a means of income before its time, we will find additional avenues of prosperity. What challenges us today is what we will be thankful for in just a short while, as these obstacles force us to become scrappier and more innovative. Just remember that we’re here to help in any way that we can.