Media Relations in a Post-Pandemic World: Handshakes or Video Calls?
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly turned the world we live and work in upside down. It’s altered how we shop for groceries, how we connect with friends and family, how we conduct business. For PR and media professionals, in-person media events were standard procedure pre-pandemic. But over the past 18 months, virtual events have emerged as a new norm. So in a post-pandemic era, how will PR teams connect with media — virtually or in-person? Or is it a hybrid option? In this post we explore the benefits and drawbacks of virtual media events and how to decide on the best way to connect with media in a post-pandemic world.
Go Virtual and Reduce Costs
One of the best advantages of virtual events for our clients is lower costs. Removing the need for accommodation, travel and a venue can add up to some significant cost savings. Catering and local transport expenses are also gone. There are still some production costs, of course, but they are typically less than an in-person event.
Event Logistics Just Got Easier
Virtual media events have made travel logistics a lot easier to manage, in that there is often no need for them. No more organizing plane tickets, hotel reservations, airport transfers or herding groups of people from one place to the next. Instead, you simply gather email addresses, enter them into a calendar invite, make it a Zoom meeting and hit send. Done. Any PR pro knows it’s not that easy, but there are many logistical benefits to a virtual setting.
Greater Media Access
Certainly, virtual events offer some advantages for the media attendees themselves. This includes the amount of time put back in their days or even weeks. No longer are they blocking off an entire day (or days) in their calendars to travel to a single event. This new schedule flexibility provides numerous benefits for their work and personal lives. Additionally, media from smaller publications with travel budget restrictions have an opportunity to attend more events if they’re virtual. We also found that the results of our virtual events were more immediate. In the virtual events we held, we often saw coverage from some media within hours of the virtual event concluding.
Engaging targeted media is key for successful events, and our experience is that virtual event attendance is either the same or better than an in-person experience. To be honest, we were pleasantly surprised at how many media responded to our first virtual event at the beginning of the pandemic.
With virtual events, we can also bring spokespeople to the media that we aren’t able to for live events because of busy schedules. For example, we engaged the global head of R&D for a major agriculture company as a spokesperson for a virtual event. Getting on this person’s schedule to travel to a live event would be much more difficult — if not impossible.
Media’s Perspective on Virtual Events
We asked Brownfield Ag News anchor/reporter Meghan Grebner how the transition to virtual events has been for media. Meghan told us that while nothing can ever replace a live event, virtual events did have the benefit of providing access to speakers who they might not have been able to speak with in-person or in one-on-one interviews. “The increased access to the story and ability to always have it at our fingertips was also a huge perk,” Meghan said.
Brownfield Ag News hosted several webinars in 2020 about the disruptions to the livestock industry. These programs allowed them to connect with additional listeners and viewers who may have been outside their traditional reach. “In-person events are one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job, and I definitely missed the face time during COVID. But virtual media events did allow reporters to stay connected and continue to tell agriculture’s story in a timely manner,” Meghan said.
Award-Winning Virtual Events
Woodruff has helped multiple clients launch successful virtual media events since the pandemic began. In June 2020, we worked with CLAAS of America to invite select ag media to a special preview of its LEXION 6000 Series straw walker combine. The virtual event included similar experiences as an in-person farm show, including presentations from key CLAAS of America representatives, equipment walk-arounds and a live Q&A session.
Alta Seeds hosted the “igrowth: The Future of Sorghum” media launch event in June 2020 as well. This virtual event was designed to mimic an in-field event by streaming high-resolution video of a field tour from igrowth test plots in south Texas, with Alta Seeds personnel narrating. The event also featured technical presentations from Alta Seeds and UPL personnel, research priorities presented by the National Sorghum Producers and a moderated, live Q&A session.
The CLAAS of America and Alta Seeds events had greater-than-expected media attendance and outstanding coverage (check out the results in the links above). In fact, both were so successful that we nominated them for a national media event award from NAMA (National Agri-Marketing Association). The NAMA judges agreed with us about the success of these events, with the CLAAS of America and Alta Seeds events winning first and merit (second) place, respectively, in the national Best of NAMA awards.
Missing the Personal Experiences
Of course, there are some in-person experiences that don’t take place at a virtual event, like the smaller group discussions and the personal conversations that spark new connections and ideas. For people new to the industry, it’s also harder to get to know others when your event ends with the click of the “Leave” button and no one stays around to chat or go for coffee. Media are also unable to take their own photos and videos at virtual events. But for the intention of the event itself, which is the exchange of information, virtual events work just fine.
Gasp! The Wi-Fi’s Down
There are also the ever-present technology issues lurking in the background of virtual events. Weak Wi-Fi, buffering, mismatched sound and picture, the old “you’re on mute” trick; the success of virtual events, no matter how well prepared, are always haunted by the threat of failing technology. “Expect the unexpected” is probably a good motto to live by when preparing for a virtual event. If you do have technical issues, providing a recording and slide deck immediately after the event can help dissipate any frustrations.
The Post-Pandemic Pickle
So what does the future hold for media events when life “returns to normal”? Many companies intend to offer a hybrid workforce model with remote and office workers. Is that what media events need, too? A virtual component for those who can’t (or don’t want) to travel and an in-person event for those who want to get up close and personal with the new products and the companies launching them? Or will everyone return to in-person events eventually?
The decision on virtual vs. in-person may depend on who you want to attend and what you’re promoting. Some events could benefit from media being able to touch and explore the products, whereas other products don’t need that in-person experience. Similarly, looking at the list of targeted media could give you an idea if the majority of people will attend an in-person or a virtual event. If it’s about half and half, then maybe a hybrid event is the way to go.
Launching products during a pandemic added some challenges for our clients and required a new way of thinking. But we were successful in navigating these challenges and we now have a new event model to add to our repertoire. Some companies may prefer to go back to in-person media events in the future, but at least we know that virtual events do work. There’s also an opportunity to develop a hybrid model that fits the needs of multiple people, including our clients, the media and our Woodruff teams.
Interested in learning more about the right balance of in-person and virtual experiences for your business initiatives? Contact us — we’d be happy to help.