Building a Communications Plan to Accompany Virtual Events
By Lynn Randall, Senior Strategy Director, InVision Communications
The world of events is rapidly becoming more sophisticated and more results-driven – made even more complicated through the lens of the COVID-19 impact. Large corporations are re-evaluating and re-imagining their significant investments to create digital as well as physical in-person experiences designed to achieve very specific objectives, and in exchange, they expect a solid return. To be successful these days, we as event marketers must do more than simply manage details—we must develop holistic communications strategies and execute content that drives tangible results before, during and after events.
We break it down for you in four simple steps to developing a communications strategy and strong, effective content by employing these four simple steps: Define, Analyze, Recommend and Measure.
STEP 1 – Defining your event’s purpose: Find the intersection of what matters to your organization and what matters to your audience (through stakeholder alignment conversations and ideally direct input from the voice of your audience). Define your opportunity (or challenge) in terms of what your business needs to accomplish as a result of this experience. Then, outline what each of your audiences needs to feel, think, and do differently as a result. Detail all of the key messages you want to convey and then separate out those topics that are best heard directly from leadership (such as product pipeline or company vision and direction in a post-COVID world). Look at subjects that require collaboration or workshopping (like finding a solution to selling when you can’t meet prospects in person), and those messages or content that can be consumed in more of a self-serve fashion (such as training on new platforms or video demos from SMEs). Incorporate messages that can be consumed in advance or at the audience’s pace and carve those out for delivery in your pre-post communications campaign. This allows you to edit what content is reserved for the virtual scheduled experience vs. what can be pulsed out before and after the event.
STEP 2 – Analyzing and Organizing Messaging: Consider what communications will be necessary for each specific audience and at which points in the roll-out of your new virtual or hybrid experience. You’ve already defined your objectives through the intersection of the challenge your business is solving and the audience’s perspective on what keeps them addressing your challenge. Thoughtful synthesis and analysis will reveal not only what you need to communicate, but where, how and when you need to do it. This analysis will inform your communications strategy which becomes the roadmap for developing your content and how you tell your story. Break down each element by stakeholder or audience set and put a “cadence” to the communications – pulsing them out over time at a comfortable pace for that audience. An audience can’t absorb everything at once, so find the pace and format that feels right for your constituents.
STEP 3 – Creating the plan: The next step is the culmination of the content development process, an amalgamation of all of the strategic thinking you’ve done up to this point. Just jumping directly to pumping out a flood of content tactics is unlikely to yield the results your leaders are expecting of this pivot to a digital experience. Armed with critical insights and objectives, you can now create an all-encompassing communications strategy that aligns with existing marketing campaigns (training programs, corporate communications, product announcements, etc.). Include “logistical” information – what does your audience need to know about the technology that’s being used, how to optimize their home internet for streaming video content, and other digital experience optimization tips and tricks. Don’t skimp on pre-communications that detail and explain how to engage in a virtual environment through polling, an active chat, or gamification within the virtual platform. Then, layer in the messaging that may need to be repeated to prepare them upfront for what’s going to be said and reinforce those messages after the virtual event.
EXAMPLE VIRTUAL EVENT PIVOT COMMUNICATION PLAN
STEP 4 – Measure your Impact: This realm of digital engagement brings with it a deluge of data and information to help you not only justify the investment but also to hone and refine the design of future content and messaging. Measurement is the key to proving the ROI of any event or experience whether a longer-term communications campaign pulsed out over many months or concentrated messaging delivered in a tightly scheduled virtual experience. Determine what data you need and how you will measure results so that you can incorporate measurement tactics into content as it’s being developed. What feels overwhelming at first is the massive amount of possible data for you to collect and analyze. This is where building your metrics plan upfront is key. Choose NO MORE than 3-5 key objectives that will drive your measurement plan. Then identify what data you need to collect in order to prove you moved the needle on those 3-5 important business drivers or KPIs. Then, pull together a report that not only conveys the “what” of the data (the raw numbers or percentages), but the “so what” does this mean and the “now what” do I do about it. Make sure you’re not just data dumping the “what” on your leadership stakeholders. Go the extra mile to identify what the numbers mean and how they represent what is happening in that audience as well as how the data informs your design moving into your next planning cycle.
In short, pivoting to digital calls for as much (if not more) strategic communications planning to ensure that your event drives maximum impact with attendees, and in achieving your communications objectives. For more information on how we can help you build out a communications plan for virtual engagements, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org