Monday, July 13, 2009

Virtual Meetings — Whats the Right Price?

MPI(Meeting Professionals International)  is holding their WEC (World Education Congress) in Salt Lake City this week.  This conference is one of the premier events in the Meetings business.

virtual education cartoonAs you may know MPI is offering a fee-based Virtual Access Pass (VAP) to its events for this conference.  There are two versions, a full pass to members, for all events, for $299 ($399 nonmembers) or the Opening General Session only for $19 ($59 nonmembers).

There has been an ongoing debate in cyberspace amongst Events Professionals regarding the timing and appropriateness of the MPI VAP pricing model.  For a solid recap of the relevant discussions visit Jeff Hurt’s Blog… there are several articles (and other resources referenced) there addressing this topic.

Moving forward what is the best strategy for a “pricing model” integrating Virtual Events into a conference?  First, Lets review some facts:

  • By all accounts our world is in the middle of a deep economic recession.  Most people and organizations are watching their expenses closely.
  • In many businesses travel and events budgets have been cut, making it difficult for some business people to attend Face2Face conferences and meetings.
  • Delivery of education is no longer controlled exclusively by Associations, Institutions and Large Companies. Thanks to Social Media high quality “low cost” (or free) educational content is widely available across the Internet.
  • Many organizations are currently offering Face2Face conferences and educational content funded (either completely or significantly) by sponsorships, rather than traditional registration fees. They are also making their sessions available “Virtually” using live video streaming technology.  This has created a significantly expanded marketing reach for their event and its sponsors.virtual free image

Folks, I believe the “writing is on the wall.”  If your organization holds meetings and events it must change its business model to remain viable.  In a tough economy, with less dollars to spend, and more competitive educational choices than ever (often at no charge) customers will look elsewhere, if their educational needs are not met through you.

Attendance may be down at your Face2Face meetings, but at some point the economy will bounce back and as long as your events are relevant they will too.  “Virtual Education” content should be utilized as a “cutting edge” business tool to provide added value to the customer experience.  Delivering it for free or at a low registration fee, funded by sponsorships seems to be a winning formula.

If your organization embraces this strategy your sponsors will appreciate the increased marketing reach it generates!  Most importantly your customers will sense you are looking out for their best interests and in return they will reward you with loyalty to your brand.

Please take a moment, if you haven’t already, to participate in the Opinion Poll located on the right side of this page.  Your input is much appreciated!  Do you have a winning formula for success with Virtual Events?  Please take a moment to share it with us!

Follow Michael McCurry on Twitter

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy Clifton, CMP, CMM July 13, 2009 at 11:02 am

Great article. I am a full VAP participant for MPI, and it seems like we are a second thought. I do not mind paying the fee, I just expect a level of service to get back to me on any issues I may have while participating, not 9 hours later. This is a BETA test for me, as I have a large international group thinking about doing this next May, and I now know all areas to look over for problems.

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Jeff Hurt July 13, 2009 at 11:23 am

Michael:

Great points to consider.

I think it boils down to what are the goals of the event or conference. If the goal of the event is to make money, not just break even and is considered an additional revenue stream, than free virtual access may not make sense. If the goal of the event is to share content with as many people possible and have as many people possible engage with that content, free virtual access makes a lot of sense.

Here’s a comparison of a paid virutal access session and free virtual access session’s Twitter reach of the content. I think the statistics show some interesting results. http://jeffhurtblog.com/2009/07/13/free-versus-paid-event-live-streaming-a-twitter-comparison/

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Michael M McCurry CMP July 13, 2009 at 11:30 am

@Cathy Clifton, CMP, CMM

Hi Cathy,

Thanks so much for your response and comments. I also read your blog. Your point is well taken that someone should be available to respond to your challenges. I am going to post a tweet myself on your behalf requesting their assistance. One person I know of you could go to is @MPIRandyC who is an avid tweeter and an MPI employee (also nice guy) Are you going to post all your learning lessons from your VAP experience? I hope so.. all the best

Mike McCurry

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Michael M McCurry CMP July 13, 2009 at 11:39 am

@Michael M McCurry CMP

Hi Jeff, Thanks so much for your post.

As usual your insight and perspective is right on.

A possible middle ground may be to offer some sessions free of charge streamed as a means to introduce folks to the content and whet their appetite, and then for other sessions to charge, once their interest has been captured.

Hopefully the business goals of the organization are correctly aligned with the needs of their customers as a misalignment in this area could prove disastrous.

Thanks again Jeff for contributing!

Mike

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Michael M McCurry CMP July 13, 2009 at 12:39 pm

@Jeff Hurt

Hey Jeff, just want to add one more comment to the ones I made previously…

In my opinion, in order for an organization to charge premium pricing for virtual educational content, I believe it needs to be unique, or not available elsewhere. Since education is so widely available on the Internet these days, a topic needs to be cutting edge and the delivery of that information needs to be done while the “iron is hot.”

Just further thoughts for consideration.

Mike

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Dave Lutz July 14, 2009 at 5:29 am

Mike, great post! Nice to have this conversation continuing.

I think the big opportunity here is for associations who are attracting less than 20 – 25% of their membership to their marquee events (or associations whose member attendance is declining). These organizations need to really worry about their value proposition and long term membership retention.

One model that makes sense today is to offer virtual attenance at no charge to Members and to charge 50 – 100% of current annual membership dues to non-members. A model like this helps quantify the value of membership. There’s a lot of associations that need help doing that today.

Dave Lutz
Velvet Chainsaw Consulting

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Michael M McCurry CMP July 14, 2009 at 8:19 am

@Dave Lutz

Dave, thanks very much for insight and creative thinking.

So it sounds like you are suggesting the Virtual fee for the nonmenbers would be an enticement to become a member, driving membership upward. Very interesting…. what do all the rest of you think…????

I agree with you that orgs not drawing at least 25% of their members to their top shelf events should be concerned….. or at least have the issue on their radar screen

Thanks again for keeping the conversation going!

Mike

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James Parker July 17, 2009 at 1:42 pm

@Michael M McCurry CMP
This is all great stuff. As a virtual world developer, we have been all over the place as to how to price these services as many organizations are looking to generate revenue and some are looking to extend the reach of the content.

We recently partnered with the Virtual Edge conference and we broadcast the event into a 3D virtual environment and they offered access to the Virtual Free. There were 200 live attendees and over 250 virtual attendees. Some of the virtual attendees, who attendee day one virtually, drove to the meeting on the second day. The engagement level of the Hybrid event was like nothing I had ever experienced. Everyone who attended the live event received access to the entire meeting content as an online library.
I see this as becoming a standard for all general sessions. Create a Hybrid Event that allows the members who can not attend live to attend virtually and then create the whole meeting as an archived event and provide it free to the live attendees and provide the virtual members with the ability to order the archived at a rediculously low price. This should be looked at as a service to your members and think about the level of educational distribution you would achieve.

Non-members pay a premium!

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Michael M McCurry CMP July 17, 2009 at 3:20 pm

@James Parker

I like the way you think James… very creative and very “outside the box.”

My question is with the recent conference you did (Virtual Edge) was there a twitter feed attached to the event as well? If not that could be added using a hashtag and would further extend the reach of the event!

Thanks for contributing your ideas and participating in this discussion.

Mike

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