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How to Develop Event Marketing Plans for Live and Virtual Events

Jennifer Post

While live and virtual events have similar objectives, the marketing planning and budgeting for both types of events differs.

  • Regardless of whether you are planning an in-person or virtual event, a well-thought-out marketing plan is a must.
  • For in-person events, your marketing efforts should begin eight weeks before the event; for virtual events, you want to start three weeks prior.
  • It often costs just as much money to market a virtual event as an in-person one.
  • This is for marketing professionals looking for advice on how to market their in-person and virtual events.

A lot of planning goes into hosting a successful event. There's the preplanning process, the actual planning of the event, the event itself, and post-event analysis. Being organized, setting goals, and having an action plan for how to achieve those goals is the key to hosting a successful event, whether it is an in-person seminar or a virtual conference.

The importance of an event marketing plan

The principles of a generic marketing plan are a good place to start; however, events are a different beast.

"A marketing plan ensures an event has purpose and value, and comes in on time and on budget," said Marcy Karpowitz, brand marketing executive and founder of MKMCreative. "A cohesive event marketing strategy should include the company's consumer target, objectives, metrics and budget. Otherwise, it's just a party."

Liz Lathan, founder and CEO of the event planning firm Haute Dokimazo, said that you have to not only inform people that you are hosting an event, but demonstrate that attendees will get value from it.

"If you are selling tickets, you must prove value for the money," Lathan said. "If it's a free event, you must prove value for their time and for the other meetings they are missing to join your event."

Did you KnowDid you know? When devising a marketing plan, focus on the value your event will deliver to attendees. What's in it for them?

How to develop an event marketing plan

The coronavirus pandemic won't last forever, but virtual events might be here to stay, at least for the next few years. Marketing plans for an in-person event, compared to a virtual event, work differently.

"Your value proposition is no longer about networking, traveling, seeing a new city, and justifying travel budget and time away from the office," Lathan explained. "Now, it is about the value of the content that is being delivered digitally and differentiating why it's more important to get it from your virtual event than it would be to watch a YouTube video on demand or just watch your recorded content."

Even with in-person events, there is still a digital element, so there's more overlap than meets the eye, according to Karpowitz.

"Regardless [of whether] the event is online or at a physical location, the communication tends to come digitally," Karpowitz said. "Depending on [the] event type, one-to-one email outreach, consumer database pushes, digital and social ads, amplification via influencers or PR are the most common tactics employed."

In-person event marketing plan

Laura Silva, account manager at EasyUni, said your approach to planning events should include these steps:

  1. Choose your event format. This could be an exhibition, job fair, trade show, education fair, open day, etc. The type of event can be relatively easy to determine, but the format you choose should tie into the next step.

  2. Define the purpose of your event. Is the event to raise awareness of your brand? Is it to generate leads? Think about the results you want from the event – that will help define the purpose of the event.

  3. Set success metrics. Next, set goals you want to meet in terms of registrants, attendance rate, etc. Decide what you want those numbers to be and how you'll get there.

  4. Identify your needs. Determine everything you will need for the event, like the event space, equipment, advertising, promotions, logistics, etc. These needs will change according to the event.

  5. Allocate a budget. Within the overall budget for the event, a portion should be designated specifically for marketing.

  6. Set a date. When choosing a date for your event, make sure that there aren't similar events going on at or close to the same date and time. You also want to check that everyone whom you want at the event (and everything, including equipment) is available. You also want to give yourself ample time to market the event.

  7. Understand your ideal attendee. What channels do they consume content on? What are their interests? Behaviors?

  8. Structure a program that excites your ideal attendees. As you design your marketing campaign, follow Lathan's advice: Give people a strong reason why they would want to attend your event versus something else they have going on in their lives.

  9. Run high-impact marketing campaigns. Once you've figured out your ideal attendee and where they get information, the next critical step is to combine that information and leverage those platforms to promote your event. Lathan recommends that you launch your marketing campaign eight weeks before your event.

  10. Schedule reminder emails. Send out emails highlighting the value of attending the event and any new updates leading up to the event like notable speakers or vendors.

Virtual event marketing plan

Lathan recommends beginning your marketing efforts no more than three weeks out. This is a big change from the eight weeks she recommends for an in-person event. There is another key difference to keep in mind when marketing a virtual event.

"Remember that (more than) 60% of your virtual attendees will not show up on the day of the event, so develop a separate marketing plan for those who did not attend to catch replay materials and to remarket any replay content to targets who never registered in the first place," Lathan added.

Karpowitz said there is one common misconception about virtual events versus in-person events, which is that virtual events cost a fraction of the price of live events.

"This is mostly due to the fact that [virtual events] don't require food and beverage, a venue, etc., and all the tangible hard costs that make the price tag more easily digestible and comprehendible," Karpowitz explained. "Separately, both require their own respective infrastructure to be successful."

Key takeawayKey takeaway: When developing a marketing plan for your events, specify what the metrics for success will be; envision the ideal attendee, including what communication channels they use; and target attendees with campaigns on the platforms they use.

For in-person events, there is generally one venue per event, and vendors cover an array of the costs: the space, existing infrastructure, and an execution and support team, according to Karpowitz. The same goes for audiovisual, where a team delivers sound, light and technical expertise.

For a virtual event, there is the need to purposely build infrastructure around the show's objectives, elements and each participant's needs, Karpowitz said.

"In a real-world event, people gather in one location where everything happens," she said. "In a virtual event, microevents are created around each speaker and moment requiring a team of people who specialize in and possess the expertise to build, develop, and program."

Bottom line: Virtual events are not cheaper to put on, the costs are different than those incurred with a live event. So, creating your budget, or reallocating your budget, for a virtual event is a crucial step.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Jennifer Post
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Jennifer Post is a professional writer with published works focusing on small business topics including marketing, financing, and how-to guides. She has also published articles on business formation, business software, public relations and human resources. Her work has also appeared in Fundera and The Motley Fool.