If you joined us this year at CMC 2020, then you know that our conference went virtual in the wake of COVID-19 with over 14,000 people joining us to get access to industry-leading content marketing education – all on-demand from our online portal.
But what you may not know is what went into that decision, how much work had to be done to make the transition, or how going virtual has opened up new opportunities for CMC moving forward.
Recently, our Founder, Byron White joined CMC 2020 speaker, Kenneth Kinney on his podcast, A Shark’s Perspective to talk about what went into transforming the live event into a virtual conference.
Whether you plan on organizing an event or conference yourself or you are just a regular conference attendee, you can learn a lot about the future of industry events and conferences through the insights explored in this episode.
Here are just a few takeaways from the podcast:
When the unexpected happens, you need to pivot.
The live CMC event was scheduled to be held on April 21, 2020, in Boston. As early March approached, the CMC team started to get worried as COVID-19 was already making its mark on the world.
Byron and his team were still planning to hold the conference and even continuing to get signups in early March, despite the spread of the pandemic. But as mid-March approached, state and local governments began to put restrictions into place for travel and business operations. And things started to get more serious with the spread of the coronavirus.
Byron was left with a hard decision to make. He was concerned about attendee safety and complying with governmental regulations while at the same time he knew that CMC had a responsibility to their sponsors, speakers, and paid attendees as well as commitments made with vendors.
The CMC marketing team was carefully weighing the option when they got the official word that large gatherings were banned in Boston. This is when Byron decided to make the big decision – should CMC postpone the conference until a later date when it will be safer to gather or should CMC try something new and different with a virtual conference?
In the end, the CMC team decided to try something new and different.
The team didn’t know what was going to happen, but they decided to take the leap anyway. They got to work creating a new platform to house the conference content and communicating with customers, sponsors, and attendees to let them know about the pivot.
Sometimes you’ve got to take risks to make something great.
Being just a month away from the conference, Byron didn’t take the decision to pivot to a digital experience lightly. It was going to take a lot of work with all hands on deck to make this conference a success.
However, he saw the transition to a virtual conference as an opportunity to get education into the hands of more people. Going digital means being able to reach a wider audience as location, time, and resources are no longer limiting factors for potential attendees. That’s why he decided to not only make the conference virtual but to offer it to the entire content marketing community for free.
The key to making these changes successfully was being transparent about conference changes and updates along the way. For those who had already paid for tickets, CMC gave these ticket holders free tickets to CMC 2021 and handled any refund requests individually.
CMC launched its virtual conference on April 21, 2020. And it was monstrously successful! The conference ended up with over 14,000 registrants, which was well beyond the scope of its typical 600-person conference.
A successful conference needs great content.
Content Marketing Conference first launched in 2015. Since then, it has grown each year, bringing in thought leaders and lead implementers from the content marketing industry while attracting more attendees with each conference.
But how do we pull this off?
It’s simple. We provide great content.
CMC is not Byron’s or his team’s full-time job. While WriterAccess takes up the bulk of the team’s time, they are still committed to producing an even better conference lineup each year.
And while the work isn’t easy, it’s certainly worth it.
Byron and his team want each speaker to bring unique value to conference attendees. That is why they are careful about who they invite or accept to speak or lead a workshop at the conference. Byron vets each speaker personally, considering whether the presentation can add value and provide tactical advice for CMC attendees. He looks at the speaker’s suggested topic, deck materials, and practice presentation while also considering their past speaking engagements.
Byron looks for speakers who not only have great material and advice to share with attendees but also speakers who are engaging and hold the attention of their audience.
COVID-19 may have changed the future of conferences.
Even after the number of coronavirus cases begins to decline and people start going back to “life as normal,” the pandemic may still have a significant impact on the way that conferences operate.
The world is now hyperaware of how things like sanitization and hand-washing help keep people safe and healthy. This may very well influence an individual’s decision to attend large events in the future, and it will most likely influence conference producers to take the necessary steps to prevent the spread of germs in large gatherings.
CMC has always had a boutique-like event with just 600 attendees. The team wants the live show to be great, but they have to limit the number of people we let in to make it work. In the wake of COVID-19, other conferences may follow in CMC’s footsteps by reducing the number of people that can attend live.
“We’re never gonna end our quest to network together and to meet and greet and see people in person,” says Byron White. “Nothing will replace that experience. And as a human, none of us would really want to. But chairs of conferences need to step up to the plate and spend the money to keep people safe. And that’s what we’re going to be doing moving forward.”
Byron announced that CMC will have a live event in 2021 and probably moving forward. But the team is committed to also having a virtual experience and selling virtual tickets in advance.
Attracting attendees takes creativity.
With all the conferences out there, how does Content Marketing Conference hold its own in the marketing event world?
The CMC team focuses its efforts and attention on coming up with creative ideas to engage and delight their attendees.
When you’re marketing to marketing people, it’s really difficult. They have high expectations and it’s hard to get them to stop in their tracks to say, “hmm this is interesting.”
The CMC team does this by putting out new creative weekly (both paid and organic) in the months leading up to the event.
Comedy + Content Marketing = A New Perspective on Marketing
The intersection of comedy and content marketing has become a signature offering at Content Marketing Conference.
CMC’s goal has always been to rid the world of bad, boring content. Byron recognized early on that there was an opportunity to do something new by baking comedy into the conference lineup and giving comedy its own track at the conference.
People have really enjoyed the comedy part of the learning at CMC. Initially, it was hard for the team to figure out how to bring the comedy element in. The challenge was finding people who are just funny that have corporate experience and really understand the intersection between comedy, marketing, and business.
After scouring the Internet for people matching this description, Byron got lucky by finding people like David Nihill and Sarah Cooper who are spot-on when it comes to demonstrating that intersection between comedy and content marketing. And CMC has experimented with this concept ever since. In addition to offering Ted Talk-style presentations on comedy and content marketing, the conference also offers a comedy club event where attendees can come see speakers demonstrate their standup chops.
Check Out A Shark’s Perspective
Want to listen for yourself? Check out Byron’s episode of A Shark’s Perspective to hear more about CMC’s quick pivot to digital this year.