Why You Should Add a Virtual Event to Your PR Toolkit

With most US cities starting to re-open, large gatherings are still on hold for the foreseeable future. For many PR and marketing professionals this means rethinking their press and consumers events to stay relevant and continue raising awareness for their brands. 

Everything-PR spoke with Maria Maddox, Head of PR for Premium Division at Amorepacific US, a leading global beauty company with headquarters in South Korea, on the topic of virtual events, ways to engage with audience from the distance and make your event create a long-lasting impression. 

Q: How did you decide that you had to shift your PR efforts into the virtual space? Was it a seamless transition?

We were in full swing of planning a press and influencer event to launch a new product when stay at home orders were issued here in New York City. Regardless, the product was still on schedule to launch and we had to think outside of the box to bring it to life and raise awareness. With no access to physical inventory to arrange product deliveries or an opportunity to meet with media in-person, a virtual event seemed to be the way to go. During our first couple of weeks of working from home, we executed a round of virtual one-on-one desksides with media. That helped to not only introduce the new product, but also to get a better sense of the media landscape during those times and if it was appropriate to proceed with other tactics, such as events. We got a feeling that media was slowly returning to their regular coverage, so we proceeded with planning our first-ever virtual event that took place in a couple of weeks, in April. It was a success with strong attendance and engagement level throughout. Since virtual events were and still are such a new concept, there was no playbook on how to do it and no manual or case study to reference. Because of that, this experience has taught me a lot and gave me an opportunity to re-think traditional ways of doing PR and industry standards. 

Q: What was your biggest discovery about virtual events? 

There were quite a few, but the biggest one for me was the opportunity to unite guests and speakers from all over the country in one virtual room. As social distancing brought restrictions to our travel and day-to-day activities, the virtual space started to serve as a place of connection and bringing everyone together. Usually, we would only host an event in one city, maybe two – New York and Los Angeles, as these are the two most important media markets for my brands, but with this virtual event we were able to accommodate everyone, regardless of their geographical location. Another big discovery was the ability to plan and execute a successful event without a hefty budget. Actually, we did it without any budget at all! That was the first time in my almost a decade-long PR career when I didn’t need to allocate any budget for a press event and still make it engaging and successful.

Q: While virtual events were a novelty a few months ago, more and more are talking about ZOOM fatigue these days. What should PR professionals keep in mind when planning virtual events now and in the future?

Yes, there is no doubt that ZOOM fatigue is real but this is an opportunity to challenge yourself and your team to think outside of the box. While a regular ZOOM call with one or two presenters may not yield the desired attendance and engagement, an event that offers interactive elements, opportunities to learn a new skill or discover an unexpected talent may still generate interest and create a long-lasting impression. For any tactic that I plan, especially these days, I have an honest conversation with myself about the value that we bring to our audience. Are we doing it because it’s important to the brand or are we doing it because we want to be of service and value to media, influencers, consumers or other parties involved? While it’s necessary to introduce new products and deliver key messages, it’s essential to find touch points that resonate, making the experience memorable, educational and entertaining. During my most recent event, we designed branded virtual backgrounds that we sent to all of the attendees a couple of days prior. Although it was a small touch, it made a big difference as everyone felt they were in the same room together, using these backgrounds as a photo moment at the same time. We also had an interactive master class on skincare and makeup application techniques led by our education team that helped the audience stay engaged and visually connected to the information that we presented. I see that other brands in the industry are now offering cooking classes, fitness sessions or DIY projects, that turn their audience from passive listeners behind the ZOOM screen into active participants.

Q: When we’re able to host events in person, will you still rely on digital?

I will, without a doubt, and I look forward to being able to host events both offline and online. The brands that I work on – LANEIGEMamonde and IOPE – have a strong fan base around the country and even globally.  While we may not be able to bring an in-person event to smaller markets, we can bring the brands directly to those locations with the help of virtual tools. We can be flexible with the size of the audience too, without being concerned about securing a venue, decorating costs and time it takes to produce an event, or travel that may be required. I’ve also learned that you can plan and execute a virtual event on a much shorter timeline, without compromising the quality. 

Q: What will be your advice to PR professionals who are still hesitant about transitioning their events into the virtual space?

Although we’ve been navigating the work from home environment for a few months now, there’s still no playbook on hosting a virtual event. That means that there’s no right or wrong way to do it, and the best way to succeed is to dive in and give it a try. You’ll discover something new, challenge and maybe change your existing perspective, learn from your experience and, through that, become a stronger PR or marketing professional. While you may be hesitant to take on the risk and explore something new, this is an unchartered territory that brings a lot of opportunities. Take the most out of them.