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Following the recent Covid Coffee Webinars, here are some of the questions that were asked of our presenters, Jake Ward from Groovy Gecko about Event Virtualisation, Debra Nightingale from All Bright Communications about Marketing and Simon Warnford-Davis from ProfitPlus about Managing Cashflow.

Is it safe to use free virtual meeting tools?

Various organisations have been trolling meetings with various different content, so you need to be careful how you use them.  Zoom is very good; it’s proven tech, well scalable, but you need to question to understand security issues.

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How can event agencies benefit from virtual events? Or make revenue from them?

There is an inherent perception that virtual events should cost less than real world counterparts. There are existing platforms where you can order tickets to live events and this could be pushed through for virtual. You would need well-secured individual passwords, so can be locked down, with attendees only using one email to enter. Although this isn’t infallible, there is a possibility that will pass around name badges at live event anyway.  The trick is to hook into previous systems and ways of paying. Variables on price is all about levels of complexity, how much content and production to pull together, and how many viewers and participants are there – to calculate how the costs go up and down. Creating revenue from these events will be the new norm. It will be similar to working with a production company – looking and engaging with different platforms, charging clients commission. Another model would be shared risk etc. With video streaming, core costs would need to be covered, and if you’re hosting you’re paying for the video to be streamed and watched. A big advantage of social media is you don’t always have to pay for your audience to view.

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How do you recognise that a virtual event has been successful?

It’s about determining what you consider to be ROI. Revenue, no of attendees, engagement etc?  What value do you need to deliver?  Using a more data driven model, you might think about the number of customers you want to engage, how you’re moving those customers along the ‘buying’ journey to the next stage of purchase. Alternatively, it might be about no of prospects you can get to have a ‘buy’ conversation because they’re not yet clients. If you take the normal ROI of standard event; and look at how data can inform that and then begin to measure. You may have to adapt your model because creating that connection for virtual events is more of a challenge. The other thing to think about is that you can expand your virtual audience because they don’t have to come out for a day or two to access your event.  They can join from across the UK, from Frankfurt, New York etc. You can pull in totally new audiences.

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How can we improve virtual events in the future? And what is the future for virtual events?

It will evolve rapidly over the next 6 months. Well see more move to virtual events, less focused on replicating things in the real world – because it has less value.  We can present collateral in a more interesting ways – better virtual solutions. LinkedIn will be a massive growth area in the next year. LinkedIn Live – sorely missing for a long time. All predominantly B2C – but LinkedIn Live is more B2B and better conversation with interactive tools – things that go more into the virtual event world.

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What’s the worst that can go wrong with virtual events? How do you safeguard against this?

Thinking about risk and what can go wrong!In this environment it’s the internet connection that can die, or someone with a jackhammer outside on the road just as you go live. There are various ways to back things up – separate audio calls – switch to a phone line etc. So we do testing, testing, testing and try to mitigate the risk beforehand and look as good as we can etc. Again, it’s about real planning, attention to detail and so forth. The amount of work that goes into a virtual event is huge. Social channels are quick and instant, but for a professional audience you need time and practice to get it right. Think about professional backdrops, maybe have a set or branding in place which can help.A lot of you have some branded collateral and pop-ups you can use. We also send out a guide pre-event that tells you what they should wear, lighting and so forth.You want to see a professional environment. It will become clearer over the next few months, as we absorb these new professional experiences.

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What is the most common type of virtual meeting and size? How many events over 300?

For internal events it can be as much as tens of thousands, but we’re currently working on one that’s for 60 people for a more senior industry group.  Sometimes the platform you choose has to reflect the quality and seniority of your guests. So probably not a Zoom call, especially if they are important client events – with lower attendee numbers.

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How long should a virtual meeting last?

Typical timings for a virtual event and shorter than a live event.  Now days everyone is in a heightened state of business, and a normal day event is being crunched into a 2-hour magazine programme, core content and core guests. The alternative is that you take your programme and explode it out over 4 weeks - one hour a week – to create a cohesive programme.

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What should you think about in the planning process before creating a virtual event?

It’s much the same process as a live event.  Start with a blank sheet of paper decide what you need to achieve. You may have a single creative thought/idea and you can build a good spectrum of content around that.  Think about how you can deliver value, what is the scope of audience and who might your guests/speakers be. What other assets could you use, the type of engagement or interaction you want.  Think about risk & contingency planning.

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How can you encourage engagement during a meeting?

The power of someone typing in a question in their spare bedroom – and getting a well-known speaker respond directly is immeasurable. Also, your pre-event marketing should emphasis the content and speakers and the chance to engage directly with really high-profile, quality people. In addition, because online events are much shorter it’s important to go for the best content you can and take the opportunity to get the best guests/speakers.  The time they will need to invest will be much shorter - 1-2 hours from their laptop - not travelling to a particular location and needing to invest most of a day etc.

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What formats tend to work best for bigger client meetings like Forums – how can you get a flow of information/opinion?

No matter the size of the event, it’s all in the planning and being prepared to allow the audience input/influence content. For example, pepper your Q&A or audience feedback throughout the event – encouraging them to input on content as it is relevant to the topic – not wait until the end. If you intersperse it throughout your programme and let the questions flow back and forth; it can really add richness to the content. The use of polling always achieves high engagement – up to 70% of an audience will response to a poll. Again, you can use the feedback to drive discussion and direct the focus of the content. A CEO of big pan-European business, was initiative testing in France; asking what do you want to hear about etc?It turns out the audience was being sent some important information regularly, but pretty much had no idea what to do with it.So, on the spot the CEO stood back and got his team to explain all about it. For 20 mins he said absolutely nothing. This is a great example of adapting content quickly - and making the event relevant and being able to deliver genuine value.It’s good to keep the content modular, have a presenter host; someone to steer it, with a good understanding of subject, who can get information out of guests, but also ensure you stay out of trouble.

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My colleague started a new events business last year after April 2019 and has no tax return. He can’t be furloughed and can’t get universal credit due to savings. What recommendations can you give?

Because things are moving very rapidly at the moment, with constant updates on the government’s position in terms of support that being introduced, I’d suggest the best place to look for more detailed guidance around this is at or a couple of other good sources of information would be the Institute of Directors Website or of course your own or a local accountant or financial advisor.

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Can you apply for a small business rates relief to support rent, if you don’t want to go down the loan route? How will this benefit you?

No, because it is specifically a small business rates relief package.

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With the exceptional challenges my business is facing at the moment, should I create a short-term cashflow report?

The answer is yes.  This is business not as usual and hopefully a short-term scenario – so a short-term report – ideally looking across 90 days – would be perfect.  You can then review it every week as things are changing very rapidly at the moment – as your position may change too.

You may have shut up shop for a while but your debtors/creditors, the banks etc may still be trading.  There may be some movement financially - payments in or owed; and you may need to wiggle things around.  Keep focused and looking at the figures. 

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After all the government publicity, its clear the banks aren’t interested in providing loans to SME’s

Many people feel they are not getting a positive response from the banks. They are being declined or consultations are being delayed for up to 6 weeks – and in some cases just pain rejected.

In this situation the case the best thing to do is go to a respected, independent financial advisor. They will know the regulations, have all the specialist knowledge to navigate their way through the guidelines and paperwork, and have plenty of links and connections to call upon.

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What’s the best way to reduce my overheads?

  • We discussed this earlier, but in this current situation you can either postpone, reduce or cut your overheads as a business – all of which will take a bit of effort. Start with the things that will have the make the most impact over your short-term plan. 
  • Big ticket items: Rent, rates, loans, VAT, Tax – some of which may qualify for government support, subsidy or referment. 
  • Remember; If you defer payments you must think about how you will catch-up with them later on. 
  • Be clear about what your entitlements are – don’t listen to word of mouth or make assumptions. Get the information
  • It’s best to contact relevant parties directly ( or HRMC) or talk your bank or business manager.
  • If you’re looking at furloughing staff - you must be clear about entitlements and process around wage subsidies etc; so that you when you communicate with your employees they know where they stand. Again is the first place to start, but Employee Benefits or HR Magazines can provide excellent advice.  There are lots of HR Advisors out there too – and we’ll be running a Webinar focusing on Managing HR Challenges and Issues next Friday, 17th April.  Remember when the upswing comes you’ll need these guys.  
  • Finally, I cannot stress the importance of communication. We all want to stay in the game so talking to your landlord, credit card companies and so forth may really ease the situation – they will still want your business at the end of all of this.
  • Communications, clarity, patience and flexibility are the watch-words here.

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What’s the best way to approach negotiating with clients or suppliers about payments?

  • Clarify what is owed and when – this must be agreed first
  • Start a paper trail –summarise the situation with exact details in an email – you can follow up by phone.
    • If you owe money and have a flexible payment idea put your options forward;  
    • For example suggest split the invoice payments 50/50 or a different payment deadline dates; like spreading over monthly payments for 3-6 months
    • Or if you have a good relationship agree to defer payment and reviewed at a certain date when the crisis is looking like it might be over.
  • Be flexible and be prepared to hear counter-offers or possibly a blunt refusal
  • Approach those who owe you money and offer flexible terms for early payment; would you be prepared to offer a discount for immediate payment
  • Whatever it is finalise and agree it all in writing and be clear about the terms, invoice reference, dates and amounts.

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Where do I go to find good cashflow report templates?

  • Simon – simple explanation of what it is – money in/out and what’s left/available
  • Most of the cloud accounting systems like Xero, Quickbooks, Sage etc have great templates for Cashflow reports which you can adapt for a short-term cashflow, but if you don’t use one of these you can go online and find very good example templates and then use good old Excel - or indeed Microsoft Small Business also has some very good templates you can use.

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How does creating a report help you manage your cashflow?

  1. Management: if you can see it you can’t manage it. It gives you …
  2. Visibility (allows you see problems before they happen, and time to negotiate with suppliers or clients, organise over-drafts and so forth
  3. Banks & Major Credit Sources; will need to see a business plan and current/past figures if you apply for a loan or grant

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How quickly do you think we'll be able to hold real events again?

We can only keep our ear to the ground, digest the (verified) information, assess the risk, try and anticipate the situation as it unfolds, and how we find ourselves in as a business, and then make the best decisions we possibly can. I think it will be a moveable feast to be honest – it may be very rapid or it may be a cautious recovery; possibly lots of smaller physical and bigger virtual events with more interactive support comms. Then when the vaccine comes – keep your eyes on the horizon – it will be a different story. Can you imagine checking vaccine cards at the registration desk and the type of H&S procedures we’ll have to put in place?

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What should the tone of our communications be right now?

Appropriate, informed, confident, authentic and on brand and if you can – be positive.

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Should we be actively promoting our products & services?

I think the answer is yes, if it’s appropriate and relevant, and you’ve chosen the right channel to communicate.  But as I’ve said above maybe it’s not time for a hard sales pitch.  Another approach is to building confidence around your experience and expertise as a business or specialist skills in a particular area – with work you’ve already delivered.  Taking an advisory role with your clients is always good and sharing knowledge rather than selling.  This can be done directly or indirectly.

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What should social media companies be sharing on social media during the crisis?

I think going back to the guidelines at the beginning, appropriate and relevant are the watchwords.  It’s not a time for hard sales messages but definitely positive news about your business, your employees and activities you’re undertaking for charity and Covid-Response is always good. I think promoting your profile and involvement in the industry is good for perception and confidence, and your opinions on the current situation will be of interest.  Maybe even share some work you’ve done for clients before (with permission), in a creative way.  But unless it’s genuinely a service that’s going to really support the current situation I would keep it subtle and not hammer home a hard sales pitch.

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Do you think Covid-19 will change the way we think about the future of marketing and events?

Probably for a while, because we still don’t really know how this thing will play out and how long it will take.  We are rapidly adapting already.  It will be about managing a new reality for a while – and we will have to be  AGILITY.  Already massive uptake with digital comms and we’re all getting better at working remotely and holding team meetings and webinars on Zoom, Teams, Skype etc.  For the time being it may be safer to plan short term activity around virtual events – some of which are very sophisticated indeed – but interview support pre and post communications to ‘plump’ up the experience.

 In the long-term it’s harder to say.  There is not clear view.  Some of it’s going to be about innovation, some of it will be around what sticks, some of it will be what works best – so in a way it’s all to play for. Having said that, I think as humans we love and prefer physical connection – so I think physical events will never be done and dusted – they might be in the shadows for a while, and then the floodgates will open (albeit in slightly different formats and much stricter H&S guidelines) – and it will feel as if they’re like a brand new invention.

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How important is internal communications in a time of crisis?

One word – critical!!!

Firstly you have a Duty of Care to your employees/virtual teams, to keep them in the loop with what’s going on; personal furlough info, contracts, payments and general guidelines about performance and behaviour. You have to manage their expectations.

Morale:  Whether your staff are furloughed, working as part of a skeleton staff, or are having to go hell for leather because of extra demand, you have to support and guide them. More meetings, more 121’s, more recognition, more treats.

The Face of Your Brand:  Your employees are the face of your brand to the  outside world – especially at the point of customer contact.  If they are continuing to interact with your clients, other colleagues, suppliers etc they need to feel supported and believe in their company. 

Confidence is everything - you will need to provide guidance around key personal and business information, operational aspects and actions that are being taken. You need to keep this up to date – find a simple, round-robin way of doing this regularly. Maybe a MailChimp news update, maybe a closed WhatsApp group, or if you don’t already do it A Monday Morning Meeting. If things change, share new info!

Create a two-way communication process – so you can hear what they’ve got to say, what their experiences are etc.

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How can employees support the marketing function during the current situation?

  • Well to some extent it depends on their situation.  Quite strict rules around furlough – not being seen to work at your own job but you can pick fruit – Big Brother rumours about being watched by HMRC
  • Maybe they can’t help directly but they may advise, or feed through relevant information for clients, suggest great content for posts or organise charity fundraising or other activities that you could share. This would be really helpful.
  • If you’re going to run a company social media campaign definitely get your staff engaged – think about morale and company spirit!! Think about reaching out to clients and suppliers alike and ask them to engage in feedback, comments and activities. 
  • Find out what hidden skills people have – you can draw upon these when budgets are tight – some people are naturally intuitive when it comes to marketing software.  
  • Ask everyone to share their ideas on what you can do with no budget and little resource – you may be surprised.  And they’ll enjoy supporting it even more if you ask them to participate – Blogs, photos, videos, survey’s and even smaller client forums. Information can be repurposed and shared across other channels. 
  • Create virtual teams and give them specific roles. 
  • And tag wherever you can.

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