FT Live, the events division of the Financial Times, is going all-in on digital events in 2021 and, in the near future at least, doesn’t expect to see the return of big international conventions.

When lockdowns began back in March, most organisers simply rescheduled events for later in the year on the assumption that the coronavirus would somehow be under control by then. But as time went on it became increasingly clear that was not going to be the case and many reinvented their events as virtual ones.

The Financial Times was no exception. “Live events people really have never had to make much use of webinars apart from maybe in some content marketing or promotion for one of our big shows,” FT Live managing director Orson Francescone acknowledged.

“But having come into lockdown, it was the only output or lever we could pull,” he told a digital audience at the recent Advertising Week 2020 virtual conference.

Having been in his role for less than six months, he, like business event organisers everywhere, was having to learn fast.

A hastily convened event that roped in the FT’s chief economics commentator, Martin Wolf, to talk about what was happening in the world had 7,000 people logging in for it. That was a “a light-bulb moment”, Francescone recalled: digital events could be more than simply a lifeline.

Digital brings global reach and avoids the constraints of physical locations and venues, while from a business point of view, there are “close to zero marginal costs” on every extra ticket or delegate you bring in on a digital event.

New formats, such as The Global Boardroom, which pulled in 120 global leaders to discuss COVID-19 and the economic emergency, proved hugely popular with an influential audience that didn’t have to block out significant time in their diaries to travel and attend a physical event.

And sponsors have taken notice; initially wary, they can see the bigger numbers of eyeballs being delivered and can access “a lot more insight and analytics that they were getting [at] physical events”, Francescone reported.

“We are planning on running a 100% digital event programme” in 2021, he said – and even when physical events return “that digital component is not going away”.

He sees the ability to attract international audiences as being central to a continued focus on digital. “The hybrid model I suspect will be smaller, localised events,” Francescone suggested.

“The days of big international conventions where people travel the world are far away. They may come back, but not anytime soon.”

For more details, read WARC’s report: How FT Live is changing its business model.

Sourced from WARC