At the end of April, in the heart of lockdown, Ogilvy worked with Inmarsat Aviation to produce FlightPlan, a 7½-hour, ‘virtual broadcast event’: a mix of pre-recorded material, live interviews and discussion, virtual panels and interactive Q&A, presented by anchors in the UK and US. FlightPlan brought together industry leaders, global airlines, business voices, analysts and commentators to share insights and exchange views at a hugely challenging time for the air transport sector.
Initially a response to a worldwide list of cancelled aviation trade shows and conferences, FlightPlan grew into a collaborative industry initiative, with over 40 prominent participants and contributors. On the day, it drew an audience of well over 3000 aerospace professionals, and has since attracted many more to watch content on catch-up, making it arguably aviation’s largest ever online event.
Just seven weeks from concept to broadcast, developed on Zoom, pre-recorded on Skype and streamed from a London studio with special dispensation during lockdown – what did the experience of FlightPlan teach us about creating a unique virtual event?
- A crisis is a great time to experiment. In the context of uncertainty expectations are limited and your audience will be fairly forgiving. It’s wrong to be paralysed by the fear of getting it wrong: fortune tends to favour the brave.
- It’s not about you. The most convincing event platforms are about their audience not the event owner. FlightPlan was driven by a clear decision not to give it a commercial agenda; an approach that attracted more impressive contributors and fuelled a greater sense of purpose.
- Create a theme and a structure for the event, not just a string of segments. This allows your audience to be more efficient with their time, as well as providing you with a framework for on-demand content post-event.
- Establishing FlightPlan as a full day, livestreamed broadcast elevated it way beyond a webinar. The event became a major news story in itself. Over 200 news pieces at time of writing.
- Don’t cut corners. Live broadcasting requires live broadcast expertise, a broadcast studio, a broadcast platform and broadcast quality production values.
- Live is good. Don’t be concerned that live content might be likely fail. The opposite is true. Live performances tend to be better. Discussion looks more human and authentic. And right now everyone understands the restrictions, so no one expects pitch perfect.
- Contributors beget contributors. Like shopping centres it helps to have a few cornerstone participants from the start. Fear of getting involved is quickly replaced by fear of missing out.
- As far as possible, control the narrative. Write clear and detailed briefs for every contributor. Ask to see scripts and supporting materials in advance. Agree questions with interviewers. Reserve the right to re-record.
- Being a subject expert doesn’t necessarily make you an engaging performer. It’s often better if the expert writes the script for someone else.
- Talking to a laptop isn’t like talking to an audience. Even experienced presenters need guidance on how to give an award-winning performance from their kitchen.
- Record contributors locally. There’s a plug-in for every platform. Don’t rely on the quality of their internet connection.
- Good B-roll goes a long way to saving a poor performance. Budget for lots of it.
- Make full use of the interactive features of your streaming platform: live polls, comments and questions, breakout rooms for networking meetings. You’ll be surprised how many people interact.
- Think about consent and broadcast rights early. Don’t assume because a contributor is happy to hand over the content themselves, their employer will be.
- Your biggest audience will probably be on-demand. Focus paid media post-event on driving people to specific content nuggets created on the day.
And finally – delivered well, virtual events can provide an engaging, accessible experience without the cost, travel and hassle of an in-person conference. With MICE budgets under pressure, employers increasingly less willing to fund business travel, and employees less willing to travel, maybe the greatest learning from the past seven weeks is that ‘virtual’ doesn’t have to mean second rate. Perhaps this is now the way the world is going to be – long after lockdown.