PCMA Panel: Virtual Events Are 'Friend, Not Foe' to Physical Events

By Rebecca Theim January 14, 2011, 12:24 PM EST

Panelists spoke at the closing session of the Professional Convention Management Association conference and opening session for the Virtual Edge Summit.

Photo: Courtesy of PCMA

Meeting and event planners, don't fear virtual events, because they will actually help your organizations—and your physical events—in both expected and surprising ways. That was the prevailing message from a panel at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas earlier this week that closed the Professional Convention Management Association and opened the Virtual Edge Summit, which is designed to help marketing and event professionals plan, produce, and manage virtual events and meetings.

“Virtual is friend, not foe,” said Tony Uphoff, C.E.O. of TechWeb and United Business Media, which publishes Information Week and other digital and print trade periodicals. “What you’re going to increasingly see is that virtual is going to actually drive your live [events], and vice versa.”

Virtual events also can help organizations diversify and create new income streams, panelists said. “Seventy-four percent of our revenue was tied up in one week in February,” said H. Stephen Lieber, president and C.E.O. of Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, which hosts the largest health-care technology conference annually, attracting about 28,000. “That is not a very good situation for any organization to be in.”

Lieber said his organization began its semiannual virtual conferences in 2007 and has seen a healthy increase in vendor booths, educational sessions, and registrants. “This is a way to make money,” he said. And the organization has actually seen the number of online attendees who do not attend the physical conference decrease over time.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which holds Las Vegas’s second-largest trade show each April, is using its relatively new virtual events to reach more members and nonmembers alike, said the organization’s executive vice president of conventions and business operations, Chris Brown. “We attract 90,000 registrants, but our universe is several million,” Brown said. “The reality is, we cannot reach all those people. This is, from our standpoint, a way to provide additional value.”

Other panelists included moderator Michael Doyle, executive director of the Virtual Edge Institute; Chris Price, vice president of the Graphic Arts Show Company; and Kara Wilson, vice president of marketing and unified communications for Cisco Systems.

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