As fundraisers are being canceled or postponed due to COVID-19, planners are reimagining that same event in a virtual setting. That’s when a local production company steps in to help.
“I’ve been sitting at my breakfast table editing videos for endless hours, as has much of my team,” said Mike Brown, president and CEO of M&M Productions USA. “Clients call and it’s basically ‘Oh no!’ We can’t postpone our event, and we need you to create a virtual event in two weeks.”
M&M Productions USA is well-known to event planners because it’s a turnkey company with the largest audiovisual equipment inventory in the region. Brown and his team members are fixtures at events throughout East Tennessee and provide everything from lighting to stage design to audiovisual services.
A huge LED-light basket hung from a 12-foot-wide basketball hoop, creating a stunning atmosphere in 2015 for a reception for Rick Barnes, the head basketball coach at Tennessee. M&M Productions USA came up with and executed the idea. (We’ll come back to this at the end.)
What planners may not know is that the Oak Ridge-based company also offers expertise in live broadcasts and virtual events.
“It doesn’t matter if your event is now or a year from now, there is probably going to be a virtual component,” said Brown, who predicted it could take at least a year to return to normalcy in terms of event attendance, especially when it comes to regional or national conferences. “Some people can’t or will not gather in groups or travel for a long time, but they can still ‘attend’ your event in a virtual setting.”
It was mid-March when COVID-19 started to wreak havoc on the EventCheckKnox calendar. Planners remained optimistic and rescheduled April events to May or June. But a pandemic had no regard for such plans. All of those events, from luncheons to galas to garden parties, got either canceled or shifted to later in 2020.
After weeks of trying to wait it out, organizations now realize they can’t successfully cram a year’s worth of fundraising into the fall months. That is where virtual events can save a budget.
Brown offers professional tips and advice for planners going virtual:
- Promote. Promote. Promote. Use social media platforms and email lists to promote the event, raise interest and keep audiences informed.
- As the event gets closer – and especially the day of the event – push out links to attend.
- Use a registration function to track attendees and get contact information.
- Set up access to be public, invitation only or paid.
- Use immediate calls-to-action such as “donate now” buttons.
- Silent auctions already have shifted to online or app access. Since attendees are now participating virtually, feature the items prominently.
- Use elements already on hand such as existing videos, testimonials, graphics, etc.
- Make the virtual content available for people to find or revisit later for both fundraising and educational purposes.
- Sponsors may be able to draw from their marketing or advertising budget – not just charitable funds – to support the event.
- Push attendees to your website to increase engagement after the event ends.
Virtual events also provide analytics to track engagement. A presenting sponsor could be granted access to email addresses for direct follow-up with potential customers or clients as a value-added benefit.
Attendees can be assigned to virtual rooms where a chat host serves as a table host to keep the conversation going and answer questions online. A virtual event has a program, such as pre-recorded videos that are scripted and edited to appear live.
M&M Productions USA can present fully immersive experiences, such as a 3D entrance to a venue with the ability to enter different rooms, explore virtual exhibits and chat in real time.
A virtual event has to be visually appealing and promote two-way interaction to keep attendees engaged. The cost can end up being affordable, especially considering the money not being spent on the venue, food and alcohol.
Brown expects hybrid events in the future with both in-person and virtual components for an enhanced experience.
“Even if you think you may be able to have a live event this year, have a plan B in place just in case,” Brown said.
One more thing, as promised. That net reappeared in 2019 for Kellie Harper’s reception as the new Lady Vols basketball coach. If M&M Productions USA can pull this off in the real world, imagine the virtual possibilities.
UP NEXT: Interviews with local community leaders who have either hosted a virtual event or are planning one for later this summer.
Tina J. Knight is the brand storyteller for Moxley Carmichael. Previously, she served as manager of internal communications for Discovery, Inc., and became a seasoned event planner. She thinks that the word “y’all” is perfectly acceptable in almost any circumstance.