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Insights, COVID-19

Thought Leadership Filling the Conference Void

March 30, 2020
By: Ken MacFadyen

Digital magazines, Zoom webinars, and podcasts are providing venues for financial services firms to engage and cultivate networks amid forced isolation

At this early stage, it’s hard to grasp all of the different ways the COVID-19 outbreak is going to change business. Its deleterious impact on the markets is clear and the economic pain will be felt in just about every corner of every industry. But how the pandemic will change the day-to-day activities once normalcy returns remains to be seen.

The most creative firms and companies in financial services are finding new ways to maintain and grow their networks. And these digital capabilities will serve them well once a sense of normalcy returns, through providing ways to build on a narrative and reinforce a network.

In PR, for instance, the outbreak has changed little. If anything, we’re fielding more inbound calls from reporters seeking sources to discuss the changing landscape. We’re producing more content on behalf of clients to keep their key constituencies informed and engaged. And we’re even more active on social media, orchestrating digital campaigns for clients to reach a suddenly captive audience. If there is one exception, though, it’s the disruption to conferences and events, which are roundly being either rescheduled or cancelled altogether.

This may not seem significant given the breadth and scope of other PR and marketing activities that are unaffected. In this new “shelter-in-place” reality, however, the vacuum created by the conference and event cancellations seems to get larger every day.

Many of our clients, for instance, have made significant investments to attend and present at industry conferences. For some, these represent one of the few touchpoints to build their networks or learn about new developments shaping end markets. We’ll often help them maximize their ROI through initiating introductions with attending reporters or by creating thought leadership that can either be shared with a wider audience or provide a hook to reconnect with new relationships. And through utilizing LinkedIn and Twitter to promote conferences appearances or cover them in real-time, we can increase the reach. And by aggregating the best thinking from the events into thought leadership or new content pieces, clients can benefit from a drip campaign that extends the lifecycle of the related coverage.

Many of our clients also host their own events. These range from traditional AGMs or CEO summits for our PE clients to larger technology conferences offering platforms to unveil new products, initiatives or collaborations for our fintech clients. In both cases, though, these events generally provide an impetus to refine and ordain a larger narrative that then informs future campaigns and public-facing outreach for the balance of the year.

Naturally, we’ve been strategizing to find ways to help our clients fill the vacuum and keep these efforts around messaging and product launches moving forward. The silver lining, if there is any, is that organizations that haven’t embraced digital channels are very quickly getting up to speed to build competencies in these areas.

We work with several event organizers, for instance, and some have already transitioned their live programming into virtual events, via Zoom Webinar. In one case, the response was so large — and the implementation so seamless — they quickly created an additional event to secure as many RSVPs as possible before competing programs began to move forward transitioning their own events to digital channels.

We’ve also seen more interest anecdotally in podcasts. Among our PE clients, for instance, it’s been discussed as a platform to compile CEO interviews highlighting best practices. Even Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the general election, launched a podcast in March.

Another idea we’ve discussed for postponed events is to create a digital magazine that captures key themes of panels, presentations and keynote addresses. Using services such as LucidPress, hard copies can be produced for registered attendees and other key constituencies or serve as the centerpiece of a very targeted direct mail campaign. Moreover, like any magazine, a corporate version can provide opportunities for event sponsors to advertise or incorporate guest articles from strategic alliances. Assuming there will be a crush of conferences in the fall, a dedicated magazine can keep key constituencies engaged and interested until the event is rescheduled.

Make no mistake, we are still in the early days of recognizing how the COVID-19 outbreak will affect our lives, never mind its effect on the business landscape or even the environment for media or events. But with no other alternative, the most creative firms and companies in financial services are finding new ways to maintain and grow their networks. And these digital capabilities will serve them well once a sense of normalcy returns, through providing ways to build on a narrative and reinforce a network long after a handshake or elbow tap.

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