After a year of driving award-winning virtual events, News UK is moving to a hybrid focus, with both virtual and in-person formats.
Director of events Natasha Banjo the publisher of The Times and the Sun made a “quick pivot” to digital platforms in order to continue events for its audiences together with commercial revenue.
Prior to the pandemic, the News UK team had been running 200 events a year, ranging from Times+ subscriber events to headline big-ticket sponsored events such as The Times CEO Summit (pictured) and the Sunday Times Sportswoman of The Year Award.
“At this time last year, we were frantically trying to reschedule and replan our events, not knowing how long this was all going to last,” she says in an INMA blog.
A review of 30 providers preceded the switch to virtual, starting with a series of test events to talk about to commercial clients… all just weeks after the first lockdown.
By May, when it was clear virtual platforms were here to stay, News started to repurpose some of its big headline events into digital formats. “The challenge would be taking our sponsors and commercial clients on the journey with us, securing the sponsorship revenue we had already agreed on, whilst proactively seeking new revenue opportunities,” she says.
There was also a lot of work to do in convincing brands that a virtual event provided them with a higher level of engagement, accompanied by access to a broader, more targeted audience.
“We needed to learn quickly and adapt fast, a challenge the whole team fully embraced,” says Banjo. “As a result, we have driven more event revenue for the business than ever before and engagement is up 60 per cent year over year.”
With brands lacking the bandwidth internally to put on their own events, they welcomed the opportunity to continue engaging with their customers and News’ readers.
“We have also spent a lot of time ensuring that the quality of what we deliver reflects a premium engaging experience that is true to our brands. As with in-person events, the principles are the same and they require the same amount of attention, planning and programming – although how you deliver them is slightly different.”
She says the focus is now on embracing the hybrid way of working, while delivering on client KPIs. “It’s an exciting time to be in the industry as this shift has allowed us to fully assess how we do things, making us more accountable for the ROI for events activity.”
The News UK events team’s efforts during COVID were recognised by winning consumer event of the year in the 2021 Campaign publishing awards for the Sunday Times Sportswoman of The Year.