Rachael Reid is the Portfolio Director for DMWF (Digital Marketing World Forum) and leads the conference, sales and marketing teams to deliver their global event series. We had a chat with Rachael about the DMWF journey, the impact of the past year, and who would be Rachael’s dream keynote speaker! Spoiler Alert: she has more than one!!
Can you tell us a little about DMWF and its journey?
DMWF has been established for 13 years and has been a growing brand in the last five years. DMWF is a conference for senior marketers across B2B and B2C and industry, and it's success lies in sharing knowledge, supporting brands on their strategies. We're a global conference series now, primarily in-person, but since the pandemic has adopted virtual and hybrid event strategies for our plans. Our goal as a brand is to bring the leading digital topics together (social media, influencer marketing, content marketing, data, digital transformation, e-commerce and digital experience) and bring senior leaders across the verticals to talk about their experience within those topic areas.
How have you managed the transitioning of DMWF to new regions, and what have been some of the biggest challenges?
The most significant change for us in the last 12 months is that we found we could launch virtual events into new markets with much less risk compared to in-person events. In 2020 we launched into Asia after transitioning their event from in-person to virtual. At the time, the audience understood they couldn't be there in person, and the feedback was amazing. As a result, we bought the 2021 event forward in the calendar due to demand in that region. When you're launching an event, there are a lot of costs and risks associated. With virtual, we've been able to absorb overheads like venue fees, focusing on giving our delegates a better experience on the content and how they're networking with people. We're launching into new regions of the US and MENA, which has been positive for us as a brand and how we can deliver to our regional audiences.
How did the challenges of 2020 disrupt your plans for DMWF, and how did you set about overcoming them?
We were one week away from delivering an in-person event in Singapore before the local Government rightly put the country on Code Orange. Our first reaction was to speak with partners, key sponsors and delegates, and this community were very supportive–allowing us the time to regroup and determine our strategy. While March 2021 was chaotic globally, it took us 4-6 weeks to reevaluate our product and work out the best way to deliver these back to the markets. We know we would be able to strategise this quicker now, but at the time, even getting a premium Zoom account was a challenge! But by this time, we had replanned and built a calendar of virtual events and webinars, and as a result, ensured we stayed agile by reevaluating monthly and seeing how the market was reacting and what our customers needed from us from both the vendor and delegate side.
Do you think the last 12 months have changed your strategy regarding how you will deliver events in the future?
We will always have at least one virtual event a year in our calendar that brings a global audience together virtually. We're still strategising what hybrid means for us because we want to ensure it works for the audience. Do we run an in-person event and then make content available a week later on-demand, for example. We have delegates who can't travel–including speakers, delegates, and vendors. But both virtual and hybrid have given us new opportunities for new events, and we can get them to market a lot quicker. We've added North-West US to our calendar for 2021 and MENA for 2022 as we see delegates from those regions want to attend and want to deliver at a time that works best for those territories. For our sister brand, MarketingTech News, we're launching niche events like Influencer Marketing World by taking a single session from DMWF and running this as a one-off virtual event through our publishing channel.
There is so much we can now play with. In-person is still our focus, but we know virtual works until everything is safe and we can concentrate on delivering the right message and content to the right audience.
I would also add that digital events have open doors to speakers we have never had access to before. Very senior people across Europe, North America, and Asia-Pac are far more open to speaking opportunities now due to the virtual offering an easier way of delivering their content. We're able to get into diaries in a way we never have before.
Your audience is primarily digital marketing professionals. Do you feel they embraced the move to virtual events, or is there a desire to return to in-person events?
Looking at different audiences, I think the marketing sector did adopt the change quicker than other audiences. For some of our audience, senior marketers in retail or hospitality saw unprecedented challenges in 2020. There was such an appetite for learning from marketers that I felt their move to virtual events was rapid. But I would say there is a huge desire to return to in-person. With almost every speaker I work with, we always comment, "Wouldn't it be fantastic if we could do this on stage."
But I think everyone is hesitant as to what the new normal will be. Will we be elbow-touching, or will cocktail receptions need to be 2-metres apart? Do we have one-way systems? Does that take away from what an event is? Everyone is buzzing for the return to in-person, but question marks over how it will operate and what the experience will be.
DMWF always has great speakers and content, but how important is networking at your conferences and connecting your attendees?
It's so important. But it's worth noting that it's equally important from the speaker, sponsors and delegate side. For sponsors, they have the hardest challenge as they would typically have their in-person Expo and can see people attending and networking, or can see who are attending their sponsor sessions. Now, with virtual, they have to put their trust in the technology and the event organisers. That trust needs to reflect as close to the same experience as in-person, the same number of leads, and the same insights they would see with their own eyes. But virtual is providing this experience. We can offer insights into the delegate experience that we can share with sponsors or give them chat functionality to connect. Chat is essential for delegates to ask burning questions with speakers, and video chat between delegates has been effective. It's so important, and it's possibly more important at a virtual event to get this right and deliver on the experience. Connecting audiences will only enhance everyone's experience at the event.
Have you found that digital events have increasing data and insight available to you? Have you been able to utilise this information either in real-time or for future events?
100%. With pre-events, we get a better indicator of show-up rates and attendance for the main conference. Even simply looking at if they've logged on gives you an indicator, and if they haven't, you have touch-points to connect with the delegate and offer reminders. For sponsors, they have insights for the sessions. They can engage earlier with delegates who register, or they can chat easier after their session. Virtual events do allow fantastic 1:1 connections, whereas you're often trying to connect with an individual within a group at in-person events.
From a marketing perspective, insights allow us to make better recommendations. If a delegate has just attended a specific session, we can follow up with suggestions on other sessions of interest. Insights give us the ability to make informed experiential marketing decisions with a personalised touch. The challenge is now how do we deliver this experience in-person?
Who would be your dream keynote speaker, and why?
I would do a powerhouse panel! In this, I would have Kamala Harris, Shonda Rhimes, the Queen, and Lady Gaga. All powerful females who have overcome enormous challenges but are doing something in their individual fields as true leaders. All fighters within their industries. It would make such a diverse panel.
What's your best conference experience, and what made it so memorable?
I'm going to go back to 2019 and DMWF Europe. I hold that event in high esteem because we got it to a high level. When I think about what an in-person event should be, I think of that event. With the spirit and the sense of community, of people enjoying the content, it was so lovely for the team to see and witness the enjoyment. We connected with the audience, and we got the delivery right.
The other one would be DMWF Asia in 2020. Our audience was so supportive of the virtual experience. Still, we were working from home in our office, but we could see all of the delegates online. We knew that across the globe delegates, sponsors, speakers were all tuning in, and while it was a challenge, the audience liked it and as soon as it was over they were asking us when the next one was! A real result for team spirit! The teams' dedication and hard work got our early virtual experiences over the line and set us up for success.
Is the future of events virtual, in-person, or hybrid?
For the next few years, hybrid will have to be in any event strategy. If not then really, you are shutting the door to certain audiences. But it should be dictated by the audience. In-person events, or niche events, will be popular, but virtual events won't go away. The audience has adopted it. They want it, you can't just stop, but the question is, how do you take virtual forward. I think it will be a mixture of all three, but each event should have its strategy. As an industry, we need to be flexible and agile. We need to keep up with tech and innovation because there is so much you can do with events–in endless settings!
In the UK we’ve been ’back’ to in-person events for nearly a year, but are you still worried about attending live events? Or as an event organizer, are you concerned your attendees will even turn up?
Networking has long been considered one of the best ways for businesses and entrepreneurs to make valuable connections...