Cool New Marketing Technologies: Caught and Served

How much do virtual events cost?

Well there’s a loaded question if I’ve ever heard one.

Here are two practical answers:

  • $20,000
  • $400,000

Unfortunately there are a massive number of factors that come into play regarding the “cost” of a virtual event.  Because of this confusion, I’ve put together a primer that breaks down the pieces related to cost.  The summation of all of these pieces becomes the scope of the event, which is the only real way to determine cost.

One caveat* that these costs can be placed on either your internal organization or on an external partner, but they exist in every event and your budgetary planning should reflect them all.

virtual event budget breakdown

The five key components of a virtual event budget are illustrated above, with “Planning & Program Management” overarching the other four, scaling up and down based on the size of the whole.

Technology Platform

The reality is that you’re paying for the equivalent of a physical venue, which gives you a room to play with, but isn’t a “virtual event” by any means.

When most of our clients ask about cost, the focus is on the technology platform.  I believe that focus exists because that’s the only real cost that you’ll be given if you are talking directly to a platform vendor out in the marketplace.   There are a bunch out there to consider and here’s a good banter about which is the best.  The reality is that you’re paying for the equivalent of a physical venue, which gives you a room to play with, but isn’t a “virtual event” by any means.

The real inclusions here are the licensing fees that the platform charges based on your event type as well as some scope-based cost, which varies depending on a few factors:

  • Number of attendees
  • Number and length of webcasts
  • Type of webcast (live or on-demand, with or without Q&A, etc)
  • Number of spaces or locations utilized (equate this to the % of the hotel property you would occupy for an in-person meeting)

Overall you’re going to run anywhere from $10,000 or less for a single webcast (tier I) event to upwards of $100,000 for a large event with 30+ webcasts and 2,500 attendees (tier II or III).  There are a lot of factors here, however, and every platform has incentives that will allow you to reduce individual event cost if you agree to run multiple events in the first year of your contract.  Basically you’re paying a startup-related cost once and a reduced per-event fee, making the platform advantageous to companies that can take advantage of the technology within multiple departments.  Just don’t be lured by a vendor with a low entry price and think that’s the entire cost of your event.  Remember that they are putting a massive burden on you to accomplish the other key services and the entry cost doesn’t often reflect necessary add-ons like webcasts and trade show booths.

Content Creation

If you have an in-person event heritage, you know that content creation outside of your general sessions is largely the responsibility of the individual presenters.  Not true of virtual events where presentations are a collection of webcasts that are viewed much like a movie: in a linear sequence.  Because you have a lot of distractions to compete with, a greater focus MUST be placed on continuity of content.  That means that each breakout is planned as a part of the whole, not as an isolated session.

…presentations are a collection of webcasts that are viewed much like a movie: in a linear sequence…

The added focus on how attendees experience the content expands the content creation portion of the budget with both planning and content development and then with production services to adequately capture the content and package it in a way that maintains continuity with unifying graphics packages and interstitial “bumpers” that let the audience know they are watching a continuous show.

Your budget in this area is obviously going to revolve around the volume of content that needs to be produced as well as the method in which you produce it (read: quality).  I’ve seen content budgets as low as $25,000 and as high as $300,000, meaning that content can quickly become the majority of your spend – and rightly so since “Content is King.”  The key takeaway here is that you shouldn’t just rely on good presenters to do their thing, but instead provide a more rigid structure that those presenters have to work within.

Creative Services

Before you’re ready to produce any content or send your first promotional email, you have to understand the unifying theme of the event, which is then played out in a look and feel.  Creative services work to create a theme that supports the event objectives and then design look and feel elements that play out across all communication channels…and there are quite a few involved: email, web/microsite, banner advertising, print/direct mail, environmental renderings, video production, video graphics… just to name a few.

While creative won’t eat up your entire budget, the more you allocate to it, the better you’re setting yourself up to produce the right content for your audience and increase your engagement metrics (i.e. how long people watch, how many surveys are completed, areas visited, etc).

Strategy Services

Understanding what you’re trying to accomplish, setting measurement goals, defining measurement methods and then mapping all of that out in a plan isn’t just a nice to have.  It’s a requirement…

Finally, the most important component of the puzzle: strategy.  Understanding what you’re trying to accomplish, setting measurement goals, defining measurement methods and then mapping all of that out in a plan isn’t just a nice to have.  It’s a requirement for that moment when senior leadership says “why are we doing this again?”  You need to have a plan that illustrates all of that information at your fingertips, which is why it’s a critical service.

In addition to planning, there are actual promotional marketing elements that may emerge from the plan.  I’m sure you can imaging an internal event requiring little to no marketing cost, but an external, customer event requiring a significant one, further illustrating the scope-based nature of virtual event budgets.

Basic strategy for tier II and III virtual events follows a calculated set of steps that we’ve developed and costs between $10,000 and $15,000 depending on the type of event that you’re planning.  Marketing campaigns that result from the strategic plan can be simple and email-based, costing a few thousand dollars up to a full-blown, multi-channel campaign costing well over $75,000 (and much more if you’re talking about printing and mailing costs).

Specifically allocating a “marketing spend” is important when you’re planning a virtual event so that you know how much you have to work with…

Specifically allocating a “marketing spend” is important when you’re planning a virtual event so that you know how much you have to work with and it’s often best to base that spend on the value of an attendee, thinking of it in terms of a “cost per attendee” which can be anywhere from $1 – $500 depending on their value to your business.

Conclusion

So, in conclusion, there are a lot of pieces to consider, but in the end a virtual event is just like any other event program: a collection of smaller parts that come together to accomplish a unifying set of goals.  I hope this has been helpful for you and I welcome questions and comments below.  Thanks.

5 Responses to “How much do virtual events cost?”

  1. Dan says:

    If you’d like a tool for setting your goals, you can use this web application:

    Gtdagenda.com

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A Vision Wall (inspiring images attached to your goals) is available too.
    Works also on mobile, and syncs with Evernote.

  2. This is a useful list of the virtual services that have to be budgeted for the period before an event. But what strikes me is that there’s no reference to the virtual elements an organizer might want to build in while a program is under way, or in the period right after the event. That’s a whole other element of virtual and hybrid meetings that was demonstrated very nicely last month at EventCamp Twin Cities (http://eventcamptwincities.com/live/), a meeting held simultaneously in Minneapolis, Dallas, Basel, Switzerland, and online. This isn’t to diminish the importance of advance virtual marketing — because it’s critical — but EventCamp showed how virtual elements can be a key selling point for the product itself.

    • Hi, Mitchell. I’m referring more to a purely virtual event rather than a hybrid event as you’re suggesting. For virtual events, 95% of the work is done before then event and then you’re essentially pushing “play” to carry out the plan. From a budgeting perspective, you’re accommodating the “during event” elements both as part of the up front strategy planning (what you’re going to us and how you’re going to utilize the features) and the technology platform, which includes the features you would actually use (webcasts, trade show booths, chat rooms, etc.).

      That said, I certainly understand what you’re driving at. Hybrid meetings and events are a whole other topic that I may tackle soon since we’ve now executed several hybrid events, both large and small, and actually have some good information to share as a result. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Jim says:

    Thanks, Steve. Well written, helpful and easily understood – Much better than my usual answer of “That depends.” May I share it with the public?