Blog Public Relations Content Marketing

How to Design an Impactful and Engaging Virtual Event

4 min read
Share In a Post:
Author: Ariel Novak, Vice President at PAN Communications, headshot
Ariel Burch NovakVice President, Cybersecurity
virtual events best practices

Marketers were presented with a unique challenge in 2020, when they were forced to pivot to a virtual event format, often on a tight timeline. How could they ensure that their virtual events were seamless, collaborative, and above all – engaging?

PAN has supported clients’ events for over 25 years, and in the past few years we’ve partnered closely with clients to make sure their virtual events were just as impactful as physical ones. Read on to learn more about our work with CloudBees in driving media interest and engagement in a virtual event environment.

Going Digital: How to Make Your Virtual Event a Success

For the last several years, PAN has supported the industry’s largest DevOps event – DevOps World by CloudBees. Each year, it’s a huge draw for the industry and for media, and PAN has always helped to develop creative event themes – from WestWorld to “Breaking Builds” – supported worldwide events in San Francisco, Nice and Lisbon, and met face-to-face with the leading voices in the DevOps space.

This year, as the event went completely virtual, the theme was fitting – “Show Us Your World” – illustrating everyone’s unique situation working remotely during COVID-19 and showcasing the potential of DevOps to power a better world.

Recognizing the Challenges that Come with Virtual Events

While a virtual event brings with it many challenges, it can also present a fantastic opportunity to try out new tactics for engaging with media, analysts and influencers. It’s important, however, that you lay out your goals and potential challenges for the event ahead of time to keep your team on track throughout the event.

For CloudBees, our challenge was two-fold:

  1. To partner with CloudBees to create a virtual event with the same buzz and energy that attendees have come to expect from DevOps World.
  2. To attract media to virtually attend the event, keep them engaged throughout, and secure coverage of both the event and CloudBees’ news.

We were excited to dive in to plan for DevOps World 2020, and leveraged lessons learned from PAN’s prior successes with pivoting to a virtual format.

Click below to view pre-event logistics that you should consider for your next virtual event.

planning for your virtual event

Takeaway #1: Solidify your goals months ahead of the event to give your team ample time to execute an integrated marketing and PR approach that will help you meet those objectives.

How Marketing and PR Pros Should Approach Virtual Events

When planning a virtual event, we take several factors into consideration – including the client’s goals and objectives, and the audience they are looking to attract – and deliver the same attentiveness and detail you’d expect from a physical event.

For CloudBees, we reimagined several elements of DevOps World to translate to a virtual environment, tying everything back to the Show Us Your World theme. We had historically held an exclusive networking event, which brought together CloudBees executives, industry analysts and media. We sought to replicate an intimate networking event virtually, and put together a roundtable featuring industry leaders:

  • Sacha Labourey, CEO, CloudBees; and, Shawn Ahmed, SVP and GM Software Delivery Automation, CloudBees;
  • Tracy Miranda, Executive Director of the Continuous Delivery Foundation, as moderator;
  • Two CloudBees customers from Fidelity and American Express Global Business Travel;
  • Mitchell Ashley, CEO and Managing Analyst, Accelerated Strategies Group, with whom we executed a survey about the future of remote work and software development, announced at DevOps World.

Takeaway #2: Offer smaller, more intimate groups or sessions within your larger event to make it feel more personalized to your audience. This will make them feel as though they are connecting with presenters on the same level they would in person.

PAN helped to craft a dynamic discussion among the participants, in which they shared their experiences on their DevOps journey over the past six months during the pandemic, where they see the future of software delivery headed, a glimpse behind the scenes on how they’ve managed to work remotely while pushing out software, and more. This was followed by a live Q&A where media could connect with the participants directly.

We also leveraged some new tactics to foster relationships with media and keep them engaged leading up to and during DevOps World 2020. We created a personalized web page for each reporter, which included hand-selected sessions, and access to content including CloudBees’ social channels and four press releases aligned to the event. We also sent each media attendee CloudBees-branded swag to keep them comfortable while attending the event, including a CloudBees mug and bathrobe (check out the PAN Team wearing our CloudBees swag above!) In advance of the Media Event, we sent each reporter attendee a menu where they could order coffee/drinks and snacks that were delivered to them to enjoy during the event.

Click below for day-of tips on how to execute your virtual event.

executing a virtual event

Measuring the Impact of Your Virtual Event

A key measure of success for any event is the ability to not only produce immediate results (such as media coverage), but to promote long-term engagement with attendees even after the event is over.

With CloudBees, the Media Event allowed the PAN Team to strengthen relationships with key reporters integral in the DevOps space, as well as build new relationships. PAN and CloudBees secured about 30 journalists and analysts for the live Media Event, including six media attendees from leading publications. Although the event was virtual, the excitement and energy were still felt on screen. DevOps World garnered significant media coverage with more than 40 unique pieces of coverage globally including in leading technology outlets InformationWeek, TechTarget and ADT Magazine.

Takeaway #3: When approaching media prior to your event, look to invite reporters from a variety of publications. Top tier isn’t always the best fit when it comes to finding someone who will truly engage with your event.

And, DevOps World 2020 as a whole was among the most successful in DevOps World history, with a record number of registrants. But, don’t just take our word for it: DevOps World was named a Finalist in the DevOps Dozen Awards for Best DevOps Virtual Event of the Year.

Click below to discover how you can measure the impact of your virtual events.

measuring the impact of virtual events

“It seems the only constant in planning an event is the need to adapt to changes. When we made the decision to make DevOps World 2020 a virtual event, we knew we would need to be prepared to pivot. What we didn’t know is that this would end up being one of our most successful events to date,” said Heidi Gilmore, Area Vice President, Marketing Communications, CloudBees. “We got creative and added new tech features to allow attendees to interact virtually just like they were together in person – providing the opportunities they’ve come to expect from DevOps World to network, attend training courses and technical workshops, and have some fun. We’re already looking forward to a virtual DevOps World 2021!”

“We got creative and added new tech features to allow attendees to interact virtually just like they were together in person – providing the opportunities they’ve come to expect from DevOps World.”

“Every year, the team looks forward to all of the brainstorms, planning and ultimately executing a successful media program at DevOps World,” said Sydney Mueller, Account Supervisor on the CloudBees team. “While the event was virtual this year and presented some unique twists and turns, we jumped at the opportunity to make it the best year yet and create a dynamic media event. From personalized websites, to tailored briefings, to our media event, 2020 was an absolute show-stopper for our attending media!”

We were able to pivot to take the event virtual, learned a lot, and had a lot of fun along the way. To learn more about PAN’s approach to virtual events, please visit our Virtual Events Framework.

marketing and PR strategies for virtual events

An image of PAN's Brand Experience Report on the Potentials and pitfalls of AI for marketers

In our annual Brand Experience Report, we asked marketers and customers how they are using and experiencing AI to better understand how the technology is changing that relationship.