The PPA Awards 2020 was due to take place at the Grosvenor House Hotel with an in-person audience of 800, black tie, three-courses, celeb host, the whole shebang. However, due to event restrictions, the ceremony took the form of an online-only event on June 30. Since announcing the pivot to virtual, the PPA team has been inundated with requests for more information about how we managed the whole process. So here’s how we did it...
1. WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
March 2020, COVID hits. Publishers and events organisers are thrown into the unknown, with unclear advice and legislation from government about how, what, where and how big the impact will be. Everybody was making split decisions to cancel, move, reformat, or pivot upcoming events. Having already received a record number of entries for the PPA Awards, we wanted to honour the hard work of all our entrants and decided to pivot the event to a digital ceremony, keeping it to the same timeline, and making the online ceremony free to attend for members, given the difficult financial period they were likely to face.
2. WHAT DOES A VIRTUAL EVENT LOOK LIKE?
This was a challenge. Whilst experienced in running in-person events, the team had limited experience in organising digital-only events. We looked at a variety of platforms, including fully-immersive digital event platforms, and we asked a lot of people what they were doing, however it was still early days for a lot of organisers. We came to the conclusion that a simple but slick ‘live-streamed experience’ would be best. Keep the cost down, keep the audience interaction to a minimum, and think of it as a live show rather than trying to replicate the full event experience.
3. PLATFORMS AND PARTNERS
High-end production, a sense of ‘live’, a slick functional portal, and registration wall were the most important elements to us.
We’d been using the Evessio platform previously for our event websites, facilitation of awards, entries, judging and ticketing, and the team at Evessio were already making moves to facilitate online events with their other clients. We knew they had the ability to build a registration process into the site, and so with their expert guidance, we developed a page on our event site to host the live streamed awards.
We then turned to event production supremos White Space Creative Solutions to provide the content and streaming solution. They have a team who are experienced in live-streaming to TV, as well as thousands of live events under their belt, and so it was an easy transition for them. They suggested we get a small core crew together to film the show in their studios in Colchester, with the added bonus of being able to go live to guest presenters who could stay safely at home. White Space filmed and curated the content live, using a TriCaster system, and streamed direct to the Evessio site using uswitch.tv.
We also pulled into the live stream page a moderated curated social media feed which was incredibly easy to set up and embed into the Evessio page, provided by CrowdScreen.
4. THE EVENT
We moved the event from our usual 9.30-11pm timings to a 4.30-5.30pm slot. As a B2B event, we thought it best to tag it on to the end of a working day and not eat into peoples’ social and family time.
We made the event free to attend. As a not-for-profit membership body, knowing what a lot of our publisher members are going through right now, we thought it best to reduce our expectation for them to pay to attend if we could at all help it, and instead found other ways to make the event commercially viable.
We had to look carefully at areas in which we could deliver value to sponsors given the change in format and so included inventory that wasn’t already in the standard packages, but that would give the brands good profile throughout the event campaign. For example, we offered to send personal bespoke messaging to the finalists and winners for their sponsored category. We also offered sponsors the chance to pre-record themselves announcing the winners so that they could remain part of the show as they usually would at the live event.
We decided against using a celebrity host – mostly due to cost – and PPA MD, Owen Meredith did the majority of the hosting instead. To introduce a live element to the event, Lucie Cave, Editorial Director at Bauer Media, agreed to take on the task of ‘Virtual Red Carpet Correspondent’ to pull in live social media posts and provide that all important audience engagement. Our Voice of God was done by Lee Warren and was pre-recorded as separate audio files which were then placed into the show reel with imagery timed to his vocal cues.
We encouraged the audience to interact during the live show by running competitions with prizes, with our Virtual Red Carpet Correspondent Lucie Cave, pulling in screenshots of tweets and Instagram posts live throughout the show. We also encouraged teams to set up their own Zoom chats while watching, and even produced a sweepstake document the audience could download.
We wanted to collect pre-event registrations for two main reasons:
1. So that we had an early idea of how many people we’d actually get watching.
2. It was a key data collection opportunity. Evessio worked with us to ensure we had full visitor analytics throughout and after the show. We knew in real-time how many people were online and we were able to pull engagement figures and data off afterwards.
5. THE STATS
We had 1,235 total unique attendees from 318 different companies across the course of the streamed ceremony, with an average ‘watch time’ of 1 hour 6 minutes (the ceremony lasted 1 hour 10 minutes).
We have had more than 67,000 page views across the PPA Awards website so far for the duration of the PPA Awards campaign. This includes a 76% increase in page visits in June in comparison to June 2019.
#PPAAwards trended on Twitter during and after the show – fifth in the UK (between Boris and Kanye!) and our social reach resulted in more than 161,000 impressions across Twitter and Instagram over the week of the Awards.
6. LESSONS LEARNED
Comms - we briefed attendees as much as possible in advance so that the joining process on the day was efficient and they got the most out of the event. The feedback about this process and information was excellent.
Pre-recorded vs live content – the team at White Space recommended we get as much of the content pre-recorded as possible to eliminate risk, which we did. We pre-recorded a lot of our main host (Owen’s) script in studio on the day, so it felt as close to live as possible and most of the takes we used were his first attempt so that it didn’t feel over rehearsed. The sponsor winner announcements, our Chairman’s intro, Voice of God and other bits and pieces came as video/audio drop-ins in the weeks leading up to the show and were expertly stitched together by White Space. The only truly ‘live’ pieces to camera were the interactions between Owen and Lucie, our Virtual Red Carpet Correspondent. Pulling in live tweets and Instagram posts was a pretty full-on job and we only got it done in the nick of time. Luckily we had the professional Lucie Cave on hand who was able to appear calm throughout it all. In hindsight we’ll build more time in for this at future events.
Side-eye – positioning of the cued script is key. We got this a tiny bit ‘off’ and so have learned next time to spend the extra money on full autocue system to avoid sid-eye!
The feedback from attendees has been overwhelmingly positive and we have come out of this experience confident that, should the future require it, we can pull off virtual and hybrid events successfully with the right partners on board!
You can revisit the full show online here.
PPA: Steph McCabe email@example.com
Evessio: Thomas Howie firstname.lastname@example.org
White Space Creative Solutions: Kurt Bowen email@example.com