Lawrence Chia

How to win in the big wave of online events


We have no idea of when the COVID-19 will end. People called it the third wave. Given COVID-19’s ferocity, rampant speed and potential to return, Hong Kong enterprises should be extremely agile and explore new ways to continue running the businesses. Fluid as the situation is, traditional businesses might not survive if they do nothing but merely wait for economic recovery.

In March, a Beijing-based company debuted on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX) and became the first to hold a virtual listing ceremony, the seemingly only feasible option. Later in June, the HKEX celebrated its 20th anniversary. Not resigning to the limitation imposed by the pandemic, HKEX launched a series of meticulously planned digital and virtual events, including a CEO’s blog, a digital campaign to talk about its milestones, a virtual gong-striking celebration, and videos about its corporate values and culture featuring staff; as well as social media campaign to introduce its charity programme and university scholarship programme.

At the beginning of the pandemic, a good number of events and trade shows have been cancelled due to travel restrictions, social distancing and other measures. Traditionally many businesses, especially B2B, rely heavily on trade shows for enhancing their exposure to overseas buyers and making in-person business networking. Given the situation, however, organisers and B2B businesses alike could only call a halt to their events or activities and wait until the pandemic is contained.

In the absence of trade shows, most businesses are trying different ways to reach their customers and continue their operations as much as they can. Many of them are ramping up investment in digital solutions, social and e-commerce platforms.

Amongst the available platforms or solutions, webinars have been gaining popularity these days. It is not unusual to be flooded with 20 or 30 webinar invitations in your email inbox every day as businesses consider a webinar a relatively simple and low-cost tool in reaching out to a comparatively larger number of attendees. From the audience’s perspectives, webinars which work are those which provide them with valuable information before making an informed decision in relation to a brand’s products or services.

With the high expectation from the audience and the webinar field becoming increasingly crowded, the mediocre ones have slim chance of standing out.

Curating good content as well as striking a balance between content and context, webinars serves as an effective lead-generation tool. A well-designed webinar provide relevant data points from every part of the journey which can be tracked. The direct effect is helping brands smoothly work through the marketing funnel whilst a sustainable merit is to draw in an even more optimised target group to your next event.

Before the lockdowns, the Content Marketing Institute has conducted a research which indicated that of the ‘Content types B2B marketers used in the last 12 months’, 57% of respondents had employed webinars or online events. I believe the percentage would increase if they were to be asked again today.

Some businesses would opt for transforming their events to virtual ones. And the key to a successful virtual event is keeping your audience engaged.

In July, we have just delivered the first ever virtual press conference in the Philippines which successfully recruited 73% of the invited guests. We did a live demonstration of a virtual exhibition hall and opened a platform for dialogue between speakers and attendees. By clicking on a virtual exhibition booth, attendees could see its full realistic rendering including its name and detailed description, and access interactive experiences such as live chat and scheduling, meeting and messaging functions.

The virtual press conference has become a highly effective dialogue. Speakers used a real-time video call to meet virtually with other guest speakers, leading up to a lively media Q&A session. As the event ended, media members stayed in the virtual exhibition hall to download press releases and photos and make direct contact with stakeholders.

When countries begin recovering from COVID-19 and loosening restrictions, live events will gradually resume probably starting with those on a smaller scale. However, in the next normal, virtual events and hybrid events should emerge to become an essential part of a company’s long-term marketing strategy. 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Lawrence Chia

Lawrence Chia

Lawrence Chia is the Group Chairman and CEO of the Hong Kong-listed Pico Far East Holdings Limited (752.HK). Founded in Singapore in 1969, Pico is a global total brand activation company specialising in engaging people, creating experiences and activating brands. Today it employs some 2,400 permanent staff with sales networks and production facilities in 34 major cities worldwide. In the 2019 financial year, Pico Far East Holdings Limited reported revenue of over USD 640 million and a market capitalisation of nearly US$422m.

Chia was educated in the United States, graduating from the University of Tennessee with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with highest honours. In 2006, he received the International Executive in Sport and Entertainment Award from the University of South Carolina in the United States. In 2016, Chia received the University of Tennessee Outstanding International Alumni Award.

Before assuming the Chairmanship of Pico Far East Holdings Limited, he was the Managing Director of the Pico Group of companies in Europe and North America, and was based in London for six years. With more than three decades of experience in the event marketing industry, Mr Chia embodies a forward-looking vision to continuously drive the growth of the company – particularly in the areas of business process innovation and digital transformation.

In 2020, the Pico Group won a Gold award for Event Agency of the Year in Hong Kong. In 2019, the Group won InnoESG Prize in recognition of its making a positive impact in the areas of environmental, social and governance.

Chia is currently Chairman of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce (Hong Kong).  

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