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Behind Momentum Media’s quick pivot to virtual events

“I personally think that there is a fresher, more edgy, more granular way to go about doing events.” Momentum Media Director Alex Whitlock explains how the company has pivoted quickly its in-person events to provide added value to its audience and clients since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Momentum Media is unique in terms of its capabilities for its individual audiences. It provides market and business intelligence across print, digital, events, broadcast, research, and social platforms to vertical audiences in the financial, real estate, legal, defence, aviation, and SME business sectors.

Alex Whitlock, Director, Momentum Media
Alex Whitlock, Director, Momentum Media.

The company recently announced a partnership with audio-visual experience company Austage Events to deliver live broadcast virtual events, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic social distancing restrictions on Australia’s events sector.

TMSN Editor Lyndsie Clark caught up with Whitlock to chat about its quick pivot to continue to deliver its annual awards programs and the increased engagement the company has seen so far.

Lyndsie Clark: Momentum hosts a large number of awards programs. How have you handled the delivery of these due to the COVID-19 pandemic social distancing restrictions?

Alex Whitlock: First of all, during these challenging times, how we rationalise everything is about our audiences. They’re the guiding light for us and everything that we do.

Obviously, with a media business, you need to keep the wheels turning and seek sponsorship dollars and so forth, but if you focus on revenue before you focus on your audience, you end up going down the wrong path.

So, the first thing that we did was look at why we run the awards programs in the first place. The awards across all of our portfolio are about highlighting excellence and giving recognition where it’s due.

Ultimately, many small businesses are struggling right now and to be given that recognition is critical for them. And that’s really what’s driven the innovation to move to virtual events.

We could have done it editorially, but I just think that’s in the spirit of an award ceremony – it becomes a bit benign and can lose its zeal.

We’ve focused on broadcast, both audio and video, for many years. We do a lot of live broadcasts, and we have capabilities that are pretty cutting edge in terms of media. Our recent partnership with Austage Events means we’ve got good in-house capabilities and a full AV team to support this.

LC: How do you think your audiences are going to respond to the virtual events?

AW: We started marketing our first virtual Real Estate Business Awards in April, and we received 250 registrations within a day of the first e-marketing being sent, which was absolutely phenomenal.

We host so many events, we’ve got 40 different kinds of award programs, and I go to most of them. The formats are largely the same – pre-drinks, opening address from the editor, a speech from the sponsor and emcee, you try to keep the crowd quiet during the presentations…I personally think that there is a fresher, more edgy, more granular way to go about doing events.

If you imagine that you are broadcasting the event live to people in their home or their office – obviously adhering to whatever social distancing may be appropriate at the time – I think you are going to get a more organic sort of response.

You get close-up views of the finalists. And the winner will be announced and you’re going to see a really raw expression of joy and emotion.

Alex Whitlock, Director, Momentum Media.

On the flipside, if you think about being in an awards room, it’s dark. We sometimes have 900 people at our awards. You can’t see people when they are announced, you hear the noise. To me, the virtual events are going to be a very different experience for finalists and the broader community.

Geographically, it’s virtually impossible to get people to fly from remote or regional locations to Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane for in-person events. So this year we can increase participation in far-flung areas.

Never mind COVID-19, we’re now bringing experiences to audiences across Australia so they can feel much more a part of the community. So we’re excited.

LC: That’s true, I think people need that right now. It’s also great lead generation for the events when you decide to do them live again too.

AW: Well it is. From a commercial perspective, our sales team has been very skilled and articulate in highlighting the opportunities to our sponsors, bearing in mind that our sponsors subscribe to the usual kind of awards event.

The increased participation gives our partners a very tangible audience to market to; being niche audiences, you’re looking at service and product providers that already have a relationship with a tangible offer in that marketplace.

By asking participants in the virtual events to opt-in, we’ve made it so everyone can connect digitally during the event. You can send messages of congratulations, and you can actually communicate with all the finalists, winners and other people in various channels. So its a really strong proposition for our partners and our sponsors.

LC: I can’t wait to see how that unfolds.

AW: It’s going to be good. Our first awards program, the Lawyer’s Weekly 30-under-30 ran in the last week of May. When we were promoting it, we found that our engagement was higher than in previous years.

Usually, we would reveal all the finalists in one news story before the event. But with this year’s 30-under-30 awards we revealed them one at a time on a daily basis. Each day we introduced one of the finalists – and we achieved as much website traffic as when we’ve previously released the whole lot – so we’ve got 30 times the level of engagement.

We’ve seen really exciting results from going through this activity. This year we had 830 registrations for the live-streamed event, that’s 30 per cent up on last year.

To view a show reel of Momentum’s virtual events, visit Momentum Media’s website.

To read more about Momentum Media’s approach to its audience and clients, read this interview with Alex Whitlock about the company’s approach to change and how it articulates value.

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