The following is a guest article written by Caspar Luard (email@example.com), who heads sales and marketing for MeetMax, a sophisticated registration and meeting software platform for B2B conferences and trade shows currently used by a number of sell-side investment banks, brokerage firms, and independent research boutiques.
An important effect of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a rush of initiatives to take corporate access virtual. This has been especially significant for investor conferences provided by the sell side. It is certainly expected that in a post Covid-19 world virtual conferences will become as an important part of the corporate access program. Here are some of the key issues associated with transitioning an investor conference from the real world to the virtual world.
Benefits & Challenges to “Virtualize” Conferences
The CEO PolyOne Corporation (NYSE: POL) recently made the point that the lack of roadshows and in person conferences has been significant and made communication that much more important. This decline in face-to-face real world corporate access presents a significant opportunity for sell side firms. There has been a sudden stop applied to typical sell side provided face-to-face corporate access (both conferences and roadshows). Social distancing measures have impacted all events. The additional development of major importance to the financial markets and the buy side is the disruption to the economy and to corporate fundamentals. There is strong appetite for corporate access and the insight that the service provides into corporate fundamentals.
Most sell-side firms understand that there are real benefits associated with trying to conduct conferences that were previously scheduled, even if they are “virtual” ones. This includes:
- Keeping their place in the calendar. The conference calendar has a significant recurring element. In the same way that the Super Bowl always takes place in late January, major sell-side conferences take place at approximately the same date in the calendar. This ensures that the companies and the buy side learn to expect and anticipate the conference. A review of sell side conferences illustrates this. JP Morgan’s Annual Healthcare Conference in January is branded as the 38th Annual. The same branding applies to the Deutsche Bank’s Annual Media Conference (28th) and Credit Suisse’s 22nd Annual Communications Conference. There are powerful benefits to replacing a real world conference with a virtual conference to ensure this continuity and defend against a competing sell-side firm running their conference at a time your conference was previously held.
- Market opportunity for corporate access. Currently, many information channels have been compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic. Running virtual events at this time creates a way to capture your clients’ attention and provide value added insight by providing time tested content.
- Buy side may welcome virtual conferences. The buy side is already very accustomed to consuming sell side content virtually. Conferences with analysts, experts or company management teams can also be made available as webcasts. Many company presentations at investor conferences have been available for years as live webcasts. Virtual conferences may also be seen as a benefit for the buy-side as it promotes better time management and lower travel budgets.
Of course, running any conference is not easy, and trying to roll out a virtual conference has its own unique set of challenges. Some of these include:
- Replacing the real world experience of attending a conference with the virtual is challenging. Real world conferences aim to be major calendar events with their own excitement, pre event anticipation and buzz. Attendees block off their calendars to ensure that their time is fully committed to an event in the real world. Achieving the same level of urgency and exclusivity in the virtual world requires marketing and careful content management. This can be done by having unique panels or company presentations that are webcasted. It is also important to have a well-managed 1on1 meeting program. Virtual conferences must also be thoughtful about limiting access to paying customers much as in the real world name badges are used to manage access. It is hard to replicate the informal networking between investors, companies, sell side bankers and sell side analysts that happen during an investor conference. This makes the 1on1 meeting programs even more important for a virtual conference.
- Technology Challenges. Of course in the virtual investor conferences need a central web based platform to manage the event. There are specific attendee considerations. A company executive making a presentation from home to a virtual conference audience requires a check in process. Does the executive’s camera work? Is the audio clear? A company executive in a 1on1 meeting with an investor may choose not to use the camera feature if a web conference tool is the “meeting location” and may need technical support.
Key Components of the Virtual Conference
To “virtualize” a sell-side investors conference, a firm needs to consider how best to address two important types of content. This includes:
General Presentations. As mentioned earlier it has become more important to ensure that the virtual conference becomes a real event. Healthcare conferences for example have medical specialists on panels and key notes to discuss topics. In the virtual world this can be provided via video with slides. In the real world sitting or standing in a room and asking questions after a company presentation or fireside chat is relatively orderly. However when this is moved to the virtual world this is harder. An open conference call, which would be the direct equivalent, could be chaotic without an operator acting as a moderator and making sure that each person is ready in turn to answer questions. In the virtual world a text based question submission is an option.
1 on 1 Meetings/Group Meetings: Many investors prioritize the 1 on 1 program in real world conferences as the most valuable. In the virtual world the meeting locations can become telephone numbers with dial-ins or web conferences links. Here also technology must be taken into account. Company executives accustomed to an assistant or IR executive may be less familiar with navigating the technology from a home PC. Additionally group meetings where multiple investors meet with a single company at the same time face the challenge of the virtual world. In the real world orderly Q&A for a group meeting can take place as physical cues mean that people will wait their turn to ask questions. However when multiple people are on a conference call these cues are not present. There is a challenge in ensuring questions from multiple people are answered in an orderly manner. Group meetings in the real world can have as many as 15 investors meeting with a management team. This size of group meeting may not work as well in the virtual world. Web Conferencing with video for 1 on 1 meetings/group meetings would seem to be an obvious option in the virtual world as investors can view management directly on screen. However like audio, an orderly question and answer needs to be considered. Web conferencing software may also be more difficult for participants to correctly use the technology.
These are just a few of the issues that a firm needs to consider and/or address when deciding to create a virtual conference or transition an in person conference to a virtual one. While we have seen a number of sell-side firms roll out virtual conferences in the past few weeks, with many more on the docket in the coming weeks, the big question firms are asking is how will the market change once we are past the current pandemic? Will the sell-side quickly revert to the old way of doing business, and will the buy-side feel comfortable with this move? We suspect that many firms will return to the “pre-COVID-19” approach to conferences. However, after the restrictions on travel and in person conferences start to ease we do not doubt that there will be a more important role for virtual conferences.
For more information about this article, or about running a virtual conference contact Caspar Luard at firstname.lastname@example.org.