The Ultimate Guide to Running a Virtual Event: How We Pulled It Off (& How You Can Too)

If you had told me back in January 2020 that HYPERGROWTH was going to be postponed, and that I – along with the rest of the world – would be working out of our homes for months on end, I would have:

  • Belly-laughed.
  • 👇

To be completely honest with you, those things did happen (especially the wine). But a few other extraordinary things happened too:

  • Our marketing team rallied around a solution
  • Our community mobilized to deliver a virtual event like none other
  • 8,500+ people attended RevGrowth 2020

And all of this took place in…a month and a half.

🍷 anyone?

Hey there, it’s Janna 👋

I run events here at Drift. Including Drift’s largest virtual summit to date: RevGrowth 2020. So, yeah, I’m tired. But I’m also incredibly excited to share how we managed to pull it off.

Below I’ll walk you through how we ran RevGrowth 2020 from start to finish.

19 Heads are Better Than One: How RevGrowth Came to Be

Pre-Event: Drift-powered Event Registration & Promotion

The Main Event: The Technology, Speakers & Agenda Behind RevGrowth 2020

Post-Event: Follow-up, Collateral & Creating Lasting Value

Final Thoughts

19 Heads are Better Than One: How RevGrowth Came to Be

It goes without saying, but, 2020 is proving to be a tough year.

In early March, events and sponsorships were canceled one by one – and then all at once – as the seriousness of COVID-19 grew. I also saw seasoned event managers I worked with for years lose their livelihood in the blink of an eye.

At the same time, Drift’s VP of Demand Generation, Kate Adams, and Head of ABM, Meghan Flannery, approached me with an idea:

“These postponed and canceled events are creating a pipeline gap we can’t ignore. But this isn’t just happening to us. It’s happening to a lot of partners and customers too. So…what if we teamed up with these other companies? 

My answer: Yes. Yes. A million times yes.

That same day Kate sent a mass email to our friends in the SaaS industry with the message: Let’s reinvent events – together. Yes after yes came rolling in.

Last week Drift and 18 of these companies delivered two days of marketing and sales content to 8,500+ people.

And no, we didn’t figure it all out over a single email or Zoom meeting. That’s just a pretty picture.

The reality was it took dozens of marketers and salespeople from these companies a month to bring it all together ⚡︎

Above is the definitive list of everything it took to bring RevGrowth to life.

Number one on that list – partnerships.

Choosing Partners and Speakers

There are a few important things to consider when choosing partners for a virtual event:

  • Content and value to the audience. The value a partner provides should be just as much about thought leadership as the number of leads they can bring to the table.
  • Similar audience or ideal customer profile (ICP). When choosing partners for a virtual event, start by looking in your own backyard – from integration partnerships to customers. Then, identify companies with audiences similar to yours.
  • Rapport and professionalism. Event managers talk to each other. And bad behavior gets around. If a partner or speaker is particularly difficult to work with, or are not meeting the promises from an agreement, word gets around.

In terms of keynote speakers, relevant content and rapport are definitely important. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say appeal and popularity play a role. But I want to harp back on relevancy:

I’ve seen so many big-name experts at conferences with topics simply not right for the audience. That’s not to say that the content has to be relevant to just your audience’s work life. Personal development and enrichment are great content additions to an agenda line-up. Just be sure the audience demographic will find it valuable.

Lead-share Agreements & Partnership Contracts for Virtual Events

Earlier I mentioned the importance of choosing partners based on audiences and ICP. This is necessary not just for quality event content, but for your demand generation efforts as well.

With the loss of physical events, marketers are looking to fill the gap in their pipeline for the year. Lead-sharing allows companies to expand their event audience and capture net new leads through partnerships.

Kate Adams spoke about the logistics of lead-sharing in a recent blog post:

“All companies should have proper documentation and policies around GDPR and have an understanding that spamming and hounding leads – the second they become available – won’t benefit anyone. Make sure you have an understanding with your partners on how you’ll follow up and guidelines for coordinating follow up in a human way.”

☝️ These rules are sacred in any lead-share scenario and ensure that you treat attendees like people NOT leads.

For each partner involved, we issued lead-share agreements and contracts. Lead-share agreements are particularly important for virtual events as a lack of guidelines can turn into messy post-event follow-up.

Here are my best practices when it comes to partner lead-share agreements:

  • Use a 1:1 policy and cap for lead-sharing. One way to keep things on the level is by using a 1:1 match policy for the lead-sharing, as well as a cap. This means for every contact a partner drives to the event, they get a lead. In addition, I’d suggest setting a cap or goal a partner has to reach to receive the entire lead list. In other words, if you get 500 leads to attend, you get the whole list.
  • UTM tracking is key. One of the best ways to keep track of the attendees your partners get to sign up is by assigning them specific UTM parameters for event links. This makes it so there are no disagreements moving forward.
  • Follow-up. Establish clear time-tables for marketing and sales follow-up with each company.
  • Always involve legal. Any contracts or agreements should be co-written and approved by your legal team. Period.

Pre-Event: Drift-powered Event Registration & Promotion

Once we established the partnerships and lead-share agreements for RevGrowth, there were three areas we quickly needed to nail down:

  • Brand
  • Registration and day-of functionality
  • Pre-recorded elements

Creating the RevGrowth Brand: A Whole New Look

How do you take the epic branding of a physical event and create the same visual and innovative experience for a virtual one?

☝️ That was the question our Creative team needed to answer for RevGrowth.

Luckily, it was a question they started asking about a year before when we hosted some of our first virtual summits.

While these earlier events weren’t at the size and scale of RevGrowth, they did introduce similar challenges: How do we create a whole new look for virtual events vs. an in-person one like HYPERGROWTH?

Here’s our Creative Director, Matt Guemple, on bringing the virtual vision together:

“The look and feel of Drift’s virtual events are evocative of posters you might see on the streets promoting a concert or club. The half-tone dot pattern ties into that theme as well by evoking the look of an old school graphic equalizer. We also decided that, with the world being the way it was, we might be doing more virtual events in the future. So we designed the logo to fit into our product sub-brand system. Mimicking this sub-brand system, we also included shapes and angles intersecting with the different speakers.”

 As businesses rely more on digital marketing to generate pipeline, the need to differentiate becomes even greater. We try very hard to steer away from the cookie-cutter corporate look for that reason.

Running Event Registration with Drift Chat

We’re big on using Drift at Drift. And one place Drift is essential for us is event registration.

Similar to how we use Drift for webinar registration, all our event registrations run through a registration playbook. We then use a bot on our landing pages to prompt people to register:

This bot is triggered via a Driftlink. This was great because we could drop the link anywhere on the page to prompt the Driftbot to appear – whether it was a link behind a Register Now button or hyperlinked text.

There’s also the option to embed Drift chat directly on a page. We do this for our webinars 👇

After entering their email and agreeing to terms, RevGrowth attendees were then given Google calendar links for the event directly in the chat. They were also sent this same content via email, post-registration.

From an event experience perspective, this was seamless. Plus, if any of these visitors were from a named account, that account owner would be notified when the person was on the page. This made aligning with sales on the event THAT much easier.

Retargeting Visitors to Boost Registration

Someone visits your event page, but they don’t click or register for the big day. But, they stayed on the page for a while and didn’t immediately bounce.

As any good digital marketer would tell you, your next steps should be retargeting.

For RevGrowth we did this in two ways:

  • Retargeting ads: This is pretty standard, but a lot of event teams miss this opportunity. With RevGrowth, we had about a month of social promotion before the event. Part of our promotion plan was setting up retargeting ads for people who came to the event landing page, but didn’t register.
  • Retargeting bot: We have a lot of repeat site traffic due to our active blog and social media. And we pushed RevGrowth hard on both these channels. That’s a big reason why the Drift Retargeting bot was essential for getting additional registrations for the event. With this bot, return visitors were greeted knowingly and pointed back towards the event page. A lot of our customers use this for things like pricing pages too. You can see the bot in action 👇

Retargeting Drift pricing page

Turning Everyone into a Marketer

The efforts around promoting RevGrowth internally were just as strategic.

At Drift, we encourage everyone to be a marketer. We celebrate big announcements and events as a company. This was key to boosting registration and visibility for RevGrowth.

Before every major launch, marketing will send an email and a Slack message with steps on how everyone can get involved. Part hype-machine, part strategy, this internal communication asks Drifters to help spread the word and offers suggestions and tips for how to do so.

Here are some other best practices we used during the event in our social promotion and outreach:

  • Share content, directly and indirectly, related to the event. We shared content about how to pivot event strategies while also sharing announcements about RevGrowth.
  • Again, get your team excited. The biggest marketing asset is your team. If they share excitement about the event, their networks will want to join in. We made it EASY for our team to share announcements about the event on social using a software called Bambu, run by Sprout Social. In Bambu, we included writing prompts Drifters could easily use and publish to their social channels. We also ran competitions so people would get excited to participate throughout the event.
  • Engage with your audience and community. When people mention you or comment on your content, comment back and invite them to the event. If someone is talking about something relevant to your event, invite them. You see what I’m getting at here?
  • Also, always have a hashtag on relevant platforms. It makes it easier for people to find your content during the event (and easy for you to engage with posts during the event). And, of course, it ties back to your brand.

Pre-Recording Speaker Sessions

As social distancing became more strictly enforced, we quickly realized that we weren’t going to be able to record speakers the old fashion way (studio-style).

We needed to find a way to record their sessions remotely, while also delivering the same high-caliber experience that should come with a virtual event of this scale.

To adapt, we shipped our speakers equipment to help them record high-quality videos at home.

I got together with the Creative team and we itemized recording equipment we knew were 1) manageable to ship; 2) easy-enough-to-use; and 3) would deliver the quality videos we needed.

Here’s a list of the items we sent:

  • A bi-color LED ring light
  • USB microphones
  • A pop-up white background kit (this allowed for a consistent look and feel between the speaker sessions)

The Main Event: The Technology, Speakers & Agenda Behind RevGrowth 2020

Once we had the pre-recorded sessions from speakers, it was a matter of bringing everything together. To do that, we partnered with ON24 to create a best-in-class virtual summit experience.

Powering RevGrowth: How ON24 & Drift Brought the Experience to Life

ON24 ensured RevGrowth didn’t feel like your everyday webinar. Using their Webcast Elite platform we were able to include interactive elements where:

  • Speakers could answer Q&As
  • Attendees could watch both the speakers and engage with their slides
  • Attendees could post on social
  • And a whole lot more

We were also cognizant of the fact that people might be coming in and out throughout the two days.

So we included an on-demand stream hub where attendees could easily access the recordings and still get the same great experience.

Going Live: Bringing RevGrowth Online

On April 16th and 17th, RevGrowth went live!

Throughout the day, we encouraged both speakers and Drifters alike to share #RevGrowth on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook … you name it.

Day one was targeted towards marketers. Day two, sales. Like I mentioned earlier, these two groups are our core ICP. To make sure we had an equal amount of content for both audiences, we knew it wouldn’t work just limiting ourselves to one day.

It also didn’t seem right to flip-flop between marketing content and sales content, especially if we wanted to keep attendance up throughout the day.

This proved to be a good move, as attendees were engaged significantly throughout the day.

One of the other cool elements we brought in was a live DJ and two different video workouts.

It’s a lot to ask people to sit in front of their screen all day. Like any live event, we wanted to give people the opportunity to move around and also take a step away from the tactical content.

DJ Fader has been a part of HYPERGROWTH before, and it felt like a no-brainer to bring him back for RevGrowth to deliver some amazing transition music between sessions.

We were also fortunate to have Goldie Yoga and Brogan Graham deliver awesome workout sessions both days.

Post-Event: Follow-up, Collateral & Creating Lasting Value

Any event manager will tell you: The job doesn’t stop after the conference ends.

Our demand, sales and content team are still hard-at-work providing even more value to RevGrowth attendees.

Turning Conversations into Pipeline & Events into Content

Post-event, two emails were sent to those who registered, and attended, and those who registered, but couldn’t attend.

The tone is different, but the CTA is essentially the same. For RevGrowth, this meant pointing attendees towards the video recording. This same messaging and cadence happens on our other channels outside of email as well. Our event registration bots on the RevGrowth landing page are now pointing people to the video recordings.

Post-event, demand gen also works with sales to follow-up on impactful conversations. It’s then on sales to turn those conversations into pipeline.

Besides follow-up, there’s also the additional collateral to consider that will be created from the conference content. This blog post included!

While we won’t spoil what’s to come, I strongly suggest that for your own virtual events, you work closely with your demand gen and content teams – ahead of time – to transform event collateral into additional assets.

In the meantime, you can find all the recorded sessions from RevGrowth on Drift Insider.

RevGrowth’s Big Announcement: Introducing Drift Audiences

All events need a big announcement – and our announcement at RevGrowth was definitely a big one.

Our CMO, Tricia Gellman, announced the release Drift Audiences on April 16th at the end of RevGrowth day one.

Drift Audiences is a feature we’re super excited to bring to market, especially as marketing and sales teams rely more on digital marketing to generate new business in the age of COVID.

Specifically, Audiences answers: Who’s my buyer? And who am I trying to have a conversation with within my acquisition funnel?

Drift Audiences allows you to pull all the relevant data you need so you can engage in real-time conversations that unlock new revenue.

Final Thoughts

A huge thank you to the partners that made this event possible! Without them, this wouldn’t have been even half the event it was.

If you take anything away from this article, I hope it’s that events are a team effort. Drifters and other SaaS partners came together during a difficult time to give their audiences something innovative, helpful, and yes, even fun.

If you want to learn more about taking your in-person event online, you’re in luck! Drift hosted a webinar with yours truly and our VP of Content & Community, Mark Kilens. You can access the recording here or by clicking the image below 👇