Data Technology reimagines what a business conference can be
If you have ever doubted that adaptability was critical for business success, 2020 likely changed your mind. While traditional approaches are often well-tested and reliable, when the market and the world dramatically shift, you need to react.
For nearly two decades, IBM Business Partner Data Technology has relied heavily on its annual Predictive Analytics Conference to connect with existing and potential customers and to drive year-round sales and marketing efforts. Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, dramatic adjustments had to be made for the 2020 conference.
“By March, we knew things were going to be very different,” recalls Dr. Roland Kurzawa, Head of Consulting at Data Technology. “Which meant that we only had six months to adjust. As travel restrictions and other guidelines were put in place, we began creating a remote conference experience. However, we also knew that many of our attendees would still want to meet in person. As Austria’s leading conference for Data Science, Analytics and AI, it was our duty and responsibility to satisfy the needs of both online and offline participants. Therefore, we deemed the creation of a hybrid approach necessary.”
New year, new conference
Offering attendees a choice in their event experience, Data Technology began putting in place safety measures for those that planned to attend in person. Mag. Andrea Deltl-Gaszczyk, Sales Manager for Data Technology, explains: “We limited the number of live attendees and rented additional rooms for distancing. Contact tracing was implemented, and we paid special attention to privacy and GDPR compliance. Normally, it is a two-day-event with hundreds of attendees, so we had to completely rethink the catering. As a result, there was not a single case of COVID-19. The hard work was really worth it.”
For those joining the conference virtually, Data Technology invested in a video conferencing solution that allowed the live talks to be streamed online. Conversely, these off-site attendees could also share their video feeds to ask live questions during question-and-answer sessions.
“We needed our virtual conference to be as authentic and engaging as the one experienced in person,” notes Kurzawa. “With virtual conferences, you lose a lot of the spontaneity of an in-person event. I have attended a few virtual conferences myself, however, you are either watching a pre-recorded video or you type out your questions in advance. There’s no back and forth.”
He continues, adding: “And for the two speakers that couldn’t attend in-person due to travel restrictions, we recorded their sessions and had them available in our livestream immediately after to answer questions.”
Investing in the experience
With the additional safety measures and tools, the cost of the Predictive Analytics Conference increased considerably. To help offset these expenses, Data Technology took advantage of IBM Co-Marketing funds.
“IBM Co-Marketing has always been a critical component in organizing these conferences,” notes Deltl-Gaszczyk. “It’s one of the biggest advantages to partnering with IBM, and without that assistance, we would not have been able to make this hybrid conference a reality.”
Beyond using the IBM Co-Marketing funds for the event itself, Data Technology also introduced a multichannel promotional campaign. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of our prospective attendees might have assumed that the conference would be cancelled this year, so we needed to be more forward when it came to awareness,” explains Deltl-Gaszczyk. “We ran a traditional phone and email campaign and used the funds to help build the conference website. The site not only needed to handle registrations but also offer streaming and live interaction features for our remote attendees.”
A chance for the future
The hybrid Predictive Analytics Conference, held in October 2020, proved to be quite a success. “While attendance was slightly lower than the previous year, we had more people attend than we originally expected,” notes Kurzawa. “Many of our in-person attendees, told us that this was the only live event they had been able to participate in all year — they were grateful. We found a plan that worked.”
The hybrid version of the Predictive Analytics Conference was so well received that Data Technology instantly chose to make the 2021 conference a hybrid event as well. “By continuing the virtual experience, we are hoping to attract attendees from farther away — more German and Swiss participants,” adds Deltl-Gaszczyk.