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Live events: A primer

In-person gatherings can bolster brands, reach new audiences, deepen relationships with existing audiences, provide feedback from the community, bring stories into the community, and drive revenue, among other purposes.

Content matters – a lot! — especially content that adds local, differentiated and not-easy-to-replicate value because it helps local audiences and enterprises navigate, survive and thrive locally.

But content is not likely to be enough.

In addition to content, your purposes must also extend to fostering experiences, connectedness, conversations, convening and community problem solving. Local audiences, for example, gain more value when your journalism initiates and sustains conversations as opposed to one-time reports (even one-time, major and insightful investigative or enterprise reports).

But expertise and good programming are only the starting point. For organizations to effectively execute a live events strategy, events must focus on creating memorable experiences, connecting people with a community interested in/concerned with similar issues, fostering dialogue among those communities, and potentially even acting as a catalyst for helping communities consider solutions to problems. Partnered with journalism products, events can often move major reporting from a one-time product into ongoing engagement with the community—and the organization from a product release mentality to a serialized, community service orientation, where reporting is brought into direct engagement with communities.

In-person gatherings can bolster brands, reach new audiences, deepen relationships with existing audiences, provide feedback from the community, act as extensions to bring stories into the community, give opportunities for the community to engage in and around an ongoing initiative, provide the chance for appointment-based real-time engagement with digital extensions, and drive revenue, among other purposes. Local news enterprises can turn geography — otherwise a hindrance — into a competitive advantage by engaging with people in physical places.

In this section of Better News, you can learn about the key strategic questions to ask when considering a live events strategy, as well as practical considerations when designing and implementing events. As a news organization considers live events in its strategy, there are a few potential types of live events to ponder:

  1. Participating in existing events. News organizations have a longstanding tradition of having a presence at community events. This sort of community participation brings the news brand to places where people are gathering and gives an opportunity to reinforce, in person, the values and the approach of the news org.
  2. Social gatherings. News organizations wishing to connect more deeply with their community may design social events that bring people together—happy hours for members/subscribers, watch parties for an important speech or debate, a trivia night about local history, etc.
  3. Organizing community gatherings. Increasingly, news organizations see and understand as part of their function hosting a range of events that bring communities together: from informal meet-ups to topical forums to outreach to “listening tours” in person, to providing digital spaces or curated experiences for residents to participate in real-time gatherings online.
  4. “Live storytelling.” Events may also actually be designed to be news products themselves—bringing newsroom staff and other experts into conversation, tackling important issues to the community, and sharing results of investigations/research.

Further, digital tools make it possible to not only provide on-demand access to recorded live events but, increasingly, to watch or listen to them in real-time via livestreaming–opening up new, less expensive routes to bring events to audiences who can’t be there in person. Organizations might also consider opportunities to cover events in real-time through live posting.

Some news organizations have invested in, and found strong returns from, creating live events that become revenue generators directly (in terms of sponsorship and ticket sales) and indirectly (building relationships, getting email addresses through registration, etc.) From conferences and forums to cultural events, news organizations are broadening their business models to consider where and how they might find revenue in ways that reinforces their brand.

It’s important to understand, however, that live events can require significant planning and resources to implement. Logistical concerns like securing and preparing the space, catering, registration and ticketing, sponsorship management, and live production of the show can require skillsets not present in many newsrooms. And engaging communities in person at events, and ensuring an optimal experience for attendees, require an investment of time, people, partnerships and other resources.