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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 and drive revenue, among other purposes.

Content matters – a lot! — especially content that helps local audiences and enterprises navigate, survive and thrive in local environments. But content is not likely to be enough.

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

But expertise and good programming are only starting points. For organizations to effectively execute a live events strategy, they must focus on creating memorable experiences, connecting participants with a community of people interested in/concerned about similar issues, fostering dialogue in those communities and potentially even acting as a catalyst for solving problems. In combination with journalism products, events can transform major reporting from a one-time project to an ongoing source of community engagement. That, in turn, can also move the organization from a product release mentality to a serialized, community service orientation.

In-person gatherings can bolster brands, reach new audiences, deepen relationships with existing audiences, provide feedback from the community and drive revenue, among other purposes. Local news enterprises can turn their limited geography into a competitive advantage by engaging with people in physical places. Livestreaming tools also make it possible for audiences to attend real-time events online, opening up new, less expensive ways to reach people who can’t attend in person.

In this section of Better News, you’ll learn about the key strategic questions to ask when considering a live events strategy, as well as practical considerations when designing and implementing events. Potential event types include: 

  1. Existing community events. News organizations have long maintained a presence at community events. This community participation brings the news brand to places where people are gathering and gives the organization an opportunity to reinforce its approach and values in person.
  2. Social gatherings. News organizations that wish to connect more deeply with their community can design social events that bring people together, such as a happy hour for members/subscribers, a watch party for an important speech or debate or a trivia night about local history.
  3. Organizing community gatherings. Increasingly, news organizations see events that bring communities together as part of their core function. Such events range from informal meet-ups, topical forums and in-person “listening tours” to real-time digital gatherings.
  4. “Live storytelling.” Events can also function as news products themselves by bringing newsroom staff and other experts into conversation, tackling important issues to the community and sharing the results of investigations or other research.

Live events can generate significant revenue, either directly (through sponsorship and ticket sales) or indirectly (by building relationships, collecting 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 reinforce their brands.

It’s important to understand, however, that live events often require significant planning and resources. Logistical concerns such as catering, registration and ticketing, sponsorship management and live production all require skill sets that are not present in many newsrooms. Ensuring an optimal experience for attendees also requires an investment of time, people, partnerships and other resources.