A national conference that was born at Ricoh Arena is set to smash its attendance record later this year after overcoming the disruption caused by Covid-19 - and has now set its sights on creating an enhanced hybrid event when it returns to the venue in 2021.
The National Sales Conference - which is dedicated to supporting professionals in the global sales industry and has grown in reach and influence since moving to the Ricoh Arena, Coventry in 2014 – is transforming this year’s event onto an online virtual platform.
While the move was greatly influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent shut-down, the move has allowed the organisers to build both on line audiences and digital confidence before a scheduled return to Ricoh Arena in 2021.
The conference attracted more than 1,000 delegates last year - up from 700 in 2018. This year’s event has also seen a 22 per cent increase in ticket sales versus the total number sold last year, further endorsing the strategy adopted early by the event organisers Lincoln West.
The growth is the fruit of the event organisers’ quick adoption of a digital strategy and the weeks of intensive work to educate delegates on the merits of digital ‘attendance’; and getting them comfortable with the format ahead of the main event in November.
The strategy has allowed them to to secure the long-term future of a physical conference that has grown consistently year-on-year, whilst adding incremental delegates to the event’s reach come 2021.
The strategy included creating two separate online event formats - the NSC Webinar Series and The Digital Event Series - that were hosted in the build up to this year’s virtual flagship November conference, and were designed to identify digital aspects that can be built into the future physical conferences at Ricoh Arena.
The online transition has taken Lincoln West from a two-day, one-event brand, to a year round, multiple event company.
Between April and July, 37 webinars were delivered to more than 4,000 sales industry professionals that were looking for support, learning and interaction during lockdown - and included a library of content from previous conferences - enabling the organisers to analyse data and identify what content resonated the most with the audience.
The Digital Event Series - held in September - also experimented with virtual chat rooms and meeting rooms for social selling, along with online exhibition stands where sponsors and sales professional could network together.
Lincoln West’s ability to adapt and create an online portfolio of events meant an increase in revenue from show sponsors - which exceeded the costs of transitioning online, and has laid the foundations for both the content and operations for this year’s virtual National Sales Conference, taking place between 24 and 26 November.
Steve Lindsey, organiser of the National Sales Conference, said: “We had two choices when lockdown was initially announced: hope and pray that restrictions would be lifted in time for our annual conference, or go about trying to evolve what we already have. We chose the latter.
“Our immediate thoughts were around how can we support a community that we only see once a year and are often committed to attending live events, whilst at the same time rescuing this year’s annual conference.
“It isn’t a case of simply switching everything on to a digital platform because it is imperative that we get back to meeting physically as soon as possible, but more about how we could train an audience that we see once a year to embrace digital events in the lead up to our main event in November, and then give them the choice to attend in person or on line in 2021. It’s given us the opportunity to open up our content to people who can’t or won’t attend a live event, whilst keeping the loyal delegates engaged.
“The data that we have gleaned from our online events - such as what content they accessed and for how long - will only serve to enrich the experience of this year’s virtual conference and the future physical events that we hold.
“Despite the success we have had with our online activity, physical meetings are still important for our main annual event both from a wellbeing and commercial perspective, and, all being well, we are looking forward to returning the National Sales Conference to Ricoh Arena, who as a venue, have also backed our vision to develop the show and held dates for us to return in November 2021.”
Paul Michael, Commercial Director at Ricoh Arena, praised the resilience of the show’s organisers.
He added: “The way that the National Sales Conference organisers have adapted is fantastic news, and can hopefully inspire other event organisers to adopt a similar approach to get through what is a very challenging time.
“The role of digital was already becoming increasingly prevalent within the events industry before Covid-19, especially around how technology can not only improve in-show content and engagement, but also expanding a show’s reach beyond four walls and across the world.
“The pandemic has accelerated the importance of digital, and we are looking forward to exploring how Ricoh Arena’s 5G technology can play a part in helping events such as the National Sales Conference to evolve in the future.”