I must be legit now... I have pubic relations firms asking if I want to cover their clients' press releases!
WebEx put out a press release last month talking about Harvard Business School Publishing (hereafter to be referred to as HBSP) and their use of WebEx Event Center. If you read the release carefully, you will find it talks much more about WebEx than about the client's use of the product. Since I know people at WebEx and KRM (the service provider assisting HBSP with their webinars) I thought I would take advantage of the PR firm's offer and see if I could track down some more detailed information about the usage scenario.
I spoke with representatives of all three business organizations. From WebEx, I had a talk with Rajiv Saxena, the Senior Product Marketing Manager for their sales and marketing solutions. He was joined by Colin Smith, the Director of Corporate Communications. At KRM, I called upon Rick Olson (the CEO) and Neal Sipress (CTO) -- it helps to have friends in high places! And very big thanks go to Eric McNulty, the Managing Director of Conferences for HBSP. Eric took me through the program from the user perspective.
HBSP has been holding revenue generating webinars with WebEx and KRM since August of 2001. Eric still remembers the topic of the first event... "Ethics in Business," presented at a time when Enron's little difficulties first came to light. People must have been taking notes, because the next 12 months would bring revelations about Computer Associates, Halliburton, ImClone, Tyco, and WorldCom (among many others). But I digress. Topics are chosen to appeal to a general business audience, often touching on leadership strategy, management, and innovation.
HBSP is a non-profit organization, but a very important part of Harvard Business School's income stream. They generate revenues that support the academic program, freeing professors from the tedium and distraction of searching for grants. As such, HBSP runs their webinar series as an income generator, rather than as a marketing tool in support of other activities. They charge companies to attend presentations by prominent authors and subject experts on matters of interest to the business community. Companies are charged per site, rather than per attendee. Eric and Rick said it was common to have five or six people listening at each connection point and numbers often go much higher.
The interplay between the vendors in support of HBSP is an interesting model. The base technology is of course WebEx Event Center. Other parts of the Harvard Business School organization use WebEx in the classic self-service model for putting on free marketing events and product demos. But KRM packages the technology with quite a few additional bells and whistles. They provide their own operators and telephone bridges, technical support personnel, technical training facilitators, and technical moderators for the events. They manage all registrations and payment processing for the event (using additional third-party software) and take care of audio processing, recording, and setup. They master and edit the combined web/telephone presentation on professional studio equipment. They even provide telephone headsets for the speakers to use. KRM also has a privileged relationship with WebEx, hosting events on their own non-shared server cluster.
Neal points out that KRM doesn't do marketing of the event. The client is responsible for coming up with content and finding an audience. After that, KRM makes sure it all takes place without incident, using the WebEx software (WebEx is the only web conferencing technology they use for client events). KRM is also a firm believer in telephone audio. VOIP doesn't provide the sound quality or the interactivity HBSP looks for on their events. The HBSP webinars usually feature a healthy give and take between the speaker and audience throughout the event.
Each of the companies was quick to praise the others involved in the undertaking. KRM points to the reliability and longevity of WebEx, as well as its rich feature set for serious enterprise interactive webinars. WebEx is impressed by HBSP's ability to leverage their content and personnel in a multi-channel world. An author may have a book published by the company, contribute to the online Harvard Business Review, appear at a live seminar, and speak to remote audiences through a webinar. Eric said that while he has been approached by other vendors over the years, he has never had any incentive to look for different providers or technology. He said that even experienced speakers who do many webinars come out of a KRM/WebEx event impressed by the quality, professionalism, and smooth operation of the event.
Eric said an interesting thing in closing. He wished that more companies would realize that valuable content and information is worth charging for, even when presented over the web. He thinks too many companies are scared of driving potential listeners away by charging a fee and they end up lowering the perceived value of all web seminars. While I would be the first to argue against charging for marketing and lead generation events, I see no reason why companies shouldn't treat information of serious business value as a commercial asset. I'll tell you this... it's one sure way of dealing with that nasty attendance-to-registration ratio (now running around 33% for general marketing webinars). When people prepay, they usually show up!
Again, thank you to all my contacts who let me dig into their business model. If you are a vendor feeling jealous right about now and know of an interesting use case you'd like me to tell the world about, drop me a line.