Accolo, Inc. has an interesting approach to marketing and public awareness. You may be one of the more than 17 million people who has seen their hilarious spoof of the Paris Hilton/Carl's Jr. TV commercial. Or you might have seen their helpful recruiting ad for a Supreme Court Justice from last year, phrased as a corporate HR department would put it on Monster.com (complete with Job Id: SUPR-CRTJT).
So when the Accolo team wanted to get into webinars, they created a tag line to help remind themselves (and their audiences) to keep it interesting and innovative. "Webinars With A Kick" is the result (that's trademarked by the way). Take a look at this information and registration page from their latest event. I'm a big proponent of making your registration button prominent and easy to use. How's this for a new approach?
People clicking on any of the five humorous registration buttons were taken not to a standard web conferencing registration page, but to a customized survey (hosted on SurveyMonkey.com) that asked them a number of questions about what they wanted to hear during the seminar, what questions they had for the panelists, and so on. This is a great tactic. Now your registrant has a personal stake in the content and an additional reason to attend. Accolo presented the event link at the end of the survey.
Buried in the text of this particular webinar invitation was a phrase that fascinated me. It says:
This is a redo of the debate we held on November 14, 2006 where there were difficulties with the sound. Thanks to the willingness of the panelists and vastly better technology, we are holding another live Webinar debate.
Hmmm... A webinar that had enough technical problems to require a re-do and a company bold enough to fess up and tell its audience that they acknowledged the problem and were taking action. I wanted to find out more. So I called John Younger, President and CEO of Accolo. John acted as moderator for their debate webinars. He described for me what happened, but said that he was going to keep all vendor names out of the discussion. I agreed to comply.
The original webinar staged in November was held as a live panel in front of an audience. Microphones for each guest speaker were mixed at a patch panel and input to the web conferencing software as the audio stream to be played along with supporting slides. The panelists held a lively debate and John felt good about the production, although he saw a few comments from the web audience saying that they were having troubles hearing. It was only after the event, when John listened to the recording that he found the audio was completely unusable.
John said he was absolutely crushed. It's so much work and preparation to stage an event that you want to get maximum ongoing benefit from it. And the "halo effect" predicts that people associate your personal and corporate credibility and quality with that of the event being held in your name. Even though a technical glitch using third party software wouldn't have anything to do with Accolo's recruting services, they would still be seen as incapable.
So John decided there was only one thing to do. Find a new web conferencing vendor he felt more comfortable with, apologize for the inconvenience to the original web audience, and stage the entire thing again to rectify the situation and give them the quality they expected. He says that he was surprised by the number of people who emailed him personally to applaud Accolo for the straightforward admission that things didn't work acceptably and that they were taking the time (and cost) to do it over properly.
Accolo held the make-up webinar this week. This time they staged it as a pure internet-only web conference. The speakers stayed at their home or office locations and spoke over individual phone lines. The SurveyMonkey pre-event questions proved to be a big help as well. John and his team were able to pick the best 16 or 17 questions and concentrate on those issues, with slides picked to present supporting research and evidence for each topic.
The event went off without a hitch and they got a quality recording that can be shared and distributed going forward. John says he was frustrated however by a lack of responsiveness from his web conferencing vendor. He was on hold for 17 minutes before the slated event time, trying to get someone on the line to activate the session. They finally got the show up and running with a mere three minutes to spare. During the event, John and the speakers also experienced problems with latency in slide distribution. It could be as much as 60 seconds between the time that John showed a slide from his presenter console to the time that the panelists and audience saw it. It's very hard to keep a smooth flow when you are coping with such inconsistencies in performance between participants.
I asked John if he was soured on using web conferencing as a marketing channel and he said that he is as enthusiastic as ever. He sees costs coming down and performance improving, making webcasts and webinars a great way to deliver your message. He provided the following lessons for others based on his experiences:
- Make sure you have compelling and interesting content for your target audience, presented in an attention-capturing way. There are so many webinars being offered now that you have to do something special to make people select yours from the crowd.
- Test, test, and retest all technical aspects of your event several days before the live session. Leave nothing to chance. Create a recording using an audio stream from the actual source you will be using.
- Make sure you have crystal clear expectations and agreements from your technology vendor over what services they will provide in conjunction with your event, Make sure they know when you expect them to be available for support activities in relation to your session.
- If possible, put a service level agreement in place with your technology vendor. If things go wrong so that the event is ruined and you have to do a make-up, there should be financial incentives or penalties for the vendor to ensure that you are compensated or allowed to re-do the event under your existing agreement.
- Make sure your event plans include getting additional benefits from your effort after the session is over. Don't just make a recording and bury it somewhere. Accolo will be keeping the original information page alive as an ongoing dedicated topic area for their webinar subject. Not only will people be able to watch the recording, but they will see answers to additional submitted questions, provided by the expert speakers. Speaker biographies and relevant links will also remain. This can be tied to additional marketing announcements and campaigns.
I finished up by asking John if he achieved his objectives with his web seminars. He told me he had gone in with three primary goals. He wanted Accolo to be seen as a thought leader, pushing the recruiting industry forward. He wanted to provide a lively, entertaining, and informational experience for the audience that they would value. And he wanted to get a benefit from new sales leads spurred by the event registration. He said that in the end, he succeeded with all three.