09 Jun 2014

AGU Believes the High Cost of a Virtual Event is Worth It

By Michael Hart

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) spent $200,000 to stream much of its annual trade show and conference last year—and considered it money well spent.

Chris McEntee, executive director and CEO of the AGU, says that, despite the fact nearly one third of the association’s 23,000 members typically attend its annual meeting, there are plenty of non-members and those members who don’t typically attend that she wanted to reach.

“For one thing,” McEntee says, “we want to develop future generations who are students right now and have very little money.”

During a presentation on the AGU’s streaming program at the Exhibition & Convention Executives Forum last month in Washington, D.C., she said was also interested in reaching:

  • The two-thirds of the membership that doesn’t routinely attend.
  • Those members who work for government agencies and have trouble getting clearance to travel to events.
  • International members
  • The 8,000 or so attendees who do attend the meeting and can’t get to all the sessions they want to.

During the fall 2013 meeting, AGU streamed all awards ceremonies, keynotes, most conference sessions and press conferences. It also streamed all the e-posters that were available both at the live show and online. Although it required that those attending the show virtually register (primarily for tracking purposes), it did not charge them anything.

The association also sent virtual attendees a packet of materials similar to what in-person attendees would have gotten in an effort to make them feel more closely involved.

As a result, 2,485 people participated in the event virtually and eventually nearly 1,000 who were present did as well. That count included more than 50 remote sites, primarily universities, where virtual attendees were able to watch many of the events together.

Although the estimated cost of the virtual show—$200,000—seems quite high to many, McEntee says the association’s board considers it a priority and is willing to devote the resources to it on an ongoing basis because, it believes, the program will eventually result in increased membership.

A little over 40 percent of those who participated in the virtual event were non-members last year.

“If we can convert half who participate into members, we will cover the costs,” McEntee says.

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