The Celebrity Factor: New Ways to Engage with Virtual Attendees

November 16, 2020

Mark Roberts

Mark Roberts serves as CMO of PGi, where he is responsible for all marketing operations worldwide, driving growth opportunities and building brand recognition for the company within the communications market.

Now that the novelty of online and virtual events has worn off a bit, organizations are looking for new ways to keep their audiences engaged. Many are turning to a perhaps unexpected source for inspiration: Hollywood.

It makes sense when you think about it — Hollywood knows how to tell a good story, and their stars are engaging. Plus, they know how to keep their audiences coming back for more, and that is pretty much what every company wants, no matter the specifics of their business objectives 

Engaging with virtual audiences is easier than it might seem — and the approach works for both large and small companies. It just requires some forethought, a compelling story and the right messenger.

Virtual events may never entirely supplant live events, but employing them allows companies to connect with audiences in a new but just as powerful way. Virtual events can offer great value and a solid return on investment, but success necessitates looking at and planning events differently.

The power of personality

At in-person shows and conferences, companies often turn to celebrities as a draw. But talent comes in all forms, and a “celebrity” doesn’t need to appear in a blockbuster movie to be famous.

Companies often want to use an executive team member, thinking they will be a draw for attendees. Instead, consider a looser definition of the term “celebrity” and look to a noteworthy entrepreneur or someone within a particular industry who will draw attendees and engage with them, even virtually.

As an alternate approach, look to other sources for talent waiting to be tapped — maybe it’s a customer, a partner or a team member in their own organization.

Inspiration for the moment

The world is facing COVID fatigue. We all want to know when the world will return to “normal.” But honestly, that may never happen. Instead, we’ll move into the “Next Normal,” where we’ll take with us the lessons and the new ways of operating we learned during the pandemic and apply it to the challenges ahead.

People often turn to celebrities because they value something about them, whether it’s their perspectives or their stories, and they are personable. Just like a movie has a story arc with bits of drama and a happy ending, people want to know that the drama of the moment will lead to a satisfying conclusion. 

Right now, people can use some motivation. They want to know circumstances will improve and that the doldrums of COVID won’t last forever. People want an inspiring story, and there are many exciting happenings that are propelling companies to succeed even during a trying year.

What was the key to their success? Audiences will find that secret interesting, and it will give them ideas they can use within their own organizations.

More than “one and done”

As people engage with brands and organizations in a new way, the opportunity is to build an ongoing relationship — one that remains in the “Next Normal.”

For in-person events that happen only once a year, attendees may not hear from the event sponsor until it’s time for the next year’s event. People are growing more comfortable engaging virtually, and now they expect to do so regularly, so find a way to connect with them virtually on an ongoing basis. 

Look at how celebrities engage with their fans on social media. Many companies use social media to project their message to a broad audience, but if they’re not taking time to foster a relationship with their followers, perhaps they should amend their approach and deliver content that inspires and keeps audiences clamoring for more.

An event should never be “one and done.” Instead, it should be the launching point for ongoing outreach and marketing, so build a plan and put in place everything you need to execute it.


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.