Webcasts can reach influential audience

If done correctly, this forum for information is an effective way to engage the media.

If done correctly, this forum for information is an effective way to engage the media.

Many companies recognize that webcasts can be a good alternative to a live press event because they provide a real-time, on-demand forum to present information to a wide audience. However, it's important for companies looking to engage the press to make sure that a webcast is the best forum, and has the best format, for a particular topic.

RF/Binder recently used a webcast to present information about a controversial project from its client New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI). With the proposal of a 200-mile electrical transmission line that would transfer power from upstate New York to downstate where there was more need, NYRI faced backlash from opposition groups and residents, says David Kalson, executive managing director at RF/Binder.

"We were concerned that in the framework of a news conference, [opposition groups] would veer the time away from legitimate journalists... and we would face speechmaking from the floor," Kalson says.

In the webcast, Chris Thompson, president at NYRI, presented charts and graphs of research and economic impacts on alternative routes for the line to the public service commission that requested the information, as well as journalists, officials, and opposition groups. The agency was able to limit questions to journalists, which allowed for news coverage to be more balanced than NYRI was used to, Kalson says.

According to Cece Salomon-Lee, senior marketing communications manager at ON24, 50% to 60% that attend a webcast - traditionally a 45-minute presentation ending with a 15-minute Q&A session - do so as it airs live, and 25% to 30% visit the archive.

The archive is a useful tool to provide journalists with on-demand information, but to engage those attending the live webcast, the company should provide the most gripping and important information at the beginning, Salomon-Lee explains.

A company can also use polls and surveys to monitor the audience during the presentation and target the discussion in real time.

"You can leverage polls and surveys to understand what participants' pinpoints are and what they're seeking to understand," Salomon-Lee says.

For example, a poll at the beginning allows a moderator to see that a reporter from a business publication is watching the presentation and angle the discussion to business. She also suggests a poll at the end for analysts and press, asking if they'd like more information.

The key to a successful webcast is having engaging content that resonates with a target audience and media, Salomon-Lee adds.

A traditional webcast may best present targeted topics or standard desktop procedures for technical products. But a video webcast can enhance the authenticity of an executive announcement or a response to a crisis situation, Salomon-Lee says.

"Having live streaming video and responding to questions in a live format has a better impact on how you're presenting yourself toward your audience," she adds.

Many of the dynamic video features can only be created and played with Flash media, as opposed to Windows media player and html. According to Gary Anderson, president and CEO of Netbriefings, Flash provides more bandwidth, and the back-end architecture allows you to manipulate, manage, and control the desktop player.

Anderson suggests using "quickcasts," two- to three-minute prerecorded Flash video, to provide highlights from press conferences and video webcasts, promote longer webcasts, or serve as "mini webcasts."

He adds that including a quickcast URL in a press release provides a more "to-the-point" message than a larger webcast.

"Quickcasts are meant for marketing people to put together quick and engaging messages [and] larger webcasts disseminate detailed information," Anderson says. "The presentation is more engaging with Flash."

Use surveys to target the discussion

Embed video in the PowerPoint slides

Include an analyst on a panel discussion

Exceed the average 60-minute span

Have more than four panelists

Use video with a lackluster spokesperson

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