Live, from a computer near you

Webcasting builds brands and thought-leadership. David Ward learns how to make the most of it

Webcasting builds brands and thought-leadership. David Ward learns how to make the most of it

Though it's been around for nearly a decade, webcasting remains a technology still waiting to truly take off as a PR tool.

"It's a tremendous application that hasn't gone mainstream like I thought it would," notes Mike Spataro, EVP with Weber Shandwick's Web relations team. "That may have been understandable in the past, but if you haven't been on a webcast for a while, the audio/video quality now is pretty darn good."

Even with all these improvements, webcasting is at risk of being bypassed by newer platforms such as podcasting, primarily because content can be delivered more cheaply. "There's a cost associated with the bandwidth, so it's expensive to come up with a webcast for 1,000 people," says Eric Schwartzman, president of iPressroom.

But the one thing a webcast still does very well is enable an audience from around the globe to view a live event, while also letting the presenter keep track of everyone who's watching or listening.

"Webcasts where you only get a couple hundred people can still be valuable as a lead generator because you get names and e-mails," explains Douglas Kaye, founder of the San Francisco-based nonprofit The Conversations Network. "With podcasts, you can get it out to many times more people, but you don't know who's accessing it."

Troy Witt, president of Take One Productions, adds that webcasts are especially good for media relations.

"Press people are the ones that want webcasting because they're going to watch it live," he says, quickly adding that you can't just assume reporters - and the rest of your audience - will find your webcast on their own. "Just like you wouldn't put a live show on TV and not publicize it, you need to get well out in front and publicize your webcast," he says.

That outreach should begin about eight weeks out, says Todd Grossman, VP of sales/client services at MultiVu. "You must realize that about 50% of the registration happens one week prior to the event, so you need to send out reminders then, as well as on event day," he adds.

Grossman says that, in general, the best time to hold webcasts is midweek, since most potential audience members will be in their offices. But he stresses that getting them there is only the first step; keeping them tuned in is the real challenge and that comes down to content. "It should never be an infomercial," he says. "Webcasts must have value to the audience and speakers must have credibility."

Adam Brown, director of eKetchum, Ketchum's digital media development group, goes one step further, arguing that reporters are now staying away from webcasts unless it's for a major news announcement.

But he also notes that in those cases, audio-only webcasts can work just as well as video. "Most reporters are multitasking and may not be looking at the video in the first place," he adds. "The one place where video and rich media are going to help you is if it's more of a consumer or soft-sided story when you need to do some selling."

And given that anyone can simply leave a webcast with the click of a mouse, Spataro stresses, "There is no reason to have just a talking head for an hour. Presentations need to be shorter and the whole pace needs to be quicker."

Even if your client's live webcast doesn't attract a huge audience, it can still be worth it if enough people view the archived version of the event. Brown says it's important to package that webcasted material in as many different ways as possible. "If it's a 45-60 minute event, you want to segment it into chunks for people who only want to see a portion of the content," he says.

In addition to post-notification releases informing people where they can find the archived event, you should also leverage search engines to help people not on your e-mail list find that content. "Search engine optimization can really help," says Schwartzman. "That's why it's very important that you prepare an accurate keyword-optimized transcript of the event."


Technique tips

DO

Heavily promote your webcast. They're not cheap to produce, so you want to maximize your potential audience

Give them more than a talking head. Rich media, slides, an interactive poll, even a giveaway keeps your audience involved

Have customer support available

DON'T

Rely solely on live events. Archive the webcast, too

Overload your webcast presenter. Not everyone can talk while forwarding PowerPoint slides and triggering rich media. Have other hands to help out

Make it a one-way street. E-mail Q&As at the end of a webcast get the audience involved

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