Virtual Noir at the Bar – Creating a Virtual Event

This is an article I wrote for Linked In…so it’s a bit business-speak, but may be of interest to those wondering about Virtual Noir at the Bar

Background

In November of last year, I moved back up home to the North East of England after 30 years away.

In February I attended my first Noir at the Bar session in the town.

What’s Noir at the Bar? Started in Philadelphia by Peter Rozovsky back in 2008 it’s a chance for crime authors to read their works (in a bar) to an audience. Since it’s conception it has spread around the world with chapters in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Spain, Japan and yes, The UK… Newcastle’s version of it has been run from the start by Vic Watson, a writer and writing coach, and has, over the four years she’s been organising them, gathered a loyal crowd.

When the lockdown happened, Vic decided to take the event online and I offered to help with the tech and marketing. I had been due to run a publishing workshop at Newcastle Noir – an annual live crime fiction event held in Newcastle each May, and with that now off the cards, I had a little bit of spare time.

Having ran the first ‘introduction to webinars’ training for Oxford University Press some 8 years ago and then heading up the Digital Marketing team which supported OUP’s comprehensive global ELT teacher training web programme with registration and promotion I thought I might be able to help out with both the webinar set up and the marketing communications required to support it.

You can get an idea about the ethos and origin of Virtual Noir at the Bar by watching this short promotional video I put together here

still image of an empty public bar black and white. Screen cap from video promo

 

What’s Happened?

One week after deciding to put the event online we ran our first session, unsure of the appetite from the public, but with a strong list of authors who had volunteered to speak at our first event. One week was not long to get things up and running, but through a fast and focused social campaign we had 100 subscribers within five days.

Now, seven weeks on, and about to hold our seventh session tonight (Wednesday May 13th), the number of subscribers has rocketed, and the sessions have been so well attended we’ve had to increase room size capacity again.

Over this period, we’ve had 70 authors speak – and, following the ethos set out by the physical version of the event, it has been a mixture of bestselling, big name authors from Harper CollinsPenguinSimon and Schuster and Macmillan, well-known and respected authors from small and medium publishers, and up-and-coming writers. How big? Well, as an example, tonight we have among our speakers – CWA Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame and creator of Vera and Shetland author Ann Cleeves. We’ve had Times, New York Times, Waterstones, and Amazon #1 authors alongside self-published and soon-to-be published writers. We’ve had participants from as far afield as Los Angeles and New Zealand and everywhere in between..and we’ve had attendees tell us that the event is the one date in their diary they have set aside in these altered times.

Authors, often the same ones who expressed concerns about presenting online beforehand, have told us that the event has been the most enjoyable they’ve spoken at. That it’s ‘incredibly slick’. (I sometimes think ‘slick’ can have slightly negative connotations but they insist it’s the traditional ‘done or operating in an impressively smooth and efficient way’ meaning.

We try.

25 years of direct and digital marketing experience has allowed for good practice, but the nature of the event has meant an appropriately relaxed approach. We try to make it as close to the physical event as we can (minus supplying the alcohol) through chat room, Q&A, break time quizzes, introduction slide show presentations as attendees settle in, prize draws for books read by the speakers, and full email support campaign before and after the event including recordings of the sessions and author information and social/ buying links.

You can see some of the previous session recordings at our archives here

screen capture of virtual noir at the bar archives logo

It’s a time consuming thing, to be sure. Author training and rehearsal, registration and follow up emails, video editing, quiz and opening presentation preparation and creating advertising collateral. But it’s possible – between three of us (Vic with the address book, author contact and the onscreen presenting, myself looking after the marketing and tech, and a ‘chat room bouncer’ helping on the night with Q&A, chat and behaviour – instigated along with additional security settings after a first week when we were too trusting of the good nature of everyone on line…)

Results

First off, VNatB is non-profit. Any donations made go to paying for the platforms and any excess is donated to charity. In that respect we’ve been successful – able to increase capacity for more attendees and make a donation to the NHS.

What’s it meant for participants?

Well, a number of authors have said they’ve seen an increase in interest – in book sales as well as social subscribers, and it has opened their eyes to getting involved with more online events.

For attendees it’s given a small element of comfort and regularity: ‘the best part of my week’ has been a sentiment expressed a number of times. It’s also given them a chance to chat to like-minded attendees and add a few new books to their ‘to read’ list.

What’s it meant for us?

A lot of work for Vic and me. And while I can’t speak for her, for me it’s meant after years of strategic management, and more recently providing consultancy and training, it’s been a chance to ‘get my hands dirty’: doing the sort of things in my previous role my very talented team did. So, after years of advising on, rather than producing creative, I’ve had the chance to flex my skills- while putting the whole thing together to a minimum budget (outside of platform costs we’ve spent nothing but time on marketing).

I’ve also found that a number of other would-be Webinar providers have appreciated help. Seeing what we’ve managed to do, I’ve had small publishers, charities, educational groups, and festivals being forced to move planned events online over the past few weeks. (I’ve also been proactive in reaching out and offering help – one for a festival offering a programme that interested me, one for an organisation that suffered a particularly heinous attack during one of their first outings.

The advice and support I’ve provided has included technical consideration, speaker support, communication planning and objectives setting.

Sometimes it’s just been to sense check, other times it’s been considerably more detailed.

What does the future hold?

For anyone wanting to run online events, I believe the lockdown has been a sharp shock, but one which they have had to adapt to and will ultimately benefit from and continue to use even if they hadn’t considered it before. Once this whole thing starts to move back to something resembling normal (sooner rather than later, as we all hope) more and more companies, large and small, individuals and groups, will realise that the cost, reach and effect of online events can all be a key marketing tool. They’ll find that participants are both forgiving towards technical issues and at the same time more comfortable using it themselves.

For Virtual Noir at the Bar? We’re fully booked for speakers until end of August and committed to running the show every Wednesday night, 19:30 start UK time. We’re also committed to keeping the events free, and any donations will be put to helping us increase platform capability and supporting charities.

Of course we’re looking forward to getting together in person again, and while we won’t keep up the weekly schedule when things eventually reopen, we’ll definitely run the occasional special event…because we’ve found that people who wouldn’t be able to get to the physical event – through geography, physical ailments or comfort levels, are really keen for us to do so.

And there’s more.

The ‘needs must’ approach that made us set up an event from scratch in just one week when I’d normally have said it would take three at minimum, has made us wonder about what else is possible.

And we’ve got something big coming.

Seriously big.

Something I wouldn’t have dreamed possible barely three months ago. But we’re doing it and come June 10th it’ll be live.

But that, as they say, is another story for another time…and I look forward to telling you about it.

Summary:

To register for tonight’s Virtual Noir at the Bar (13th May) sign up here before 18:00 today.

To sign up to our regular newsletter which will allow you to register for future events, you can sign up at https://tinyurl.com/vnatbsignup

And if you have any questions about online events, marketing support or publishing consultancy, feel free to drop me a line at simon@bewickconsulting.com

Thanks for reading and good luck in your own online events.

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