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Grahame Lynch talks CommsDay Summit and beyond

By Seamus Byrne in Media News on
One of the first live events that had to be postponed when the pandemic began to hit was CommsDay Summit. Originally scheduled for April, as one of Australia’s marquee ICT news events it was sorely missed – and not just by its audience.
“We’d banked hundreds of thousands from sponsors and delegates,” says Grahame Lynch, Founder of CommsDay. “And while we decided to go online, video clearly wasn’t what we’d promised. So it was always the plan to deliver on that obligation with a physical event as soon as we could.”
Jump to October, six months after the initial date, and CommsDay Summit was able to go ahead in a physical format. With a few precautions to keep things COVID safe.
Lynch says that the split of speakers in person and on video link was about 50/50, while the attendee mix was one-third in the room and two-thirds online.
While between the announcement of the event in August and it taking place in October many restrictions were being rolled back, Lunch felt it was most appropriate to stick to the promoted arrangements “to make sure there was no breach of faith” for those attending.
“We implemented distancing protocols,” says Lynch. “Usually you’d have 10 to a table, but we had four. So a lot less people but we still had to increase the room size by 50%. But there was still good personal networking that it was worth it for those who went. Some even felt they got more quality time with people in this case. And some were just grateful to just get out of the house.”
“It surprised me that it felt like there was a lack of animus from people thinking we were creating a risk. We were very clear on the protocols and we had very clean services, all staff used gloves, we had plated lunches, no buffets, we delivered coffees. Everything was done to minimise spreading any virus.”
With the ‘template’ now in place, Lynch feels confident for the future of similar events whatever may happen in the months ahead.
The value of live
While so much that has happened this year has been discussed in terms of why we don’t need to come together as often as we used to, Lynch feels conference events are an area where video-only is just not a great model.
“For whatever reasons, exhibitors just struggle to make the same commitments in video as in physical events,” says Lynch. “There’s a premium for personal. Virtual webinars are not new things. They just don’t attract the same premiums from a commercial point of view.”
CommsDay Summit is both a networking opportunity and an event where news is broken, with major players of the industry revealing newsworthy information during keynotes. With that in mind, Lynch felt it was most appropriate to run as a live-only event with no post-event recordings available if someone wanted to catch up later.
“You have the minister, the CFO of Telstra, and others announcing policy that impacts on others,” says Lynch. “We wanted to emphasise being there on the day. There’s no much use for us in KPIs and metrics if someone watches it two weeks later.”
Other elements that were carefully managed in the name of making the hybrid work were the avoidance of panel discussions, as the mix of in-person and video link speakers just doesn’t work well in such a context.
While CommsDay Summit was able to happen in Sydney, Lynch says the event business was halved in 2020 with bookings down overall and the Melbourne event cancelled “for obvious reasons” as well as losing other satellite event opportunities as well. But he’s pleased with what they’ve managed to achieve given everything that has happened.
“Everyone got two events out of it so we fulfilled obligations and stakeholders were grateful to have an event to announce things at,” says Lynch. “Subscriptions have been buoyant, with work from home seeing people reading more. The test will be next year when all this stimulus runs out. We’ll see how the economy is when the props have been pulled out from under it.”
New opportunities
Along the way, CommsDay has launched the CommsDay Live podcast in recent months, and Lynch says that being open to new angles for sponsors and opportunities has been beneficial this year.
“When people ask ‘Do you do a thing?’ we’ll look at doing it instead of saying ‘No’ like in the past,” says Lynch. “We’ve never really pushed ads in CommsDay, for example. We put a few messages out to say we allow it and that’s been meaningful in terms of extra revenue. It’s helped keep someone in a job.”
Lynch says being honest and transparent with people means it has been easier for people to adjust and feel they “have a stake in the solution to the problem.”
“It's the greatest economic cataclysm since the Great Depression. That's just the truth of it. My philosophy is that I have to put on a strong face for those around me. They know I'm treating this seriously, but I'm not denying what it is either.”
“We’re going OK,” Lynch says. “I talk to a few other publishers, everyone is treating this seriously from what I can see. I’m impressed by how a lot of people here in Australia have kept their teams relatively intact.”

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