In this month’s Alumni Stories, we speak to Celeste Whitaker, founder of Fizz Marketing Events Management, about pivoting to virtual events for her corporate clients and why she chose VEI’s Certification Program.
What is your background in the events industry?
Like so many who have gone before me, I found my career by chance when working as a temp! I had no idea just how lucky I was and that this would become my absolute passion.
I began with a junior position in an exhibition company working my way through various roles over nine years – in admin, exhibition services, and marketing.
I finally became a manager of the largest IT exhibition in Africa, the Computer Faire. At that point, I felt I had the experience to start my own event agency and, in the year 2000, Fizz Marketing was born.
We now serve some of the top corporates in South Africa, as well as a number of international companies.
Though we work predominantly in the tech space, our clients and their audiences are diverse, which makes for a unique skill set for my team. I completed my VEIP (Virtual Events Institute Professional) in 2021.
What attracted you to the VEI course?
In late March 2020, with just two weeks’ notice, we suddenly had to scale up with one of our big events, DevConf. The conference is for software developers and IT experts, so it was a touch daunting.
Our team did an excellent job, with hardly a blip. From there we were fortunate to plan and execute more than 30 virtual events – each one a new learning experience and an opportunity to keep improving our service offering.
What we realized quickly was that we needed to professionalize our experience.
The VEI course was an opportunity to take our practical experience and apply it to a theoretical framework that had been tried and tested.
It meant we could not only test our learning, but we could also spot any gaps or opportunities that we had missed.
This would ensure a better service offering for our customers; it would give my staff the certification for their careers that I knew they had earned, and it would give us credibility with clients.
What were your favorite modules, and why?
Developing strategic content design was a favorite module of mine. I found it so valuable as it not only outlined different ways to share content in a virtual event, but it also gave us concrete examples of how to make the content ‘live’ beyond the event itself. The ideas on how to monetize content for our clients were something we hadn’t implemented yet, and going forward it will add value to our customers.
Another excellent module was ‘Increasing audience engagement’. One of the most challenging aspects of virtual events is keeping the audience engaged, and this module provided some very powerful ways in which to achieve this aim.
The last module on hybrid events was also extremely useful. This has been a new service offering for Fizz Marketing, and as such, we feel this is the space where we have the most to learn.
In what ways has the program helped you?
The VEI course has provided a structure around which we can apply our practical knowledge. Passing a course of this nature – that is well researched and backed by professionals in our industry – has given me and my team the ability to speak with confidence about our knowledge in this area.
The certification has also given our clients confidence that we know and understand the virtual event sector, not only because of the events that we have run but because we are certified professionals. It allows a level of trust and security in our recommendations during the consultation process.
One of the other benefits is that since we have achieved our certifications as an organization, we have participated in a number of Requests for Proposals, some of which we have been awarded.
We believe the official certification is what gave us the edge in winning this business.
What are your top takeaways from the course?
I have quite a few! For the module on increasing your virtual audience engagement, my key takeaway was that it’s enough of a challenge to gain and keep people’s attention at a traditional exhibition stand at a physical event but, with a virtual event, this can be exponentially harder.
The need to successfully engage a virtual audience has never been greater so this module was valuable as it gave a different take on ways to keep an audience engaged for the duration of your event.
I felt the section on developing engagement techniques to extend human communication and extend customer relationships was particularly relevant. At Fizz Marketing this is the very heart of what we do, so this was a great part of the program for our team.
What I loved most about the 'Attracting your Audience' module was learning about the concept of MOVE (Marketing Optimisation for Virtual Events) and how to apply it in four key stages, position, target, convert and tune. It’s a great, practical way to help our clients ensure that they're targeting the right audience during all stages of the event marketing plan.
The 'Introduction to Hybrid Events" module was interesting for me because at Fizz Marketing we've run a number of virtual events over the last 18 months but only a few hybrid events. This module was a reminder of how important it is to go back and revisit the basics.
And, of course, to understand the journey from physical events to virtual events and then onto hybrid events and to identify the similarities and differences between them.
Who would you recommend the VEI Program to, and why?
Four members of my team at Fizz Marketing have completed the course, and obviously, they have some experience working with virtual events to give them a contextual understanding of the course material, which is really useful.
I would, however, recommend this course to anyone wanting to run virtual events, whether they are new to the industry or not. If you have no experience it gives you a theoretical framework within which you can work.
And, if you do have experience, it gives you the theory to compare against and you can take or leave what will work for your clients – a win/win in anyone’s book!