Will the Value of Webinars in the Hedge Fund Industry Outlast COVID-19?

Will the Value of Webinars in the Hedge Fund Industry Outlast COVID-19?

Before COVID-19 restricted travel and large gatherings, people questioned  online educational platforms as legitimate contributors to the hedge fund industry. Recent webinars have proven themselves both legitimate and necessary. They add tremendous efficiency with respect to both time and money. Their flexibility and nearly unlimited reach cannot be replicated at conferences. As webinars continue to gain traction they will be dominated by a few firms that distinguish themselves from competitors by cultivating their strong brand, consistently delivering valuable content and implementing a high quality marketing strategy.

By Donald A. Steinbrugge, Founder and CEO at Agecroft Partners, LLC

Live conferences have consistently been popular within the hedge fund industry. However, most of the attendance has been dominated by a few high-profile industry conferences like SALT, Delivery Alpha, MFA, Sohn Conference, Context, and Gaining the Edge – Hedge Fund Conference, that attract large crowds. The valuable content offered at these conferences draws investors, hedge fund employees, and service providers. Investors are able to share ideas with other investors, and hear their peers’ perspectives on the industry and what strategies currently look attractive. Hedge fund employees benefit from the information and opportunity to network with potential investors. Service providers gain a platform to enhance their brands and sell their products across the marketplace. The key to a successful conference is providing content that investors view as value added. If an event is able to attract high quality investors, hedge fund and service provider attendees are quick to follow.

COVID-19 interrupted this status quo by prohibiting nearly all face-to-face interactions. Since early March, conferences that dominated the industry either have been cancelled, or will probably be postponed until an effective immunization is in broad circulation. The hedge fund industry has to quickly adapted by embracing virtual communication.  With this transition, webinars are becoming increasingly popular as an efficient and accessible educational tool. For example, registrations for our last three episodes of Gaining the Edge – Hedge Fund Educational Webinar Series have grown from 480 to over 1,200.

It seems like everyone is now producing webinars and inboxes are flooded with invitations. While webinars gain traction as a creative workaround in the midst of the pandemic, many people are wondering if they will remain attractive when conferences with large gatherings resume. While we do believe conferences will always be an important part of the industry, we also believe webinars are here to stay.  Similar to the consolidation witnessed in hedge fund industry conferences, webinar viewership will also consolidate to a select few webinar series as strong brands separate themselves by continuously delivering high quality content. Below are our thoughts on why webinars will continue to be popular after COVID19 is behind us and what is required to put on a successful webinar:

Webinars save time and money. As investors become more comfortable with video technology, a webinar series can provide the same valuable content as a conference without the expense, time, or hassle of traveling to a conference. A dependable, high quality webinar series allows investors to be much more efficient with their time.

This efficiency begins with only watching webinars on topics that apply to their specific needs.  Webinars offer the choice to opt out of irrelevant presentations they might otherwise be stuck sitting through at a conference. Additional efficiency is gained by ‘On Demand’ options, giving participants more control over when they tune-in. Replays available at the viewer’s convenience significantly increase the chance that all interested parties can actually watch and learn from the material.

Webinars enhance the quality of information and panelists. Removing physical limitations allows talented industry leaders to share valuable insights with participants from wherever they are. Top-tier panelists, who may once have declined to speak at a conference, are more willing to participate in webinars due to the reduced travel and time commitment. This provides investors more opportunities to learn from the hedge fund industry’s top experts. During the live webinar presentation, participants can easily engage with these panelists by using Q&A features. Virtual Q&A can also be more efficient than in-person Q&A as panelists can prioritize, screen and answer questions most relevant to the audience. This avoids off-topic or self-serving questions from the audience.

Webinars expand capacity and reach. Unlike conferences, webinars have few capacity limits. Conference attendance is, of course, limited by the capacity or availability of the venue. Webinars obviously do not share these restrictions and have complete flexibility on when they take place and can generally include an unlimited number of attendees.

The pandemic of 2020 has shown us that webinars have earned their place alongside conferences as a valuable resource. With the huge volume of webinars, hedge fund industry professionals will be very selective about which ones they watch.  As a result, companies are searching for ways to create webinars that are distinctive. What makes a webinar successful and maximizes registrations?   Here are three things that distinguish successful webinars from less successful ones:

Quality of Brand. Organizations with strong industry brands and reputations for being thought leaders will have a huge advantage in growing their viewer base. This certainly applies to the industry’s top conference organizers, whose business models are easily converted to a webinar structure. It may also apply to some of the hedge fund media companies, services providers and industry associations.

High quality content. Webinar content must be viewed as high quality and value added by its attendees. Panelists should primarily be independent industry leaders who can share compelling information based on their extensive experience.  Organizers are usually well rewarded for investing time in selecting specific content and ensuring the panelists are well prepared and, if necessary, rehearsed.

In contrast, self-serving content is a turn-off to participants. The worst webinars are those put on by companies where all the speakers are employees of the firm, which is basically an infomercial. A successful webinar must be designed to benefit those who are attending.

A Sophisticated Marketing Strategy. Offering high quality content and a terrific speaker line-up is only effective if people know about it. Marketing a webinar well requires making it known and accessible to as many of the right people as possible. A high quality database and CRM system are crucial to doing this successfully. In addition, social media and industry partners can help broaden your reach.

Successful webinar campaigns are ongoing and occur at regular intervals by building on previous success and developing loyal followers.