Costs and Challenges
LIVE! 365 will remain open and free to users, however some content and experiences — like the Cornell certificate — come with an extra cost and will be password protected. Educational programming like this offers a way to continue to bring in revenue, as “the need for food safety education hasn’t changed with COVID,” Griffin said.
Using a sleek platform like Intrado comes with a higher price tag, but Griffin and Toner say it’s well worth the expense. The team will continue use LIVE! 365 to host its other annual events — the Washington Conference on Sept. 21-25, and United Fresh Start Foundation’s FreshStart Conference and United Fresh’s BrandStorm™ Conference in 2021. It will also play a large role in the 2021 Convention & Expo, which will reconvene in-person in Los Angeles next April.
However, the transition hasn’t been without challenges. Not everyone feels comfortable with the virtual shift. “We still have a generation of decision makers who are used to how they worked for 30 to 40 years,” Toner said. “The digital platform is a challenge — they’re used to working the aisles, the doors, the ballrooms.” And although attendance at their June event hit a high mark, they’ve seen an increase in attrition for virtual gatherings since then. To figure out why, they polled their members and discovered that their calendars are simply overwhelmed. “Hands down, what we’re hearing the most is that calendars are oversaturated with meetings,” Griffin said.
They continue to sell sponsorships — currently, the goal is to have 75 to 100 sponsors on the platform year-round. But “it’s lukewarm acceptance at this point,” said Toner. “People get what we’re trying to do, but they do miss the face-to-face interaction.” Even with those lukewarm numbers, with a line drawn through the costs of meeting in-person, Toner believes they still will end up more profitable than in years past. “You’re not paying $90,” he said, “for a pot of coffee now.”
Jennifer N. Dienst is a freelance writer based in Charleston, South Carolina.