The explosion of philanthropy in knowledge sharing and support which many internal communicators experienced in the early days of the pandemic is over, and paid for online events are now making a comeback. Knowledge has a price tag, but it should be one that everyone working in internal communication is able to pay.
What would you reasonably pay to attend an online conference or event? Would it be similar to what you were prepared to pay to attend a ‘real world’ event before the pandemic began?
More importantly, would your employer or another sponsor be as prepared to cover the cost of an online event? Would it be harder to make the business case for that stick than it was before the pandemic for a physical event?
These are all questions which event participants and providers in the communications and PR world should be asking themselves as we transition towards a more socially distanced, next normal, where online events are likely to dominate knowledge sharing and continuous professional development for some time to come. Exactly what is a fair price for sharing knowledge via a virtual event?
A growing economic divide
Back in the ‘good old days’, internal communication was a simpler profession to work in. Nobody trying to make a buck took much notice of it and we practiced in a somewhat unsophisticated way using whatever resources we could get our hands on. I recall, in one of my earlier internal communication roles, being very creative with a photocopier!
In the past decade or so there has been a growing commercialism, much of it driven by the digital revolution that has engulfed the world of work. There are now more software, application, training, consultancies and other types of vendors operating in the sector and they are driving much of the innovation in how we practice and in the creation of knowledge.
In some ways this has been a good thing. However, I also detect that this growing commercialisation of internal communication is creating an economic divide between those teams and practitioners who have the money and resources to pay for that innovation and knowledge, and those who do not. This is a potential barrier to meaningful participation in continuous professional development for all, could ultimately drive some talented individuals out of internal communications practice altogether, and collectively holds back the development of our profession as a whole.
An explosion of philanthropy
Let’s turn the clock back a few weeks. In the teeth of the lockdown and disruption of the escalating pandemic something wonderful happened. As everything moved online, pretty much anyone and everyone of significance in the world of internal communication started offering free webinars, discussion forums and networking events. This act of mass philanthropy in the sharing of knowledge and support carried many of us working in internal communication through the worst of the early days and weeks of the pandemic. It was inclusive and liberating, and for some, perhaps the first time they had been able to participate in and access a range of knowledge and support in a way which was not constrained by their economic circumstances. It was a community at its very best.
Now it seems that the philanthropy is wearing thin. The ‘market’ is adapting to our changed reality and charged for events are making a comeback, albeit, in a new online format.
No such thing as a ‘free lunch’
I’m no fool, I know there is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’ and that people need to make a living, but let’s not make a big mistake here and undo some of the good stuff which was manifest just a few short weeks ago.
From experience, I know that there are many factors and costs to consider when constructing a financial model for an event, including the value of the content and how this translates into the final ticket price. However, there are also choices to be made which can widen or restrict participation dependent on that price. It’s about striking the right balance between the commercial and social imperatives. I hope providers will bear that in mind and not try to take advantage of the shift to ‘online by default’ in the coming months by pricing some internal communicators out of the market again.
Historically, there has always been a good mix of free and paid for resources for internal communicators provided by membership organisations, philanthropists, bloggers (like myself), vendors and other commercial entities. This has helped to take us some way towards creating an inclusive environment for participation in continuous professional development, but we need to do more. We must preserve that mix and enhance it where we can.
In a profession that is rightly currently giving itself a ‘telling off’ about the lack of diversity, equality and social mobility in practice, we should not be letting unfettered commercialism create even more barriers to participation, development and advancement as we dismantle others.
Knowledge has a price tag, but it should be one that everyone working in internal communication is able to pay.