How “The Ukrainians”, an online magazine, have organised an online festival as part of their newly launched membership program

Preset #7

What happened

The Ukrainians” is an online magazine co-founded in 2014 by Taras Prokopyshyn. For the last six years, this independent media company has been presenting Ukraine and Ukrainians through success stories that influence life in the country. The Ukrainians talk about socially essential topics and motivate positive changes. Among other projects, they are working on Reporters and Creatives
In October 2020 they organised their first big community event “The Ukrainians Festival 2020”. Considering the circumstances of the 2020 and the ongoing global pandemic of Covid-19, the Festival took place online. It was organised exclusively for The Ukrainians Community, as a part of their newly launched membership programme.

How it all started


The Ukrainians started a membership programme at the end of May 2020, after six years of activity. They allowed supporting their work in three different levels – co-members, ambassadors and fans. 

Prokopyshyn says that with the organisation of the Festival they had two primary goals. First of all, they wanted to create an exclusive content of the members of The Ukrainians Community. The second goal was to use this event to promote the membership programme. What was essential for them too was creating attractive benefits for their supporters. Not a typical “business conference” experience but one that will affect emotions.

Of course, it wasn’t the first time the Ukrainians team was thinking about organising an event. Yet, in previous years of activity, they met some obstacles. Firstly, they didn’t have the organisational capacity for the size of the event they were dreaming of. Logistics of offline events are complicated: ticket sales, speaker fees, space rental, marketing are just a small part of the process, a tip of the iceberg. 

Also, an important fact is that the Ukrainians’ core team (office) is based in Lviv, Western part of Ukraine, which is over 500km drive distance from the capital city of Ukraine, Kyiv, where the majority of the potential speakers live. Moreover, the regional market around Lviv isn’t big enough to attract enough people. 

The organisation of the Festival offline with all the required: money, time, logistics and last but not least a separate, outsourced team, plus an event manager who could take care of it all was impossible.

Considering all the challenges faced in the past, timing and restrictions caused by the pandemic of Covid-19, and general global tendency to create successful digital meetings of a different kind and size, an online Festival was the best option possible.

The process

The topic “How not to lose hope? Where to look for inspiration” was proposed by the Ukrainians team. They wanted to refer to the current situation caused by a coronavirus and the general socio-political situation in Ukraine, showing a silver lining through the example of successful Ukrainians, the country’s heroines and heroes. The team created the agenda, yet the members had a chance to nominate the speakers as they were encouraged to do so on the closed Facebook group. 

Thanks to publishing hundreds of interviews with famous Ukrainians during the last six years, they have built a social capital, a group of loyal readers. Knowing the audience, the team was able to identify a list of potential speakers who were in line with The Ukrainians and who would be interesting opinion-makers that would attract attendees.

In the end, the final agenda was set to 2,5 days. A welcome afternoon part with two speeches on October 16 followed by two days of 8-9 presentations. The program was made to be clear that all the talks start at each full hour. Each of them was planned for 50 minutes, to have a 10 minutes break. After the Festival it was rated in a survey as a perfect time frame. 

All the conversations had a format of a public interview. In the early stage of works, various forms were considered, for example, panel discussions, virtual tours, “how-to” talks. Still, for the first big event, the decision was made to make it simple and effective, which finally was a satisfying decision.

People

As mentioned before, to organise an event, you usually need to hire someone who will produce it for you or involve the team members. For the organisation of the Festival:

  • One contractor was hired to help with the technical part – using Zoom and additionally live streaming to the private Youtube link.
  • Founders invited speakers / were in touch with the speakers.
  • Social media editor was involved in the marketing process.
  • Partnership manager was looking for the advertising partners.
  • Community manager was in contact with the members.

Promotion

The promotion strategy was to attract young readers who value quality content and are willing to pay for it. Ideally – those who already read “The Ukrainians”. The main promotional channel was Facebook with 70K followers. The communication was done for two groups of audiences: 

  • “cold”: people who did not know about the existence of The Ukrainians. Communication was focused on presenting inspirational Ukrainian historical figures.
  • “warm”: people who already knew about and read “The Ukrainians”. Communication was focused on the speakers of the Festival.

The team had only two weeks for the advertising campaign. As they have learned afterwards, if it was 3-4 weeks, they could expect 1.5-2 times more tickets sold.

Membership

Tickets for TU Festival cost the equivalent of a yearly Ambassador membership 1000UAH – around 30EUR / 35USD. It was the only ticket option, without discounts or tiers to make it as simple as possible. Thanks to the event, after selling 110 yearly and monthly subscriptions, the number of members was increased by 33%. 

This time creating valuable content for the then group of members was the primary goal. So if they didn’t sell the tickets, the organisation of the Festival still would make sense. But, as Taras said, 110 new members is a good result. 

In general, the idea to organise an event as a membership growing tool worked well. In the future, it will be easier to invite speakers and build a program for the next events, because they will already have an “events portfolio”.

Community engagement

After buying the ticket/subscribing to the membership programme, attendees were added to the closed Facebook group of The Ukrainians community, where they received more information about the event. They could also ask questions to the speakers before the event (which was also possible during the Festival via YouTube live stream chat).

The Zoom party was organised right after the event, which attracted 30 people from different cities, including Kharkiv, Montreal and New York.

The recordings of the event are available only for the members. Simultaneously, some of the most exciting interviews are being published in the text format to attract new people to the membership programme.

Lessons learned

  • Online festivals are an excellent tool for both developing your community and attracting new members. 
  • If you do not have a separate event team, you should do no more than three events a year. 
  • You should spend a lot of time on event marketing even if you have an audience. 
  • Your members are the best sellers of your events.