The Best Way to Successfully Market Virtual Events That Sell Tons of Tickets With Jim McCarthy From Goldstar and Stellar Tickets [AMP 204]

Does your business rely on revenue from selling tickets for live events? To stay in business due to COVID-19, you may need to turn to other options for profits. Today’s guest is Jim McCarthy, CEO and co-founder of Goldstar. With more live shows, concerts, and other events going digital, Goldstar quickly created Stellar. Within just a few months, the new streaming and ticket platform launched to help organizations continue to make money.

Some of the highlights of the show include:
  • New Normal? Pandemic shutdown forced switch from live to online events
  • Stellar Solution: Learning curve to what does/doesn’t work with digital events
  • Live vs. Digital Events: Either, neither, all, or nothing, which will people prefer?
  • Goldmine for Goldstar? Make, film, stream new forms of online entertainment
  • Pros and Cons: More people and money, different expectations and experiences
  • Getting Started, Going Digital:
    • Commit to quality not money to build/market product or service
    • Make thoughtful and aggressive use of assets (i.e., mailing lists)
    • Utilize existing audiences/fans plus geo target platforms
    • Promote partnerships and other distribution channels
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The best way to successfully market virtual events that sell tons of tickets with @goldstarjim from @stellartix.

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Ben: Hey, Jim. Welcome to the show. Jim: Hey, Ben. How's it going? Great to be here. Ben: Hey, it's going great on my end, and it sounds like things are a little bit warm maybe over on yours. Jim: Well, we were in the mid 110s this weekend here in Los Angeles, but it's come back down to a normal 85, 90. We're happy. Ben: Glad to hear that things have come down to a normal 90 degrees. All right. Great stuff. Would you mind taking a moment just to introduce yourself to our audience and explain what you do at Stellar and Goldstar? Jim: Well, I'm the CEO and co-founder of Goldstar. Goldstar, many people will know as a place where you can find great things to do, live shows, theater comedy, sports, et cetera. And we've been in business for almost 20 years now. Of course, if you're listening to this anywhere near the time that we're recording it, you're probably thinking there's not a lot going on in that area right now, and you'd be right. Starting back in March, we faced the shutdown that many industries, but particularly the live entertainment industry faced. Started to see people moving toward online events, and then spent a couple of months looking at it, thinking about what to do, and then built the thing that we are now that's now out of the marketplace called Stellar. Stellar is a total show management system for online events. We work with thousands of people who produce live events. We think that this toolset, some other knowledge, and some marketing skills can really enable them to use online events to their great advantage, which I have a million things to say about. That's the basic picture. Ben: Awesome. Very cool. Am I correct in understanding that Stellar is a bit newer product or service that you’ve put out? Jim: Yeah, Stellar was built during COVID for this purpose. Ben: That's amazing. What was the turnaround time—from concept to execution to actually getting up and running and getting paid customers for that? Jim: We made the decision to build Stellar on May 2nd, and we had our first live performance on Stellar in mid- to late July. I think it was actually July 21st or 22nd, somewhere in that ballpark. We went through a whole series of very, very early trials, a couple of dress rehearsals with a full-on performance, and then the first show was in late July. Ben: Very cool. That's quite an impressive turnaround. To bring the conversation a little bit more high level, in your view or what you see happening in your industry—in the live events, the live entertainment industry—it sounds like for yourself, you found one way of dealing with the situation that we're in now. To go, not only to pivot toward online events but to actually build a product to help facilitate online events. I’m curious, from your perspective of what that market looks like right now, what are organizations in general that rely on live events? What are they doing to survive? Do you see them trying to wait things out, or do you see a lot of movement going in this direction of shifting from in-person events to digital? Jim: I see both. I see organizations that you really hit the nail on the head. They’re waiting, and I'm not even sure what they're waiting for. Early in the crisis, none of us had a sense of the shape this was going to take. There was a fair amount of optimism that maybe by this time— it's here, early September—there'd be the beginning of a return. Maybe we wouldn't have shows yet, but we have shows that were on the calendar. That we’d be able to start selling, and of course, that's not what materialized. While I can understand the waiting the people did at the beginning, at some point you got to sit back and realize it's going to be a while before we're back to normal when it comes to this. I do see other organizations that are playing the online events thing a little defensively. Where they stick their toe in, and that's good because you can learn from that. But on the other hand, you can't get good at something until you commit to getting good at it. Sometimes, what I've heard is, organizations say, well, we did something. It was really cheap, and we did it really fast. People didn't love it, and they didn't want to pay for it. We don't think the online events work. I'm like, well, what else in life can you make a tiny half-ass commitment to, and expect to get good results right away? It doesn't work that way, right? There's the other group of people who understand that this is, yes, a way to get through this period, but it's a new form. It’s a new art. It’s a whole new genre of entertainment, and they're going up that learning curve. They’ve put the resources, the time, and the brainpower in to go up that learning curve and I think it's going to benefit them a lot because it does take some time to figure it out. We're trying to help people to jump in the pool, and then get going faster and more successfully. That's why we built Stellar. We just want everybody to be able to survive the crisis and thrive by learning how to make online events that are great. Ben: Sure. I imagine then that if you saw the opportunity to build a product that serves that need to be able to facilitate hosting digital events, then obviously, this has to be something that you see being a long-term thing. Virtual events will be something that people may come to find that they enjoy, and people find that's something they can make money on. With that in mind, I'm curious. What's your general outlook on the future of both live events and digital events? What do you think that looks like for the next 6-12 months? Jim: My take on the future of in-person live events is that it's very bright. One day this will be behind us, we're all sick of thinking about it, but it's still true that one day this will be behind us. When that day comes, I think there's going to be a period where it's going to be an absolute golden-age for in-person events. I don’t know about you, but I'm ready to get out a little bit more and go have some fun. I think that there's nothing but good days ahead in the long-term for the live entertainment in-person business. I'm even more optimistic about it because if the genie is out of the bottle on online events, and if organizations can learn to really put them to use, they can actually turn a business model, which in-person event it's kind of so-so. It's not a great business to be in because there's a lot of risks. You can either lose big or win small. Those are basically your two choices. With online events, you can actually change that dynamic because all of a sudden, you can market anywhere. You can market to anyone. People who can't be in the room, at the time, will pay to be there. A lot of people heard the news about the BTS concert that happened a few weeks back, maybe even a couple of months back. 750,000 people paid to see that show online. Will that change when there's an in-person concert for BTS? Maybe not because you’ll have the people who are there and all the people who aren't there. When you put those two things together, it's a much better business than either one of them separately. I'm very enthusiastic about it, and the thing I'm even more enthusiastic about it, Ben—and you can imagine this, and I think people in your audience who are marketing oriented, especially the product marketers, can imagine not just filming, streaming, and making a ticketable show out of the stuff we got today. But creating entirely new kinds of entertainment that are really, really suited to an online live event and making an absolute fortune from that. I hope that someone who is listening to this right now is thinking to themselves, yeah, this is an untapped goldmine. I think there's a lot of ways that's potentially true. Ben: Yeah, certainly. It sounds like there is an incredible amount of opportunity there for sure. You've touched on my next question a bit, which is what kinds of advantages digital events have over in-person events. It's an interesting thing to think about and discuss because maybe in the earlier stages of the pandemic and all of us being under quarantine, digital events maybe kind of had this perception of being a stand-in for an in-person event or a less than ideal substitute. But it sounds like what you're talking about is really elevating digital events into their own thing and elevating the expectations for those experiences can be. Would you mind, maybe take a moment just to go a little bit deeper? What are the advantages? Say I'm someone listening to this and maybe I'm still skeptical. Maybe I feel like this is a—not to be too cynical, but to put myself in the shoes of someone who might be listening to this. They might hear that and think like, okay, well, this is a sales pitch for products. But obviously, the product wouldn't exist if the opportunity wasn't there. Would you mind just elaborating a bit more on the advantages of digital events and individual performance? Jim: Sure. I'd start by saying this, is it an opportunity for professional sports leagues to be able to show their games to people who aren't in the arena or the stadium? Is there a market for people to, again, watch—the example that I always give is, imagine if you could only see an NBA game if you went to the arena. Just picture that world. It's weird but just picture that world. Would the NBA be more popular or less popular, do you think? Will the NBA be more profitable, or less profitable, do you think? I mean, it's just obvious when you frame it in terms of the NBA. It would be a terrible decision for them to limit it to only the people who could be in the actual room. Yet the same thing exists for all the other forms of live entertainment, and people are not sure whether it makes sense. Well then, what are the advantages of being able to see a game on TV versus seeing it in the stadium? I think seeing it in the stadium is great. It's actually an amazing experience, but when you watch it on TV, or in some kind of streaming form, there's a whole lot of things that happen. First of all, anyone can see it. This is a big thing. If you think about an in-person event from a marketer's point of view, for every one person you successfully get in the door to enjoy the show or the event, there's 99 or maybe even 999 people who would be there if they could, if they knew about it, or if it was available to them. This is just a huge marketing opportunity. If somebody's interested in your product but they can't get access to it, it doesn't grow the audience. It kind of kills off the audience in the long term. From a marketer's point of view, you can leverage all the tools more fully. Those of you who have ever done marketing for an in-person live event, you know how challenging it is. People have to be in the city, you're doing filtering on Google, Facebook, and everywhere else. It cuts the audience down by a crazy percentage. That's the first thing right. Suddenly, you have access to open up an audience, which by the way, not only will they pay to be there if they're interested, but they then become the base for other marketing. It becomes an even bigger tribe of people that care about what you're doing. The second thing is there are things that are possible with an online event that isn’t possible with in-person events. For example, if you've ever seen a concert video or a comedy—they do this a lot with the comedy specials where the comedian is walking through the backstage area on the way to the stage, high-fiving with the crew and that kind of thing. You can't get that with an in-person event. That really doesn't exist, and that's just the beginning of what's possible. If you watched the performance of Hamilton on Disney Plus this summer, you get close-ups, you get lighting effects, and you get all these things that you can do. Not to mention stuff that generally hasn't been done yet, for example, interactivity. A whole range of ways that interactivity becomes possible. Remember, this is all in the service of bringing in this audience. It's 100 or 1000 times bigger. Do you suppose that might have some value? Of course, it does. Of course, it has value. It's really about throwing away the idea of either/or, and absorbing the idea of it's both. Right now, of course, it's not both. I think this is a great time for our organizations in the industry to figure out how to do it while we need it and while that's really the only way to do things. When those two things get leveraged together when things come back in 6, 9, or 12 months, hopefully not more than that. Hopefully, by then, it'll really make a lot of sense as to how these things get integrated and be (I’d think) the greatest golden age in the history of the industry. Ben: What I think is one of the most fascinating things that Jim has to say is that digital events don't just have to be a substitute for in-person events. In fact, what's happening in the space right now could very well be laying the groundwork for entirely new categories of virtual events elevated beyond anything like what they were before. While the pandemic has taken a lot away from us—and this isn’t a conversation that I was hoping that we would all be having now entering the fall—this might be one area of opportunity that can really provide a path forward that, not only keeps businesses running now but for the long haul. Now, back to Jim. Let's say, I'm listening to this show and I'm sold on the potential of digital events. Let’s say that I’m a marketer, this is a marketing show. I work in the marketing department of a company or an organization that relies on events in some capacity for our income. Now we're going to try digital. We've never done it before, still, maybe not 100% convinced it's the right way to go, but we're going to give it a shot. What's the first thing that person should do? Jim: Well, I think one thing that's very important is not to do it cheaply. It really shows the mindset. When I see somebody do something that's poorly made or hastily thrown together and it's their test on online events, it shows that they're not taking it seriously. For example, it reminds me of the early days of the internet. When companies would say, well, we don't know about this online thing. We’re not going to do our real product, we're going to do the express version of whatever. They’d put this half-built out, half thought through, and hastily put things together out there. People would look at it and go, what's this? It's not really that interesting, and that would validate their idea that the web didn't hold any opportunities for them. Of course, they got passed on the highway toward internet success like they were a freaking fire hydrant by people who got that this is coming. There are obvious advantages to this, and we have to figure it out. There's this idea that like, let's do this and then see if it's something we could commit to. But when you see these megatrends coming, the commitment has to come first. We say like we're going to go and figure out what it means for us to be good at this. The same thing happened, again, by the way, maybe 12 years later or so with mobile. Where companies were going like, well, we don't know if we need to do anything with mobile. I mean we got a good website. These are the same people probably who said they didn’t need a website 10 years before that. Oh, yeah. With mobile… And so they would do again a half-assed mini version of what they did. People were like, this sucks. Meanwhile, people who came along who embraced mobile fully figured out the formula and just zoomed forward. I think it's the same kind of phenomenon. There's a lot of opportunities, but you got to take it seriously as an opportunity. It doesn't mean you have to spend a ton of money, but you have to put the brainpower into it. You got to make it good, right? Ben: Sure. That's a very important note to touch on there is you don't necessarily need to spend a ton of money, but you've got to put out a quality product because that first impression is going to be everything. Jim: And you’ll learn. You’ll get better. In the very early days of the pandemic, it was the musician’s sitting on their sofa strumming a guitar looking into their webcam. That was nice (in a way) because we are all stuck at home and bored and whatever. But it didn't take people long to go like, I've had enough of that. Because ultimately, there's no path to marketing success without something good, without quality. That same thing applies here and probably even more so because people are looking for a replacement for some things that they loved. Ben: Yeah. If I'm in charge of marketing this event—just going back to this hypothetical listener of the show. Technology-wise, strategy-wise—they've got everything in place the way it needs to be in order for them to execute a successful virtual event. But even if you get those components right, it still leaves the side of it where you need to let people know that this event’s going on and you got to sell tickets to this thing. If I'm a marketer and my job is to get people to show up for this event so that it's not a colossal failure, what would be three things that you would recommend I do if I've never marketed a virtual event before? Jim: Okay, if you’ve marketed an in-person event before, you're halfway there. That's the thing. The first thing you got to do is make thoughtful and aggressive use of your assets when it comes to, do you have fans, do you have a mailing list? And I say aggressive. Obviously, I don’t mean annoying. But you got to tap into the same things that you would, the same assets that you would if you were doing an in-person event. But it pays to take a beat before you start and think, how is this different? One thing that happens a lot of times is if somebody has a big mailing list that's geographically dispersed, they're only going to target certain people on it for an in-person event. Well, all of a sudden, you can stop and think can we broaden that? What would it mean if we didn't limit it geographically? The first thing and what's interesting, Ben, is that I've seen actually some organizations create a show and forget to tap into their list because it's just not in the normal course of business. But the obvious thing is to think through how to make the most of your list. The second thing I would say is—I mean, I feel stupid almost saying this—the same things that give you success like digital ads on platforms like Facebook, Google, and other places can be made to work for this as well. It's just a different transaction in a slightly different pitch. So it's not an automatic just duplicating what you're doing onto those forms, but the audiences are there. And again—the good news is—if you're used to selling in-person events and having to geo-target those ads, well, you don't have to geo-target quite as much anymore. You can really sell to anybody in the whole wide world potentially. Use those platforms. The third thing, which I see emerging more and more now, is partnerships—some of which you probably already have. The people who help you sell normally. They could be there for you, and the chances are they need something good to sell. If it's the promoter, partners, or the venues themselves that you're using, there's a whole range of things where the people who normally are your distribution channels. Places like Goldstar, for example, we’re selling online events by the hundreds, but we're not the only ones. There's a lot of places where people normally would take their shows or their events and ask for help and support on the sales, which is of course what those channels are there for. They should use that. I think a big part of it is just going back to the tactics that worked for you with somewhat of a modification. Rethinking like, okay, we're not just going to run the playbook we always do, but we are going to take what we have, what we know, and understand how to do, and leverage it in a somewhat different way. You got your assets, you've got platforms that you successfully use, and you got partners. You got distribution channels and other partners that normally help you sell. Ben: Awesome stuff. I think that's going to be a big reassurance to a lot of folks that are maybe finding themselves in this position just to know they're already halfway there. Jim: Yes. Ben: How often do we get that with anything while we're starting from scratch? Jim: Just take the time to think about how it's the same but also different. Don't forget that there are things you know, but don't forget to start from a little bit of scratch, and say, okay, what should be different about this? Whether it's targeting, or how do you lean into—I've heard a lot with the professional development stuff. For example, there's a lot of how we reframe the value proposition? Or if it's an online entertainment event, how do we call attention to the fact that you're going to get access that you wouldn't normally get? There are different ways of talking about it (whatever). But if you do that, there's a lot that's going to feel very familiar. By the way, the people who normally help you—your partners and everybody in that role—they need the stuff to sell. They're eager for opportunities to earn revenue, and if you've got something good, then they're going to appreciate it. Ben: Yeah, for sure. Your wins can compound with your partner's wins, and you can all succeed together, which all of us really in any area of marketing or business are really looking for those kinds of opportunities right now. Jim: Yeah, that's right. Ben: All right. Well, that does it for all the questions I had. I think this is a fascinating topic, and I'd be remiss if I let you go before I ask if there's anything else that you think is really important for the audience to know about virtual events, or if there is one last parting thought you would like to leave our audience with. Jim: I would just say this has been a rough year for people in the event business, of a kind that I never expected that we’d ever see or who would’ve guessed. There's no downplaying that. I don't try to sugar coat that in any way, but what I will say is this, unknowingly, we've been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. Online events are a legitimate addition. I say it's a supercharger to the business model of live events. It's the biggest opportunity that's come along for the live entertainment business in a very long time, and it's an opportunity that we're paying for at a very high price. I just want to say to everybody in the event businesses and live entertainment business, don’t miss the opportunity because we're paying for it. We’re paying the price for it. At Goldstar and Stellar, we can help you get there. That's what we're here for. That's why we built Stellar. We look around and we see the distress in our industry, our colleagues, friends, and other companies clinging on to their jobs and the industry. Potentially, venues closing and all this terrible stuff. A big part of this (frankly) is we just couldn't sit around and do nothing. We wanted to build something that can help. If we can help you take advantage of that opportunity, that's what we're here for.
About the Author

Ben Sailer has over 14 years of experience in the field of marketing. He is considered an expert in inbound marketing through his incredible skills with copywriting, SEO, content strategy, and project management. Ben is currently an Inbound Marketing Director at Automattic, working to grow as the top managed hosting solution for WordPress websites. WordPress is one of the most powerful website creation tools in the industry. In this role, he looks to attract customers with content designed to attract qualified leads. Ben plays a critical role in driving the growth and success of a company by attracting and engaging customers through relevant and helpful content and interactions. Ben works closely with senior management to align the inbound marketing efforts with the overall business objectives. He continuously measures the effectiveness of marketing campaigns to improve them. He is also involved in managing budgets and mentoring the inbound marketing team.