Amanda Rogaly
Founder of BabyYumYum & The Virtual Parenting Experience

As parents our instincts are always to do whatever it takes to protect our families. Mothers are particularly adept at morphing from genteel soothers of scrapes and peelers of grapes to fearless lionesses protecting their cubs when someone dares to threaten them in any way. Dads are equally fearsome when it comes to ensuring their brood is out of harm’s way when danger lurks.

Just over two years after the world went into lockdown following the start of the Covid-19 global pandemic, parents everywhere feared for their offspring and themselves. Families spent special occasions gathered around screens drinking toasts virtually and we’ve seen the advent of a hybrid working environment. Scenarios we only ever thought we would see in science fiction movies have become the norm. We’ve adapted. We’ve learned to inhabit the virtual world like shapeshifters. We did what was necessary to keep our families safe.

In April 2020, Daniel Newman, CEO of Broadsuite Media Group penned an article forForbes Magazine about virtual events replacing physical events and what the key factors would be to ensure that attendees would still have an exceptional event experience if an event was moved into a virtual space. He wrote: “While most of us have experienced some less than stellar digital events, if we’re being completely candid, many of us have also been to some lame face-to-face events as well. And that’s where I see a silver lining. I think there’s a real opportunity here for companies to embrace change and experiment with a different way of doing things — and digital events, when done well, can be awesome.”

It’s the very last eight words of that sentence which are beacons. In those few words a whole new world of opportunity became a legitimate and viable course of action to rescue the hard-hit eventing industry for those who chose to be proactive. There were of course others who had never hosted a physical event that grabbed the opportunity to present a virtual event for the very first time unencumbered by the constraints of the new virtual event being compared to face-to-face events of the past. The Virtual Parenting Experience (VPE) presented by was among them. A year into the global Covid-19 pandemic when our inaugural VPE took place, we could never have predicted that this passion project would be so warmly embraced and supported Yet more than 13 000 people attended sessions spanning two days with handpicked speakers and experts. Our loyal community had indeed spoken. Covid was simply the catalyst for kick-starting the next growth phase of our brand.

During a recent virtual conference I attended, one of the medical industry’s esteemed experts, commented: “We are in the middle of pandemic and on the brink of yet another wave and another new variant. Pregnant women are considered high risk for Covid infection as are newborns and toddlers.” This hard-hitting statement reinforces the importance of virtual events on many levels and spurred us on to ensure that the #VPE2022 would be even better than its predecessor.

So, apart from the health precautions, why else would you want to attend a virtual event?

Firstly, let’s talk about Convenience. Ask any pregnant woman or parents of a newborn / toddler about the mammoth task of leaving the house. You will get the same exasperated reply: “It takes ages to pack the bag, get the stroller into the car, ensure we have enough bottles / snacks / nappies / changes of clothing / things to entertain (distract) our child preceded by a giant ‘poonami’ and then we start the process again…” You get the idea. And then you still have to drive to the exhibition venue, find parking, stand in a queue to get in, manoeuvre your way around the exhibition venue through crowds of similarly disgruntled visitors trying to find exhibitors which are relevant to your needs; all while placating a hungry / tired / fussy baby whose routine has been disrupted for the very outing which is meant to help you be a better parent. We think not! You could instead stay at home and attend a virtual event at a fraction of the cost and frustration factor.

From an environmental perspective not only will ‘visitors’ reduce their own carbon footprint by attending a virtual event, but attendees are also able to cherry pick exactly which sessions they want to attend that are relevant to them minimising disruptions in family routines and reducing anxiety levels. In short, saving time that could be better spent with family, resting or working if you are a working parent. So, those savings you might get at an expo such as R20 off nappies – are they actually worth it?

From an exhibitor perspective the cost of building a stand, staffing the stand, travelling to the exhibition and the endless cost of free samples all fall away. The need for printed collateral disappears in a digital space too. Rather than spending precious time handing out pamphlets and free samples, virtual event platforms create opportunities to engage with visitors and key decision makers (usually the mom in this sector) in a meaningful way. Opportunities to engage with visitors from a physical standpoint can be found in offering items to be included in goodie bags which can be collected from pre-arranged collection points for those who purchase tickets. A virtual event allows pre-booked time slots to engage with a captive audience of people who have specifically chosen to engage with your brand or topic. Visitors have the freedom to engage in a customisable experience where the consumer is in control; moms are empowered and in control thanks to e-commerce and the digital age.

From a marketing perspective, opportunities still exist in the build-up to the event by creating an event community which is more intimate and personal than a massive expo environment. Within this community environment, exhibitors are connecting with people through interactive and chat functions. To illustrate this viral fun element, #VPE2022 will have a virtual photo booth with a photo frame allowing delegates to take a photo and create their own background, always allowing for strong brand collaborating opportunities

In the quest to provide delegates with an excellent experience, the selection process for #VPE2022 speakers is inclusive and focuses on securing speakers who are not associated with any brands but are rather selected based on their diversity and topic relevance. This is not to say that brands can’t sponsor a particular topic, but both the brand and the topic must be meaningful and relevant to the South African parent. We are choosing to support up and coming experts, speakers and thought leaders, uncovering new credible talent and also empowering South Africans in this sector.

A key #VPE2022 objective is to empower women. After all, the hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world. However having said that, a virtual event means no-one is excluded and delegates have the freedom to be as included or non-participative as they would like.