Many technologies originate as a way to do things cheaper, faster, or better. Others — such as conference archiving — break open a whole new space. While archive services can indeed replace the audiocassettes and conference handouts, the new, feature-rich services belong in a different category.

Consider the possibilities. On a CD-ROM, you can capture audio from your sessions and synchronize it with slides, images, transcription text, and, on the high end, video. Direct links to the Web can be embedded to connect users with support materials, testing sites, or online communities. Navigational tools, such as an index or transcription search, can add tremendous value, allowing users to pinpoint the information they need in the haystack that is an entire meeting's data.

Web-based conference archives have similar features, plus an unequaled immediacy: If necessary, content can be uploaded to the Web on the day of the session. Take New York-based Thomson Media as an example. When important changes concerning transaction security were in the news during its CardTech SecurTech event, the company used archiving technology to capitalize on the opportunity.

“A significant number of reporters wanting access to the content from these sessions were on hand,” says Jonathan Moore, senior director, conferences and expositions, Thomson Media Conferences and Expositions. “Conference Archives [Johnstown, Pa.] quickly set up a media-only account to access the content, and Thomson received high marks within the industry press as a result.

But immediacy isn't the big driver for archiving Thomson events. The company has Conference Archives produce a combination of CD-ROMs and Web-based archives for seven to 10 conferences each year, primarily as a post-event takeaway for participants. This doesn't replace the binders that attendees get at the meeting, but it offers added value.

As a way to maximize the value of the content for the attendees, this tool far outpaces any other mechanism that's available,” Moore says. He cites the technology's key-word search capabilities as well as attendees' ability to review and share conference materials as the most compelling features.

The first Thomson conference to replace audiocassette recording with CD-ROM was back in 1999; since then the company has added archiving features and Web elements as technology has progressed. Depending on the characteristics of a conference and its participants, Moore says the archives are sponsored by a vendor, purchased by attendees, paid for by Thomson, or some combination of all three.

Give Your Meeting Legs

Among the most compelling considerations, when deciding whether to digitize your content, are the options that it opens up for the future. That is, digitized content can be reused for educational or promotional purposes.

Philip G. Forte, president of Blue Sky Broadcast, a conference archiving firm in Del Mar, Calif., cites the case of Ortho McNeil, Raritan, N.J. When the pharmaceutical company underwrote an educational presentation at the annual meeting of Blue Sky's client, the American College of Nurse-Midwives, it was given 200 CDs, and the presentation was streamed on ACNM's Web site. Ortho decided to further leverage the session, and it cut a deal to produce 8,000 of the CDs to use as a magazine insert.

“Planners should think of their content as a commodity that can be packaged properly and marketed,” says Jim Parker, president of Digitell Inc., a Mayville, N.Y.-based archiving solutions provider. “Archiving a conference should be a priority, as it extends the life of the meeting and acts as a resource for months to come.”

Forte offers a Hollywood analogy. “Consider The Matrix,” he says. “You've got to be there [in the theater] to experience it — and pay your $10; three months after that, you can get it for $3 at Blockbuster; three months after that it's sold through HBO where you're paying $20 a month for unlimited viewing; and then, finally, it's on network TV, but it's ad-supported.

“Basically we're repurposing conference material in the same life cycle that Hollywood has for movies. We're taking that conference and applying it through these various channels: pay-per-view, CD-ROM sales, free with sponsors and ads built in.”

While a digital archive can potentially serve as a revenue driver, through sponsorships or sales of the CD-ROMs or of the Web content, associations also look to it as a way to save money. “You don't have the expense of bringing everyone into one location,” Forte says, noting that archiving is popular in internal training programs. “And with an executive retreat, you have the CEO talking about the future of the business, and it's motivational and inspirational and exciting. Why can't the rest of the employees at least view it?”

“It's no longer an issue of whether archives of this nature are being requested,” says David Angeletti, chief marketing officer of Conference Archives. “More than 72,000 page views have been recorded on our archive sites during the last three months. So the real question becomes one of how you plan to implement this solution, and how dedicated your organization will be in successfully marketing the archives to your audience.”

Probe the Product and Provider

Select an archiving provider with care. Meeting organizers should thoroughly review a company's products, and ask these questions:

  • Will the archive medium work on all platforms, such as Mac and Windows? If not, what operating systems are compatible?

  • How many CD-ROM products have you developed, and for whom? (Ask for references.)

  • In what format is the audio?

  • Can the audio-only version be played in a standard CD player (e.g., car or home stereo)?

  • What are your standard testing procedures?

  • Can we include links, sponsorships, and promotion of next year's meeting, exhibitor listings, and other features?

  • How do you provide technical support for your product?

  • Are Web archives available 24/7/365?

  • Do you replicate the CD-ROMs in-house or through a vendor?

Some of the Players

Blue Sky Broadcast, Del Mar, Calif.

Cadmium CD, LLC, Forest Hill, Md.

Conference Archives Inc., Johnstown, Pa.

DigiScript, Franklin, Tenn.

Digitell Inc., Mayville, N.Y.

Loudeye Corp., Seattle