Don't think of your meeting as a meeting — just for the moment. Think of it like it's a Hollywood movie. First, people pay full freight to get the full experience at the theater. Three months later, they can get it for $3 at Blockbuster; three months after that it's sold through HBO where they're paying $20 a month for unlimited viewing. Eventually, they probably can see an ad-supported version on network TV.

While the audiocassettes and conference handouts that comprise old-style archiving can't let you recycle your content as if it were a movie, today's CD-ROM and Web services can.

“Basically we're repurposing conference material in the same life cycle that Hollywood has for movies,” says Philip G. Forte, president of Blue Sky Broadcast, a conference archiving firm in Del Mar, Calif. “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.”

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. For example, if new insurance-related legislation hits the news during your meeting, which just so happens to include a session on how such legislation could impact the industry, you can use archiving technology to quickly set up a media-only account to access the content, scoring big points with the business press.

Even if immediacy isn't the big driver for archiving your events, you can use an archiving service to produce CD-ROMs and Web-based archives to use as post-event take-aways for participants. These wouldn't necessarily replace the binders that attendees get at the meeting, but they would offer added value by including such features as key-word search capabilities and attendees' ability to review and share conference materials.

Digitize for the Future

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.

Forte cites one case where a company underwrote an educational presentation at the annual meeting of one of Blue Sky's clients. The company was given 200 CDs, and the presentation was streamed on its Web site. To further leverage the session, the sponsor cut a deal to produce 8,000 of the CDs to use as a magazine insert.

“Meeting 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.”

Bringing Down the Costs

While a digital archive can potentially serve as a revenue driver through sponsorships or sales of the CD-ROMs or of the Web content, organizations 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 internal training and corporate communications applications have received the most interest. “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? They don't have to be out in Hawaii with the top executives.”

“It's no longer an issue of whether archives of this nature are being requested,” says David Angeletti, chief marketing officer of Conference Archives, Johnstown, Pa. “More than 72,000 page views were recorded on our archive sites during one three-month period in 2003. 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.”

Some Providers

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

What to Ask

Meeting organizers should thoroughly review an an archiving provider's products, and ask :

  • Will the archive medium work on all platforms?

  • How many CD-ROM products has the company developed, and for whom? Ask for references.

  • In what format is the audio?

  • Can you play the audio-only version in a standard CD player?

  • What are your standard testing procedures?

  • Can we include links, sponsorships, promotions , exhibitor listings, and other features?

  • How do you provide tech support?

  • Are Web archives available 24/7?

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