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MSCI Economic Summit

Embracing the Virtual

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MCN Editor Beth Gainer The Metals Service Center Institute is holding its first virtual economic summit, which aims to provide information and advantages over in-person events.

COVID-19 has caused many trade shows and conferences to be canceled. But the Rolling Meadows, Ill.-based Metals Service Center Institute decided the show must go on – albeit virtually. The organization’s 2020 Economic Summit: A Virtual Experience, which takes place Sept. 14 to 16, promises to be informative and to even offer advantages over face-to-face events, MSCI claims. 

The idea for a virtual conference was born in March, shortly after news of the pandemic spread. Bob Weidner, MSCI president and CEO, and his team immediately sprang into action to create a meaningful virtual summit for attendees.

“The world as we knew it pre-COVID is behind us, and no matter how much we wanted to bring folks together, because that is one of our core value platforms, it wasn’t going to happen,” he says. “All of the assumptions that we used to build a 2020 operating plan last fall and we were starting to execute again in January, with COVID it all became irrelevant.”

However, the MSCI team created a framework to build a virtual, relevant economic summit. When planning the summit, MSCI asked some econometric modeling firms how its analysts look at the economy. Experts said they assess three main components: construction, industrial and the consumer. These components became the inspiration and foundation for the topics covered by experts at the summit. Sept. 14 focuses on construction, Sept. 15 covers consumer products and Sept. 16 focuses on industrial products. 

“This conference is all about helping companies that are interested in understanding where their next order is coming from. Every single income statement that I ever read, the top line on that income statement is revenue. And revenue comes from customers, so our virtual economic summit will provide insights from people who are very, very smart in both the broad macroeconomic outlook, as well as all of the various end-use markets,” says Weidner. “I believe [attendees] will walk away from the conference with just a wealth of information that they, in turn, can use in building their respective business plans.” 

Instead of offering concurrent breakout groups as traditionally done in person, the MSCI team decided to offer a number of structured, well-organized sessions on each day.  “This is going to be the train that runs on time,” says Weidner. “Every one of the end-use markets will have a prerecorded 30-minute presentation from the speaker, and then we will do 15 or 20 minutes of live Q&A, and  there will roughly be five to 10 minutes where it’ll still be streaming, and, if we have a sponsor for that section, the sponsor will stream whatever it wants, such as a video. Then, at the start of the hour, we move into the next part of the agenda.” Sessions will be available for at least a couple of months after the live summit, so attendees can re-watch them.

Weidner has not only accepted virtual delivery, but he embraces it, knowing that this kind of platform has advantages over a face-to-face one. “We are trying to reach audiences that heretofore we have never reached,” he says. “We are hoping to reach individuals – both within [and outside of] member companies – who may not be responsible for distribution or service centers, and that individual may never have attended our in-person conference in Schaumburg, Ill., but now that it’s virtual, that individual will have access to this content.” 

Individuals who might otherwise not have attended or even known about the summit, such as an aluminum producer, might be there for this one.  “One of the things I challenged my team is, I want to reach people who aren’t even in our database. I want to reach people who are the customers of service centers, who are the customers of mills, who are interested in the outlook for that particular sector.”

To promote its virtual economic summit, MSCI has used social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. “Historically we never did that. Historically, we relied more on email promotions and word of mouth. That’s all well and good, but in the COVID world – and I believe even in a post-COVID world – to get to the people that we don’t know who might be interested in the industry intelligence we’re providing, we’ve got to use some of these other means of telling our story and communicating about our product offerings,” says Weidner. “Social media has become one of our new best friends.”

As of Aug. 17, about 100 attendees had registered for the conference. Weidner points out that, because attendees don’t have to worry about travel and hotel expenses with a virtual conference, last-minute registration would still work. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we picked up a fair number in the morning of the first day,” he says.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and one MSCI invention born from the COVID crisis is a CEO Huddle that launched via Zoom on August 13 and will continue each month. The huddle features experts who discuss key issues in the industry. The inaugural huddle was quite popular, attracting over 400 attendees.  “Without COVID, I’m not sure we would have ever thought of that,” observes Weidner.

Weidner adds that online events such as the 2020 Economic Summit: A Virtual Experience are also keeping attendees and speakers safe. “Just like you’re putting safety protocols in the warehouse or the plant, you’re also putting in place safety protocols with people relevant to travel, so you now have new travel safety protocols,” he says, adding that 2021 could look a lot like 2020 from a travel standpoint. 

“COVID is the new world order now. It’s forced us to look through a broader lens than probably we ever would have in terms of our business model,” says Weidner. He believes that, for MSCI, in a post-COVID world, conferences will be in-person with a virtual component.

For MSCI, acceptance of this new way of operating is key. “My entire team and I got our heads around the fact that, look, the world that we knew and loved is over. COVID has not just disrupted it; it’s blown that model up,” says Weidner. “And so we quickly embraced virtual, and we put our stake in the ground and said in the industrial metals space and within the broader trade association space, we were on the forefront of saying ‘we are going to own virtual.’”

“In a virtual world, content is king and delivery is virtual.” 
To register for the 2020 Economic Summit: A Virtual Experience, visit www.msci.org/summit.