‘Competing with cats’; Pause Fest’s George Hedon on capturing an online audience

Pause Fest founder George Hedon.

Innovative business festival Pause Fest was last held in February at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre just before the events industry was shut down due to the pandemic.

Founder and CEO George Hedon said he saw the early signs of what was to come with a couple of speakers pulling out a few weeks before.

“I felt there was a nervousness even then,” he said.

Pause Fest 2021 is preparing for its March launch albeit in a totally new online format, a pivot that proved to be much more than just a “cut and paste” from the physical format to an online one.

Hedon initially considered postponing for a year but had to weigh up “what do I gain and what do I lose”.

“I would loved to have taken a year off but at the same time you lose a spot basically and the visibility of the brand,” he said.

“I didn’t want to allow my visibility of the event taken away. I decided maybe we could something smaller. So what we are doing now is about a third of what we do in person, but it feels like it’s almost as hard if not harder than the in person event we normally do.”

The Pause Fest team spent four months researching and building the new format event from the ground up.

“I didn’t want to copy and paste into a digital format, as it is not the same,” he said.

“I wanted to do a virtual event two years ago and I searched so much and I could only find one platform that was semi okay.

“[After the pandemic began] within about a month there were hundreds of platforms that just popped up. It was gold rush for platforms. But they are not the best as many just copy the real [physical] to online.”

Hedon needed a platform that would allow Pause Fest to offer both sponsors and attendees value for money.

“I’ve heard of a lot stories of sponsors not investing as they don’t feel there is any value [in online] and people are getting burnt out sitting in front of a computer for eight hours,” he said.

“So we decided to build a program that really gives value to sponsors, as well as the attendees as we always do.”

The new program has been extended from three to 10 days with a focus on making it user friendly for the attendees.

“Normally for us it’s about a great venue and engaging in an interesting and exciting way,” he said.

“Events are all about movement, but if you’re working from home and not really moving it becomes a problem.

“A lot of online events are not thinking about the experience the attendees or sponsors are going to have. How you engage the audience online is very different and needs to be thought through.

“So we thought about our audience and what their issues and problems are and then came to the realisation we are actually competing with cats.

“It’s not just you’re competing with other online events, people are at home with cats and dogs and kids and the need to cook and still do work. We needed to take that attention from them and how do you do that? That was the fundamental question.”