Ultimate Guide To Annual Webinar Schedule Planning

Annual webinar schedule planning is arguably one of the most important strategic aspects of any webinar program. Planning your webinar schedule in advance is the foundation for a consistent, successful, and high-performance webinar program, which in turn is the foundation for an increase in audience size and engagement over time. Without an audience that increases in size and whose engagement levels increase over time, it becomes significantly harder to generate and increase marketing generated pipeline.

Yet, many webinar programs struggle to make it over the first hurdle of annual webinar schedule planning. We can all agree that that a webinar program should be well planned. However, in practice many considerations make up a webinar schedule that allows you to execute your webinar program consistently over the course of a year. Without an understanding of these factors, it requires a herculean effort to keep an annual webinar program on track.

In this article…

In this article, we share our first-hand experience of successfully scheduling, planning, and executing webinar programs that have delivered $100m’s a year in marketing generated pipeline.

Why Is Annual Webinar Schedule Planning So Important?

Questions like “Why can’t we just request webinars when we need them?” and “Why do we have to plan so far ahead, it seems very inflexible and we don’t know the details yet?” are often raised when it comes to annual webinar schedule planning for the year ahead.

These questions are valid questions in any collaborative organisation. There is nothing wrong with challenging the status quo. However, in equal measure, collaborative organisations also need to allow for specific expertise to guide strategic decisions and approaches.

In our experience of annual webinar schedule planning, webinar programs that have a comprehensive annual webinar schedule in place at the start of the year will outperform the programs who don’t.

It may seem obvious, but the reality is that multiple stakeholders, especially in larger organisations, bring a range of views, requirements and priorities. A webinar program that does not prioritise strategic forward planning will invariably contort under these varying requirements and diverse priorities, leading to inefficiencies and a reduced overall performance of your webinar program.

While this type of forward planning requires time, effort, and often early visibility of strategic targets, the results of this approach can be directly measured in an increase in marketing generated pipeline and an improved ROI for every marketing $/£/€/¥ spent on webinars.

So, what happens when you don’t plan ahead? Read on to find out in the next section. Or jump straight to our “Plan Your Annual Webinar Schedule Like A Pro” section. You’ll find it’s easier than it sounds.

What Happens If We Don’t Have An Annual Webinar Schedule?

In simple terms, if you don’t plan ahead you are planning short-term. In the context of “shorter than annual” planning, we’re looking at half-yearly at most, but more likely on a quarterly basis (or less).

A typical webinar process should take around six weeks from start to live day. Planning only a quarter (or less) ahead is guaranteed to keep you on your toes (if not chasing your tail) and create a range of inefficiencies. A longer timeframe allows ample time for webinar setup, landing page setup, promotional setup (two to three weekly email promo cycles), as well as speaker and content prep.

Typically, in a short-term scenario, compromises are made on the lead time per webinar (e.g. 2-3 weeks instead of a standard 6-week lead time). Compressing the lead time in this way invariably leads to cutting corners on process steps. This ultimately leads to fewer promotional cycles (e.g. one email deployment instead of three, shorter lead times for social media promotion, or internal sharing to sales and account managers for one-to-one promotion to prospects and customers). In addition to reduced promotion, speaker preparation of content is reduced and interactivity (polls, surveys etc) often neglected, leading to reduced audience engagement and insights for ongoing lead nurturing.

Short-term webinar planning can also lead to misalignment with other marketing activities, such as strategic events, throughout the year. This can result in missed opportunities to communicate the same (or complementary) messaging between events and webinars, and thereby building a compounding effect of multiple aligned communication channels. Equally, a misalignment can lead to promotional clashes between competing marketing narratives and audience segments, possibly an oversaturation of the marketable database with promotional emails, or indeed lead to webinar activity being temporarily suspended to avoid such conflicts. A break in a programmatic webinar cadence can subsequently have a negative impact on pipeline generation and audience engagement.

In general., however, ad hoc webinar activity almost always leads to under-utilisation of available webinar slots and an over-utilisation of internal marketing resource that could have been used more effectively for other marketing activities.

Plan Your Annual Webinar Schedule Like A Pro

Step 1: Define Your Regular Slot

Annual webinar scheduling starts with the key principle of a regular cadence and consistent webinar output. With this in mind, you’ll first want to define a regular slot for your webinars. For example: Thursdays at 14:00h or Wednesdays at 10:00h etc.

The defined slot should first and foremostly take the core audience’s availability into account, rather than suit the speaker’s preferences. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon slots (Tuesday to Thursday) work best for audience attendance (see ON24’s Webinar Benchmark Report for more information). Try to avoid early mornings, later afternoons, as well as Mondays or Fridays, unless you have a specific audience or theme that justifies running webinars outside of core webinar hours.

Once a regular slot is defined, it’s very important to stick to it consistently. Your audience will get used to it (and return for more webinars) and it makes your life easier in planning and executing a consistent webinar process and timelines. There is no harm in creating a backup slot on a different day in case there is a high-profile clash that cannot be avoided. Using a backup slot is preferable to cancelling a regular webinar slot altogether.

Step 2: Define Your Webinar Volume

Defining your webinar volume is best done with a logical approach, rather than estimating a “reasonable” number. You may feel 20 webinars a year is too much, while someone else may feel that 40 is not enough. Taking feelings and opinions out of the equation allows you to make a pragmatic and realistic calculation of your required webinar volume.

To make a logical calculation of your required webinar volume you’ll need:

  • The number of different product lines / services your webinars should cover
  • The range of webinar formats you would like to offer to your audience (read more about the power of webinar formats). As a minimum we recommend three different webinar formats to meet a range of specific audience content requirements appropriately:
    • Thought leadership (interview) format for low audience maturity (top of funnel)
    • Core product content format (presentation, demo, Q&A) for medium audience maturity (middle of funnel)
    • Technical deep-dive format (demo and Q&A led content) for advanced audience maturity (bottom of funnel).
  • The frequency with which you want to offer your audience a webinar
  • A percentage weighting for each product line, based on pipeline goals (50% of pipeline goal = 50% of total webinar slots etc)

Now, the above result of 108 webinars only applies if all product lines use all three formats every month of the year. This may not be feasible or relevant. So, let’s make some adjustments, which take into account that your more mature (middle and bottom of funnel) audience segments are smaller.

Of these 54 webinars, Product 1 is allocated 27 webinars (ie 50%), while products 2 and 3 are allocated 13.5 webinars each (i.e. 25% each)

Using Product 1 as an example, we now split the 27 webinars based on the allocation for different webinar formats:

  1. Thought leadership (top of funnel): 18 webinars
  2. Core product (middle of funnel): 6 webinars
  3. Technical deep-dive (bottom of funnel): 3 webinars

With this, you have now calculated your webinar volume for Product 1 across three different webinar formats. You can now define your webinar cadence. Read on.

Step 3: Define Your Webinar Cadence

Defining a regular cadence helps to frequently engage your target audience (who will get used to a regular output of webinars), as well as allowing you to utilise a consistent process based on defined process timelines.

Using Product 1 as an example, we know that there are a total of 27 webinars available for the year, split into:

  • 18 webinar slots for the thought leadership webinar format,
  • 6 slots for the core product format, and
  • 3 slots for the technical deep-dive format.

Based on a 12-month period, this equates to:

  • One thought Leadership webinar every 3 weeks
  • One core product webinar every 2 months
  • One technical deep dive webinar every 4 months.

This is your webinar cadence for the year. And because the target audiences are different, there is no risk of promotional overlap.

Step 4: Create Your Webinar Slot Schedule

For 2023 this would be 5th January, 12th January, 19th January etc). Add your weekday in column B and your regular time slot (and timezone if needed) in column C. See graphic for an example.

Using Product 1 as an example, we have calculated that Thought Leadership webinars take place every 3 weeks, so you would enter “Product 1 – Thought Leadership webinar” into the D column spaced three weeks apart throughout the year. Repeat this step for the other webinar formats and their respective cadences.

With this complete, you now have a slot schedule for the next 12 months, based on a regular cadence across three different webinar formats.

Note: you may wish to make adjustments to the cadences to avoid key holiday periods or key strategic events your organisation is running. Or perhaps not… after all, not everyone is going to be on vacation or at your strategic event, so there is still an audience interested in attending your webinars.

Step 5: Assign Key Asset Categories

With the slot schedule defined, you can now begin to enter key information for each webinar. “But we don’t have enough information!” I hear you shout. Don’t worry… You should have enough information for this step.

The key asset categories for the information you need are listed below. Not all of these are required immediately, but you should be able to begin with the first four categories straightaway. Below is an example based on a fictional product:

  • Product: Is already defined (Product 1), but let’s call it “Cat Grooming Equipment”)
  • Key message: “A healthy cat is a happy cat”
  • Topic area: “CatComb X for superior cat fur”
  • Target audience: “All cat grooming salon employees”
  • Speaker(s)
  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Content
  • Interactivity

The first four categories above tend to be predefined within the organisation and should be readily available for your annual webinar planning purposes. If one category is not yet available, work on adding it as early as you can.

Asset Categories extended

With this information entered into your schedule planning document, you now have the foundation for your annual plan. This step is crucial to defining your annual webinar plan. You will want to aim to have this process completed by early November for a January start for your webinar program (remember you will need a decent lead time to prepare for a January start).

Additional information for the other categories can be added throughout the year. However, you should aim to have all of the above defined at least 6 weeks prior to the respective webinar’s live date. This period of time will give you the appropriate timeframe for webinar setup, promotional setup and execution, as well as technical coordination and dry runs with your speakers.

Check Your Schedule Feasibility

Internal resources (or external resources like WebinarExperts – why not get in touch) are key to the feasibility of your schedule’s deliverability.

Remember that, with a 6-week webinar process lead time and one webinar per week, you will be working on six different webinars at different process stages at any given time. With a defined and consistent process in place your work becomes significantly easier.

But also consider the following when assessing your schedule’s feasibility:

  • The size of your speaker pool (and their availability)
  • Content availability (i.e. slide decks or demos)
  • The size and availability of your promotional segments in your contact database. If segments are too small, based on the criteria you have defined, you may have to review these criteria and the subsequent segment sizes

Summary

Congratulations! If you have followed the above steps, you will now have the foundations for your Annual Webinar Schedule. From here you can begin defining more details around the unassigned Asset Categories, as well as any other information you would like to define for your webinars. However, what you have defined and put in place is your annual webinar schedule. Well done!

With the strategic work done, you and your team can now focus on the tactical aspects of your program. Remember: The lead time for a good (and comfortable) webinar process should be around 6 weeks. You should always aim to have all webinar details defined by the 6-week mark prior to your next webinar’s live date. Having done the work of creating your annual webinar schedule, you will have less work to do in the lead up to your next webinar. This allows you to focus on the tactical webinar delivery.

There are several misconceptions when it comes to webinar schedule planning and running webinars programmatically. We have addressed the two most common misconceptions below. Why not take a look, it might help you on your journey to webinar excellence. If you have any questions, or would like to share your experience of annual webinar planning, why not get in touch with us today.

Bonus: Common Misconceptions

Misconception: 12 webinars per year is the maximum

The first misconception is that if you have a 4-week promotional period, you can only run 12 webinars per year. In other words, you promote your first webinar for 4 weeks and when it has taken place you begin the next 4-week promotional period for the second webinar, and so on.

The above would only be true if you had one product, with one target audience speaking the same language, of which all audience members were at exactly the same level of knowledge about your product. The only realistic scenario for this is a fresh Start-up without any prior external promotion. And even this scenario would not last a full year before it likely ran out of money.

Instead, consider what you can do when you with webinar series, different webinar formats, content for different levels of audience maturity, content for different product lines, in different languages, and in different geographic regions.

Webinar series allow you to run multiple webinars in quick succession (easily within days of each other or even on the same day), aimed at the same target audience, and promoted on a single multi-event registration page and via the same promotional activity (eg email, social media etc).

Within these series, or even just within the webinar program, you can utilise different webinar formats (e.g. thought leadership interviews, product demos, customer testimonials, panel discussions, technical deep dives etc) to address the varying content requirements of audience members who have different levels of knowledge of your product or service offering. For example, an audience member who is interested but knows very little about your company or product will benefit from a different webinar content format (likely Thought Leadership) than a prospect who has already identified a specific need for your product, but would benefit from more detailed information (e.g. via a product demo or technical deep dive webinar).

Combine the above with audiences speaking different languages, who are based in different countries or geographic regions, and you can easily create a matrix of target audiences which can be served with different webinars every week. 12 webinars a year is not a limitation when you are planning your webinar program and schedule.

Misconception: Ad hoc webinars are ok. It allows us to be responsive to market (and marketing) requirements

This approach is only VERY partly true. Instances where companies such as law firms or consultancies need to react to market developments could justify an ad hoc definition of your webinar content. However, even in this situation it should not limit your advance planning of webinar slots, overall themes or topic areas.

For these, and all other organisations, it is important to know your market (and marketing requirements) and plan ahead. Develop a content driven agenda that becomes the foundation for your webinar program schedule.

Work top-down, rather than bottom-up. Define strategic targets and requirements and work down to more tactical levels. Overall strategic messaging comes before definition of campaign strategy, which comes before definition of strategic marketing activity (eg large-scale strategic events), which comes before tactical and programmatic execution frameworks, which come before tactical content definition and delivery methods (e.g. webinars). This approach cannot be taken on an ad hoc basis.

With the longer-term view and approach, you can capitalise on longer promotional cycles (ad hoc webinars have shorter promo cycles) and a more varied promotional channel activity. The latter is often not possible due to time constraints of ad hoc execution. More promotional lead time and wider promotional reach lead to larger audiences and better engagement, both of which should be amongst your primary goals for a scale activity such as webinars.

Put simply: an ad hoc approach is a process killer. Without process you don’t have consistency. A lack of consistency leads to wasted time and wasted opportunities. This approach is ineffective at building audiences, and without an audience your webinars will underperform.