How Real Times Media expanded impact with Pancakes and Politics, in-person event gone virtual because of COVID-19


With stay-at-home orders and caution in the time of COVID-19, local media organizations have pivoted their events strategies to align with mandates and safety measures. In this series on virtual local media events, read about innovations that helped sustain events as a boon for revenue and community engagement despite extenuating circumstances.


Real Times Media, founded in 2003, publishes weekly newspapers serving the Black community including the Chicago Defender, Michigan Chronicle, and Atlanta Daily World, as well as the digital studio RTM360°.

Michigan Chronicle launched Pancakes and Politics 15 years ago, “bridging what we perceived to be a deep cultural divide in Southeastern Michigan,” said Tanisha Leonard, President, RTM360°.  “Since that time, Pancakes and Politics has become a safe space where diverse leadership can come together for productive conversations about the issues that shape the region.”

Leonard

In 2020, the Chronicle moved the event to Facebook Live and expanded from four events to six. We asked Leonard to share how Pancakes and Politics has changed, and stayed the same, in 2020.

How did the event change because of COVID-19?

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, we could not continue our breakfast forums as live events. However, we felt that the conversations that occur at Pancakes and Politics were much too important to table until next year. The devastating economic and health impact of the virus coupled with the national protests of the recent racially driven murders of Ahmad Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd made it painfully obvious that these conversations are more important now than ever. To this end, we are pushing forward with Pancakes and Politics with a series of virtual events. Instead of our traditional four events, in 2020, we will now host six. 

Pancakes and Politics moved to Facebook Live due to the impact of COVID-19.

We kicked off our revitalized 15th season with a very important discussion with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on June 18, during which she provided an update as she grapples with re-opening the state of Michigan and managing the budget and health aftermath of COVID-19.

How did going virtual impact the event?

It has allowed us to expand the impact of the program. We have always kept the live events small so we would not lose the intimacy of the networking opportunity (300 guests). Going virtual allowed us to keep this intimacy while broadcasting the content to a larger audience. We accomplished this by creating a separate chat room for our sponsors and their guests while simultaneously hosting a separate event experience on Facebook Live. We’d previously streamed the event on Facebook but had found that the appetite for long-form programming at 7:30 a.m. hadn’t been robust. COVID has certainly changed people’s perspectives in that regard and we had our largest Facebook viewership to date, with 300 live participants and nearly 3,000 watching the video at a later time.

Are there any revenue numbers you can share comparing in-person to the virtual event?

Pancakes and Politics is the Chronicle’s largest event each year and sells out before the close of the preceding calendar year, so all revenue had been committed and remained unchanged transitioning to the virtual experience.


Look for more stories in this series to preview LMA’s upcoming Local Media Innovation Alliance (LMIA) report focused on how local media organizations have adapted business-to-consumer events in 2020.