This year’s edition of the Canadian Online Publishing Awards (COPA) was a special one, not only because they were forced to transform and innovate their in-place strategies due to the pandemic, but also because it marked their 12-year anniversary. And, I must say, it’s one of the best virtual conferences I’ve attended so far!

COPA is organized by Masthead Magazine (under North Island Publishing) and showcases the best of the Canadian online media scope. The COPA 2020 Party was initially set to be held in November 2020. Due to the pandemic, the organizers rescheduled the awards to February 2021. (Business Wire contributed as sponsor.)

I spoke with Marty Seto, Producer for COPA, regarding the success of the event, the highlights and what’s to come for the organization.

COPA-BW-venueFrom left-right: Business Wire's Mariana Valle-Mesen (Media Relations Specialist) and Matt Allinson (Director of Global Media Relations) chat with COPA producer Marty Seto in the event's virtual platform.

Marty Seto: The COPAs introduced a free entry category for COVID coverage as our response to help publishers participate in the COPAs in an upside-down world. This allowed opportunities for (long shot) publishers to showcase their work, and two entries won Best of Canada Awards (PressProgress, Cabin Radio). This led to an increase of 40% in industry participation and an increase in diversity amongst entries – English, French, Chinese, Native Tribes and Gender publications.

Mariana Valle-Mesen: What is the core mission of the COPAs?

MS: The COPAs are here to recognize the excellence of digital publishing in Canada. And with this, we are proud to recognize all-inclusiveness and promote diversity of the media we have in Canada.

One of our core missions is to be a platform for students and provide them with opportunities. We have a platform where they, and all journalists, can showcase their work.

And what really drives us is to become the top digital publishing program in Canada. The COPAs have become a badge of honor as it is one of the big award programs in Canada with no political filters.

MVM: Marty, tell me: as a producer, what aspects of the event did you enjoy working on the most?

MS: The prep work for a digital event was never done before, we really had no playbook to follow, and we had to be quick! Creating something new was fun, and it allowed us to push forward with technology and set an example for the industry. It also was the great digital experiment, where a paid event model was used for the event, where there is pressure to give it away for free.

MVM: Aside from the obvious virtual nature, what and how did you make this experience unique for the attendees and award recipients?

MS: We decided to create the virtual theme experience as a “Day Paradise Island Retreat.” We provided some mental relief and team building exercises for people that felt isolated and working from home. Visually it looked like you were on the beach, having interesting discussions with colleagues and enjoying a different view.

Some of the activities we had during the live event were not limited to just networking, but you could attend seminars, have access to interactive booths with sponsors, and play a scavenger hunt to check out the digital venue.

The dry nature of webinar style presentations for an award seemed boring, so we decided to add sound effects to the program and planned jokes to entertain the crowd as much as possible. Winners could also jump in and talk when they received the award.

MVM: What were the pros in holding such an event, and what were the larger cons you saw after the whole process?

MS: Undoubtedly the biggest pro of the event is that we gave access to attendees outside of Toronto. Everyone was able to participate, without the usual costs of airfare, travel and hotel. This allowed for more industry participation during the Awards Party.

The con of the event was that we pushed the tech limits of this never done before model, and due to the high volume of participants we had some glitches! That said, everyone had a good time!

MVM: What were the key achievements your team had after experiencing this format?

MS: The key achievement is that we created a paid virtual event that got positive feedback from attendees. We met our attendance goals and we provided a celebratory environment for all the attendees. We were very happy with the outcome and learning from this event will go into 2021 planning.

MVM: Moving onward with future planning, what aspects from this experience might you continue once offices and venues fully open?

MS: The virtual component may be a permanent add-on to the in-person event in the future and will be part of the planning for 2021.


Masthead-logoWe finalized this interview with the much-appreciated testimony of Sandy Donald, Publisher of Masthead, in which he stated that the COPAs “have become the pre-eminent Digital Awards Program in Canada. With more than a decade of history, it is important to refer to the inclusiveness and participation of all geographic regions across Canada.” The pandemic was certainly a marker to think out of the box for many industries, and Sococo Software technology helped COPA elevate the virtual award and conference experience.

COPA_header-logoCurrently, Seto and Donald are working on the 2021 edition of COPA. The call for entries begins July 1, 2021, and the early bird deadline is set for August 13, 2021.

For more information on the COPA and to view all of this edition’s winners, visit their site here.

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