Opinion: The Events Industry Is Failing Our Clients And Ourselves, But There's A Fix

Posted by Adam Mitchell on Mar 9, 2021 12:09:47 PM
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A recent PULSE Survey of event planners around the globe by Northstar Meetings Group reports that 81% of meeting and event planners are ready to host live in-person events in 2021 despite COVID challenges.

Nearly 25% of the 1,000 planners who responded to the survey also confirmed they're eager to host their first in-person event by the end of 2021's second quarter.

Yet at no point in the survey were respondents asked if they should host events or whether agreeing to do so for their clients was ethical. This seems to be the current state of our industry: eager to get back to work at any cost, innovation be damned.

When the pandemic hit hard in Europe and the Americas between February and March of 2020 event planners and marketers were rightfully taken aback by the abrupt end to the way things have always been done. Sponsorship revenues threatened to vanish, entire local economies loomed upon collapse, and many within our sphere lost work. We were all confused, afraid, and lost.

We watched and waited for someone to provide direction and when that failed, we plugged phrases like "best virtual event platform" into Google. What we didn't do was to do what forward thinking industries have always done when things get tough: innovate, band together, and create. Instead we settled for what was already there, some watered down version of what our clients kinda, sorta thought that maybe they wanted.

Then the sponsors bailed. Our clients put us on hold. Audiences became disengaged. All signs pointed to the standard virtual event not being good enough. Next, we apparently have become content with going back to the way things used to be when we even have data that that wasn't fully working.

If the old way of producing, marketing, and hosting events had worked it never would have collapsed to begin with.

We need to be courageous enough to start moving in a new direction or what's happening now will happen again.

Where things stand today seems to be changed little from March of 2020. Our ranks are underemployed, unemployed, or have sought work elsewhere, and an apparent majority of us are willing to reassemble the masses in-person when we don't know if it's safe.

The Ethics

In almost every industry imaginable there are accepted ethics. Don't take what isn't yours, give honest advice, cause no harm. In event production have we been true to these credos more often than not?

The current period our industry finds itself within should follow this same moral footing. If our clients are ready to proceed with in-person events and it serves our own bottom lines and careers to do so, but the state of public health suggests that we wait, what do we decide?

...eager to get back to work at any cost, innovation be damned.

The act of planning an event before science suggests it's entirely safe can further damage our industry. Before proceeding we should imagine the impact on a client if a "small gathering" in a meeting center results in negative international press or worse, severe illness. It's happening today and a vaccine doesn't necessarily mean things are safe.

The Solution

Since before the pandemic broke out a few things were obvious about events that can be solved and those same solutions applied to our status quo.

Longterm Engagement & Community Building = Better ROI

Events typically last a few days but then they're over. A week or so after the closing keynote attendees will receive a push notification or an email letting them know that speaker videos are published. And then silence.

The internet has been around for decades and in that amount of time we've developed some pretty incredible tools for engaging people from a distance, over time. Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, Slack: they've been doing this very thing for years.

As event industry professionals we can move beyond the virtual event grid and into solutions that drive brand and content engagement for months on end. We can assemble likeminded micro audiences and encourage organic conversation that move out of a typical sponsor's echo chamber and into an atmosphere that encourages genuine innovation and growth. The ideas and data gathered from these spaces can drive the production of better content which leads to more relevant sponsorships.

Focus On Delighting Audiences

How many attendees remember your event's closing keynote a week after the event?  A month? A year? Now how many of those same attendees remember the way they felt when connecting with another attendee who "got them" from the first interaction?

Whether it's the virtual world or the real world our focus should be only on creating experiences that delight attendees. Every meeting planner has seen the results in post-event ROI reports when the overall attendee experience has been a notch or two above stellar. We can strive to maintain that level of attendee delight by following some simple guidelines:

  • Utilize the advantages of the digital space to take note of what your prospective attendees are already discussing, and then provide content that enhances their conversations
  • Put more emphasis on recruiting partners to help attendees connect with similar minds during the event, and then keep them engaged long after
  • Stop thinking of your virtual event as an "event" and use it as the starting point for conversations and thought leadership that span well into the next year
  • Encourage sponsors and exhibitors to accept open discussion without watering down the message from the crowd -- the sponsors will learn more and the attendees will feel like they matter

Better Audience Segmentation = Raving Fans

Event marketers have long relied on in-person attendee rosters and check-in data to build their persona lists. Those lists are recycled in some form between email, social media retargeting, and paid content even as the world around changes.

The fix is to use the realtime data gathered from our virtual experiences to build micro segmented personas from audiences in places that traditional live events would never dream of reaching.

Expand audiences for your sponsors and partners by taking advantage of interested groups on the other side of the world. When in-person events return, those same remote audiences can take advantage of exclusive online only content sold as a premium activation.

Reeducate Sponsors On ROI

The post-event report shouldn't cut it anymore. Our value proposition to event sponsors and exhibitors should no longer consist of a monthlong pre-event marketing roll followed by some day-of-event activations. When attendees can become lifelong brand fans and are already taking active steps to stay connected with each other, the event producer should continue a sponsor's activation well throughout the event lifecycle.

Post-event conversations hosted by the producer provide an ongoing activation for any exhibitor, and the conversations those attendees will continue to have with each other will deliver more to an internal sales team than any single survey or kiosk check-in.

We Can Do This

Every one of these solutions to our current challenges naturally lends itself to the virtual space. We need to be courageous enough to start moving in this direction or what's happening now will happen again.

If the old way of producing, marketing, and hosting events had worked it never would have collapsed to begin with.

In time, it's all a natural coupling to live in-person gatherings. Our industry should move forward into providing choices that drive excitement, brand growth, and opportunities for the entire chain, from the attendee to the producer to the exhibitors.

A pledge to put the well-being of the public ahead of my own career interests, to offer innovative solutions to clients instead of what they're comfortable with already, and a willingness to pioneer the next iteration of our industry will place event planners and marketers in a solid position for future growth. I hope you'll agree.

Topics: leadership, marketing, marketing automation, events, community building

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