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‘Understanding the Needs as the World Is Changing’; Events Need to Keep Adapting

“This is the time to make changes, to come back and do things differently,” Kelly Helfman, commercial president, Informa Markets Fashion, told us last week. It’s a common refrain, especially with events. Virtual events have greatly expanded our audiences but also can bring fatigue, technology problems and a lack of networking. So as organizations look to revamp and recharge, here are areas to look at in your events world.

Going forward, there will be a need for “constant communicating in different channels, personal calls, consultative, more surveying, understanding the needs as the world is changing,” said Helfman in a discussion last week in an AM&P Network CEO Council meeting. “And we will forever have a hybrid [event] strategy moving forward.”

Desiree Hanson, EVP, Clarion Events, said that they had just acquired a business in the one-to-one meeting space. She wondered when the best time to return to in-person events will be. While it may be safe to do it soon, “is it worth it for us to run this in the fall when everyone else is doing it too? Or should we just do it in March?” They both said if you are planning for the fall or winter of 2021, get space now!

In the past year, “we’ve developed new products that are here to stay; content we run as a series in our energy sector has done very well for us,” Hanson added. It’s brought Clarion “a new audience. Eighty percent of the people have never been to our [in-person] events. It’s keeping our audiences engaged throughout the year. The advantage there is it’s always evolving. You can see the immediate signs of audience engagement. You don’t have to wait a year to make changes” as you would for an annual event.”

Here are more factors in how events may change going forward:

More preparation and instruction. In their Part 2 report issued this month, CEIR lists a number of recommendations for virtual events. Many have to do with preparation and communication. “Recognize the importance of training and communication with speakers, exhibitors and attendees to assure sessions go well and that participants understand how to maximize the value of participating and overcome technology issues to have a seamless experience. Planning efforts need to start early, and elements of a program must be completed earlier than for in-person events. [And] the sales cycle needs to be longer to convert prospects to customers.”

Make it more of an ongoing event. The idea of a series of content as opposed to a 2-3 day event has certainly taken hold, as organizations—big, small and everything else—try to figure out when and where to return to in-person events. By doing a spread-out series, one event planner in our webinar said that by the third month this year, “the audience had become larger. And by the time you get to June, the next event is only six months away and not a year.” “Keep the brand alive 365 days” was a common sentiment expressed to CEIR. Networking continues to be a struggle virtually, but one planner in the CEIR survey did write that, “The interactive elements of a virtual meeting such as live video chats, exhibitor appointments, etc. have been extremely popular among our attendees.”

Global reach. Virtual events have allowed people from across the world to access our events, so it would be foolish not to continue to cater to that audience. One respondent wrote this to the CEIR survey: “Global outreach to new target groups was increased. Event community experience and cohesion was kept ‘alive’ during times of social distancing. Quality of conference/education content sessions was improved due to higher access to more top-quality content providers” worldwide.

Should vaccinations be required? This is going to be a difficult decision for organizations. Helfman from Informa said they have decided not to require that. Others have said they will require vaccinations for their in-person events. Things may change. The president of the European Commission said Sunday that for the summer “all 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved” by the European Medicines Agency. A study from Ricochet titled The Conference Road to Recovery found that “the vast majority will not attend an in-person conference until they are vaccinated. Only 30% might or would attend an in-person conference before being vaccinated.”

Climate change. Helfman was not specifically talking about carbon footprints in calling for change, but she could’ve been. Almost 3/4 (74%) of the Condé Nast audience told them that companies behaving more sustainably took on more importance because of coronavirus. Young people especially have indicated in surveys that it affects their decision-making. “Live events take a lot and have a big carbon footprint,” John Capano, SVP of Impact XM, said. “And so doing an event where maybe it’s a smaller live portion, but a much larger online portion, you can get the same benefit and the same engagement for a much smaller carbon footprint. And obviously, that is important and should be important to many of the folks that we work with.”