How the pandemic has transformed the events industry

If there was a ‘worst case scenario’ for an industry and marketing channel that relied on the ability for people to meet face to face, being denied just that by a global pandemic would be it. 

Marketing departments and agencies that had long relied on physical face-to-face events to give salespeople the opportunity to make and build relationships, had to adapt overnight. Below I sum up the results of our study into how the events industry has had to adapt to thrive.

All change
Necessity being the mother of all invention saw the industry go 100% virtual in the space of days. We were well positioned. We had been running virtual live events for over 10 years, but always as the younger sister to the larger in-person experiences. But, this industry-wide move to virtual came with its problems: overnight, our clients’ events teams had to re-engineer and refocus their skills – all with reduced budgets and swathes of redundancies and furlough. Ownership issues surfaced as events teams now had to collaborate with IT as well as local/regional teams having to march to the beat of Global.

Empowerment for some
Some interesting opportunities emerged, however. More junior digital-natives were being listened to more and grasped those opportunities to shine like never before. Employees felt a stronger sense of empowerment as businesses recognised that physical and mental wellbeing was paramount and employees’ voices were becoming more powerful. In parallel, due to everyone working at home, customer experience expectations in B2B caught up with those of B2C. Brand’s contribution to ‘the cause’ and society made many businesses review their purpose and reconnect their values to their actions.

Optimism and creativity
The mood has remained positive, with 72% of interviewees remaining optimistic for 2021 and only 12% with any negative sentiment.

Creativity and quality content has been quicker to rise to the surface as marketers understand more and more how to stand out from the crowd. While content is still king, context is certainly as strong a queen as the formats of the events are shortened and made more collaborative.

Sales opportunities
Virtual events have seen some lovely integration opportunities for marketing and sales, as the former looks for conversions and the latter for relationship-building opportunities. We are also seeing the green shoots of recovery with a number of client enquiries coming in for hybrid and small face-to-face experiences towards the end of the year. What is also encouraging is that there has been a universal agreement that sales and marketing teams are desperate for the events industry to re-open. The fact it has been taken away from them has helped them truly understand what they are missing.

Top 10 key findings

1. Hyper-local, ultra-connected – a cautious move back to hyper-localised small, intimate, face-to-face events in the second half of 2021 will bring together the best of the virtual and ‘real’ world to maximise budget and reach, while minimising risk.

2. Kindness, community, and collaboration – remote working has built a collaborative spirit to work together and supportively on creative solutions to the challenges faced.

3. An agency squared – change in the traditional heavy weighting given to event managers towards a fair weighting for communications experts, digital design and technical expertise in a more digitally led events world.

4. It’s all about the context not just the content – brands have had the opportunity to re-evaluate why they hold events and reshaped the format, key drivers, KPIs and ambitions to focus on the needs of the event participants.

5. There is no normal – the pandemic accelerated the seismic cultural change the industry was already experiencing and the time is now to embrace the opportunity and create.

6. On purpose – being forced to re-evaluate and rethink the foundations of business is creating a more purposeful approach – from defining values and principles to the way business is conducted, budgets are allocated and suppliers and employees are engaged.

7. A seat at the strategic table – the inability to consistently gain or hold a seat at the client’s ‘strategic table’ has fundamentally changed in 2020 with clients now asking how to keep the momentum going.

8. A sustained commitment over time – the move to more environmentally sustainable events has shifted from finding sustainable ways to trim excess to reshaping the event and merging the best of what we had with the best of what we have.

9. Creativity as currency – creativity, traditionally focused on the experience of the attendee and the design and conceptual elements will see a much greater emphasis on strategic creativity not just experiential creativity.

10. Employee empowerment – younger digital natives, empowered by the respect given to their voice and knowledge when they were called on to fill knowledge gaps, will continue to be valued enhancing employee participation and productivity and quicker recovery.

Methodology

At the end of 2020, we held a series of discussions and interviews with business and marketing leaders across a diverse range of industries and sizes of companies for the Events Industry Barometer Report. These conversations were combined with broader market trends research and our own extensive experience over both the last 21 years of in-person and virtual events, and vitally our collective experiences over that last 12 months.

Written by Dina Green, managing director of OrangeDoor, a global customer and employee experience agency that specialises in events.