In response to the existential threat of lockdown, event organizers found new ways to leverage technology and bring their events to a wider audience than ever before. As a result, virtual events became one of the enduring success stories of the Covid-19 crisis. Now, with event organizers and their brand clients adjusting to the changes of the past two years, which new ways of working will remain as things return to normal?
As part of B2B Fest 2021, The Drum, in association with Linkedin, hosted a panel of experts for a discussion entitled: ‘What now for business events: real-world, hybrid or virtual?’ Lynn Lester, managing director of events at The Drum, chaired the session and was joined by Kelly Farrell, product marketer at Linkedin; Natalia Rybicka, senior director, event marketing, Attentive; and Andy Dougan, chief executive and experiential consultant at Vee.
Farrell opened the discussion, noting how the global events industry proved that necessity really is the mother of invention during the early days of the pandemic. She said: “The lockdowns created an environment for a lot of innovation in the events industry. In the past 18 months, there’s been a four-fold increase in the number of tech vendors specializing in event technology. It’s become an incredibly competitive space. Some of the largest success stories seen recently in terms of raising investment have been in the virtual events space.”
Dougan, who has created events for brands including Vodafone, Huawei, Pfizer and VW, believes the pandemic also raised the bar on the quality of virtual event experiences: “The events industry has turned to the broadcasting sector to help innovate and enrich the experiences being delivered virtually. If you rewind to a couple of years ago, some of the remote conferences and events taking place were of questionable quality, to say the least. Quality controls, both from a technical and a content perspective, are much higher now. It’s not unusual these days for former TV producers and studio managers to be working on larger-scale B2B events.”
The skills challenge
Attentive’s Rybicka explained why the shift to virtual and hybrid events has encouraged more event organizers to become content marketers: “One of the major challenges with virtual is how best to communicate with audiences in the lead-up to events. In the past, it was easy to get people excited with a live party or trade show. But now, if someone is just watching the event on the same computer they spend all day at, how do you differentiate your event? How do you get people to actually click the ‘tune in’ button? In 2021, you have to know how to design the format of an event, set the agenda based on the trends in your industry, and identify what people want to hear about.
“I never thought I’d see direct mail come back in such a big way. We’ve created a lot of custom shipments with agendas and really rethought how we use email in the run-up to an event. We’ve also used text messaging, which is a lot more immediate and is also where we have special expertise as a platform.”
New research from LinkedIn, based on interviews with more than 1,800 marketers with responsibility for events across 13 countries, highlights how a successful virtual events marketer no longer simply organizes events – they produce and direct video content, grasp the pros and cons of different technical platforms, know how to moderate online comments and discussions, and put together digital marketing campaigns that amplify the impact of their content.
The research also reveals that 36% of event organizers want better online advertising skills to drive attendees, 40% would like more technical knowledge of event platforms to elevate their events, and 36% would like to be better at adding more interactivity and networking to their events. 81% of event organizers say they plan to upskill to meet their virtual event ambitions.
Farrell said: “Hybrid is going to be such a game changer, especially in terms of extending the lifespan of an event. From a marketing perspective, the post-event strategy may become the most important element of all. Understanding how to repurpose event content becomes key. Event organizers have the opportunity to be really creative and set their own bar right now. I’m really looking forward to whatever happens next.”
Other topics discussed during the session included:
how to use real-world, virtual and hybrid events to engage audiences in different parts of your marketing funnel
how virtual events can help create online communities
why the use of data just became more important to events organizers
Watch the full session above.