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How do you solve a problem like... deciding whether or not to go to industry festivals?

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By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

January 18, 2022 | 8 min read

Each week, we ask agency experts for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners. This week, we ask readers whether they’re planning on heading abroad for industry festivals and conferences.

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What’s your agency’s policy on heading to SXSW or Cannes?

Last week, we looked at whether agencies are willing to support industry events such as Cannes, SXSW and Advertising Week in 2022, given the risk of infection from Omicron and the way the industry landscape has shifted during the pandemic.

Despite reassurances from organizers, it’s clear agency staff and agency bosses are a little wary of heading back to the departure lounge. It’s clear this is a discussion going on in Zoom meetings and board rooms across the world. So, we asked our readers what their agency was planning over the next six months. How do you evaluate the benefits and costs of going, versus the opportunity cost of not attending?

How do you solve a problem like... deciding whether or not to go to industry festivals?

louise roberts

Louise Roberts, managing director, MullenLowe UAE

From the outset of the pandemic, my decision making has been exclusively based on the health and wellbeing of my team. As a result, I have been tentative to advocate business travel.

I have seen huge benefits since international creative festivals have embraced the virtual experience. What were once primarily attended by the privileged executive teams of the creative world are now attainable to all those with a link. More inspired minds lead to more groundbreaking work.

While virtual creative festivals will never replace the real-world experience, a hybrid model shows promise of a more beneficial and sustainable future.

marina fillipelli

Marina Filippelli, chief executive officer, Orci

In the midst of change, what hasn’t changed for us is that family continues to come first – meaning everyone’s individual families, as well as our Orcista family. This is the lens through which we’ll evaluate every decision, including whether to attend conferences in-person. Instead of a blanket 2022 policy, we will examine each opportunity individually, including the comfort level of team members, recognizing that plans these days are only as good as our willingness to change them.

In truth, I miss live events as much as my industry colleagues, and while I’m excited to speak at SXSW this spring, I will continue to monitor things and decide what is best for myself and my family.

kev chesters

Kev Chesters, strategy partner, Harbour Collective

If proper Covid preparations and precautions are taken, then I don’t see any real reason to not attend in-person events in general. That said, I think the experience of the last 18 months has challenged us to think about the need to decamp half the company to the south of France to swan about the terraces of overpriced hotels. And it makes for a wider, more inclusive event too. It’s certainly possible to share and celebrate global creativity without the need for €500 magnums of low-quality rosé and opulent parties masquerading as work events. Boris Johnson, take note.

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Cliff Ettridge, director, The Team

Novak Djokovic is experiencing first-hand the consequences that come when choosing to attend an event unvaccinated. I imagine that attending industry events will require participants to show responsibility for their own vaccination status. I wouldn’t feel comfortable sending The Team’s staff to an event where the organizers did not take health and safety seriously.

But of more importance, in a world facing the challenges of climate change, we need to learn from the virtual events that have sprung up and perhaps create more compelling and localized, yet integrated, events. We do need the mix of offline and online events. The opportunity to reinvent global events is massive.

elli bissett

Ellie Bissett, account director, ShopTalk

Ultimately, it depends on what we want to get out of the event. Although the rise in virtual allows for a huge reduction in Covid risk and carbon footprint, the good old-fashioned buzz of a physical event – the energy that fuels renewed optimism and progress within the industry – is hard to match, even with the use of VR.

If it’s talks, presentations and round tables, we might stay at home, help the planet and prevent the spread, and interact virtually. If it’s collaboration, impetus and reinvigoration that we’re after, we’ll consider going in person. The best events now look to cater for both, which make the branding of these events more important than ever.

eric vissers

Eric Vissers, senior marketing and business development manager, DCMN

We’ve been hugely looking forward to escaping our Zoom ‘safety bubble’ and re-joining the conference circuit in 2022 – and while we’re still planning on attending SXSW and GDC in the US in the spring, we are fully aware that anything could change at the last minute.

With the current Covid-19 developments, we’ve already had to scale back the number of events we planned to attend this year, and make more calculated decisions about which conferences will make the most long-term impact. This means attending only those events where we have a track record of generating great relationships and awareness for the company, or for those conferences that are further afield, encouraging team members from DCMN’s international offices to attend without the added risk of long plane journeys.

dax callner

Dax Callner, strategy director, Smyle

We are planning on physically attending industry events because of the obvious benefits of face-to-face interaction with industry peers and clients. But this is contingent on clear and appropriate event policies (e.g. vaccine requirements, daily testing). If the event doesn’t have a policy, we’re out.

And we must continuously evaluate pandemic conditions and determine, sometimes last minute, if it still makes sense to attend.

Finally, there’s no mandate for our people to go – ultimately, they have to make the decision for themselves.

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Nir Wegrzyn, chief executive officer and founder, BrandOpus

With Covid now in its third year and variants continuing to make front-page headlines, conversation is turning from ‘when Covid is over’ to ‘how do we live with this?’ We must find a way to connect on a human level again. Zoom has its place, and will no doubt continue to be important, but it’s no replacement for face to face.

This year, we’re aiming to support events we think will be more valuable in person, including Cannes Lions. For us, it’s a chance to learn and connect with our peers, marketeers and, ultimately, people. At the end of the day, this is what business is all about.

If you’d like to join future debates, email me: sam.bradley@thedrum.com.

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