Ben Atherton is group client engagement director at WRG (part of The Creative Engagement Group)
The live events business is in shock. Everything from the Olympics to the Great British Beer Festival has been cancelled or postponed in the wake of coronavirus, not to mention numerous branded activations.
Yet, given time, all that we hold dear and appreciate about the industry will still be there, we just might not immediately recognise it.
Here are my five predictions for how the industry could change when normality returns to live events.
1. Virtual goes mainstream
The adaptability of many event agencies to switch to virtual and hybrid platforms when live events were cancelled or postponed has meant clients continue to work, generate sales and connect with their audiences. It’s been very valuable.
If you think of the coronavirus period as the beta testing for these types of services, then the full release will see virtual as a genuine complement or alternative to live events. Some clients were already there, but many more have been forced to embrace virtual.
Corporate planners will increasingly be asking for the service as part of their channel mix and not just as a cost-saver against live events, but because they value the stability of the service and the associated metrics and measurement tools.
And as usage grows, so will the experiential nature of virtual and the methods we can adopt to increase uptake and value.
As restrictions ease, the temptation will be to jump on a plane and get back to business. I do think the live event industry will return strongly, but the intersection of sustainability and virtual meetings will be irresistible, and that’s the tipping point we’ve needed.
I foresee a massive rise in genuine debate and action with clients and agencies alike getting serious about live events with sustainability at the core. And that’s not just a debate about air miles, but the whole supply chain and impact of live events from fabrication, design, staging, power usage, waste management and digital delivery of the content too.
It will be time to get our house in order and put the hard lessons of the coronavirus impact and the ecological imperative of climate change to good use.
Behind all this change will be the brilliant creative minds that fuel our industry. Connecting virtually, engaging differently, justifying a return to travelling, supporting inclusivity, keeping events and meetings the most interesting, valuable and dynamic part of the marketing mix will help drive a new wave of creativity.
There are amusing anecdotes on social media about people wistfully remembering four hours sat next to the finance team at a corporate sales conference but the reality is people do miss meeting up.
However, it will need some stellar creativity to persuade people to really return to live events. I see fewer, better live events as the new normal but absolutely no slowdown in meetings overall, whatever form they take.
Communicating creatively is going to be massively important, whatever the channel.
For those with kids, or people who have become volunteer carers in their spare time, or simply anyone trying to just get through the various stages of restrictions, the balance between the day job and where you do it has been tricky.
‘Work is something you do, not somewhere you go’ has rarely been a more accurate sentiment. But it has proved possible, people have adapted, managers and clients developed an understanding of the new timetables of daily life.
Could this signal a sustainable and positive change in our work/life balance? I think it could, and should, and predict that, as various parts of the world return to a regular working pattern, the best bits of what we have been able to do from home will be kept alive.
5. Paying it forward and taking care
People will lose jobs and some businesses will go under; it’s an inevitable consequence as the events industry rebalances and this will affect corporate events to sponsorship and all the services like insurance and health & safety which underpin them.
But we have seen genuine care for, and from, those in our sector. Agencies that usually compete are helping each other out. Clients that aggressively pitch work are showing some understanding of workflow and resources and are trying to hold onto relationships and help their marketing partners cope.
Intra-company, we’re seeing people volunteering to re-skill and move to busier parts of the business or take a temporary reduction in hours to help cash-flow. All the personal attributes that make people in our industry such diligent and creative individuals are still shining brightly. Long may the collaboration and care continue.
I’d go further too – social distancing has possibly helped bring us closer together as a sector. Something that will become more apparent when some kind of normality returns to live events.
This article was written by Ben Atherton at WRG. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of C&IT Magazine.
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