5 ways events are adapting to coronavirus restrictions

Marketing budgets remain intact for 75% of companies, finds research by event agency Pico.

Tyronne O'Callaghan is vice president, strategy and global activation at Pico.

While we are starting to see some countries ease lockdown restrictions as they manage the COVID-19 pandemic, the events industry will remain severely disrupted for some time to come. So, in the absence of events, how are businesses adapting?

To find out, Pico conducted research on how clients are transforming their strategies. It built on Pico’s COVID-19 Impact Research, which clearly showed that the pressure is still on to engage with audiences and get results. However, marketing budgets are still intact among 75% of clients, and the need to engage with customers remains unchanged.

1. Clients' emphasis on digital has increased

As the research revealed, emphasis on digital has significantly increased, with 93% of our clients stating that digital marketing in the COVID-19 era was important. This represents an increase of 14% from pre-crisis times.

It comes as no surprise that the shift to digital is accelerating – but the digital tactics being used and methods of embedding them varies.

2. Audiences won't reduce their expectations for online events

The importance of online events in the marketing mix has increased by 21% since the coronavirus pandemic began. This change will also be sustained, with 53% of respondents surveyed looking to increase their strategic effort or investment in virtual or online events over the next six months.

Our clients clearly stated a belief that target audiences would not reduce their expectations amid the shift to online events. So how are they looking to reframe the sense of experience for online event formats? They are:

  • Using mixed reality within digital experiences to make broadcast and digital interactions less static
  • Making the engagement more human with personal touches such as mailed invitations, merchandise and home-delivered food and coffee
  • Creating sense of place through logged-in states that give unique access to content and interactions
  • Encouraging engagement through gamified interactions

3. Content is still king

Clients are also adapting their strategies to include more email marketing within the marketing mix, while maintaining levels of traditional advertising and sponsorship.

While there is just no substitute for the sheer engaging power of being physically present at an event, these findings show that tactics powered by strong engaging content are being seen as digital alternatives to events.

Again, we see this being sustained, with 46% of clients increasing their strategic efforts and investments into digital/social media content over the next six months.

4. Integration & data is better understood

With events, the importance of integration to generate audiences, amplify content and sustain engagement is well understood.

If anything, the increased use of online events, social and email marketing, lends itself to building integrated but digital-first approaches – approaches that provide rich data where results are easily measured.

5. A paradigm shift for the events industry

COVID-19 has supercharged the digital transformation of the events industry. With 5G coming online in many markets, this transformation will only further accelerate development of new ways we can engage with audiences.

More importantly, it will accelerate change in the ways audiences choose to engage with brands. The agencies that will help their clients succeed in the post-pandemic market will be characterised by:

  • Experience-led, digital-first thinking
  • Strong proficiency in integrated marketing and audience building
  • Professionals that are digital natives
  • Creative teams that know how to visualise and deliver powerful content


This article was written by Tyronne O'Callaghan at Pico. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of C&IT Magazine.

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