Technology: To meet, or not to meet ..

Will virtual conferences replace face-to-face events? Leanne Bell and Christy Wyatt asks buyers - both corporate and agency - and venues if they view virtual events as a threat to live events or whether the technology can enhance face-to-face meetings

With event budgets contracting and companies determined to get more for the same price as previous years, video and telephone conferences, online events and webinars could seem like a temptingly cheap option compared to live events. C&IT's online poll asked readers if they had lost business to virtual events. Some 56% voted yes, with 44% not losing any business.

THE CLIENT VIEW
Dan Porter, European channel marketing manager, Canon Business Solutions
We have stopped doing some of the internal conferences that we used to do, and the delegates do miss the opportunity to network with their colleagues. We can't underestimate the power of personal communication so there will always be a time for direct interaction between people. But it's time-consuming having people travel from all over Europe so we are doing more large web and phone conferences internally. Technology can certainly enhance face-to-face events.

Vishal Patel, EMEA head of events, Google
I don't think virtual events can ever fully replace face-to-face events because there's always going to be a need for personal contact. I think technology can enhance events - at Google we've been using more integrated video content to make it more accessible to a wider audience and it also works for the delegates who couldn't be there on the day. It also allows us to secure high-profile speakers such as Bill Clinton, who spoke at our recent US Zeitgeist when he was unable to attend.

THE AGENCY LOWDOWN
Lori Stahl, group account director, Euro RSCG Skybridge
If it's done well, technology can complement live events. It's important to listen to the client's needs and offer them the best solution. If technology seems like it would work as part of the mix then suggest it. If you need to unite people in different locations but don't have the money to do it, then consider technology.

Lucy Kendall, account director, AYMTM
"The use of new technology has not affected our business yet. We have clients in the automotive, telecoms and financial sectors and they aren't using technology to replace face-to-face meetings. For some events, the presentations and websites used are becoming more technologically advanced, but clients still want live meetings.

Mark Ivackovic, travel and logistics director, TMB
I don't see technology as a threat, as people view face-to-face events as a richer form of communication. However, video-conferencing can be used to enhance events. Our industry must be honest with clients and advise them to use the technology if it will be more efficient than a live event. I don't think we've lost any business to virtual events.

Lisa Ryan, account director, The Finishing Touch
Virtual events are a medium for companies to consider as an alternative to live events if they want to keep under the radar. I don't see this as a threat and I don't think it will ever have a competitive edge over live communication events.

Erin Anderson, strategic marketing director, George P. Johnson
Brands need to build an approach that uses the right medium for reaching the right audience at the right time. The integration of online and live events can be more powerful than either entity on its own. We've created an integrated solution called On Live. We've seen technologies replace live events because of cost efficiency, and clients use online events to extend their audience reach and continue their dialogue with an audience after live events.

THE VENUE VERDICT
Gregory Preslier, director of group sales, Kerzner
I haven't seen large numbers of corporates holding events in their offices using in-house technology rather than off-site events. When people go to a hotel for a meeting, the most important aspect is meeting people and networking. Technology is a tool that hotels can use to entice a client but it doesn't mean they will use it. If we see demand for it, we will definitely invest in it but we haven't had that demand to date.

Silvia Navarrete, sales director, Barcelona Princess Hotel
Many firms are using technology this year instead of hotels in Barcelona. As budgets for travel and events were cut, corporates were encouraged to book non-residential events. Where companies might previously have travelled abroad, they are now using conference calls. There is a place for both. We are promoting packages that offer added value for face-to-face meetings.

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