As we wrestle with how to plan for the coming year, we’re realizing that hybrid is not just a contingency plan or a Band-Aid. Incorporating integrated models is a viable business strategy that allows event producers to think beyond their physical events and deliver more holistic, omni-channel engagement — and new revenue streams. Integrated models provide a bridge between offline and online worlds and can include virtual experiences, podcasts, chat, commerce, and so much more. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, there are some best practices that should guide your approach.
- See a bigger picture. Events have historically been built around a point in time and location. As we shifted to virtual in the wake of the pandemic, they were still centered on a point in time but no longer constrained by location. As we look toward the future and a hybrid model, we’ll likely see a more integrated approach — one that blends both in-person and digital components year-round. Think of your engagement strategy as an opportunity to go broad, extending your reach with digital, as well as go deep with smaller, more frequent physical events. And digital doesn’t have to be tied to your live event — it’s more about rethinking audience engagement holistically than the channels of engagement themselves.
- Let old habits die. As we bring back in-person, now is the time to evolve the experience — both in the short- and the long-term. We can no longer rely on the old model, so it’s up to us to innovate and craft experiences that provide maximum value for our audiences. For example, if your event is trade-show/commerce-driven, you may consider VIP or hosted buying events with appointment-driven dialogue. For events primarily focused on networking, you may shift to smaller, more frequent meetups with curated networking experiences that include both in-person and online elements. And for educational events, you may focus on high-profile speakers, hands-on training, and/or high production, small-audience plenaries that are live-streamed to wider audiences.
- Spend money wisely. While we’d all love to build out full virtual experiences to complement our live events, the reality is that it doesn’t always make sense financially. There are added costs, from platform expenses to audiovisual equipment to production and staffing, to bring in digital components. Prioritize what’s most valuable to your audience and then spend time modelling out scenarios to understand what aligns with your overall business objectives. It may mean focusing on live-streaming a few key sessions and skipping some of the features that don’t translate as well online, like the virtual exhibit hall.
- Get cozy with your data. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last six months, it’s that digital allows us to reach new, untapped audiences, creating new networking and global buying opportunities as well as future cross-promotional opportunities. But marketing a hybrid event can get tricky — you’ve got two destinations and options that can quickly become overwhelming. The audiences, content, and cadence are all different. In fact, many virtual events are bringing in new attendees at twice the rate of returning “core” attendees. Understanding your audience personas and leveraging behavioral data will help you put prospects on the right path — with a campaign and an event experience specific to their needs — so you can you effectively reach your attendance goals.
Jacquelyn Wells is vice president at mdg, a full-service marketing and public relations firm specializing in live and digital events.