Think about how much time we spent as in industry, in the height of the pandemic, working to make in-person events safer as a way of compelling audiences to come back to them. We widened aisles, installed hand-sanitizer stations around every corner, and adopted touchless registration systems. We conducted industry research to track attendee sentiment around when people would feel comfortable returning to events. And while we were finding common (often, uncarpeted) ground in convention centers and obsessing over aggregated data, some organizers were planning events for audiences that were questioning if COVID-19 was real. At the same time, other organizers were planning events for audiences that weren’t even leaving their homes for the grocery store, let alone to travel to a mass gathering.
During the pandemic, it became clear that personal values — shaped by education and income levels, age, geography, cultural considerations, the media, political preferences, and religion, to name a few — were having far greater influence on our audiences’ likelihood to return to events than anything we were doing or saying as a collective industry.
A Reactive and Proactive Approach
Our audiences’ personal values have the potential to impact event attendance in other ways, too. For instance, events held in states that pass what’s being referred to as “Don’t Say Gay” legislation could find themselves up against boycotts by prospective attendees. In fact, the Pivot Conference, a tech and media event, recently pulled out of Miami, publicly bashing the “shameful” politics of the Florida GOP. Event organizers will likely find it more important than ever to choose locations, keynote speakers, and entertainers that align with the values of the audiences their events serve.
And while values-based marketing may often be reactive to current events or societal trends, it should also be employed proactively. If your event can give back to the community in which it is held, take a firm stance on social or ethical issues on social media, or show support for a cause through service or donation, those actions will tell a greater story that will make it easier for attendees to feel a deeper — versus purely transactional — connection to your brand.
Staying Silent May Not Be an Option
Historically, many event organizers have chosen to opt out of or stay neutral on controversial issues — from sustainability to LGBTQ rights to the Black Lives Matter movement to the war in Ukraine. But that option may not work for audiences of the future. Why?
Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, and here’s what we know about them, according to the 5W Public Relations 2020 Consumer Culture Report:
- 83 percent want companies to align with their values
- 76 percent want CEOs to speak out on issues they care about
- 65 percent say they have boycotted a brand that took the opposing stance to them on an issue
- 62 percent favor products that show off their political and social beliefs
In stark contrast, only about two out of 10 baby boomers demand that brands align with their values. So, as the workforce composition shifts — and as the political divide in our country likely widens — organizers will need to create strategies that align with the issues audiences care about as people, not just as event attendees.
RELATED: Download the 5W PR Consumer Culture Report.
Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes is president and chief marketing strategist of mdg, a marketing and public relations agency specializing in audience acquisition for B2B events.