COVID-19 has forced many industries to rethink their business models. For most, as a recent McKinsey Global Survey demonstrates, that has gone hand-in-hand with the rapid adoption — accelerated by several years — of digital technologies. Certainly, this has been true for event organizers who had to figure out how to move their physical events online with little to no learning curve.
In that process of going from face-to-face to digital, we’ve discovered ways in which online events can have an edge over physical events. This was the case for an event discussed in a recent Fortune newsletter, The Broadsheet. In early March, the media company was preparing with the State Department and the nonprofit Vital Voices to bring 13 women entrepreneurs and mid-career professionals from around the world to the U.S. for an annual mentoring program.
During the three-week Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership, which has run for 15 years, the women shadow Fortune 500 executives and “experience corporate America firsthand, applying those lessons to their own businesses when they return home.” When the pandemic struck, the program’s organizers, like countless others, had to figure out how to recreate that experience digitally.
According to the newsletter, the mentees were able to take meetings with their mentors and develop relationships across time zones without having to take “a break from their usual responsibilities at work and at home, with creative results.” Here’s an example: When Egypt-based nonprofit exec Enas Abdelaziz told her mentors, two women executives at consulting and tech firm Accenture, that she was finding it difficult to manage her Gen Z employees, they set up a panel of six Gen Z Accenture staffers to answer all of her questions over Zoom. They “also helped counsel her over a video chat through the departure of a much-appreciated employee.”
Changing Business Models
The ability to assemble a panel on the fly is one obvious advantage to going digital and will be a feature that will likely last post-COVID for the Fortune program. But for other parts of the business events industry, the pivot forced by the pandemic has been more of an abrupt halt, causing convention centers, for example, to reexamine their value proposition when large groups are unable to gather. We’ve written about how many of them are developing broadcast studios for hybrid events in response.
As London Business School professor of strategy Michael G. Jacobides and BCG Henderson Institute chairman Martin Reeves write in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “To figure out what business model the new normal requires, you need to ask basic questions about how you create and deliver value, who you’ll partner with, and who your customers will be.”
For the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the answer to those questions isn’t just about future groups they can host, it’s about investing in the local community. On Dec. 3, the center and the Urban League of Louisiana honored the winners of the inaugural Ernest N. Morial Awards at a socially distanced luncheon at the center. The center’s role went beyond hosting the awards event, which recognizes “a small business and a corporation that have demonstrated innovative growth and positive economic impact as well as exceptional contributions to sustainability and growth of local communities,” according to a release.
Last year, pre-pandemic, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center launched a Small and Emerging Business Program, committed to creating opportunity to help emerging local businesses succeed. “Small business growth has been a central focus for the convention center,” Michael J. Sawaya, the center’s president and general manager said in the release. “We’ve made it our commitment to continue to support our local small business vendors and to honor the legacy of the convention center’s namesake, Ernest N. Morial.” Morial was a civil rights activist who was elected as New Orleans’ first Black mayor in 1977, and who championed the convention center’s construction as a way to promote economic development.
The inaugural awards program, which also supported local artist, Sheleen Jones, the trophies’ sculptor, underscore the value of events. All expenses will be paid for the winners to attend a future National Urban League annual conference.
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.