Event marketers have been reluctant to accept that the effects of COVID-19 are not only painful and far-reaching, but that they will be long-lasting, as well. As such, many have been hesitant to take the kinds of drastic steps that will be necessary to overcome the current challenges and, more importantly, to seize the future opportunities associated with the crisis. For these trade show and conference professionals, I have the following pieces of “tough love” advice.
Stop Being Optimistic
One of the many things I love about our industry is that it’s made up of so many genuinely nice, positive and, yes, optimistic individuals. Having said that, too many of us are clinging to unrealistic notions about when and how live events will return. And while being hopeful might make us feel better, it’s important that this hope doesn’t prevent us from boldly addressing what needs to be addressed. In short, that business models must change – drastically – to get us through to the end of 2021. This means more than just adding one online event to the mix to replace a physical one; it means rethinking organizational strategy. For now, it might mean adding more content offerings that will keep audiences engaged online. In the future, it might mean smaller, invitation-only events, or a series of regional events, or a solid hybrid strategy that allows us to capture both physical and online attendees. If you are determined to keep hoping for the best, fine. Just do so while simultaneously planning for the worst.
No More Focusing on Things You Can’t Control
We all have the person in our organization who talks endlessly about the latest political news, what a certain governor said or enacted, the latest event to cancel, the estimated timeline for a vaccine and other industry or world happenings. Just like being hopeful can make us feel better, being in the know makes us smarter and better at our jobs. But if we obsess over the things we can’t control, we risk losing focus on the things we can control. Remember the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.“ and refocus your energy on ideas. Ask yourself how your brand should evolve in relation to what’s happening in your space, how the content you are creating can better reflect the needs of your audience, what new methods of content delivery you can explore. Focus on the myriad things that are under your control on your path to greatness.
Let Go of the Past
In the same way that too much optimism can be dangerous, so can loyalty to the ways of the past, especially when those ways aren’t right for the future. For instance, if you’re still trying to execute your digital marketing campaigns with a team that lacks the modern skills needed to do so effectively or trying to piecemeal together solutions from a variety of disparate tech vendors, this should be your wakeup call. If you are serving a community with an event without having someone on staff who is a part of that community, that must change. I recently heard a brand marketer talking about the reinvention of his consumer product say that to pay proper respect to the future, you must first be willing to disrespect your past. Now is the perfect time to consider what about our pasts do we want to leave there. Direct mail? Printed directories? An employee who hasn’t learned a new skill since 2001? Messaging touting the magnitude of our events? Long registration lines? I could go on and on. You should, too.
Quit Thinking Like an Event Producer
A lot of event professionals are diligently looking for new ways to disseminate timely content, keep their communities connected and deliver on their value propositions on a more regular basis. And while that is to be commended, many are still limiting their thinking and possibilities. To break free from this organizational “muscle memory,” try thinking less like an event producer and more like a media, entertainment or consumer product company. Doing so helps us move beyond virtual booths and avatars, and otherwise extend barriers associated with physical events. Rather than just emulating what other organizers are doing, think about the brands in your life that are keeping you engaged. From Peloton to MasterClass to organizations like YPO/Vistage, there are countless sources of new ideas for ongoing audience engagement. Don’t be afraid to “borrow” some good ideas from them!
Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes is chief marketing strategist at mdg, a full-service marketing and public relations firm specializing in B2B events.