Megan Martin, CMP, DES, MPA, has worked in some capacity in the events industry since she was a student. While an undergraduate at Columbus State University in Georgia earning a degree in communications, Martin got an early taste of the industry working as event assistant for the Columbus Sports Council. “We recruited across the country to bring sporting events to the town,” Martin told Convene. From there, Martin was tasked with working with local hotels and restaurants to staff food and hospitality lounges for referees, secure room blocks for the visiting teams, and more. “That’s really how I got started in the industry,” Martin said.
Martin has added a number of planner-focused roles to her resume since then: as event coordinator for Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta; senior specialist, meeting planner for the American College of Rheumatology (ACR); senior meeting manager for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL); and as associate director of conferences for the International Association of Lung Cancer (IASLC), among other roles. She recently crossed over from the planning side to the supplier side of events, joining event and community software company JUNO in October 2021 as account executive.
“Honestly, every single experience and job I’ve had has led me here. It’s why I love [events] — because we can continue to reinvent ourselves in this industry,” Martin said. “When you don’t want to be a planner anymore, there are plenty of opportunities. Or if you love creating, you can go work for a supplier that does graphics and production. There are so many niche segments of the events and hospitality world.”
Martin recently spoke with Convene about her recent job move, the future of hybrid events in an eventual post-pandemic world, and event trends she expects to see more of in 2022.
On her decision to work as an industry supplier
I had been on the planning side of things for so long — about 15 years — that I wanted something different. And then when the pandemic hit, [and the events industry made] the shift to virtual, I was fortunate to have been doing virtual and hybrid events since 2012. I started doing hybrid events with one of the medical groups I [previously] worked with, ACR. The pandemic really allowed me to lean into that space more because that’s all we were doing, virtual programs. And I ultimately just realized I loved that side of my job and creating these experiences.
I was a customer of JUNO and had signed on probably six to eight months prior to joining them as a customer. I just fully believed in what JUNO is doing, how they’re going to change the marketplace, changing the way people think about their events. It would just seem like the right fit for me to be able to lean into event tech and have a bigger presence in the next evolution of where we’re going. And I just checked a lot of boxes of what I was looking for.
How virtual and hybrid events have changed since she first started planning them in 2012
It certainly was a completely different way of approaching it then. Before, we were just capturing everything on site. Every single session was getting captured, and we would put that in a virtual library and then have it available within 24 hours. We had these lounges around the convention center where you could then go and access a computer and listen to sessions from the day before that maybe you weren’t able to get into, because there were so many concurrent sessions. … That was our hybrid model for a long time.
How her perspective as a former planner informs her work an event supplier
Part of what really interested me in going to the supplier side was so that I could really work with planners a lot more and sort of help them realize the potential that they’re sitting on. Events are core to so many organizations’ success, and there’s so much more potential that you can be doing with your events beyond just having that annual meeting for five days. There’s member value add, and repurposing content for other reasons to extend that ROI.
Coming to JUNO is allowing me then to sit down with planners and really strategize, what does your whole portfolio look like? How can we build a single-destination platform for your webinars, for your events, for your community, engagement? Now event managers have a seat at the table. They’re actually being heard by the C-suite, I think really for the first time ever for a lot of groups. I love getting to sit down with planners and not even necessarily talk about JUNO, but just talk about their event strategy and that events are not a “one and done” kind of thing anymore.
The future of virtual and hybrid events
In the short term, there’s still going to be a balancing act of people figuring out what model works for them, because I think for so long hybrid and virtual events [only] meant one thing. Since we got pushed off the cliff into virtual, event tech has finally caught up to where we need it in the event space. Prior to the pandemic, there weren’t a lot of players and the technology that was out there didn’t really fit a lot of needs. People just were reluctant to use it and go into that space. But now we’re figuring out that hybrid doesn’t mean a blanket thing and no one is approaching it the same [way].
Probably for most of next year and into a little bit of 2023 will be that balancing act — what does hybrid mean for my organization? How do I actually approach that? Is it simultaneous? Is it pre-imposed? What does that kind of look like? But I think we learned in the pandemic that community is not defined by our geography and that’s why associations exist. And so by offering hybrid and virtual conferences or participation in live events, we’re extending the knowledge and reach and the borders of that community, using technology as the bridge.
Event trends for 2022
I think we’re in for another year of uncertainty with some people going virtual, some people not wanting to be virtual anymore and just pushing through with in-person events. But I think more than anything, we’re going to see a lot of experimentation and creativity. I think for most of 2021, people felt like they had to have these overly produced, newscast-type of virtual events. What we’re realizing now is that doesn’t have to be the case — that if your content is compelling and the technology is there to build those connections online, then that’s a completely different way of approaching and planning your meeting.
Event trends I see for 2022 are people getting experimental with formats and maybe doing a live meeting and then an online component a week or two later or doing a pre-event online that builds hype for the in-person event and then doing a best-of series of what happened at that meeting. And I don’t see them being overly produced. I don’t see them being these huge environments with avatars. I don’t think it has to be all the bells and whistles. People just want to connect and get their content and have a great experience online. The technology is there to do that now.
Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.