Starting the Recovery Discovery Journey for the Business Events Industry

We gathered 130 thought leaders to plot the business events journey to the Next Normal


Why did we host the Think Tanks?

Through PCMA surveys and community conversations, business events stakeholders all over the world have told us they are looking for answers to three critical questions:

  • What can the future of business events look like and when is it going to happen?
  • How can I continue to grow my business and my career in a post-COVID world?
  • How will business events continue to deliver social and economic transformation for my brand, organization, or community in a post-COVID world?

These are complex questions in a very fluid situation. To begin our Recovery Discovery journey toward solutions, we turned to business event leaders — and business experts outside of the industry — from around the world in a series of six Think Tanks held in May on Live Events, Digital Experiences, and Business Continuity (each held twice).

Who participated?

A diversity of perspectives was critical to the conversations. 130 total participants represented the entire business events value chain, with more than half representing corporate events, agencies, and industry suppliers.

What did we learn about how we can move forward?

New Live Event Safety Protocols: Participants believe there needs to be alignment across the global business events ecosystem around protocols with variations based on region, state, local government restrictions. Clearly, hotels, venues, airlines, organizers, and destinations need to put new health and safety protocols in place in order to protect staff and participants, and to ensure people feel safe traveling and participating in an event.

As there is a lack of consensus about how we get to the other side of this pandemic, being out front with health and safety protocols will provide reassurance and reduce uncertainty and anxiety among participants who are assessing their individual risk.

Evolution of the Business Events Ecosystem: The pandemic has created a shock to the ecosystem that has accelerated what had previously been slow-moving trends with business events stakeholders:

  • Destinations and venues: DMOs’ primary focus on destination marketing has rapidly shifted to destination management — serving the needs of residents and local communities, rebuilding local assets, and taking a leadership role with other stakeholders to cultivate local economic prosperity and innovation. Venues, specifically convention centers, are repurposing their spaces for outbound needs, such as operating as production studios for clients’ digital events, or inbound services for the local community, including the distribution of food donations.
  • Event organizers and suppliers: There must be a renewed focus on purpose. Events have long been a major channel to accelerate the product pipelines; deepen customer engagement; showcase innovation; share knowledge and foster learning; bring new audiences together and meet them where they are in their journey. These goals can be accomplished in ways other than traditional face-to-face events but will require a shift in mindset. Value will no longer be based on year-over-year attendance, by simply wowing participants, or having an event for event’s sake.

Stakeholders Will Adopt Robust Omnichannel Engagement Designs: Think Tank participants believe the pandemic is driving a more audience-centric commitment to engaging audiences where they live through an omni-channel blend of physical, digital, and virtual learning experiences. This has the potential to significantly grow audience reach and create more community value for participants. The hub-and-spoke event model — a mix of in-person, small, regional gatherings and digital events — will become a more common way to grow audience reach through a broad omnichannel network rather than binary (one-way) engagement.

Rise of Regionalization: The global business events supply chain will be challenged in the short term as government priorities initially shift towards protectionism and the pursuit of regional opportunities.

Recasting Associations: Associations are assessing their business models to be more viable, with less of a dependence on face-to-face revenue generation and a greater focus on the value of providing relevant content and building community. These models may take more of the form of media companies or follow the example of software developers experienced in agile product development.

How do we reskill for the next normal?

People need both immediate tools and resources to manage through crisis and recovery, as well as the development of soft and hard skills. That may mean reskilling or upskilling in new capabilities, disciplines, knowledge, and critical thinking.

Digital First: The skills required to create digital events need to be enhanced. Deployment of new tools, enhancement of professional capabilities including digital production and user experience design, and pursuit of new value-chain business partners will make enhanced digital experiences possible.

Human-Centered Design and Data Analysis: Stakeholders will seek new business models for their events that embrace more robust audience-centric design and value creation. This includes omnichannel-enabled data models to better understand the needs of their participants. Ideally this approach will help them generate new audience insights for their business and/or increased revenues from their business events.

A New Kind of Business Acumen: Business event professionals will thrive in the next normal by having a growth versus a fixed mindset. They will become proficient in scenario planning that takes into account a wide variety of potential outcomes, grow more comfortable dealing with uncertainty, develop a greater tolerance for taking risks, and lean into their creativity to do what hasn’t been done before.

Going Forward to the Next Normal

Based on insights from the Think Tanks and our Convene Recovery Dashboards, our Recovery Discovery journey will be framed around three focal points:

  • Participant experience: The way brands, communities and people will engage and connect in a post-COVID world will evolve and business events stakeholders need to consider experience design evolution for their participants.
  • Reskilling: COVID has accelerated the omnichannel world for business events requiring an expansion of essential skillsets for business events strategists and their partners.
  • Business models: To continue the delivery of economic and social transformation in a post-COVID world, business events will have a new sustainability imperative on all levels. This includes exploring new sources of revenue for events and how success is measured for all stakeholders beyond strictly economic significance.

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