After a trying year for event professionals. members of PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties class of 2021 have proven resilience is a key skill in their toolkit. Simona Milenkova, Marketing and Social Media Lead Coordinator at Kenes Group in Sofia, Bulgaria, shares her thoughts on what innovation brought about by the pandemic she hopes will remain a part of the business events industry.
What has this year of disruption taught you about the industry?
The dynamic changes that the world faced in 2020 taught me how important it is to let go of the past in order to make future progress. We had to do a quick shift and utilize new approaches to the digital and hybrid events we worked on. The business models changed drastically and we, as event professionals, had to prove ourselves as tech-centric people ready to adapt to the fast-changing environment.
I have always believed that effective communication is key for progress and success and this proved to be true this year. Information and knowledge exchange, both internally between different departments and externally with the client, is even more important in times of uncertainty. I find it quite inspiring how managers, marketing executives, meeting planners, technicians, etc., sit together with clients and brainstorm possible future solutions. Having this 180-degree view is the only way to build a new event reality.
How do you see your job changing as a result of the pandemic crisis?
Doing marketing during a pandemic is a real challenge as we had to reinvent the whole strategy wheel — sometimes even more than once — to adapt to the new experience. When it comes to event marketing, there are many uncertainties about whether what you are promoting today will be relevant tomorrow as the situation changes so fast. Sometimes this could raise an issue of trust. Our job as event marketers is not only to “sell the experience” but to be honest and transparent with our audiences and update them on our approach to the crisis regularly.
What stands behind the brand now matters more than ever. We are working to persuade our clients that they should use this rare opening in their marketing strategies and show their “human faces,” tell their stories once again, and explain what they stand for. As a result, I think that we became more creative and learned how to promote less “on-site” content with tighter budgets. Still, I think that this can expand further with more honesty and transparency in our messaging.
How do you see the industry changing as a result of the pandemic?
The event industry had its existential crisis, too. At the beginning of the pandemic, the future didn’t look promising. Those companies and associations that decided to fight had to forge a new future for themselves. Many tough decisions were made in 2020 — whether to cancel or not, in what format to proceed, what technology to use, etc. The industry had to rethink its existence, reshape its models quickly, and find ways to the new world. It was a good moment to rethink what your company stands for and what your long-term goals are and adapt accordingly.
Virtual and hybrid events will stay around in the next months or even a couple of years as a result of the pandemic. Nevertheless, for me, they are still the alternative and not the future. My impression is that both the attendees and the event organizers miss human interaction and crave face-to-face meetings. I am sure that once in-person gatherings and traveling become feasible, people will become even more willing to attend physically and catch up. We just have to be patient for now.
What creative initiative or innovation have you seen this year that you believe should remain after this crisis passes?
Working in the field of communications for the last couple of years, I witnessed how on-demand services were gaining more and more popularity. It was quite interesting for me, though, to see the same tendency now in the event industry. I think that giving access to the educational content after the event was highly neglected before.
In a recent survey by Kenes Group, we asked health-care professionals what they really think of virtual events. Eighty percent of respondents rated content and materials available online for several months of key importance when considering virtual events. This means some educational needs could be answered better and on-demand content has to remain in the future