Are Events Running Out of the ‘Wow” Factor?

This Just In

As brands and event organisers compete to engage audiences, stage productions are growing evermore remarkable; jaw-dropping visuals, enormous high-definition video screens, spectacular lighting, surprise special effects, and famous-name entertainers have become part and parcel of event delivery. The question is, can technology develop fast enough for organisers to keep wowing audiences and will client budgets keep up?

Attendees are also consumers, influenced by phenomenal stage productions in theatres, at concerts, and at other forms of live entertainment. As their audiences grow more and more desensitised to visual spectacles, should corporate event organisers reconsider their current thinking of going bigger and better each time?

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Robin Purslow, managing director of Eclipse Presentations, says yes. “The question we ask our clients is,” he said, “to what end do you see this enhancing your event and delivering a return on investment or increasing attendee participation? If there can be a genuine value to the desire to have the very latest technologies, that is great. Unfortunately, very few clients appreciate the cost of having the very best or the time needed to produce content.”

Purslow said it’s unrealistic for the industry to try to keep delivering bigger and better events year on year, for the same budget as the previous year — but that is what many clients are demanding. “As an industry, we need to protect and respect our own service and product by stopping the easy option of agreeing to deliver newer, bigger, better, more technically advanced events without the right budget to do so,” he said. “This will be a bad thing for our industry, preventing adequate investment due to reduced margins. Ultimately, clients may find the bubble bursts and we may just one day say ‘no.’ We have to educate our clients now in the value of what our industry does.”

With margins constantly squeezed by the expectation of surpassing last year’s spectacle, it’s likely that smaller production companies will either go bust, merge with other production companies, or get bought out by bigger ones. Wolfgang Altenstrasser of German-based events producer Vok Dams, is concerned mergers, acquisitions, and consolidation could be the future shape of the production sector, leading to fewer operators overall. “In order to offer the customer the most advanced technology,” he said, “you have to invest constantly. However, this can only be done by technical companies who use their technology often enough to receive returns. If this continues, I can see a time when only a few large companies will survive.”

The approach being taken by existing large event-technology suppliers today gives weight to the view that innovation will only come from the biggest companies. Case in point: International entertainment and event technology provider PRG’s Peter Kerwood said the company has more than 100 issued patents and a similar number of pending applications to advance event technology.

Kathleen Warden, director of conference sales at Glasgow’s Scottish Event Campus (SEC), has a different perspective. She thinks that technology advances will keep up with audience expectations, but she believes this is missing the larger point about what events are for: value. “The evolution of technology can only really add a bit more of the same — the next iteration,” she said. “The challenge for the events industry is to recognise that value is added in layers and choice. Providing attendees with the space to absorb and process experiences and information is part of the industry’s challenge to take a wholistic approach to the attendee experience.”

Warden thinks “the next big thing in event production and staging” is less about splashy technology, and more about something far more basic: authenticity.

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