The current digital ‘craze’ and what you should (or shouldn’t) do about it

The cancellation or postponement of events – and the resultant loss of revenue – has prompted many event organizers to scramble for options that might replenish that income. The reality of today’s COVID‑19 ravaged market is that many people can no longer attend in-person events, even if organizers manage to muster the will and resources to stage them.

This has spawned a gold rush for virtual events, those ‘shiny new toys’ of 10 years ago that have re-emerged as a digital ‘one-stop shop’ solution to today’s event challenges. Regardless of your opinions about virtual shows – and your past experiences upon which those opinions are based – it’s best to put aside your negative thoughts and embrace today’s reality, while we figure out what we can do about relaunching face-to-face (F2F) events.

Despite the renewed interest, many surveys have shown that the move to digital events has not replaced the lost revenue, as evidenced by Convene’s most recent survey of 515 business event professionals and 240 suppliers (PCMA COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard). The move to digital has been more of a defensive effort that attempts to keep event brands in the market and retain some F2F event revenues, while also serving as a mechanism to develop and refine new revenue models. When first launched years ago, virtual events were considered a possible replacement for F2F, something that did not materialize. Though the big technology companies offering the virtual platforms certainly made out, the event organizers struggled to figure out how to generate enough margins with virtual events such that they became little more than a sideline strategy.

Let’s face it, we’d all like to go back to making money as we once did and not be forced into something that we wouldn’t have considered before, for many reasons. But while these circumstances are not welcome, they may prove to be a blessing in disguise for some by prompting a beneficial diversification of offerings beyond and enriching face to face events.

What happens next?

The biggest lesson for event producers is that not diversifying how content (and value) are delivered to their respective audiences is a recipe for failure. The new mandate is to develop digital revenue which either complement F2F events or build separate cash streams. Some new products that I see continuing to grow as we move forward are:

  • F2F and virtual event certification
  • F2F and virtual education, such as deep dive boot camps
  • Online events
  • Integration of webinars and webinar series programs
  • Offering a repertoire of both hosted and matchmaking events, live or digital
  • F2F and digital live product demos
  • Digital content syndication
As many others already have said, virtual alternatives for physical events cannot be presented as if they’re merely replicas of their F2F predecessors. These new digital offerings must be tailored to the needs of the participants and sponsors, as well as harnessing the unique capabilities of the digital platforms available. Their operation should be “idiot-proof” for attendees, lest you risk losing participants with technologies and interfaces that are too clunky, complicated, or lacking in value such that it becomes abundantly clear that they are merely money extraction exercises for organizers. 

We will certainly need to include a new skillset to navigate the new digital landscape and catch up with the rest of the business world.

With all the requirements that COVID-19 has imposed on the relaunch of F2F events, their managers should expect the short, medium, and [probably] long term revenue strategies having to be adapted to these new realities. I would recommend that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket by waiting out the pandemic and making no adjustments.

The leading event organizers of the future will ensure that they incorporate digital revenue strategies as a component part of their long-term plans so they don’t rely on F2F alone.

Don’t be left behind.

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