What’s the Future Business Model for Event Organizers?

We’ve been an unchanging industry for a long time. We haven’t been pushed to innovate, given that when an event achieves a certain volume of square footage, we’re making 50%-to-90% gross margin. So why change?
That complacency means we’ve taken for granted the task of getting visitors to attend our events. The pre-pandemic thinking has been “We’re the industry show, and everyone has to be there.” Now we’ve been hit with an existential threat that has prevented venues from opening and people from traveling. There’s not much we can do about changing those factors except to wait for a vaccine and hope that people want to travel to our events when the clouds have passed. That presumes a return to the normal of the past. But what if there is a new, post-pandemic events business reality?
We need to take control of our event businesses despite the outside factors that we can’t influence. As one option, digital has been there shadowing the live events business for the past 15 years. For sure, we’ve been able to generate some revenue and activity by trying a digital approach when the pandemic blocked us from being able to run face-to-face events. But the value of in-person events has remained. I don’t believe that digital is the new transformative event business model that everyone is talking about. It will certainly recede when in-person events come back, though remaining an important option for most companies.
What many of us don’t understand is that the real lesson to be learned is that there are new ways of driving revenue and your customers usually know about them before you do. Being unaware and/or unwilling to consider innovation will create threats to your business, much as the pandemic has threatened many of us. Just think of the Blockbuster example, where hubris created destruction.

The lesson of the pandemic is that future prosperity requires event organizers to develop different ways to serve their ‘communities’, ways that are neither only digital nor face-to-face. And they must become nimble in their introduction of these new options before customers have competitive options.
The best way to get on top of this is to start an open dialogue with your customers or industry stakeholders to learn what proactive actions they are taking to remain in business and what innovation they are creating. The event industry can find a number of examples of what has emerged from this approach: running customer events for sponsors, supporting industry certification programs, training, etc. The key to this approach is having smart people within your organization who can interpret what is happening and have the corporate power to execute accordingly. You also need contacts at the top level of your customer organizations who can give you the Insight and perspective and are willing to share the ideas you’ll need to work collaboratively with them.
The reality is you’ll need to offer a combination of face-to-face, digital, and that “next thing” (and the “next thing after that”) that your customers need to prosper. And you’ll want to ensure these products are delivered in the right ways (and at the right time) so that you can continue to make money. This approach becomes your new business model- to always be looking to innovate and not regressing to having one strategy- milking the cash cows of the past.
Those who think that once the vaccine is discovered we can all go back to business as usual, have missed the most important lesson and will be punished in the future. I hope you’ll take heed….
Bonus Content

What Gary Vaynerchuk thinks about “Day Trading Attention” (about what your customers are doing and where innovation is) is here:  https://www.garyvaynerchuk.com/what-is-day-trading-attention/

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