The event industry was among those hit the hardest by the pandemic, leaving many businesses stranded. Nevertheless, some have managed to overcome the challenges and, occasionally, discover their untapped potential in the process. What follows is an overview of changes brought by COVID-19 along with highlights of the notable responses from the industry.
COVID-19: Assessing the Impact
While there’s no denying that the COVID-19 outbreak had a profound effect on the fabric of society, the numbers in support of those claims were often lacking. As time went by, experts have reacted to the demand by presenting their analyses of the situation in respective business sectors. In the event industry, the most comprehensive attempt was made by Reed Exhibitions with their Customer Needs and Mindset Barometer – a research project evaluating the impact of the public health crisis on customer perception of physical and virtual events. The report contains numerous valuable insights that can be summarized as follows.
Digital Means Bring Value
The global switch to the remote mode has predictably resulted in higher engagement with digital services. According to the report, the most popular ones are:
1. Teleconferencing (62%)
2. Online learning (41%)
3. Messaging platforms (38%)
4. Live broadcasts via phone (33%)
5. Shopping (33%)
What’s particularly interesting, however, is that these behaviors are not fleeting, one-time attempts: both visitors and exhibitors expressed their interest in digital event behaviors and tools.
The New Doesn’t Override the Old
The shift to digital technology did not diminish the value of the traditional physical events, with two-thirds of respondents expecting a return to the in-person format once the pandemic is over. At the same time, the digital counterpart was viewed as a means for augmenting physical events, both for convenience and safety. To sum up, the industry is bound to change, although the change will not happen at the cost of discarding the old approach. Rather, the advantages of both worlds can be used to create value separately and in combination.
Rethinking Business Models
In most industries affected by the outbreak, the choice was unambiguous: either come up with a new business model or perish. In some cases, such as online education, the groundwork for the shift had been done long before 2020, which is why the main challenge was connected with acquiring new skills and equipment.
With the event industry, the situation is different. As Jennifer Glynn, president of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE), eloquently put it, “Face-to-face interactions allow trust to be built.” In this light, the virtual experience offers much less space for engagement, not to mention all the distractions it introduces. With the essence of your business taken away, the chances of rebound become slim.
This is why event-based businesses that did manage to survive 2020 took one of the following routes:
– Adding new elements to the formula that would compensate for the downsides of virtual interactions
– Using available inventory and skills to respond to new needs
– Participating in the development of an adequate response to the situation
Below are examples for each of the approaches.
Growing Business Post-Pandemic: Three Examples
Bringing New Value With Digital Tools
Secret Cinema is an entertainment company known primarily for creating immersive film events – essentially taking everything people love about going to the movies and offering it in one package. When the pandemic struck, their operations came under the same ban as all public gatherings, forcing them to explore the potential of the virtual domain.
The result was Secret Sofa, described by the company as the virtual film club. To make the experience distinct from simply streaming a Netflix movie, the participants were given clues about the upcoming film, along with suggestions on how to set the mood. This included the recommended music, food, and even costumes.
Not only did these elements add to the immersion, they also created a sense of unity, with participants around the world sharing the sense of community. While the initiative was soon discontinued, it is considered a valuable proof-of-concept, according to the company’s chief executive Max Alexander.
Responding to New Needs
Pierpont Place and Premier Event Services are two sister companies organizing events like weddings, conferences, corporate parties, and specializing in one-of-a-kind custom design. With the onset of the lockdown, the financial stability and the spirits in both companies were undermined. Quickly recognizing the adverse social effects of forced social distancing, the founder, Janice Boes, has responded with the “Beat the COVID-19 Blues With Some
Colorful Bloom” marketing campaign.
During the campaign, the company was delivering custom-made flower arrangements to the customers’ doorsteps. Despite not being a huge commercial success, the campaign played a key role in lifting the mood of the employees while also providing the much-needed relief to the members of the local community forced to stay home. The companies have since added the “Custom Floral” to the list of their services, essentially branching the campaign into a new business segment.
Developing the Answer to COVID-19
Universal Exhibition Group Inc. (UEG) is a company that specializes in international touring exhibitions. With both public gatherings and international travel closed down due to the pandemic, the prospects of UEG were grim. Their initial response was to explore solutions that could help the industry recover.
Eventually, these efforts crystallized in a body disinfection channel – a fully automated sanitation solution designed specifically for settings with the high visitor flow. In addition to disinfecting people and objects with the sanitizer dispersed in tiny particles known as dry fog, the disinfection passage is also capable of body temperature measurement, face mask wearing and data collection to inform the future response. In this case, the company not only managed to diversify its business model but also contributed to bringing the industry back to life.
The Road Ahead
The two main ways of growing the business in periods of disruption are to harness the new potential or to creatively apply existing resources to new goals. With the global-scale public health crisis, an additional factor comes into play – developing the means of recovery. While the event industry remains vulnerable to COVID-19, there are already many examples of value created from novel approaches and knowledge shared on how to overcome the issue, and we can expect more to come in the future.