Corporate clients are having to plan multiple versions of the same event to enable them to switch between virtual, hybrid and live as and when restrictions ease, while their key challenges include constantly moving goalposts and negotiating flexible contracts.
These are some of the insights revealed during last week’s micebook talks to corporates session, which featured Cristianne Beck, who recently left Shell and is now head of events at Clearleft, Jade Cannon, associate director of events at the Association of Financial Markets Europe (AFME), and Mark Baker, who recently left Oracle and is about to start a new role.
The panellists all agreed that the appetite for live is there, and they are keen to get back to it, but have no real way of knowing when that will be. We share some of their key thoughts below… (You can also watch the full recording on our micebook voice forum.)
When will live return?
“My biggest challenge is the moving goalposts. There is a huge appetite to get back to live. The challenge is when. To be very safe, I wouldn’t say events will get back to how they used to be until 2022. We might possibly be able to host some events at the back of this year, but it all depends on type of event, and number of people going etc. I am spending a lot of time working with legal on supplier and venue contracts to give us the flexibility
“Virtual events have shown us it is possible to deliver an alternative experience for people not able to travel due to cost or accessibility. Over course of 2020, virtual events were getting decreasing levels of engagement, because people have online fatigue. So we are having to constantly tweak formats and try to make it more engaging. Moving forward, hybrid is going to be key.”
“For larger events for more than 200 people, teams are having to design three or four versions of those events. They are planning for what it would look like if it was fully virtual, hybrid or live. Both at Oracle, and the company I am about to join, they are hoping to get back to live events at the end of this year. The biggest thing impacting that is lead time. You don’t want to overcommit too early to something that might not happen. They had to make the call now about Glastonbury because the lead time is so long – they start building in February for the event in June.
“Hotels and conference centres will start seeing big corporates and event agencies talking to them about what is possible and pushing the commit back as far as possible for bigger events. But I think we’ll see smaller events that can be organised with a couple of months’ notice come back quickly once the situation becomes clearer.”
“We are also having three different plans in place so we can scale up or back if we need to. We would like to get back to live to end of 2021 but are currently doing lots of research, looking at member appetite to attend events, whether people are allowed to attend events or travel, and what budgets are like. Once we have all that data, based on this, can we can move forward.
“There is no point planning for live if no-one wants to or is able to attend. People might not be vaccinated or feel comfortable with it. We are doing the research now and putting the best possible plans in place and will be as agile as possible when things change. A lot of our events are based in EU, and as we are ahead in the vaccination process, we are looking at whether we move some of the events in other EU cities back to London this year. We are also considering rapid tests and looking at options for both sending out tests 48 hours before or doing it on-site. Testing could give us and the audience confidence.”
What is working best for virtual engagement?
“What we found after doing lots of different virtual conferences and adding things like mind readers, meditation, yoga or wine tasting, is that while these things are nice, perhaps you don’t need all the bells and whistles. You need really good content, a strong host, good speakers, and really good networking. What makes our sponsors and delegates happy is good networking, so we have just invested in a networking tool to add onto our existing software.”
“For virtual events, the key is to keep things snappy and to make sure your hosts and speakers are engaging. I agree with Jade that networking is what people are really missing, so having chat functions, and running roundtables have been generating really good conversation.”
“As someone who has to manage budget, I worry that costs are going to increase for basic things, because of Brexit and Covid, but I don’t know how much.”
“We expect cost per head for physical events to go up because we’ll need to take on bigger space to hold people. We are planning for a 50% cost increase for the same level of service. It will force us to do fewer events because the cost has gone up but there is no more budget.”
Will sustainability be more important?
“For me definitely. I am incredibly passionate about sustainability. I am looking at tracking the carbon footprint of every event I manage and either offsetting or looking at where I can cut the carbon. I think it’s our duty to care about sustainability. Our industry is renowned for being quite wasteful. I think it should be at the top of every corporate event planner’s list.”
“Covid is making sustainability even more challenging because of the need for single use and throw away items. It is so hard to do when have to use sanitary wipes, plastic cutlery and face masks etc.”