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How to Plan and Host a Profitable Event With Certainty in Uncertain Times

October 4, 2021
Don Neal

This article originally appeared in PCMA Convene.

Five strategies to follow — and four questions to ask — to put your events on a forward track.

Now is the time for leadership, vision, and courage on the part of every one of us in the event, conference and trade-show industry. We all depend on one another, and look to each other for guidance, comfort, and advice. And we all know that we are all in this together — event organizers, municipalities, CVBs, DMCs, travel providers, convention centers, hotels, and every organization and supplier that makes its livelihood in this industry.

Here’s what we need to take to heart as we forge a new path forward.

  1. Look ahead, not backwards. COVID may be a permanent reality and the variants may be a variable in our lives for a long time to come. Now what? Designing agile events, with strong digital and tech backbones, safe and secure physical environments, and Hollywood-quality wow factors that get audiences through the doors and onto the screens starts with you. It starts with a vision, clear objectives, and a new omnichannel framework that is about what is, not what was. It’s time to get started modernizing the events, tools, and technology that will position us for long-term reinvention.
  2. Plan for a smaller, more expensive, and more impressive in-person experience. Time to strip out the friction, waste, and inefficiencies of 2019, reinvest in “better ingredients” and start with a new recipe. Better in-person events will command a premium registration fee, will be more attractive to attend, and will be more exclusive, even if you’re hosting an audience in the tens of thousands. Lollapalooza, SXSW, CES, and MWC (Mobile World Congress) are big, exclusive, have swagger, and make a lot of money. Time to think like the big guys — they are coming back stronger and smarter and so can you.
  3. Use digital in the same way that matchmaking platforms Tinder, Match, and Bumble do. Allow people to connect and decide who — and about what, when, and where — they want to meet. It doesn’t matter if that takes place on your platform, at your event, and/or on a site hosted by you. If you’re the digital platform, you will add value, create stickiness, become indispensable, and most importantly, monetize these relationships like Facebook, Google, and the media companies who figured this out decades ago.
  4. Successful organizations have three fundamentals: a good team, good market dynamics, and a good business model. On a scale of 1-10, how do you rate your team and business model? When it comes to market dynamics, I will tell you, there is a vibrant, thriving, and hungry market for events, conferences and trade shows, for all of the reasons that existed before COVID. Don’t curse the darkness of the marketplace, travel restrictions, budget cuts, mask mandates, or anything else you can’t control. Light a candle and double down on helping your team learn new skills, bring in outside talent, and examine your business model. Control what you can and help your team see the light.
  5. Lastly, put on your sales hat, unleash your inner politician, and get ready to show your board, executive team, volunteers, suppliers, and partners, just what it’s going to take in 2022 to prevail. Establish a guiding coalition, an inner circle of advisors, mentors, and influencers to sell your new mindset, the investment required, the resources you’ll need, and the risk tolerance necessary for the change you are about to embark on.

We all must ask these four questions as we adopt a news lens for the future:

  • Do we know what to do?
  • Do we know why we must do it?
  • Do we know how to do it?
  • Do we want to do it?

Only one of these is a deal-breaker if the answer is no. No doubt you know which one.