None of us has the option to sit out 2021. We can’t just wait and see what happens with the newly promised vaccine roll-out. We can’t stay on the sidelines and ponder if we should deliver a 100% virtual event or if we can go back to an in-person event in 2021 and by when.
Virtual events are here to stay and every event organizer has to accept this or suffer the fate of Blockbuster when they dismissed Netflix as a fad and fleeting technology that would not pose a serious threat. And, with the promise of a wide-spread vaccine on the horizon, considering an appropriately scaled in-person component to your 2021 event now seems like a possibility.
For 2021, an in-person offering could be achieved by negotiating a physical location (or locations) that allow for in-person activations that can serve to bring an audience together, face-to-face using the venue as a broadcast studio for your primarily virtual audience. Cut deals with venues that you can “short” meaning cancel if the vaccine doesn’t get us all traveling and attending events as we are now hoping for. Consider outdoor spaces such as the Hollywood Bowl, Greek Theatre or even a sports stadium. It’s time to think differently about what is possible.
Here’s a model outlining what we call the 4 domains of the new event footprint. How to best calibrate the size of your audience by domain and how much to invest in each takes careful planning, but we have to start somewhere.
We need virtual, in-person and digital (social) media to work together as soon as possible. Why not start in 2021 if your event schedule allows for it?
Live, in-person events do a different job than virtual events, as we know. They provide energy, serendipity, surprise, a change of scenery, the opportunity to hold an audience captive and so much more. Virtual events are much more efficient and do a different job. They can deliver more targeted content, programming and business interactions with a much different cost structure (often with a lower net operating income).
The Holy Grail is to achieve the right blend and balance. The marketplace will decide what they want and through which format, in-person or on-screen.Warner Brothers just announced that all 17 of their 2021 movie releases will be launched simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. We’ll all learn more about what movie audiences want from this grand experiment. Event organizers can learn a lot by making the same options available to their audiences in 2021 and 2022.Regardless if you plan to stay virtual in 2021 or not, plan for an omnichannel future and give your event and trade show audiences the options and let the marketplace decide.
"Should we have a 2021 in-person option?" isn’t the right question. We should be asking, "how do we plan for both in-person and virtual, just as the movie industry, restaurants, retailers and just about every other industry are doing?"Blockbuster didn’t believe Netflix was a threat; Kodak didn’t react in time to digital photography; Xerox didn’t move fast enough to address the paperless revolution and Borders was taken down by Amazon. I think we are at a Blockbuster inflection point moment for the events and trade show industry. As we all desire and act to move back to a live, in-person event future, don’t abandon the power of the virtual and digital channels that we are getting better at every day.
The most successful events will master the omnichannel model and blend all 4 domains of in-person live hubs, remote in-person hubs, digital media and virtual. There are great lessons to be learned and a future that is up to us to define.