By Jonathan McCallum, Managing Director UK/Nordics, SVP at George P Johnson
It’s undeniable that the unforeseen events of the past two years have hampered the rapid growth of the events industry, enforcing change at a pace not seen since its inception.
Collectively, financial brains in the events and experiential arena are now slaving away at spreadsheets to figure out what this will mean for the long term value of the events and experiential industry is now a source of debate. What was certain is now less so.
In 2019, the future looked rosy. The UK sector alone was valued at £70bn by the Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP) and was expected to continue on a path of fast growth for the next decade.
Then came COVID. Empty venues, mass redundancies and shelved budgets hit like a hammer blow. Assessing the initial damage, the BVEP stated the sector lost £57bn in value during the first year of the pandemic.
Those calculations are rightly a cause for concern. But forced progression — in this instance, the need to adapt and find new strategies in the face of lockdowns and constantly changing pandemic-related regulations — can bring benefits alongside the obvious challenges.
Apple is a prime example of an intentional forced progression strategy. Its approach for the past two decades has been to drive consumer demand with ‘make it obsolete’ product evolutions. We’ve all invested in a new device because the old one will no longer take a charger lead — and look how well the business has done as a result.
So, if anything, I think the events industry will grow faster during the next few years than it ever has in the past — it’s agile and ready for change. As recent experiences have shown.
Take Advantage of New Talent
The first reason for my bold statement regarding forced progression is the evolving nature of event talent.
We’ve admittedly lost some brilliant talent during and following the pandemic, simply through the harsh reality of job cuts but also because of their desire to try something different.
It’s also true to say that the excitement of live entertainment events getting back under way more quickly than major corporate gatherings has tempted some great talent to seek out the bright lights of stadium tours and sports arenas, having previously worked more on the B2B side.
Yet the industry’s swift pandemic-era adaptation to focus on different formats that go beyond traditional in-person experiences has also brought a flood of different skills into the sector — and that is underpinning innovation on a huge scale.
Believe in Broadcast Strategies
There are some expert skill-sets that were always needed by the events industry to an extent but have now come to the fore amid the forced progression of formats.
When the pandemic first struck and events were scrapped with little notice the industry entered a kind of grace period. For corporate events, brands were at first willing to accept whatever format worked in order to guarantee as much attendance and lead generation as possible.
This held for a while but it’s human — and corporate — nature to expect a progressively better experience. Events experts were asked to quickly ramp up quality, so that’s what we did. The window of broadcasting casually from home soon ended. Top level broadcast was needed and the sector delivered.
We still needed to ensure clients achieved their objectives. The core strategy — a single brilliant idea communicated through impactful storytelling at every touchpoint — never changed, even if the route to market did.
Almost overnight, the switch from in-person to hybrid events threw renewed focus on broadcast expertise. Leading talent from that sphere is now helping the sector to deliver high-quality, broadcast-led events that surprise and delight attendees through a screen as much as they always have in person. Which is why at GPJ we invested in a commercial partnership with streaming broadcast experts NOMOBO.
Invest in Cutting-Edge Tech
Besides bringing in different talent that’s fit to take events to market down new routes, it’s vital we keep investing in new technology to drive the industry forward. In our world change is always led by tech progression.
That comes down to the weight of expectation on experiential to never stand still. Take the use of VR event experiences. Soon headsets will be ubiquitous and the market will demand more than just ‘straightforward’ virtual event content.
Consider also the CEO trying to capture hearts and minds with a keynote speech, whether in the room or live from their own kitchen. In an age of wandering attention audiences now anticipate plenary pyrotechnics driven by the latest kit that can help ram the brand or corporate message home.
With the broadest, brightest range of tools at our disposal we can confidently deliver integrated experiences, continuously improving quality and achieving client objectives.
Hail Post-Pandemic Positives
Collectively, these positive changes confirm forced progression doesn’t always need to be the struggle it seems.
But plenty of other beneficial byproducts of COVID-enforced changes are apparent:
- The rise of a city-wide expos offering different venues and experiences that cater to specific segments of the target audience
- A new focus on sustainability, with hybrid and remote event options cutting our carbon footprint
- Creative reuse and recycling of event material to combat supply-chain problems
These are just some examples of the agility and progression alive in events today.
The industry is embracing a great reset — and I believe it will be all the better for it.