September 29, 2022
By Mike Fletcher

The event planning landscape has changed. The pandemic has accelerated the role of technology and automation, introduced new attendee behaviours and expectations, and brought into sharper focus the importance of safer, more sustainable meetings and events.

If 2021 was all about understanding new formats and getting to grips with new technologies, it’s imperative that today you think more strategically about the ‘Total Events Programme’ and where in-person and hybrid formats sit within your overall marketing mix.

Where to start

Start with complete visibility on all the different events and meetings your company stages. Bring them all together under one holistic plan and set desired outcomes and objectives for each.

By gaining a deep understanding of the deliverables that key stakeholders are hoping to achieve, it’ll allow you to plan more effectively and communicate your ideas in a language your bosses will understand.

Once you’ve understood the aim for each event in the programme - for example to build brand awareness, communicate business strategy, reward and motivate, or launch a new product or service - you can then set goals, put the right metrics in place to track results, decide whether it should be virtual, in-person or hybrid, and determine who the attendees will be, along with their expectations.

When you have well-defined goals and objectives, planning, promoting, and sticking to your budget all become much easier.

Event objectives should be SMART

  • Specific: What is the desired outcome and when does it need to be achieved by?
  • Measurable: Return on Investment or Return on Objectives… or both?
  • Achievable: Ensure that the event objective is something that can actually be achieved otherwise senior leaders will consider it a failure
  • Relevant: The overall objective needs to remain something that relates back to the company’s goals throughout the entire planning process. 
  • Timebound: Plan for the event objective to have been achieved between two time periods. This may require subsequent training seminars or a follow-up event to assess the outcomes of the first. 

The new normal

Let’s face it, the return to in-person events may look very different to how your events programme performed pre-pandemic. Audiences may have declined, budgets cut, planning teams shrunk and lead-times shortened.

To overcome these challenges, you need to evolve your event planner thinking and move away from relying on ‘how it’s always been done’.

For instance, if attendance has fallen, consider segmenting in-person activity into smaller events and focusing on a more personalised attendee experience for longer-term relationship building.

If there’s less money, assess areas to reduce and reuse so that sustainability improves and savings are made.

Less time requires greater emphasis on partnerships and supplier relations, so make sure contracts and working practices are agreed up-front. While smaller planning teams need technology to automate manual processes and to do much of the repetitive heavy lifting.

Don’t limit the hybrid readiness of your events from day one, by only selecting technology that caters for what your activity needs today and by not partnering with a technology provider who will have you covered for what tomorrow brings.

Your role as marketers and planners has got a lot more complicated. Individual pieces of technology which carry out a single siloed role just won’t cut it anymore.

The role of technology

So how should technology be benefiting your programme planning and onsite solutions?

For a start, it can help you to automate the venue sourcing process and improve sustainability by providing the capability to send out eRFPs and access virtual site visits.

Critical information like average hotel room rates, average daily meal costs, the total number of sleeping rooms, activities and entertainment, star ratings, promotions, and pictures of venues are all available to review and dissect, with just a few clicks of the mouse. This allows you to make informed, sustainable choices in the short-term and for the long-term.

Use the technology as a place to store all previous bids and contracted rates, which you can then use as leverage when you’re negotiating with suppliers – this will be even more important to your bottom line.

Secondly, technology should enable you to not only better engage your audiences but improve your understanding of them as well.

Use voting polls, engagement analytics and other touchpoint measurements via a mobile event app to see who is interacting with the event, showing genuine interest and who is therefore ripe for follow-up.

Push notifications can be used to manage overflow rooms for popular sessions and keep attendees informed. Plus, a dynamic event guide not only removes the need for a printed version but can also deliver update alerts related to changes in the schedule or onsite issues.

When it comes to networking, a mobile event app can facilitate connections through contact information sharing. Attendees can also scan exhibitor QR codes for downloadable collateral and set-up meetings with exhibitors and sponsors before arriving at the event.

A mobile app further helps to provide an online audience with the same audience interaction functionality as the in-room attendees. By ensuring that all polls and speaker questions are submitted through the app, you can remove any chance of audience bias and create a joined-up experience for hybrid events.

Balancing budget

Against an economic backdrop of inflationary rises and spiralling costs, a return to in-person events will need more flexible budgets.

Unanticipated expenditure is common and supplier costs are often provided as estimates, rather than fixed prices, so it’s vital that an overall budget is managed accordingly and a contingency fund is in place.

Ticket sales, sponsorship and booth bookings may help to bolster budgets, but by adding virtual elements, you could generate substantially more income with sponsor-branded digital directories, pre-recorded content, live-streamed sessions, web pages, online networking events, blog posts, downloadable product brochures, chat lobbies and more.  

You could even ensure sponsor visibility beyond the duration of your in-person event with additional paid-for podcasts, webinar series’, digital display advertising and social media takeovers. 

Adding online elements to in-person event design will also increase the accessibility, sustainability and reach of your event. It will help you to build community, grow advocacy and gather more granular data on attendee interactions.

If your event is supporting its budget with sponsors, be prepared for those sponsors to request data insights from both in-person attendees as well as online so tracking audience engagement should be replicated onsite as well.

In summary

Pre-pandemic, event teams could mainly rely on muscle memory, developed from years of executing in-person events. Today however, an evolved landscape requires rethought workflows, a deeper understanding of audience behaviours, a more strategic approach to event design, enhanced technology capabilities and a greater focus on sustainability.

By viewing in-person events in a different light and by having complete visibility over your ‘Total Events Programme’, you’ll continue to develop new skillsets and achieve more effective collaboration within your supply chain.

You could even break-down department silos, which may have existed per-pandemic between planners, marketers, technologists and C-suite leaders. The benefits of your new approach will be felt across the organisation, both in terms of the bottom line and within the vision for a Net Zero future.

A hybrid-ready ‘Total Events Programme’, which has technology, sustainability, audience engagement and data-led insights at its core, will maximise the return on investment from a return to live events and ensure the success of your activity for the long-term.

For more advice on successfully returning to in-person events, attend ‘How to Turn Dreaming into Doing: A Playbook for In-person Events’ at Cvent CONNECT Europe next week. A more in-depth version of this article will also be available as an E-book, which can be downloaded from the Cvent Resources Hub.

Mike Fletcher

Mike Fletcher

Mike has been writing about the meetings and events industry for almost 20 years as a former editor at Haymarket Media Group, and then as a freelance writer and editor. He currently runs his own content agency, Slippy Media, catering for a wide-range of client requirements, including social strategy, long-form, event photography, event videography, reports, blogs and ghost-written material.

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