While none of us know how much the changes that have taken place over the last 20 months will impact the events of 2022, I think we can all agree that the changes will be significant.
Here are the three most important changes as I see them and a potential course of action you can consider for each. I encourage you to determine how these changes can stimulate your thinking and help you more effectively plan a successful 2022 event portfolio.
Don Neal is the founder and CEO of 360 Live Media, a leading full-service experience design and marketing agency specializing in virtual and in-person business events, conferences, and trade shows.
Don has served as the CMO at Marsh & McLennan, as an advertising executive on Madison Avenue, he was the co-founder of Hallmark Cards Loyalty Group, an adjunct graduate marketing professor at Georgetown University, as well as Chairman of the Board of the Catalogue for Philanthropy.
360 Live Media is part of the SmithBucklin organization, a US-based leading professional services firm serving the association sector.
- New jobs to be done. Recognizing that event audiences hire an event to do a job (to buy, sell, shop, learn, connect, experience, find an employee, find a new job, see what the competition is doing, etc.), ask yourself how the expectations for that job have changed, given that your event hasn’t been able to do that job very well for over two years. Think about how long-distance relationships affect both parties with a two-year absence, relying only on FaceTime and texting as the means of connecting. Things change, right? We have all adopted new behaviors and new ways of working, and we are traveling less for business and working less from a traditional office. How will your event do the job your audience needs more effectively? More importantly, are you clear on exactly what job each segment of your audience is seeking to accomplish? Job number one for you is to unpack your audience based on the jobs your event does for them and rebuild your model from the audience up.
- How you make money will change. Smaller events, digital options, new pricing models, new competitors, reduced travel and training budgets, and fundamentally new thinking by industry sponsors and exhibitors has accelerated, and there is no going back to the house of cards that was propped up over the last 25 years by the momentum of the old business model. Today’s audiences want convenience, more practical value, and more efficiency in how they connect and interact. Our brains have been rewired, our work environments have changed, and so have the economic models that supported the prior era of events. Pay for performance, proof of ROI, smaller real estate footprints, and attracting more desirable audiences are what industry exhibitors and suppliers are now demanding. The good news is that new models are emerging that promise better outcomes. Examples include more pre-event matchmaking, digital introductions prior to in-person conferences, and expos that are more experiential, engaging, and interactive. Meet with your exhibitors and suppliers, see what they will invest in, what they will pay, and what they expect. They are your tenants, you’re the landlord, and you must rethink how you serve them differently next year.
- Stop thinking of event planning as you always have. It’s no longer feasible to think about and plan your events independently. The future requires a full annual assessment of what I call your event platform, the foundation for how to aggregate audiences over a 24-month period to deliver value across sectors of your customers and members. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and how you go to market with your multiple events matters. Think of it as a season, just as a sports league, a retailer, the travel industry, or a television network would. Plan your programming, faculty, exposition, and community building as a 12- to 24-month continuum, and then align each of your media options, digital, website, print, and in-person to deliver a more congruent value proposition to stay top of mind and create the stickiness this new competitive environment demands.
My mantra for 2022 is to Modernize and Monetize. By adopting a new mindset, and looking at your events holistically and through the lens of the jobs your audience needs done, you will become more attractive and be in a much better position to build a new multi-year media platform that turns your events in media experiences that capture new market share and a much greater share of your audience’s spending.
These are exciting times we’re living in, so embrace this new future with confidence and optimism. If you do, your odds of success will go way up.