Could Covid-19 be the start of a new chapter for industry events?

The fast-spreading coronavirus has undoubtedly shaken the corporate world, and global industry events, often the pinnacle of marketing calendars, are not immune to the disruptive waves caused by the virus. In fact, industry events have been entirely wiped out in the short term.

To put this into perspective, by the 18th of March, just a few days before the beginning of lockdown in the UK, up to 394 events across a whole range of sectors from finance, to retail and travel had become casualties of the pandemic. The economic toll to postpone, or even cancel, global industry events is estimated to have cost a whopping $1.1 billion.

Of course, we all hope for some return to normality within the not too distant future, and we will meet again. None of us want a future that would see our marketing devoid of the human connection that face-to-face events and conferences provide.

Nonetheless, it is worth wondering if this crisis could be the catalyst the corporate world needs to rethink the value of events when there are other ways to connect people in today’s world.

When considering the growing pressures for businesses to become more sustainable and fight climate change, attending a number of events in every corner of the world, seems counter-intuitive to such goals. So, what might be next for industry events?

Making the most of online tools

Fortunately, the increased uptake in remote and flexible working means that we are already comfortable with smaller scale virtual meetings and webinars before home working became the new norm. Yet, even weeks ago, it would have been impossible to imagine attending a large-scale global conference from the comfort of our home.

The coronavirus outbreak has been the catalyst for a clear turning point for a few event organisers who chose to stream their events online to avoid cancellation or postponement. Microsoft, for example, chose to convert its WSL Conference into a fully remote, interactive experience.

In an age of video conferencing, the decision to turn to online tools to negate the need to meet in person seems to be the obvious one. By moving only, they not only become immune to disruptive crises, they also are more accessible to a higher number of employees, across the world, while helping reduce their associated carbon footprint.

Another silver lining is that the quality of content could increase as speakers must be at the top of their game to keep audiences engaged. Indeed, because of the sheer number of vendors now attending global industry conferences, these events can often turn into echo chambers.

By going online, attendees can cut through the noise and focus on valuable content, whilst being kinder to the planet and allowing more of an ‘access to all’ approach.

Less is more

There is one thing that remote conferences may not be able to replace: the opportunity for networking.

Sometimes nothing can replace a face-to-face meeting when it is done with a purpose, and when the world returns to a place resembling normality these events are likely to stay in the calendar. There may, however, be less of them – making them more cost and time efficient, purposeful and therefore better attended.

This is the approach the London based data privacy start-up, Exonar, had already chosen prior to the coronavirus outbreak. Regularly the team hosts a number of events gathering a select group of data governance specialists to discuss a particular topic.

These types of events not only offer real value to attendees, but also provide opportunities for the business to publish reports summarising the conclusions of a targeted discussion that is close to the heart of its stakeholders. In doing so, companies can focus on sharing quality and relevant content accessible in a few clicks, instead of needing to get on a plane.

This technique therefore offers a platform for businesses of any size to demonstrate their expertise on specific topics, build meaningful relationships with other key spokespeople, while also being more sustainable.

The current pandemic could therefore be considered to have a silver-lining for marketers. A time to pause and re-think their strategies and budgets to be more in line with today’s priorities while still delivering on their business goals. Being creative and considering options never thought before, especially in terms of marketing and communications, is the way forward to navigate these challenging times.