On August 18th, the FCS unironically hosted a virtual event on "Beyond the Event Horizon: Rethinking In-Person Events." The event was organized by BlackMoss and sponsored by Demandbase. Our panelists included:
- Alix Mills, Head of Events Marketing, Bloomberg
- Andrew Chesney, President North America, Fundamental Media
- Christine Farrier, Sr. Director Partner & Channel Marketing, Demandbase
Our moderator was Larry Black, Principal, Marketing Strategy, BlackMoss, who has provided this recap:
In-person events face a perfect storm of challenges in the wake of the pandemic: concerns about contact risk, travel restrictions and questions about venue suitability—not to mention crisis-driven cost-cutting and an urgent focus on revenue generation at many firms. The abrupt suspension of in-person events is affording firms an opportunity to reset their programs and evaluate them as part of their broader client engagement strategy.
Our webinar focused not only on the way the crisis is transforming the format of event but how it is affecting the whole financial services engagement model. So our all-star panel featured experts on digital engagement and account-based marketing — in addition to one of the industry’s leading event marketers.
Here are five key takeaways from the discussion:
Events will never be the same
The crisis has transformed the way we engage with our customers, requiring major changes in events and conferences, both virtual and in-person. When the latter resume, we can expect them to be more ROI-driven and informed by the same digital data insights that currently guide virtual events. The crisis has also likely raised the bar for what will require in-person treatment in the future. Virtual events, on the other hand, will require significant upgrades in “user-experience” (and we’re not talking here about website UX) to allow event sponsors to differentiate themselves, prevent “Zoom fatigue” and truly engage clients online. Hybrid events that simply allow virtual participants to view an in-person event remotely just won’t be good enough.
The good news is that the “new normal” can actually be the “new better”: both in-person and virtual events can emerge from the crisis much improved. But firms can’t afford to just congratulate themselves for having pivoted quickly to online; they will need to invest fully in transforming this key component of their client engagement strategy.
The crisis highlighted problems with the traditional event model
In-person events and conferences were often “legacy repeats,” driven by Sales networking needs rather than aligned with the firm’s campaign strategy or evaluated for their ROI. Their suspension is allowing firms to assess whether they were “over-invested” in in-person events and consider more scientific approaches to setting their event calendar — as well as alternatives such as account-based digital engagement strategies.
Clients adapted surprisingly quickly to virtual events. Sales teams need to do the same and see the opportunity they present
Virtual events have turned out to be not only convenient for clients; they are also provide significant benefits to their hosts, including larger potential audiences and better speaker availability; more flexible planning and easier scaling; better integration with lead generation campaigns; and a wealth of digital client insight. Sales teams need to evolve beyond their reliance on in-person selling and work with Marketing to understand digital engagement and the rich information it can give them. The crisis is forcing major changes in Sales models across the industry, and those that don’t embrace this new client engagement model risk being left behind by competitors.
The crisis has transformed the Events Manager role into one primarily focused on digital data
The move to virtual has shifted the role of the Events Manager from what was primarily a hospitality/logistics function closely tied to Sales to one focused on managing digital experience and analyzing audience data, sitting at the heart of the modern data-driven Marketing-centric engagement model. Even when in-person events resume, data will be key to programming the conference calendar and measuring its success.
In-person events won’t resume for 12 to 15 months
While small client dinners and roundtables may restart in coming months, the panel agreed that there is just too much discomfort with large venues and travel for in-person conferences to return in earnest before there is a Covid vaccine and it is widely deployed. Even then, the number of large-scale in-person events will shrink significantly — to just the premier creme de la creme events that can justify themselves amid a hyper-focus on results-driven engagement and ROI.
The Bottom Line:
As with so much else about our business models, the Covid crisis has exposed the many holes in the way we engage with our customers. But it has also highlighted opportunities: we are in fact just at the beginning of understanding what virtual strategies can do for clients and our industry. As was true with digital transformation generally before the crisis, we in financial services are in many ways just catching up to what is happening in other industries.
What is very clear is that every firm needs to be reassessing their current engagement model and looking for new ways to reach their clients and prospects. In a time of major disruption, those that don’t, risk being left behind.