International branding agency INVNT’s CEO and COO of the INVNT Group Kristina McCoobery, INVNT APAC MD Laura Roberts, and INVNT EMEA MD Claudia Stephenson reflect on how their agency has worked with the new hybrid reality:
We’ve seen conferences and meetings take on many different iterations across the globe since last March, as a result of coronavirus restrictions on in-person gatherings, and the safety of attendees influencing their format, size, and frequency to varying degrees.
Now as the world moves, albeit unevenly, towards a kind of normalcy and in-person events become a reality, international branding agency INVNT’s leadership identifies some of the key trends and predictions in their respective markets.
The ‘new’ hybrid emerges
Across all regions, the consensus is that hybrid events will become the norm – there’s no way we can shut an audience out (and a very large one at that) that we’ve now opened ourselves up to – however with virtual attendee expectations much greater than in the past, the stakes are a lot higher.
“After over a year of mostly virtual events, our clients and their audiences know what makes a great online experience, and what doesn’t. Virtual attendees mustn’t be an afterthought – content needs to be designed with both groups in mind, which is why we recognise there’s this new type of more complex, but also more engaging approach to hybrid emerging,” explains INVNT group COO Kristina McCoobery.
“This might mean scheduling the same keynote for both audiences at the same time, and then when it’s time for breakouts, curating bespoke, what we call ‘high touch interactions’ like small group workshops and expert Q&A sessions for different segments, which complement their chosen platform in the very best way.”
APAC MD Laura Roberts adds: “Virtual mustn’t be a back-up plan, it warrants its own, complementary strategy, and our clients recognise and support that. In APAC, hybrid is definitely here to stay.”
Re-engineering event budgets
Budgetary considerations play a massive role here, explains EMEA MD Claudia Stephenson: “How can we fund both? is a question clients have been posing to us of late, as they recognise there are different audiences, and content and tech requirements at play in hybrid event settings.
“We’re seeing some brands opting to shift away from their annual multi-day conferences and invest in short, punchy, news-driven experiences like keynotes and press launches – and more of them. These experiences engage people in the room, plus there are massive engagement and amplification opportunities from a virtual perspective.”
McCoobery adds: “A hybrid event is essentially two different, interconnected events, which means budgets can be higher, but we’ve been working hard to re-engineer our cost structures to account for both, while not diminishing the quality of either experience.
“Virtual events create cost savings with travel, accommodation and catering, for example, so we’re injecting them into the additional production and experience design that’s required for a true hybrid event.”
A workforce forever changed
Virtual and hybrid events require different skillsets to an in-person only event, so if hybrid is here to stay, it’s evident that we need to reimagine our workforces.
“Whereas others were letting their employees go in favour of tech experts at the height of the pandemic, we were lucky in that our people are incredibly talented and re-shaped their skills to meet the demands of virtual very rapidly – it also helped that from the Samsung 1H launch to Corvette Next Gen Reveal, we’d been delivering hybrid events for some time pre-pandemic,” McCoobery recalls.
“As we recruit now, virtual and hybrid event experience is something we look for and value very highly in candidates of all levels and departments. It’s all part of this longer-term trend towards a hybrid future for our industry.”
Complementary content is key
Capturing the content and leveraging it for much more than the actual event is something Roberts and her team are doing frequently. “With SAP Effect 2020 we created 30-minute episodes which fused education and entertainment, and they were edited down into trailers for pre- and post-event promotion across social and web. This bite-sized content approach is something more and more clients are requesting. They want to know: how can we extend the life of this beautiful, cinematic event content, rather than have it disappear after the event ends?
“So now we’re devising strategies where our clients’ events are tied to a content plan with detailed timelines spanning multiple formats, content types, and approaches. Take our work with Rolls-Royce – the digital and media content is inextricably linked to the in-person dealership activations we do for them. It’s one of the reasons we extended our branded content studio and content marketing agency, HEVE into APAC last September.”
A return to large-scale live events?
While APAC is ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to the hosting of in-person experiences, Roberts explains: “Large-scale consumer-facing events like sporting matches and music festivals are happening regularly now with strict Covid-19 compliancy protocols in place, but brands are proceeding with caution.
“At the moment their hybrid events are for smaller groups and the sessions are shorter, but there’s also a lot of creativity in the mix – like opting for small-scale experiential activations and stunts that are then amplified to millions of people, digitally. Overall, I predict large-scale in-person B2B and brand events won’t become the norm in APAC until at least early 2022.”
Stephenson adds: “While in-person attendee numbers will be more around the 30,000 – 50,000 mark instead of the usual 100,000 plus, the return of Mobile World Congress (MWC) as a hybrid format in Barcelona is a positive indicator for our industry in EMEA.
“What will be interesting to see, is how brands choose to invest in the event and cater to their multiple audiences – will there be as many exhibitors, for example, and will the stands be as impressive? And how will the content change?”
The event industry has undergone immense change amid the pandemic, but there have been learnings, too – many of which agencies can lean on as they navigate this ‘new normal’ post pandemic world, and deliver cutting-edge hybrid experiences for their clients and their most important audiences.