Playing the long game

Expert Opinion
Playing the long game

Spencer Green believes physical events will not return until 2022.


In 2019, 80% of our company’s revenue came from the 60 executive summits we hosted around the world. But like most other events companies, the coronavirus lockdown forced us to cancel everything in person from March 2020 onwards. At this point we asked ourselves; can we digitally transform the business to deliver the same outcomes for our customers in lieu of physical events? Is it possible to shift to an all-digital programme in such a short space of time, and how long should the switch to virtual events last?

When Covid-19 hit in Q1 2020, we made the conscious decision to go all-in on digital, and not just for the foreseeable lockdown period. We decided back in March 2020 that the next 18 months at least would be disrupted by Covid. And while we would love nothing more than to welcome our customers back to physical events again, we are working on the assumption that events will remain virtual until at least 2022. But that’s OK, as we are happy to continue to meet our customers in the ether for as long as is needed.

Even as coronavirus was turning the world upside-down, our customers made it clear that they still wanted to do business. The 300% growth we saw in our ‘Meet the Boss’ digital roundtable offering between the months of April-June 2020 was the clearest signal that our customers still wanted to trade. After all, they still needed the outcomes of our events, even if they couldn’t attend them in person – they still needed to find new customers, to learn from their peers and understand the latest trends. So, instead of pausing the business and focusing on how quickly we could hold conferences again, we looked at how we could deliver these same outcomes virtually.

A digital first

As a result of pivoting our entire business to digital events practically overnight, not only were we able to stay in business during the lockdown, but we even grew by 30%. What’s more, at a time when many in the events industry were making redundancies or furloughing the bulk of their workforce, we were able to increase our headcount by 25% and invest in additional products which will underpin our growth in future years.

I am not saying this to brag. I am saying this because I want my colleagues and even my competitors to thrive, too. The business world needs a thriving events industry to propel it forward, so the more the merrier. Now is not the time to pine for the events industry as it was. Now is the time to flourish by focusing on delivering the same outcomes via digital means.

You could say we were never an events company; we are, and have always been, a facilitator of solutions to real-world business challenges. We just happened to achieve that by holding events which brought purchasers and providers together. Today we are doing that with digital services instead.

One thing is certain, the events industry has changed forever. Physical events will make their return one day, but digital services will play a much bigger part in the events industry going forward. Our entire business is now committed to delivering virtual events that are more powerful and data driven than our previous physical portfolio, creating an opportunity for the future that will play a key role in how executives approach business post Covid. Are you ready to do the same?

Spencer Green is chairman and founder, GDS Group, the international events company behind the CMO Brand Insight Summit (26-28 October)and CMO Insight Summit (25-27 November) .

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