Martin Fullard looks at the Sydney Skyshow and asks those behind it what the B2B world of events can learn. Click here to read the feature in the CMW March/ April 2022 Magazine.
The way in which audiences engage has been under the spotlight more than ever over the last two years. Behaviours changed as the Covid-19 pandemic swept the globe and forced people into online events. But now as people emerge, the traditional audience engagement methods to which we are familiar are being questioned.
Be it conference, meeting, or brand activation, there is always one objective: to create a memorable experience. Of course, events for the general public will always have a wider appeal than B2B events, but what can be learnt?
AGB Events is an Australia-based agency, specialising in public celebrations, iconic events and innovative digital experiences. From 1-5 January 2022, the agency delivered the Elevate Skyshow over Sydney Harbour, as part of the city’s Elevate festival. The centrepiece was a mesmerising 500-drone display which lit up the sky.
The activation was led by Anthony Bastic, AGB’s creative director, who on his CV can also boast creative lead on Sydney Invictus Games Opening Ceremony (2018), the Melbourne Commonwealth Games (2006), the Rugby World Cup (2003), Melbourne’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, and the Sydney Olympic & Paralympic Games Live Sites (2000).
Creative activations like the Sydney SkyShow come with an obvious wow-factor for the public, but how can this creative-led approach work in a business event context?
“Storytelling,” says Bastic. “Creating a narrative is an important element of branding, it can help communicate a vision, values, and personality.
“We partner with, engage, and collaborate with many colleagues in delivering major events and the best results always come about when we join forces with companies that believe in our vision and share our values,” he adds.
Bastic says that utilising technology creatively will play an increasingly important role in any event – not necessarily to replace a live event, but to enhance the live experience even more.
What does Bastic think is the real art behind meaningful audience engagement; what principles must be adhered to? “The real art behind all our events is authenticity,” he says. “Being true to the principles, values and purpose of the event and your audience.
“We don’t apply a cookie-cutter approach, what works at one location doesn’t necessarily translate into success for an alternate audience. Listening is important and allowing time for a concept to grow.”
Bastic says his approach is to reimagine ways to honour art, history, and culture, inspiring audiences with engaging storytelling. The process begins with extensive research to bring a fresh perspective to the projects, finding clients’ stories and reinterpreting those narratives visually.
“We work extensively with artists to craft and deliver creative concepts that resonate deeply and that give their work new dimensions and scope, using digital animation and 3D projection to create content that is impactful and rich in meaning.”
A lot is said about how virtual events are the future, what does this mean for live experiences? Bastic is clear in his conviction when he says live experiences aren’t going anywhere. “Events like our Lights of Christmas in Sydney prove that people want to come together to celebrate. People want to share experiences, build traditions and create memories,” he says. “The social impact of live events can’t be underestimated and certainly shouldn’t be undervalued.”
Elevate Sydney was masterminded by an organisation called Tomorrow Made, which specialises in strategic development, placemaking, digital marketing, international media, stakeholder relationship management, government liaison, sponsorship, and communications.
Katrina de Jersey, a former journalist, is co-director alongside Renee Malyon, and has a unique insight into global events, marketing, sport, and communications, after more than 20 years working on complex and demanding campaigns across sport, tourism and government in Europe, Australia, Asia, Russia and the Middle East. Yet she is fervent in her belief that the desire for face-to-face connection is stronger than ever, in both B2C and B2B contexts.
“The pandemic has highlighted that there is still a human need to connect with each other, in person, and experience something extraordinary together,” says de Jersey in reference to how the pandemic has affected behaviour change.
“The way in which we achieve that may have changed, but that is ultimately the core objective. Virtual events have been a great advancement and an effective way to continue to work, connect and build relationships, but the pandemic has demonstrated that it can’t replace an in-person experience in the long-term,” she adds.
“Having said that, the in-person experience must be memorable, and ensuring that B2B journey is smooth makes great inroads to achieving that.
“Utilising a consistent flow of interaction, as customers switched between multiple channels, was certainly important to us. Specifically, during the pandemic, where information must be conveyed quickly, consistently, and accurately, as it affects the consumer behaviour.”
De Jersey believes there will always be a place for virtual events, and in many instances she says it’s a more logical, efficient and cost effective medium.
However, there remains challenges for organisers in how they approach their event marketing strategies, regardless of context.
“There is no question that experiential marketing has changed significantly during the pandemic, and this has prompted a total re-evaluation of consumer behaviour and communications,” she says.
“For Elevate Sydney, our approach needed to be more responsive and flexible to adapt to the ever-changing environment. We experienced a total shift in the hierarchy of messaging and information that audiences want and need to know to purchase a ticket.
“It’s true that headline talent is still a primary consideration, but Covid safety, ticket returns, and conditions of entry were also key drivers supporting decision-making to attend.”
De Jersey notes that for the Skyshow, they saw an increase in last-minute ticket purchase decisions, higher-than-average attrition rates, an increased volume in customer service enquiries, a more vocal and active community sharing event information online (primarily social) and a demand for quicker information and responses to queries.
“We noticed that more than ever, there needs to be a strong focus on crisis/issues communications. No event wants to appear tone-deaf to the environment around them, and this required a constant monitoring and re-evaluation of the broader environment. A social post scheduled in the morning may be completely inappropriate even a couple of hours later,” she adds.
In a post-pandemic world, the sense of anxiety among delegates may take time to dissipate, but with solid communications and an emphasis on experience, organisers now have the chance to reinvent their events.