An Open Letter to the Events Industry

An Open Letter to the Events Industry

Don Neal of 360LiveMedia shares his thoughts on how the exhibitions and events industry can evolve and survive in this open letter.

By: Don Neal, Founder and CEO, 360 Live Media

Now what? That is the question on the minds of the event industry at this moment. Where do we go from here? How do we evolve, survive and begin to see a path to prosperity?

Before we can truly answer the “Now What …?” question, we must first address the reality of where we are now.

There are five forces that each of us who work in the events industry must accept before we can begin to rebuild our businesses, our careers, and the events that make a difference in the lives of tens of millions of people who, until March 2020, attended live, in-person experiences that had an impact on their industries, businesses and professions.

  1. Full-scale, robust, large, in-person, live events will not be back to prior levels of attendance until 2022. The set of conditions required for a “back-to-normal” society that are necessary for discretionary travel, acceptable safety conditions, budgets that are available to attend events, and local, state, and federal laws that clear the way for event attendance won’t be aligned before the end of next year.
  2. Virtual events as we know them today must evolve to be more engaging, entertaining, more interactive, less boring, and much, much more profitable for event audiences, organizers, and funders. Continuing with the current business model of virtual events isn’t sustainable.
  3.  Trade shows and expositions in particular are under extreme pressure to be reimagined, and most exhibitors, sponsors, and underwriters are not achieving the ROI, leads, new business, and activations required. A new commercial model is required for industry to invest in events that begin to approximate the levels of spending prior to COVID-19.
  4. Business event audiences are fatigued, underwhelmed and saturated with excessive screen time. Their eyes are tired, their attentions spans are shorter, their expectations are lower, and they are tuning out anything that isn’t indispensable, irresistible, compelling, or highly entertaining and relevant. We must win back audiences that have given virtual events a chance but now expect more.
  5. Event organizers and planners are stuck between trying to virtualize a live event that doesn’t work, and limited by the virtual event platforms that have myriad limitations and aren’t evolving fast enough to meet the needs of a marketplace that now expects more.

If this sounds like a grim forecast, it is. We have so many things to fix, improve, and reimagine at the same time. But that doesn’t mean success isn’t right around the corner for those who embrace change, can see what is possible, and are willing to do what it takes to reinvent the event model for the future.

Here are the first three steps for the reinvention that is necessary for you and your organization to get out of this ditch we are currently in.

  1. A new mindset. Stop thinking like a live, in-person event organizer, planner, designer, vendor, or supplier. The best, most modern, beautiful, and efficient horse and buggy is no match for the internal combustion engine automobile. You are now in the live, interactive TV business. A live studio audience, a control room, a producer, a team of script writers, speakers who are auditioned, a director, Hollywood production quality, Khan Academy education and learning, and QVC-like commercial environments are the new model. You’re no longer competing with other events; you’re competing with Ellen, your favorite binge show, and video games. For those of you who are ready to shift your mindset, you have a whole new career opportunity in front of you.
  2. You MUST have a live, in-person format as part of your event. There is no substitute for a “studio audience” serving as representatives of the larger virtual and digital audience at a live, in-person location to bring the engagement, enjoyment, and surprise factor to keep your larger audience tuned in. This is a big opportunity for the production companies, physical structure designers and builders, hospitality venues, destinations and CVBs to reimagine what is possible.
  3. Vision and leadership is the new coin of the realm. The days of planning committees, volunteers and amateurs is over for any event that wants to succeed in this new environment. An event CEO is necessary to lead the change and lead this event reinvention on all of the fronts required to make 2021 and 2022 successful. An in-house candidate or an outside hired gun are both viable, but skill, experience, expertise, strong leadership, vision, and the ability to make decisions is a make-or-break factor for the next 24 months.

Now, the question is when you will decide to act. Will you wait for more information, will you wait for the vaccine, will you wait for society to embrace traveling again, will you wait for a different political climate, will you wait until “things get back to normal”?

Now, more than ever, events, conferences, trade shows, and gatherings of all types are necessary, and they can be executed safely and responsibly. Social cohesion is a linchpin of a healthy society and a growing economy, and the backbone of the profession all of us in the events industry have signed up for.

Here’s to a new future, new opportunities, and new ways of thinking that lead to a resurgence of our industry.

Time to get started.

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