While it is essential to understand the various forces driving this shift, it’s also critical to understand the work needed by event organizers to leverage this opportunity, so let’s look at how we’ve arrived at this point. For clarity purposes, let’s also define EMS as “sponsored digital programs in and around events.”
Progressive marketers within the event ecosystem began to drive this trend. Those folks looked past boundaries—real and imaginary— and thought, “how can I leverage ‘digital’ to enhance my event presence?” and vice versa, “how can I amplify my event investment beyond the actual event itself?” The leveraging of video at the show to capture content (demo, executive presentations, etc.) and then cascading it out digitally to a broader audience during or after the event or following targeted attendees around the web with ads are just two examples. Exhibitors building a landing page to highlight their show activities and then driving prospective attendees to that page ahead of the event is another. There has been a slow but steady rise in this type of activity through the years, but it hasn’t been widespread, nor has it been industrialized by the organizers.
Then came a global pandemic. Business-as-usual came to a screeching halt and forced an overnight migration from physical events to digital events and forced those within the event ecosystem (the organizers and the sponsors/exhibitors) to dive far deeper into the digital world than they have previously been comfortable with. Within about 16 months, we witnessed an entire industry receive a crash course in “digital.” It has been inspiring, and it has been painful. But in the end, it has raised digital IQs and digital confidence tenfold.
Newly learned behaviors, coupled with a forever changed viewpoint around the interrelationship between events and digital, will be the byproduct that sparks the accelerated rise of event marketing services moving forward. Event sponsors have now learned alternative ways to reach their desired audiences. They have tasted digital metrics and a more direct ROI measurement. Having seen this play out before, we can safely conclude their digital activities will not suddenly snap back to nil when live events come back in force. They are in digital motion.
Likewise, event organizers have realized the monetization opportunities that digital can bring to their businesses—via standalone virtual events, hybrid models, or digital activities in/around physical events. Together these variables will change the conversation between event sellers and event buyers. The discussion will go well beyond the event itself and include digital marketing activities surrounding the event.
Lastly, the platforms that have historically focused on webinars, virtual trade shows, or event registration have been racing to develop their capabilities to meet the new rising need to connect audiences in various formats with rich functionality and a mix of live and on-demand capabilities. Add in a host of new entrants, along with a pile of investment dollars, and we’re on the cusp of the next generation of event tech platforms.
Combining the forces above with the reality that it will likely be several years before physical events return to pre-pandemic levels, it is clear that “digital” will now play a significant growth role for event organizers.
So, what are the variables at play that need to be properly managed by organizers?
There are several:
- Productization and Packaging. The ability to craft smart digital products and packages that provide value for event customers, worthwhile profitability for the organizer, and logical connective tissue to the event itself.
- Sales Management. Sales teams need training and motivation to incorporate digital selling into their daily approach. A few offerings that are compelling, easy to articulate, and easy to understand would be the logical kick-off point.
- Execution Ability. Ensuring that the execution capability and a delivery process exists within a clearly defined execution team is critical to avoid downstream post-sale challenges.
- Data Access and Governance. Determining how best to leverage an event brand’s database to promote the event itself to attendees and leverage the same database to drive sponsored digital event marketing services programs. Striking the right balance to ensure these efforts aren’t in conflict is critical, as is assuring that the teams involved, if separate, create a good working rhythm together.
- Platforms. Choosing optimal platform/s for the specific use-case coupled with having the proper skillsets to manage will be imperative to tie it all together.
The EMS opportunity is significant. The shift is in motion, and stakeholders are starting to organize around it. We saw an event pure-play acquire a marketing services company. We’re seeing the biggest players in the event ecosystem weaving “digital” into their positioning. It’s no longer a matter of “if” but “how fast” event marketing services grows. There will be an advantage to those who see it with clear eyes and begin managing to it. The question now is who will be out front as a leader versus who will lag behind and get pulled along by their competition and customers.