Planning for the Future of Live Events

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As we see the live events industry thrown into an unfamiliar world of constant flux due to the spread of coronavirus, the easy option is to give in to negativity. Though going into hibernation might seem like the path of least resistance, for those working in brand experience, it’s important to not lose faith and instead use this time wisely. We are an industry that prides itself on creativity and problem-solving after all.

The current pandemic has meant the world as we know it has had to adapt. But the need to pivot and evolve has not passed – it’s ongoing and everchanging. Some people have played down the shifts within our industry. “A large proportion of the workforce are already used to working flexible hours,” they say, “they’re dab hands at working from different locations around the world”. Whilst technically true, it’s not an accurate picture of the fact that agencies, clients, and suppliers have all had to collectively get to grips with a very different way of working in a short space of time. It’s still impressive, and it’s still a seismic shift in behavior. It shouldn’t be taken lightly.

As the crisis sped up in March, we experienced first-hand how quickly we and our clients had to react. We were 21 days through a 23 day build for Honda at the Geneva International Motor Show when the Swiss authorities announced a ban on gatherings of more than 500 people. Within 72 hours we had worked with Honda and their other partners to transfer the European launch of the Honda Jazz from a physical event that would have had an edited video released via social channels a few hours after the event, to a studio launch that was live-streamed to the various media outlets and the wider Honda European offices. Turning something like this around in such a short space of time salvaged a project that had been 6-months in the making.

They weren’t the only ones who shifted either, with the likes of VW deciding to make a virtual 3600 tour of their stand available. All large-scale stands are rendered up to a level that makes the step from physical to virtual fairly simple. But just because you can do it doesn’t necessarily mean you should – when it comes to taking experiences into the virtual world it’s more nuanced than a straightforward translation.

The shift to digital-only events and the impact on the future

Physical live events are about the engaging content that can be brought to life in the flesh, and the background of shiny product displays, lights, screens, sounds, and people help deliver these events to the best possible standard. If you’re aiming to mirror this on a virtual platform there needs to be a strong reason why someone would want to spend time on the platform and engage with the event (as opposed to binge-watching the latest boxset on Netflix!).

Many in the industry, including ourselves, have already pivoted to digital-only events, offering us the opportunity to be creative and imaginative in an alternative way. But we must remember that live events will return when the time is right, and we need to be ready.

I logged in to the Charity Film Awards the other week and was impressed by how they had taken an event that had previously lived in the physical world to create a streamed the only event. This included having different presenters for each of the categories and all nominees were turned into a song when announced, alongside various celebrity ambassadors discuss the winning films. Following examples like this, and Camp Bestival who launched a virtual festival for the Easter weekend, it will be interesting to see the success of more events, especially over the summer, that rely on physical experiences to adapt to the current circumstances.

The importance of coming together

The event itself is always just the tip of the iceberg – the planning and coordination are the main ingredients needed to pull off the perfect experience. Event planners can currently think outside the box, but as good as the modern tech is, we know it’ll never overcome live interactions in the long term. It is important that we start planning for the future now, as when the self-isolation is lifted and social distancing is relaxed, people will want to come together more than ever.

Humans are inherently social beings and whilst we’ve had to get used to having virtual catch-ups with friends and family, I will relish the first physical get-together I have once the lockdown restrictions are lifted. I would also say that despite being able to carry on relationships with existing friends and family, engaging with new people is inherently difficult in a virtual environment.

Will I rethink about flying around the world for endless meetings when things return to normality? Certainly, but would I award a project to a partner I haven’t met face to face? Never. There will always be something special about meeting in person whether for work or pleasure. Once we are out the other side there certainly will be a newfound appreciation for something we have all previously taken for granted.

That said, it would be a folly to not make any improvements to the way we live and work. Live events, done well, offer great value to brands and rights holders, but for at least a decade the industry has been encouraging them to increase the value of the actual live event by using streaming services, or a joined-up social media campaign. Will the pandemic be the trigger for a new era of events, as we see virtual and physical combine like never before?

Over the past few years, the importance of digital has been growing, but without diminishing the importance of live. Digital is a great way of getting out to a large audience, but in order to do this, you have to have compelling content. Live events deliver a deeper engagement to a more select audience and should, if done properly, be rich in content. This content must also be able to be easily shared digitally to increase the potential audience and the impact of the work. That fact that some live events have quickly had to go digital, even if only out of necessity, shows how well the disciplines can and must work together.

No one can foretell when things will return to normal, but what does look likely is that there will be a stepped approach to the easing of various lockdown measures, with the chance of them being reintroduced if the scientific data suggests so.

With this in mind and after speaking to colleagues on the Shanghai side of our business, as we start to see some improvements, we are also likely to see a lot of indecision from clients. They’ll want as much reassurance as possible that the live elements of campaigns will not be affected, decisions will be held back to the very last moment. For years we have seen lead-times eroded which has come with its fair share of challenges, as we begin to return to normality any live elements will need to be as flexible as possible which will rely on all parts of the supply chain accommodating this.

It is essential that the industry is using this time wisely to make sure they are in as strong a position as possible to hit the ground running when restrictions are lifted. Agencies will need to be on top of their game as and when things start to return to normal, and those who aren’t will struggle to keep up.

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