This is what the experts told us about the future of the events industry
Events are undergoing a profound change, transformed by digital technologies and content like so many other industries. But what does the future really hold, and how can events professionals harness the opportunities presented by these dramatic shifts?
These were the questions we set out to answer at an event in London this morning, The Future of Events: The Challenge of Digital, to coincide with the release of our report of the same name. The session was moderated by Formative Content CEO Gay Flashman with presentations from Jazmin Beale from Olympia London, Una O’Sullivan of KPMG, Lucy Eldred from KNect365 and Joe Edwards of Sage.
One of the key questions surrounding digital content for events is – if you put all of your event content online, won’t delegates be less likely to actually attend? It’s a moot point, according to Joe Edwards, a comms industry veteran. Whilst the digital toolkit now available to event organisers is the most varied it has ever been, there is still one central purpose of holding an event and that is to network, he said: “People talk about ROI and leads, but one of the most important part of events is connecting people together face to face.”
It was an attitude shared by Una O’Sullivan, who runs a biannual internal KPMG event: “A conference is a social event,” she said. “It’s about getting people talking together.”
Indeed, research conducted by Formative Content for our report shows that almost 50% of those that attend events do so predominantly for the networking opportunities that the event presents.
The key challenges
But of course, you still have to get people to the event in the first place. This was one of the enduring challenges for organisers, according to Jazmin Beale. Jazmin was perfectly placed to outline the problems faced, given that she stewards 220 events every year at Olympia London, with a combined footfall of over 1.5 million.
The main challenges were threefold, she said. Firstly, driving revenue by getting people to the conferences and getting exhibitors to hire stands; secondly, maintaining the quality and quantity of attendees: “Like any party, the people who attend contribute greatly to the event experience,” she said; and thirdly, the realisation that digital engagement throughout the year encourages repeat attendance and word of mouth referral, and is therefore key to any event.
“Many leading shows are on the journey to become a brand in their own right, and are engaging their industry with great content,” she said.
How to make digital content work
How are events making digital content work for them? Joe Edwards thinks that organising social media at events is a bit like herding cats, but, that said, it can be done very effectively.
“The most important thing for social, when looking at events: it’s all about increasing awareness – and that has to be emotive, exciting and engaging,” he said. “If I see another video of people walking through doors and vox pops saying how great the conference is, I will shoot myself,” he promised. “It’s got to be done differently.”
Among the more inventive methods Joe said he has used was demonstrating the Internet of Things by having delegates send a tweet with a hashtag and a particular number in order to switch on a lightbulb. The key was to “connect the message of the event to some sort of activation idea within the event,” he said.
Lucy Eldred’s KNect365 Finance runs 48 events under 13 different brands every year, and also tries inventive ways to engage the audience. She tries to make her content stand out with a Graham Norton-style chat show for one of their key annual events, the FundForum Asia.
“We try to do content that speaks to people as people,” she explained. “We do a daily livestream chat show, like Graham Norton for the Asset Management community, and it is relatively entertaining given how dry the subject matter is. We send it out immediately to our global audience and it’s a way of them accessing the content of the event in an engaging way.”
Joe Edwards recommends implementing a social command centre at events, with social media managers dedicated to pushing content outside of the physical event. “They can identify and direct conversations; they can promote questions and promote engagement while the talk is going on. The command centre can also manage the live feed with photos, vox pops, and videos, as well as moderating the social conversation around the event.”
Una O’Sullivan also makes great use of video and pictures, “We have a video booth where we get people talking together, and it shows that we are a collaborative organisation.”
Living beyond the moment
But perhaps the biggest take-away of the event was the importance of maintaining that audience engagement across the year.
Una O’Sullivan faces this challenge in mobilising internal engagement at KPMG. She runs a bi-annual gathering of 200 – 250 financial services leaders within the organisation, which serves as an opportunity for financial services leadership to set out their strategy and gather inputs from partners at the coalface. The most valuable part is getting that information and knowledge to cascade down the organisation, as she explained:
“There is very much a before, during and after,” she said. “The purpose of the conference’s digital output is to firstly, help the delegates get the most out of the conference by preparing them; secondly, to capture the news and the conversation at the event, but thirdly, and by far the most importantly, for the delegates to be able to take the information back and cascade it. There are some really important messages that can be taken back to member firms, global account teams, and of course to the clients.”
Among Una’s box of tricks is a well-designed message from KPMG’s global chairman, which is sent out pre-event to the delegates, summarising the purpose of their attendance and imparting relevant information. Then there are daily updates sent to delegates, as well as a wrap up of the day’s discussions. There is a global news site which enjoys very good engagement and which, for the week of the conference, is full of stories from the event.
Finally, there is a toolkit produced at the end of the event, which is sent out to every member of the financial services team – some 30,000 people.
“Content is so much more than telling people what happened at the event, it’s a year-round process,” agreed Lucy Eldred. “If you can get them to engage at the time of the conference and come to you because of the insightful information that you are providing, then you can continue to provide that content year round and become a source of insight for your prospective conference-goers.”
The future is bright
According to the research conducted by Formative Content, over 90% of event organisers believe the industry has a secure future – but only if it embraces full-time digital communication.
“In an increasingly digital world, events bring communities together – face to face,” said Jazmin. “They share a common belief, a passion or hobby, through a shared industry or as part of a local, national or international community. Events make things happen. They ignite ideas and knowledge. They progress education and understanding. They create and enrich the communities they serve. They bring investment to the country and local communities.”
Find out more in the report, The Future of Events: The Challenge of Digital. Enter your name and email address to download your copy.
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Alex Gray is a Senior Writer at Formative Content responsible for writing fast-turnaround, engaging blogs on a variety of topics and industries.
Formative Content is a UK based communications agency producing high quality content, live event coverage and strategic communications support for clients.
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