From physical to virtual: the impact of lockdown on campaigns and events

By now, I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t a single industry that hasn’t been affected by the current crisis in some shape or form. Although arguably the exhibitions and events industry was one of the first to really feel the impact.

In what felt like a matter of weeks, the global events landscape changed drastically. Probably the most significant turning point was the cancellation of Mobile World Congress in February, a move which marked the start of a ripple effect across the industry. Since then we have seen event cancellations across all industries including NAB, Retail Expo and most recently InfoSec in June.

Image credit: Eventbrite

For event organisers, cancellations cause a great deal of disruption, anxiety and lost revenue. For marketing and PR professionals it’s a similar challenge. Not only do event cancellations come at a great cost to marketing budgets, revenues and sales, but many organisations have planned their marketing campaigns, product launches and strategies around industry events, all of which have been thrown into disarray.

And with organisers unable to re-organise events when we don’t have a timescale for returning to business-as-usual, the question for marketers is: what should they do?

Impact for marketing campaigns

There’s no doubt that running marketing campaigns in this current climate is challenging. Sure you can delay campaigns – in fact according to Marketing Week, almost nine in 10 marketers have already done so – but with the current crisis looking set to continue indefinitely how long should you wait?

While some planned content and events may not be appropriate at this time, organisations shouldn’t cut off all marketing and communication as meaningful relationships can be built and maintained even during a crisis. The key is that content is useful, particularly at a time when many employees are stuck at home.

Where activity was reliant on physical events, marketers need to think instead about whether this can be digitised. Can a new product be launched digitally instead? Can you create your own company event to relay the same content? Can you use social media to amplify and reach the right audience?

Think outside of the box

In the past few weeks alone, we have already seen many companies turn towards video content as a replacement for physical events. This has come in a variety of forms – from pre-recorded webinars to live virtual or digital events. Some are taking advantage of channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn Live to live stream presentations, talks or short events, while others have created their own interactive virtual conferences using virtual event platforms.

This shift is also something that we’re seeing in our own client base. With this year’s NAB Show in Las Vegas cancelled, both Nevion and ATEME chose to hold their own events to ensure that any content created for the show was not wasted.

Nevion, the self-styled Architects of Virtualized Media Production, created its own virtual “NABshow”, which it called “Nevion Alternative Broadcast Show – At Home with the Architects”. The concept was to create an experience as close to the real event as possible, combining online face-to-face meetings in the week in which NAB should have taken place, with online presentations/webinars before, during and after the event. The purpose of the initiative was not only to inform customers, prospects and partners, but also to engage actively with them. PR and social channels were used much in the same way as they would have been for the real “NABshow”, i.e. to promote the planned activities but also underline in the market the expertise and experience of Nevion. The outcome was an exceptional week of meetings, and the highest attendance of any Nevion-organised webinars by some considerable margin.

ATEME took a similar approach and launched ‘24h of ATEME’ – a series of live webinars to maintain engagement with customers around the world. The event took place over 24 hours – as a global business this was something ATEME could facilitate – and comprised a series of live sessions which took place via Zoom. Sessions started in France, before heading across the Atlantic to the US East Coast and West Coast, followed by Australia, South East Asia and then finally back to Europe for the finale. Customers could jump in and out of the stream at any time to join the sessions they found most relevant and ask questions in real-time throughout.

The event itself was an interesting and unique concept that helped to unite customers across the globe in the current crisis. Importantly, the event topics were not driven by ATEME but by customers who provided input on the issues and challenges they wanted to discuss, and event topics planned accordingly – an approach which works particularly well in times of crisis.

The future of events

While the cancellation of events provides a huge headache for marketers and businesses alike, it’s clear that not all is lost. Opportunity still exists to engage virtually and try out new tactics that perhaps wouldn’t have been considered before.

What will be interesting to see is whether these new ways of marketing and communications will stick once the pandemic ends. Will virtual events be the new normal as companies realise they don’t need to attend industry events to achieve results, or will we simply just forget and revert to business as usual? There will always be a desire to share information face-to-face, but the impact of the pandemic might just change the format and shape of events not just now but for the future too.