I think what most of us want in life is to not feel alone. We want to feel like someone else has gone through what we're going through and can help, or is currently struggling with a similar thing and can commiserate. The thing we love so much about our Hautie community is that everyone comes together so openly and honestly and shares so freely that we all feel like family. Same problems, different logo.
That vibe was in full effect last week during he first of our monthly Pulse Check virtual gathering. We spent an hour together talking about how we're navigating some of the most uncertain times we've experienced during the course of this pandemic.
In the early pandemic days of 2020, just over a year ago, the trends were universal: In-person was cancelled. Everyone was pivoting to virtual. Budgets were being reallocated or slashed. Direct mail was making a comeback. And branded face masks were all the rage!
But as we enter into the second half of 2021 (can we just pause for a second and ask where the first half of the year went?!?!), thing are more ambiguous than ever. We had about 55 participants on our Pulse Check on May 21, 2021, from brands, suppliers, venues, branded merchandise companies, and freelancers. So what trends are we seeing? Well, frankly, there are no trends. Everyone is doing it differently. Every company has a different plan, and no one really knows how to proceed - victory will belong to the brave. But what we did gain from our Pulse Check is loads of insights that we are thrilled to share so that you can take them back to your teams and make some semi-informed decisions.
Let's dive in.
Corporate Travel and Event Participation
Question #1: What is your current company policy for business travel to WORK at an event?
Answers to this one were all over the map, ranging from "Not Sure" to "Executive Approval Needed" to "We're starting to do events this fall" to "No travel has been approved at all yet." Suppliers reported that they are open for business travel if their clients need it. From a brand side, many said they are planning to staff upcoming 3rd party events in Las Vegas and Orlando.
Question #2: What is your current company policy for business travel to ATTEND an event?
While most participants reported that they have no budget approval to attend events, they were not expressly prohibited from participating if they paid their own way, or got executive approval for the budget to attend. A few reported that they were planning to participate in some events as early as June.
Event Formats for 2021
Question #1: Are you hosting any in-person proprietary events this fall? If so, how large will they be?
One participant reported that her company has decided to stay virtual through 2023 as they have found incredible value in driving digital experiences. One participant is gearing up for a fall road show. The majority of participants who are planning in-person reported that their events will be fewer than 300 people, but there were reports of a 1,000-person, a 1,400-person, and a 2,000-person event in September and November.
Question #2: Will they be hybrid? And what are you calling them? (Hybrid, digilive, phygital?)
"Blended Experience" was one term brought up, but if they are considering hybrid, they are giving participants a choice of Virtual or In-Person (versus calling it hybrid - because attendees do not benefit from it being hybrid, so why label it that way?). Some participants said they are considering hybrid this fall, but the cost for a fully hybrid experience is too much for their current budgets. They are considering streaming main stage content, but not investing in a fully hybrid model. Due to the added expense, some are opting for in-person only, while recording some sessions to share as webinars or digital content later. One participant shared that her top priority is experience parity, ensuring that whether you choose in-person or virtual, you feel like the experience is complete and not an add-on to another event.
Question #1: Are you getting guidance on costs before requesting budgets, or have you been assigned budget and are planning so that priorities fit in it?
Almost everyone reported budgets were flat to 2019 or had been reduced. One participant reported that every event requires individual budget approval as there is nothing allocated for 2021. Suppliers, however, reported costs going up due to added labor needs (servers for buffets, for example), transportation/freight, fuel, PPE supplies, and other out-of-their-control increases.
Question #2: Overall, do you feel you'll be investing more into 3rd party events or proprietary?
We had a 50/50 split on answering this one. Some felt that it would be too difficult to drive in-person attendance to proprietary events and they would rather invest in a 3rd party event so that 3rd party is responsible for the audience acquisition. Others felt that they could control the experience more and get more content coverage by hosting their own events and getting more dedicated time with the right attendees. Universally, those who are planning to go to 3rd party events were concerned with what attendance will be like and how to properly have an impactful presence when they've purchased a small 10x10 space that may be uncomfortable for more than one person in it at a time.
Greatest challenges for 2021
Question #1: What are your greatest concerns with meeting business goals?
Creating equity across the live and virtual audiences
Getting the off-site audience to commit their schedule to the event fully. It seems like it is hard to clear my schedule for 3 full days for a virtual event
International travel bans and restrictions. Especially extreme return quarantine protocols.
Tradeshow attendance? is it worth the investment? Will there be attendees? Will attendees have spending power due to COVID budget hits?
Creating an experience people will actually pay for
Knowing customers' policies
Knowing when to transition to in-person to not miss out on sourcing the right space
Finding the right tools to make the customer/attendee journey better than before COVID
Supply chain and labor disruptions
Question #2: What are your greatest concerns with face-to-face engagements?
BUDGETS - Client don't understand why things cost more
Figuring out the physical contact! Can we shake hands? Hug?
People actually showing up (tradeshows). Proprietary - what kind of precautions should we be taking/what will people expect? Do we require everyone be vax'd?
I get concerned about being in a room with the honor system, so proof of vaccination will be key, or masks for me.
And then we ended our conversation with the big question: What are you looking for?
Metrics from shows on their registration.....without having to ask every week!!! Send them automatically!
Faster decisions from leadership on yes/no for events. I've got work to do if it's a yes!!!
To hear from people outside the industry to talk about what they want and are comfortable with! Let's get out of our bubble for some answers...
Cost-effective ways to rethink production
Insights gained (and more questions raised...)
While companies are beginning to prepare for 3rd party events, no one is quite sure who will be in the audience. Will show organizers begin to let exhibitors into sessions so that corporations can send more booth staff and take advantage of the content in rotations?
Events are back for this fall, if you can find a venue. Smaller in number of participants, and unlikely to be hybrid, though the capture of the content or the livestreaming of main stage may be a viable option.
Budgets are flat or lower, but costs have significantly increased, so more clarity on what is driving cost increases is needed for budget holders, or more creativity on where to move the money for greatest impact.
In-person protocols remain confusing and vary from state to state and country to country, making states like California and island nations like the Bahamas more attractive for in-person events because vaccination requirements for gathering make it easier for event producers to not have to be "the bad guy" in requiring proof.
Great conversation, great insights! We look forward to doing it again in 4 weeks - Join us for our next Pulse Check on June 25th at 11am Central. This one-hour insights sessions is free to join.
Liz Lathan, CMP is co-founder of Haute Dokimazo, sparking profitable relationships anchored in genuine connection through rousing shared experiences and conversations. Explore the #HugLife community for event professionals and Convo, a program for marketing and sales executives.
Haute Dokimazo is part of Haute Companies, a family of companies that believe in human connection, from events to media (podcasts, videos, and more) to direct mail to swag to entertainment talent management to strategy session facilitation.
Contact Liz at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about how Haute can help you create programs that foster deep and trusting relationships with your customers and workforce.