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The transition to the virtual world has been accelerated through the pandemic with event organisers forced to adapt to the realities of lockdown life. But there are indications that rather than a return to normal service after the pandemic, many virtual innovations will be here to stay and for those organisations who have developed their digital delivery through 2020 and 2021, great rewards ahead.
On the face of it, the events industry has been devasted by the pandemic.
Yet, for those who persevered against the odds by pivoting to virtual delivery, there is a blueprint for lowering organisational overheads, reaching, and engaging wider audiences and fresh and lucrative revenue streams. The Virgin Money London Marathon is one such example. As the mass participation market ground to a halt, they postponed their traditional April staging and considered their options. They eventual came up with a model in October that saw an elite-only in-person event taking place in tandem with a virtual event for runners to be part of in their own communities.
It was not without its teething troubles. But they pulled it off with 38,000 ‘virtual’ runners. The brand stayed relevant and with runners peppered across the UK in their London Marathon race bibs, the event had – arguably – a wider reach. They delivered value for sponsors and generated revenue through the virtual delivery. Pre-pandemic, the event was consistently oversubscribed way above its 40,000-runner limit. This year, they have publicly stated they are aiming for 100,000 participants – both in person and virtually, more than doubling participation in a fell swoop.
Other hits (literally) of lockdown have been Gary Barlow’s Crooner Sessions, where has teamed up with the likes of Robbie Williams, Cliff Richard, Jessie J, and many others, striking a chord with millions across YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. Of course, the Take That national treasure has been delivering the sessions as a pep-up to the nation. But it has provided another indication of the new possibilities of the virtual delivery in all entertainment industries. It is a model that offers theatre and live music huge potential in the future.
In the corporate world, conferences have taken a hit with the traditional trade show and conferences model and their flesh-pressing culture impossible to deliver.
Yet with crisis comes creativity and platforms like GoToWebinar, Hopin and Big Marker have brought the in-person experience into the home. With interactive presentations with Q&A and audience polling features, breakout rooms, digital handouts, and recorded sessions – to ensure that you do not miss a minute, the model in many ways exceeds the in-person experience and is markedly cheaper too.
Of course, when the time comes, there is likely to be a resurgence in the event industry with people desperate for a level of human interaction that has been missing from their lives. But virtual delivery is here to stay with obvious potential in efficiencies, audience reach and the generation of new revenue streams. We expect hybrids model to be the core of event delivery post-pandemic.
This week’s #clapforthecarers moment was a genuinely touching moment for the country, a rare moment of national unity brought about by the coronavirus.
The media got behind the campaign, joined by key public figures from politics, showbusiness, sport and even the monarchy. Major venues also joined in with the campaign, illuminating their buildings blue in tribute to the NHS.
The public engaged whole-heartedly online and – most movingly in person – opening their windows and front doors in neighbourhoods nationwide and openly applauding NHS staff at 8pm on Thursday night.
Why did the campaign hit the mark for the nation? Simply, it was authentic. It was not selling anything, no one was on the make. It was just the right thing to do and people get that. Genuine messaging will always engage people.
Two Devon organisations, two serious public relations crises, one winner, one loser.
Brixham’s Churston Ferrers Grammar was forced to close its doors after one of its pupils tested positive for coronavirus. Meanwhile, the county’s foremost professional sports club Exeter Chiefs rugby team saw the collapse of one of the team’s sponsors Flybe.
Now, typically, Devon is no hot bed of hard news. But coronavirus and the failure of Exeter-based Flybe were two rare ‘watercooler’ talking points in the region.
The school closed for a week, commissioned a deep clean of the school site and activated a plan for that deployed technology allowing students to be taught remotely. Students have since returned and those in self isolation are still able to attend lesson ‘virtually’.
The development attracted rare national news and inevitably the buzz of social media from concerned parents. But the reception was overwhelmingly positive.
What came across was an organisation that was decisive, professional, prepared, put the health of students first, but also minimised impact on pupils’ education. Although the media perception would not have been the school’s priority, what could have been a disaster was a PR triumph.
Contrast with Exeter Chiefs, a highly regarded institution in Devon, who turned away Flybe staff at the turnstiles for their game against Bath, despite them holding apparently valid tickets.
The airline had, earlier in the week collapsed and left 2,000 people out of work. So, the commercial arrangements between Exeter Chiefs and long-term sponsor Flybe were void. But did it really mean that newly unemployed staff should have a bad week worsened?
It’s understandable that an automated system might have triggered the rejection of the Flybe tickets. But could common sense not prevail when the affected staff queried the club reception? No was the answer.
To compound matters, after two days of silence and with ample time to reflect, the Chiefs Chairman Tony Rowe described the decision as “commercial” and complained that the club was “not a charity”. Unsurprisingly, it was poorly received on both mass media and social media channels.
Sports clubs are widely seen as symbols of the community and their success largely depends upon this image – they represent their areas and the people within it. It is difficult to assess the long-term reputational effect on both Churston Ferrers and Exeter Chiefs, but the lingering associations will be one that put the community first and one that put finance first.