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.