Tamar Beck, CEO of the event marketing firm Gleanin, will be one of the first people on a plane when trade shows and conferences resume in person. But not all would-be attendees will be as eager to travel long distances. And even those who are willing to fly may face tough decisions about which events they can attend.
A trade show organizer at Reed Exhibitions for nearly 16 years before starting her own company, Beck understands what planners are going through. She empathizes with the pain of having some spring shows canceled the day-of and understands the road back will be filled with hurdles.
Reed Exhibitions is one of the elite trade show companies Gleanin now counts as a client—others include Clarion, Informa and Tarsus, Connect’s parent company.
Beck’s best advice is to start with people like her—those ready to come back as soon as it’s allowed—to jumpstart campaigns.
“There are going to be a few different mindsets,” says Beck. “There will be people who feel confident and can’t wait; others waiting to see who else is going; and others in the way back, who are very nervous.”
If planners can win over the confident crowd, the results should at a minimum trickle down. As a best-case scenario, there could be a snowball effect. “More than ever, people are going to trust who they know,” she says.
Getting the Message Out
Prior to COVID-19, breaking through the noise was a challenge for companies in all industries looking to market themselves. The battle to gain traction has been even greater in the United States and Europe since events began being postponed or canceled in late February and early March. Now, event professionals are bombarded with virtual event offerings—often multiple per week.
“Every LinkedIn post is about a virtual event, it’s crazy,” Beck says of the abundance of digital events.
The same companies adding to the noise won’t be able to break through simply by sending marketing emails, Beck predicts. Instead, organizers and salespeople will need to identify key stakeholders and reach out personally to get the word out.
“You are going to have to be heavily reliant on the confidence of your own community and you can’t buy that,” says Beck. “It’s not going to be there amongst everybody but you will have to really leverage those pockets of positivity.”
Complicating efforts is that event planners will not be in control of everything. For instance, attendees may be eager to go to your conference or trade show, but they must also trust getting aboard a plane and staying in a hotel is safe.
“Events, hospitality and travel are so intertwined,” notes Beck. “You need them all to come back to put on these events properly.”
Winning back returning attendees will be all the more important because many springtime shows are now scheduled for the fall, putting them in direct competition with events originally scheduled for the fourth quarter. “Events are going to be bumping side by side and organizers are asking themselves, ‘How are we going to deal with that?’”
Another logistical element is what to do with 2021 events. Say a trade show is typically held in spring but moved to fall this year, pushing the event back to its normal timeslot would leave little time between the two. Not only is this a challenge to plan, but shows could also suffer from attendee fatigue.
Event education may also suffer from the overload of content offered virtually the past three months. Not only is it free, but many within the industry foresee prerecorded sessions as a staple of events going forward.
In the end, Beck says the urge to network will be the biggest draw to events. She knows that is the case for her. “I can’t wait to get out of my house and see people,” Beck says.
Photo Credit: David Knapp