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The future of event marketing: Hybrid events will be a COVID-19 legacy

The future of event marketing: Hybrid events will be a COVID-19 legacy

Over the past year, pandemic-related restrictions have caused a surge in virtual events, as organisers embraced the opportunity to take everything from industry conferences and festivals to product launches online. As a B2B PR agency specialising in tech, we’ve been virtual attendees at a wide variety of insightful events including RESET 2021 and the New Video Frontiers Roadmap. So, as we look to the future of event marketing, is this trend for virtual participation set to continue?

With the vaccine rollout enabling a tentative loosening of restrictions in the UK, the ability to attend live functions and interact face-to-face rather than solely via screens is something many people are genuinely looking forward to. But it’s unlikely the industry will completely return to its pre-pandemic state. Having experienced the many benefits a virtual component can bring, event professionals are expected to embrace a hybrid model that combines the best of physical and virtual experiences.

What are hybrid events?

Before considering the future of event marketing, and the benefits moving to a hybrid model will have, it’s important to understand what a hybrid event actually is. Live events have incorporated digital elements for years – perhaps live-streaming keynote speeches or making video clips available online – but it takes more than that to host a hybrid event.

A true hybrid model caters for all types of audience in the same way – whether they are participating online or in person – and enables continuity between physical and virtual elements. It makes the journey equally engaging for both types of attendee, and allows the two to share experiences and intermingle, perhaps taking part in the same Q&A sessions via interactive technologies or networking in virtual spaces. A hybrid event meets the needs of virtual and physical attendees equally, rather than prioritising one group and treating the other as an afterthought. Hybrid events platforms such as Boomset, Canapii, Accelevents and Hopin are designed to make this seamless experience a reality.

Why hybrid events are the future of event marketing

From a marketing perspective, hybrid events have a variety of benefits, ranging from increased reach and flexibility to the possibility of incorporating innovative tech-driven experiences. Here are just a few of the advantages the hybrid model brings when marketing an event:

Expanded reach

The hybrid model allows event organisers to scale beyond the physical limits of a live event venue and dramatically increase capacity, meaning they can market the event to a far larger audience. Rather than committing to the time and expense of travelling to a live event, participants can be encouraged to try out the virtual experience first, with a view to potentially attending a future event in person if they find it valuable and informative.

With hybrid events, planners aren’t constrained by geographical considerations and can make events truly global if they wish to do so. The PRWeek Connect Conference, for instance, will be held virtually this year, allowing it to expand its reach around the world. The event will begin with sessions in APAC, before moving to the Middle East, Europe and US as the day progresses. As a hybrid event in the future, this conference could feature small local hubs with in-person sessions, joined cohesively across the globe by the virtual component.

Agility and affordability

A second benefit of the hybrid model for event marketing, is that it delivers increased flexibility and agility, while keeping costs down. In a world where change is both inevitable and unpredictable, a hybrid model allows organisers to scale up and down the physical and virtual elements according to a constantly evolving situation.

For example, at time of writing this year’s Cannes Lions Festival is planned as a hybrid digital-first event, giving its organisers the option to pivot to a fully virtual conference if the COVID-19 situation doesn’t allow a live element. Fringe events such as Cannes Condensed – which will be held in Brighton by PRovoke and the International Communications Consultancy Association (ICCO) – are also being planned using a hybrid model.

Hybrid events can be more affordable than fully live events for a number of reasons. Organisers can opt for smaller, more cost-effective event spaces if a large portion of the audience will attend virtually, and they won’t need as many on-site operatives for functions such as catering, security and maintenance. Costs associated with travel and accommodation for event personnel and sponsors will also be reduced.

With a hybrid model, marketers can put together a wide variety of sponsorship packages that incorporate both virtual and physical elements, potentially making it easier to attract event funding. And scaling down the physical elements of an event will also increase sustainability, reducing its carbon footprint by limiting unnecessary travel and energy consumption.

Enhanced interactivity

By combining physical and virtual elements, the hybrid model encourages the use of innovative technologies such as virtual reality or augmented reality for immersive and interactive experiences. Last year, for instance, Blippar delivered the world’s first augmented reality product launch for the OnePlus Nord smartphone. Hundreds of thousands of virtual attendees could see and interact with detailed specifications and features of the device, and share their own reactions in real time.

At a hybrid event, both in-person and online audiences can interact via their smartphone or tablet, potentially commenting on sessions, participating in live polls or creating their own content. Digital content generated via this type of interaction can be repurposed and used across social media or marketing channels to promote future events.

As well as making the occasion more appealing and marketable, this level of interactivity provides a wealth of valuable data. Event marketers can use it to discover who attended which parts of the event, what engaged them, and at what point they dropped out. This insight can be fed back to sponsors post event, so they know who they reached and what they were interested in. It can also be used to improve future event content, formats and marketing strategies.

By bringing together the best of in-person and virtual participation, the hybrid model is highly likely to be the future of event marketing. To find out more about how GingerMay PR can help tech companies plan and promote their own events, please get in touch at hello@teamgingermay.com

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