Live, in-person meetings and events are back — along with lots of questions about how the pandemic has changed how they’re planned, executed, and experienced. During a recent webinar called “Back to Business,” MCI USA experts discussed the post-COVID realities of corporate events, including incentive travel programs, experiential marketing events, and business meetings. Here are four takeaways from the webinar, which spun out of a similar MCI USA webinar for association events and was moderated by Chris Williams, MCI USA’s Vice Senior Vice President of Registration and Housing:
1. Demand is exceeding capacity—especially for incentive travel.“At this point, everybody is so moving ahead on travel, it’s gangbusters out there,” said Anne Albright, Executive Vice President of Incentives. “Everything is happening at a fast pace and space is tight.The clients are moving ahead with cautionary confidence, I’d say. Everybody is worried about how things are changing in our world, but starting with the fall, trips are operating at a clip. During the registration process, we are having to pace ourselves a bit, depending on where people are coming from. If it’s a program where a lot of people are coming from Canada, for example, their rules have been more strict, so there’s been a delay—registering Americans first and then waiting to see what will happen with Canada’s rules and regulations.”
2. While people want to get together, you can’t forget virtual engagement. “As far as this year going into next, we are seeing a lot of eagerness and willingness to return to live and to be part of live experiences again,” said Christine O’Connell, Vice President of Black Flower Agency, MCI USA’s experiential marketing and activation agency. “The challenge is making sure we’re signaling safety and providing extensions for hybrid and digital when in-person is not possible — so, planning those Plan A/Plan B scenarios where we have opportunities for digital engagement and virtual engagement along with our live experiences.”
3. That said, hybrid means different things to different events.“It’s really exploring the program, the objective, the audience, and establishing a workaround,” said Agnès Canonica, CMP, CMM, Vice President of Corporate Meetings. “Do you record your in-person meeting and make it accessible via on-demand post-meeting? Or do you make the investment to bring your virtual audience into your meeting room and bring your in-person attendees to the virtual platform in an even exchange?If you’re talking about a conference where maybe 70 percent of your participants are going to be in-person and 30 percent are going to be virtual, but it’s more of a consumer show to drive sales, you may want to consider doing the hybrid, but the cost factor to really engage your virtual audience will be to bring a dedicated moderator that will cater specifically to that audience, to bring them into the in-person experience. That’s where it gets very costly. For a program of less than a hundred, you really need to pick apart your program and understand who your audience is, what your audience is doing, and what might be some cost-efficient solutions to be able to cater to both worlds.”
4. Virtual, hybrid, on in-person — how to measure ROI has changed. “What we’re noticing coming out of this is that a lot of people took time to reflect,” O’Connell said. “In order to speak to our audience, we want to make sure that we’re doing it with emotional resonance. From an ROI perspective, the emotional quotient even for a B2B or a B2C event has gone up.
“Where a lot of B2B decisions previously were a lot more analytical, I think we’ve gotten to a point we realize that people themselves are hybrid,” O’Connell said. “Those of us who have been through the pandemic,working together, have relied on each other for a lot more than just the office and our work, and we’ve become closer through this because we’ve had to. We’ve had to be there for each other in a more emotional and mental-health way, and that’s going to translate to new ways of measuring a return on investment beyond just financial, and really thinking through even in the B2B space how we’re reaching people in ways that deliver on their objectives and purpose.”
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