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GPJ’s Scott Kellner: Screen fatigue and the issues keeping eventprofs awake at night

Scott Kellner, George P. Johnson’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, talks to VEI about solving screen fatigue, collaborating with competitors, and the issues keeping eventprofs awake at night.

What issues are keeping your clients awake at night?

The uncertainty caused by the pandemic is the biggest worry for clients – it has been tying their hands since June. They are having to plan for two potential outcomes – a hybrid event and a virtual one. Our industry needs more certainty and more declarative statements from health professionals.

What has the last year been like at GPJ?

We ran more than 800 virtual events. From 2008 to 2014, I spent my time in the digital event software market and GPJ has been running virtual events for some time, so it was simply an acceleration of that side of the business.

What has been the biggest hurdle for your business?

The biggest challenge has been realigning our workforce to deliver digital events at scale and to meet the needs of what we see coming next, which is hybrid, or unified events as we call them.

Some event producers can transfer to the digital side, but often you need people with digital expertise. Investing in education and training to re-skill our employees has been vital.

Agencies like us right now need people who can do both the physical and digital side of events because we don't know what's going to happen in the near future, and also because those skillsets are both going to be relevant going forward.

What has been a major challenge with digital events?

Screen fatigue – but we’ve found ways to overcome it. The artful use of interstitial time-based messaging has proven really effective.

For example, when a sponsor is mentioned at an event, sponsorship messaging will pop-up. It may not sound breathtaking but, when it comes to engaging audiences and providing value to sponsors, it's incredibly effective.

It’s about increasing the sophistication of engagement in digital solutions.

We have also used universal pop-up messaging at opportune times to give people a break. We have woven in all kinds of wellness breaks, whether they're artistic or participatory, but also to simply give audiences a break from the tedium of staring at a screen.

What trends do you see emerging?

Brands are soon going to demand surprise and delight moments in their digital programs, which is what they've been doing in their physical events.

They will want beautifully branded digital environments with augmented, virtual and extended reality.

A highly branded experience of this kind will be worth more than any advertisement.

We're going to find elements of gaming included in these experiences, with competitive elements, graphics and deep engagement to avoid screen fatigue.

Event tech platforms - custom-made or off-the-shelf?

A balance must be struck between the digital platform business and the custom platform business. The first type can work well for some events, but can be very rigid. A bespoke platform has to be created every single time, making it more expensive.

Global brands place a much higher value on branding, production values and the experience itself so, for them, only a custom solution will work.

We have now created a platform that brings all of the elements we know are mandatory from the event tech platform side with a high degree of flexibility and, particularly, branding flexibility.

What is the best business advice you have received?

The motto I live my life by the most is: “People don’t buy features – they buy benefits.” For example, you don't buy a car that has four tires. You buy it because it handles well.

It is something that I've had to remind myself and my colleagues of and is a good guiding factor for all things marketing.

What has surprised you most about the last year?

The collaboration between competitors. I was approached by some of my competitors to co-found an industry coalition to support the pandemic through an array of means, including helping to erect temporary hospital structures. I was frankly a little bit surprised at how empathetic and willing to join forces our competitors were, and I found that to be rather pleasing.

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