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Nine event predictions for 2021

Event industry experts share their future predictions for the industry.

At VEI’s Virtual Summit on the ‘Future of Events’, sponsored by EventsCase and attended by more than 1,200 event professionals, a stellar panel of event industry experts shared their insights into the future of the sector. Here are nine takeaways from the event...

1. The events industry will be redefined

“After the macroeconomic hangover from this pandemic, we're going to redefine events as an industry,” predicts Tony Lorenz, founder of HeadSail. “It's going to come back strong and will be structurally different. We talk about in-person, virtual and hybrid – those adjectives will soon be over. For example, we do not talk about the Olympics as a hybrid event – there is no need. Sports, retail, media, and many other industries have all gone omi-channel years ago. Events are going to catch up in 2021 and omnichannel will be the go-to design principle for the best events going forward.”

2. Virtual will go mainstream in the marketing mix

Virtual events will become a major – and more readily accepted player – in the broader marketing mix. Julian Graves, chairman, and director of Scaleup Advisory and Collingwood Advisory, says: “In-person events will still be included in the marketing solutions proposition, however, virtual events will enable leaders to turn their businesses into an always-on platform for audience engagement – delivering insight and connections and offering clients the ability to achieve their year-round sales and marketing objectives. The challenge for planners will be getting the mix right.”

3. Audience-first thinking

More than ever before, the focus will be on customer (attendee, sponsor, exhibitor) value rather than product. Businesses will realize the importance of insight on customer pain points, needs, and behaviors to create “high-quality content to reach, build and engage audiences, and deliver that content – to achieve client objectives – across multiple channels, including virtual events, at moments in time during a campaign to deliver scale,” adds Graves.

4. Platforms will become more sophisticated

A shift away from simpler platforms like Zoom and Teams towards more engaging and immersive ones will occur. “The rapidly retrofitted virtual event platforms designed to meet the explosion in demand will be replaced by ones designed using robust human to digital design principles,” points out Catherine Oates, managing Director of Fastmarkets Events & Euromoney. These new solutions will meet the specific needs of event organizers in their new normal. In particular, they will recreate the networking and sponsor opportunities from in-person events more effectively, as these are areas that have been challenged by virtual.

5. In-person events to return in Q3

“There will be fewer large-scale corporate events in 2021 and the majority will take place in Q3 and Q4,” foresees Josh King, head of business development at EMC3. “For now, most events will remain virtual or hybrid and planners will focus on quality over quantity. To return to live, health and safety systems and procedures will be more important than ever before and this will be an area businesses everywhere will have to invest in.”

6. Audiences will be less forgiving

Accelerated learning and experimentation have defined 2020. Mistakes have been seen as inevitable and understandable so far but, as Chris Lee, director GHNN Europe, Informa Markets, warns, event stakeholders “will be less forgiving of mistakes in 2021 and, as organizers, we will need to understand what our virtual and hybrid offering will be overall.”

7. Budgets

“The absence of live events has harmed the economic wealth of our customers and could result in budget cuts in business travel and events,” says Oates. Yet, positive news could be on the horizon for virtual players in the industry. King predicts: “Budgets for hybrid and virtual events will increase as brands realize the huge potential of digital experiences when they are executed effectively.”

8. Mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships will increase

“In a typical Darwinian moment, mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships are going to accelerate among tech and service providers, associations, and event owners,” says Lorenz. “Most industries experience this at some point. The events industry is highly fragmented in almost every facet, while some level of roll-up has occurred in recent years, acquisitions are going to accelerate. Partnerships and alliances also are going to play a bigger role in the structure of the industry.”

9. Effective change leadership will make or break businesses

“Good management and leadership through change will make or break companies,” adds Lee. “Understanding the physical or psychological transition in your staff is going to be one of the toughest challenges for leaders. The opportunities are there for businesses that are willing to adapt quickly.”


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