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The last month has brought an about-face for a lot of people as omicron took hold and all these plans that people formed back in September had to be rethought — including live events. Event planners are being called upon to make up-to-the-minute judgement calls as the situation evolves, and create their own strategy on the fly.
“We’re definitely being conservative right now because people want to hunker down and wait this through,” says Natalia Rybicka, senior director of Event Marketing at Attentive. “But we’re still planning events through Q1 and Q2. We’re just being smart about negotiating venue and sponsor contracts, so that we have tight COVID clauses if something gets cancelled or pushed out.”
Of course, any event requires extraordinary safety protocols Rybica says. Attentive has systems in place for additional safety screening, beyond mask mandates, such as a full complement of PCR home tests they ship out to events through their fulfillment house.
“That’s something we were implementing for larger events, but we did that for a smaller event this month too, just to add another layer of safety precautions,” she says. “At our executive retreat, every person that goes to the event has to take a test.”
As they plan out their hybrid strategy, Rybica stresses the importance of ensuring that a hybrid event doesn’t leave the virtual audience behind.
“When we do go hybrid, there will be interactivity built in for the virtual audience, so it’s not just an experience of streaming a video,” she says. “It’s easy to get caught up in a live event and forget that there’s an audience watching virtually, and what their experience is like – but they’re probably going to be most of the audience.”
To make sure hybrid events work, she emphasizes the need to have a good technology partner you can rely on — one that understands what it means to have two audiences, can make it possible for people attending live to interact with people that are virtual, and can help build virtual communities.
It’s also important to have two separate producers, one for the virtual experience and one for the live event, so that each audience gets the close attention that they deserve.
Hybrid events that go beyond streaming content are going to be the biggest challenge for marketers in the upcoming year, Rybica says, but executing those successfully for both audiences is also the most important thing to get right.
“Virtual events are great for education and live events are great for networking, so how do you take advantage of both of those aspects and make sure you’re creating a great experience for both audiences?” she says.
As the world adjusts yet again to the ever-changing pandemic, and hopes start rising around the return to in-person events, Rybicka’s best advice for a fellow event leader right now is build on what came before, not to pivot entirely. In other words, don’t get so excited about live events and what’s happening in person that you forget your audience.
“Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater and give up on virtual events and all the learnings we’ve gleaned through the pandemic,” she says. “Virtual events are still a great way to reach broad audiences for the purpose of education. I wouldn’t sacrifice that experience. There’s a whole audience out there that isn’t able to travel to live events, and they’re probably the majority of your audience.”
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