The Event Leadership Institute checks in weekly with select groups of industry leaders from across the US and Canada: event-planning agency owners, event-technology companies, non-profts and higher education faculty. Group members report on how their businesses and industry sectors are faring and offer coping strategies amid the massive disruption from COVID-19. We call it the Situation Room. Recently, the conversation among event technology company owners covered opportunities and uncertainties. Here are some highlights.
Benefits of COVID-19
While not exactly a consensus across event technology company owners and senior executives, there are some bright spots associated with the pandemic’s impact on the event industry:
- Companies are exploring a number of ways to diversify their businesses, including adding virtual event capabilities, seeking opportunities outside the events industry (chatbots, for example can address multiple industries besides events). Diversification can be a valuable tool for business continuity in any business climate.
- Some unlikely partnerships across event technology providers have emerged. To pivot quickly, some companies have decided to virtualize the most viable features of their existing solutions and partner with other companies for the rest. This type of activity could lead to informal federations of companies that together offer more complete solutions to customers.
- Many companies have distributed their workforces. Remote workforces could be a way to reduce costs even in the future when the industry gets back to work.
- Event tech firms are bringing customers into the research and development process. Collaboration has strengthened their relationships and helped them to build better products faster.
- For some companies, the unexpected down time is an opportunity to rethink and retool—ask some difficult questions, refocus the company and the workforce (“keep them working so hard they can’t focus on anything else”) and look for opportunities.
- Because there is such high interest in virtual events from event organizations, firms offering virtual platforms now are running out of capacity. Those bringing new platforms online have built-in market demand.
- Cost reductions help make companies “lean and mean” for when the industry bounces back.
Detriments of COVID-19
Many event technology companies—especially those that did not virtualize early in the crisis—have suffered what has become typical losses in new and existing business. They have lost deposits and have been forced to cut back on staff, operating expenses and salaries. But there are other uncertainties that owners have voiced:
An increasing divide between haves (companies that have or are in the process of building a virtual product) and have nots (those with products or services that are very difficult to virtualize) is emerging. While the latter group appears to be dwindling in number as firms become more creative, the remaining have nots are forced to wait out the crisis.
- With each passing day, the uncertainty about the length of the downturn and what lasting impact COVID-19 will have on live events is growing. Some events have rebooked for 2020 Q4, but most have lost their window of opportunity for the year and are planning for 2021. Thus, event technology companies without a virtual revenue stream are uneasy.
- Some event technology companies are concerned about whether virtual events are only a stop-gap measure or they will become enduring communication and engagement channels for event organizations after the crisis has passed.
- The quality of some early attempts at virtual events has been mixed—a factor of inexperience on the part of event organizers in a new medium, technical issues with platforms and the learning curve of participants. It begs questions on whether virtual events have the capability to garner large attendance, how to make virtual experiences more compelling and whether event technology companies can “pull” more value (and revenue) out of online meetings.
- Hybrid events pose a future challenge for event organizers. It can be double work for planners if the virtual platform is not synchronized or integrated with live-event components like mobile apps, matchmaking platforms, databases, facial recognition, etc.
As COVID-19 continues to impact, and in some cases erode, the live-event industry, there is optimism alongside fear. In many ways, however, event-technology firms are in the best position to hasten a return to normal or offer a new normal.
Event Leadership Institute will continue sharing insight and experiences from the Situation Room here. Check back with us for updates.