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Five steps to executing a successful hybrid event

Adam Goodman, managing director of full-service, creative production agency, ACA Live takes us through the steps to understanding, planning and executing a successful hybrid event…

When in-person events paused with immediate effect back in March last year, the events industry was forced to undergo a major overhaul. Businesses who use experience as part of their marketing had to consider whether to pause – and cease all customer-facing experiences – or pivot – and embrace the art of the virtual event.

Today, 18 months later, I believe our industry is richer for its experience. We have all undergone a learning curve to differing degrees and we have come out of the pandemic with a renewed awareness of the possibilities the events space can offer.

Adam Goodman. Image: Flaxley Hill.

But whether a business or brand is considering running a hybrid event – with a mix of virtual and in-person elements – or going fully virtual, the change can be daunting. So here we have drawn on the benefit of our experience to offer some key considerations for anyone who is undecided.

Going virtual can help, not hinder

For those who are hesitant about embarking on a virtual event, it is important to be open to the many advantages that hybrid or entirely virtual experiences can deliver for a brand.

Firstly there is the opportunity for amplification: an event that takes place online can achieve national and international reach, involving a far greater number of people. And the additional benefit for the eco-conscious is that there is no need for travel, making it a more environmentally-friendly option.

Virtual events also ensure there is ample opportunity to create an ongoing connection with attendees as organisers automatically have access to more data. This should, of course, be used responsibly but, with the right approach, does open the door to creating a long-lasting relationship.

Enhanced metrics that virtual events afford can enable tracking of engagement in granular detail. This will not only record vital insights but will inform any subsequent events, ensuring the engagement is further optimised each time.

While in-person events have all the benefits of a full-on sensory experience, by taking it online brands can put all their focus on the content they produce. The old adage that content is king has never been more pertinent. What creativity might have been focused on physical touchpoints can go into the films and live or as-live broadcasting on which a virtual event hinges. And what’s more, that content can be reused and repurposed for subsequent events and online amplification where appropriate.

Engagement is different from start to finish

When some or all of your guests are not in the room, effective engagement requires a different approach. For any event that has a virtual element, it is critical that engagement starts well in advance of the experience.

Adopting a communications strategy to promote the event and tease the content will keep it front of mind while creating a dedicated platform will encourage networking and an online community of attendees. A dedicated platform or app on which to host the content and broadcast the event will act as a central hub, tying everything together and creating that all-important brand association.

Engagement on the day must also be a major consideration, and there are endless ways this can be achieved. Whether it’s through polls and quizzes, live Q&As or gamification that rewards participation, the events industry has built up a vast arsenal of great technology that can be implemented depending on the occasion and the audience. We would never condone the use of technology for the sake of it, but done well it can really help bring an event to life.

Live engagement will naturally be harder when different geographical markets need to be taken into consideration but it need not be prohibitive: content can be recorded as live for people to stream at their convenience while regional Q&As could be held according to each time zone – and language.

Every audience needs a different approach

Whether you are running an employee event, a session for influencers and brand ambassadors or an experience for the public, there is never an excuse to make less effort. Every touchpoint with your brand – whether for staff or consumers – is hugely important and must be treated as such. However, the experience must be approached entirely differently depending on whether people are in the room or behind a screen – and different again if there is a mix of the two.

Lazy event planning can see an online event take the form of a glorified conference, but this will not hold people’s attention, and they’re unlikely to be talking about it for the right reasons afterwards. We are increasingly seeing virtual events taking more of a TV show format: live speakers or performers, a small and distanced live audience and tech infrastructure to provide reach.

If you are holding a hybrid event it is important to remember you will have different audiences ingesting the same information but in different ways. Mobile apps and interactive second screens will connect live and virtual audiences with your content and allow delegates both physical and digital to network. A voice for the online audience has traditionally been one of the challenges facing live events but when the digital portion is the core audience, they must be correctly represented by moderators. That includes social media comments or questions from the online attendees.

Take the opportunity to modernise your events strategy

One key area where change is crucial is from a sustainability point of view. Events in 2021 and beyond must adhere to environmental awareness wherever possible, whether that’s opting for apps and digital screens over handouts and physical takeaways, avoiding free gifts that are not sustainably sourced and made and opting for organic, locally supplied food, leftovers of which are managed sympathetically. Handing out reusable PPE is a very modern issue but should certainly be considered.

Consumers support businesses that align with their own values and with sustainability so high on the agenda, any event organiser needs to give careful consideration to these issues. At ACA Live we are committed to a Climate Positive Workforce programme that offsets employee travel. We now have an ever-growing forest with 1000+ beautiful mangrove trees, which have so far offset more than 92.2 tonnes of CO2. It is these small but important touches that will set a brand apart irrespective of the style of the event that is being held.

Live or virtual, marketing is still marketing

In truth, the effectiveness of an event or experience will be dictated by the content, the agenda and the creativity, not by whether it is in person or online. If the last 18 months have shown us anything it’s that taking the physical element out of events has not held us back – indeed it has proved just how adaptable we can be as an industry.

Great marketing is still great marketing, regardless of how, where and when it is conducted. Brands must first define what they would like to achieve and then decide the best and most effective way of making that happen.

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