Bob Priest-Heck is CEO of Freeman, which he joined in 2011 with the acquisition of Wheelhouse Solutions. He has spent the past 25 years leading global technology brands and experiential marketing agencies, and was instrumental in the development and launch of Freeman’s creative and strategic agency services, as well as in creating Freeman Digital Ventures.
Exciting News for Big Trade Shows: They Will Never Be the Same Again
The following blog is a response to a recent article that ran on Barron's.
In case you were worried, trade shows are not going away, but they will forever change. And that’s an exciting thing.
We at Freeman extend our congratulations to Apple and its marketing teams. Apple's Virtual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) was impressive – excellent, even. After all, it was organized by a company with incredible technology and message discipline wrapped in one of the most potent brand narratives, all built around user-centered design.
For WWDC, Apple leveraged all the advantages of a virtual production, ticking every box on the proverbial virtual event best practices list, from drum-tight messaging and exclusive content to high production value and access to informative and relevant experts.
We know first-hand how difficult it is to do this right. You name it, Apple nailed it.
The power of face-to-face
There is something unique and inimitable about actually being there. It’s why our friends in tech continue to rave about the WWDC event’s virtual elements, while also speaking wistfully of missing the live, in-person event experience.
And rightly so.
The energy exchange created through human connection has the power to deepen the moment, inspire change and build enough trust to move mountains.
Even after creating the iPhone, Steve Jobs knew the connections, conversations, unexpected discoveries, and the irreplaceable sense of being there – the serendipity of the live event – would not be replaced by the digital experience.
This is where the business of “live” comes into play: face-to-face marketing, eyeball-to-eyeball, live interactions that differentiate and enhance the entire experience. We’ve evangelized and advocated for the attendee experience, strategic design and alignment. We've gathered leaders from non-traditional disciplines — storytellers and filmmakers, strategists and creatives, technologists and scientists, and more smart, innovative thinkers focused on a core belief that a great attendee experience makes a live event irreplaceable.
Freeman’s COVID-19 Attendee Pulse Research validates that point, with almost two-thirds (62 percent) saying they expect events to return as strong as they ever were before COVID-19.
Economic incubators for growth
For the millions of businesses that are the true life-blood of the economy, more than 80 percent of them small with many being women and minority-owned, it's essential to recognize the critical role events play as a massive incubator for innovation and economic growth.
Without trade shows and the uncountable and unexpected connections and opportunities they create and nurture, hundreds of thousands of businesses risk losing a critical and accelerated path to success and scale.
It's worth noting, for example, that in 1977, a little 10-employee company introduced their Apple II at the West Coast Computer Faire in San Francisco and started a journey that would lead to them virtually hosting WWDC.
Without face-to-face marketing, the trust and access it brings, and the commerce it drives, are we condemning an Apple of the future to a much steeper, more protracted, more expensive and far riskier path to success?
Focusing on the right attendee
Historically, the live events industry has focused on size and scale versus quality of attendee. Through benchmark work at Freeman, we know that not all attendees are created equal. In a post-pandemic world, companies can focus on getting the right people to the event – the key decisions makers, influencers, and brand loyalists that drive revenue pipelines for businesses.
An integrated approach is necessary. In a post-COVID world, it’s easy to think we must shift away from in-person meetings and events. However, that’s not what anyone wants. We have asked exhibitors, attendees and brand marketers. They want to have face-to-face events. The bar will be higher.
Those of us in the live events space have a clear-eyed perspective on the industry’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and liabilities. We have known change was necessary. We have invested in virtual platforms, understanding their value and long-assuming that hybrid events would become a critical part of enhancing any size event portfolio.
Our industry is poised to move to a new, more relevant and valuable reality. Moving forward, trade shows will thrive by focusing on the live experience, making it easier for the right people to connect in person, while expanding to virtual audiences.
We know we’re all going down a track at high speed as we approach a very tight and slippery turn. It will take skill, discipline, planning, and nerve to make the turn. We're ready for it. Are you?