How to Embrace the New Event Normal in 2021

October 27, 2020

Ravi Chalaka

Ravi Chalaka is the CMO of Jifflenow, and a marketing and business development expert who creates and executes business strategies, generating demand and raising brand/product awareness in competitive markets. As VP of Marketing at both large and small technology companies, Ravi built strong teams and brands and enabled faster revenue growth for a wide range of solutions based on Big Data, SaaS, AI and IoT software, HCI, SAN, NAS. 

It’s Q4 2020, and B2B managers of events, demand generation and field-marketing activities are planning next year’s campaigns and customer-engagement activities. The question on their minds: when will events be back to “normal?”

I think it’s safe to say that large gatherings of people involving flights and hotels will not be happening anytime soon. However, 2021 events and customer meetings, virtual or otherwise, must be planned and budgeted. What should you do?

While B2B marketers depend heavily on event marketing, most B2B enterprises have turned from in-person to virtual events. Initially, event organizers were pleased to see 2-5 times the number of attendees compared to in-person user conferences. Apple, Cisco, Google and VMware all staged impressive virtual user conferences and are planning more for the foreseeable future.

However, the switch to virtual has brought new challenges. Attendee engagement is by far the most important key performance indicator, yet event marketers agree that this is also one of the most challenging aspects of the medium. Audience fatigue is another issue. Most event organizers have limited or no experience in managing virtual events, or with the technologies needed to run them.

But I think there’s another reason. While skills and tools can be quickly assimilated, there’s a lack of enthusiasm about virtual events. Many marketing organizations viewed virtual events as a temporary solution and failed to ensure effective collaboration between the events and digital marketing teams. This limited the ways in which they could engage more with exhibitors, session speakers and attendees. To maximize the ROI from virtual events, marketers must commit to making them work and change how they tackle them.

How to improve your virtual events in 2021

It seems likely that the pandemic will gradually fade in 2021, therefore we need a graduated response to event plans. The large trade shows we knew will be a combination of virtual and in-person. The good news is that these hybrid events will reach larger audiences than ever before. Attendees, corporate sponsors, event organizers and technology companies are beginning to warm up to some of the unexpected benefits of virtual and will integrate it for increased participation.

What I expect as the new normal is that event marketing teams will gradually switch from exclusively virtual to hybrid events for the next 12-15 months. In the meantime, we need to get better at virtual events. Here’s how:

  1. Maximize flexibility. With in-person events, dates, venues, attendees and sessions are well-defined. Virtual events are far more flexible: live, recorded or semi-recorded; extended dates for follow-up engagements; live-stream or interactive sessions can be used; follow-on customer or partner meetings can be set over weeks or months; attendees and staff from multiple time zones can attend.
  2. Think “Hub and Spoke.” Plan every large virtual conference as the hub for major corporate keynotes and sessions but extend it to multiple smaller events in local regions or by business units. Regional teams can cater to the needs of the local audience and tailor the messages and products or services to them.
  3. Collaborate better. Get your digital marketing teams, event experts and field marketing teams around the virtual table. Digital marketers can offer expertise in automation, while events and field marketers know how to deliver a satisfying attendee experience. The combined power of these teams will deliver the best of both worlds—and drive consistency on tools and alignment of messages.
  4. Be creative. To reduce attendee fatigue, mix it up with entertainment, fun activities and offer ways for attendees to engage more with experts and schedule demos. For example, include a 30-minute break with live music or a DJ.
  5. Focus on ROI. Find ways to leverage technologies that provide an engaging experience and use automation to enable follow-up with meetings with qualified attendees. Attendees want more than keynotes and sessions; they need to meet with experts to learn more about what’s on offer and make decisions to achieve their objectives.
  6. Extend your goals from MQLs to MQMs. Gathering leads by registering attendees or offering content for filling out contact information is a good start — these are marketing-qualified leads. But you need to go further and think how you can drive marketing-qualified meetings. A meeting automation platform lets attendees request a wide array of follow-on meetings with executives or subject-matter experts that can be either automatically scheduled or processed through an approval process.

Ninety-five percent of companies are planning virtual events through early next year. Let’s embrace the “new event normal” and rewire our processes to maximize attendee engagement and drive value for organizers and attendees alike.


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.