Tech Giant: Cvent Stalwart Anil Punyapu Seeks to Bridge the Engagement Gap

June 18, 2021
Tech Giant: Cvent Stalwart Anil Punyapu Seeks to Bridge the Engagement Gap

If you are looking for a pioneer in event technology, it’s hard to beat Anil Punyapu. The senior vice president of sales at Cvent has been with the event registration and software giant since 2003 – or more than three-quarters of its impressive lifespan. Virtual events are nothing new to Punyapu and Cvent, though no one could quite predict what 2020 would bring to the world and events industry.

With more than a year under our belts, and the worst of the pandemic seemingly over in this country, Punyapu is looking ahead to a future in which technology and meetings are more integrated. “We believe that a smart mix of in-person, virtual and hybrid events is our future – and that new narrative is a credit to the planners and marketers who have embraced technology and digital transformation and are prepared to apply the lessons they’ve learned as we look ahead,” he said.

We leaned on Punyapu’s perspective as a lifer in the field for this conversation about the post-pandemic world.

COVID is subsiding and events are happening. What’s your initial take on the past 18 months?

This pandemic has been the worst that our industry has seen, but there is a silver lining. The last year-plus has accelerated the digital transformation of meetings and events, and as long as planners and marketers continue to embrace technology as a critical component of their event programs – and view it as something that adds to the experience, rather than detracts – I truly believe that the best is yet to come for our industry.

What should the priority for planners be going forward?

With so many tasks and to-dos requiring our attention these days, time is precious. So, whether people attend a hybrid event in-person or virtually, they’re going to want (and expect) a personalized content experience. So, from a planning perspective, that means delivering unique content that’s curated specifically for those viewing online, and other experiences crafted for the in-person experience. Personalizing the experience is key. While there are absolutely opportunities where these experiences can (and should) overlap, like for networking sessions and round table discussions, those also have to be thoughtfully planned and executed so that all attendees are able to engage and interact.

Chicken and the egg question: What comes first, setting the event agenda or selecting the right platform for events?

Even before the agenda or the technology, I think the first thing that has to be considered is the event goals. Goals can range from lead generation, pipeline acceleration, improving productivity, revenue creation, etc. The reality is some events may make more sense to host exclusively online. Others work better as an in-person experience. If the goal is to maximize attendance, reach new audiences and drive engagement, then a hybrid event is a great solution because you get the best of both worlds – expanded reach with the online audience and the benefit of face-to-face engagement with those who attend in-person. 

Any case studies come to mind?

One of our customers is a perfect example of this. This particular customer hosted a live event in 2019 for 12,000 people. In 2020, they took the event virtual and generated 110,000 registrants with over 30,000 new contacts that had zero engagement with them in the past. In 2021, they are planning a virtual event, with regional in-person events hosted in tandem, to continue to reach new audiences online, but also drive pipeline acceleration with the in-person experience. 

Now, if you’ve already decided that your event will be a hybrid experience, the next question should absolutely be, “what technology will we leverage to make it happen?” While we’ve been referring to hybrid events as one event with two experiences, those experiences have to align with each other. The virtual event should represent the same overall theme, brand and messaging that the in-person event delivers. It’s critical that the two experiences feel like one cohesive event

I'm sure you have fielded so many questions over the past year from clients. How have those evolved and what are people asking now that they weren’t before?

Many of the questions we’re fielding now were never even on our radar, or at least were not a primary focus 12-15 months ago. Of course, at the start of the pandemic, the questions were primarily focused on how to manage and host an engaging, immersive virtual event. Now, what’s really exciting is that the questions are focused more on the big picture. 

For example, clients want to know how to seamlessly manage all their event types and delivery models (virtual, in-person and hybrid) – or what we’re calling an organization’s Total Event Program. People want to know how they can calculate the return on investment for their virtual webinar, in-person trade show and hybrid user conference – and they want all that information in one place. Right now, many planners feel comfortable planning virtual events, and they’re certainly comfortable planning in-person ones. 

Are we still going to use in-person attendees as the ultimate metric for success or how will technology play a role in the ROI?

I believe engagement is the ultimate metric that is going to help us measure success going forward. The level of engagement at an event and the behavioral metrics associated with the engagement are going to define the success of the event. And, the more events organizations host or attend, the more opportunities they’ll have to increase that engagement. 

An example is this: A virtual event registrant attends the opening keynote, but then never takes another action during the event. They don’t visit virtual booths, attend breakout sessions or interact with other attendees in a round table discussion. Based on that information, that attendee is very minimally engaged with your event/brand – and likely won’t be a great candidate to schedule a sales demo call with post-event. On the flip side, someone who attends a virtual event, watches key sessions, goes in again a week later to watch the on-demand content, then registers for a webinar to dig into a key topic even further, and then attends an in-person product demo a couple weeks later – they are highly engaged and likely represent a great business opportunity. 

So, what you can see from this example is that it’s not about attendance but engagement, and that is why technology is so critical. How else will planners be able to track the digital footprint virtual attendees make, then align that to the actions they take at an in-person event several weeks later? 

What should planners look for to know they picked the right partner?

You used the word “partner” and I think it is very apropos. The fact of the matter is, your program or event success is driven by many factors, not technology alone. It involves event or meeting management companies, production companies, hotels and venues, internal teams and other services to support the event. Second, event technology doesn’t, or shouldn’t, operate in a silo. It should operate as part of an organization’s marketing technology stack and tie into other technology solutions like Oracle, Adobe, Salesforce, Concur, Coupa, etc. to provide a more holistic view of how events impact your business.  

Finally, what works for one company that hosts two large in-person events a year likely won’t work for an organization that hosts 10 virtual events per month, attends four trade shows a year and hosts several in-person user conferences. What I would encourage planners to do is to take all of the above into consideration in the technology sourcing process and find the solution that works in harmony with your needs and processes.


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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.