No in-person events until 2nd half of 2021, marketers say

Professional marketers are embracing online-only events as the unlikelihood that they would attend an in-person conference during the COVID-19 pandemic stretches deep into 2021.

In our survey of over 300 marketers, respondents on average gave the prospect of attending an in-person event a 3 out of 10 chance through the end of the first half of 2021. That is the same as when we last fielded our Event Participation Index in June, but at that time we only asked about the likelihood that they would attend in-person events through the end of 2020.

That suggests the surging number of cases, especially in the United States, as well as the absence of a vaccine for COVID-19, is making it difficult for people to envision a time when large-scale, in-person gatherings are safe.

Just this weekend, the United States crossed 140,000 deaths tied to COVID-19, and in some states where cases are surging officials are considering scaling back reopening plans and even reinstituting stay-at-home orders.

Currently, several vaccines are in development but are still in trials.

Online for now

While the suspension of in-person conferences and trade shows has been devastating for many industries outside of marketing, one bright spot has been the level of attendance and satisfaction with online or “virtual” events that have sprung up to replace canceled conferences. 

Nearly 70% of respondents said they would only attend online events until a COVID-19 vaccine is produced, our Event Participation Index found. But 81% said they had already attended a virtual event in the past three months.

Even more encouraging to organizers is 75% of our respondents said they were satisfied with those experiences.

Making the change

We may add some more granularity to our next Events Participation Index to dig deeper into what virtual experiences marketers are most satisfied with because, just like in-person events, experience varies depending on the show. 

Some organizers are trying to replicate the trade-show experience with virtual learning sessions, booths and even networking receptions, while others may only be focusing on the educational sessions. 

Interestingly, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research has been tracking how organizers forced to cancel in-person events have responded and while the bulk (80%) have gone virtual, the focus on trade-show experiences is not universal.

About 65% said they offered online educational sessions, 47% served sponsored or exhibitor content, and 41% attempted to host the full trade-show experience including exhibition online, CEIR found.

Third Door Media, which publishes MarTech Today, MarketingLand and Search Engine Land, has hosted two virtual events in place of in-person conferences, Discover MarTech and SMX Next. We also will be holding a virtual MarTech conference in the fall.

Here are a few things we’ve learned about virtual events.

  • They are not easier to pull off than live events. You need a good team structure, a solid foundation of project management, and producers with digital experience know-how to pull them off effectively.
  • Vendor selection is key. Events platforms are in huge demand now, but how easy they are to manage, the experiences they yield for the audience, and the pricing and support models offered can be a bit inflexible. If you plan to do multiple events, don’t be afraid to experiment.
  • Content is still king. Put on a good session that is truly helpful to your audience. If you can add interactive Q&A elements, live polling, and other virtual enhancements for networking either live or asynchronously that is great. But give ample focus to the quality of your content.

If you have tips you have learned running virtual events, I’d love to hear them. Send me a note at hpowderly@thirddoormedia.com. We will continue to field our Events Participation Index through this pandemic.


About The Author

Henry Powderly is vice president of content for Third Door Media, publishers of Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than a decade in editorial leadership positions, he is responsible for content strategy and event programming for the organization.

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