The common wisdom during the COVID-19 pandemic has been that meetings would be the last sector to recover.
The rationale for this idea is obvious. Many potential attendees would be hesitant to convene in a large room with many other people for extended periods of time.
It was also assumed that so many people had gotten used to meeting on virtual platforms that in-person conclaves would be severely impacted.
As the economy stumbles out of the crisis, it seems at least some of these concerns were overstated. Many in-person meetings have already taken place, and meeting planners and managers of event venues say there is tremendous pent-up demand for face-to-face interaction.
Still, the meetings industry faces significant challenges in returning to pre-pandemic numbers.
In many cases, this is crucial, because a conference is often the main revenue generator for organizations.
As a result, marketing to attendees is a key function of a meeting professional -- convincing people it’s worth their while to disrupt their work/home lives to travel what may be a significant distance to spend time with their peers for educational, training, commercial or other reasons.
Sasha Pasulka, vice president of marketing, Splash, spends a lot of time figuring out how to drive meeting attendance. The company is a full-service event-marketing tech platform that manages conferences, measures their impact, handles registration and creates communications to help promote events.
Lately Pasulka has spent a lot of time counseling planners how to convince those who are hesitant to get back on the meeting track. “Our approach is to get them excited about the experience,” she said. If you effectively communicate the value of attending live, and communicate the precautions you’re taking, that will ease some hesitancy, she noted. More, there should be no problems if someone does not want to attend a particular event. The message should be, “if you want to attend, that’s great. If not, there are no repercussions. That’s how we do it internally.”
Planners need to be clear about health requirements like testing and vaccinations -- and they should be transparent about what attendees might expect when they are on site as far as social distancing, etc. goes, she noted.
And of course, there should be a positive message about the meeting itself. The pandemic, “has forced a tighter evaluation” of meeting goals, content and expected outcomes. That has been a positive for marketers -- and I hope we take that new approach into a COVID-free environment. It’s just healthier to get that level of discipline around events.”
Pasulka does not believe that virtual meetings will replace in-person meetings to a significant extent. However, she does agree that there is a place for selling content to those who are not able to attend a conference. “Virtual is not going anywhere. There will always be hybrid components to meetings and events.”
Large conferences, said Pasulka, will probably provide both an in-person experience and a virtual experience that will be “parallel but not identical.” Organizers, she said, will be able to offer a streaming experience so that an audience can watch or listen to the content at their convenience. “It would be silly to ignore the virtual component,” said Pasulka. “People are willing to pay for your content, and it’s a low-cost option to sell content to a virtual audience.”
And, of course, virtual attendees are potential live attendees at future meetings, so are well worth cultivating.