Hybrid events are the format of the future. But such events should come with a new goal: offering an equally impactful experience for both live and virtual participants.
Our current operational and staffing structure
In 2019, around 20 percent of our projects were virtual events; today, we are at 100 percent. VOK DAMS is developing from an event agency with digital expertise to a hybrid event platform provider. Luckily, we have been producing digital event formats for more than 10 years, so this is not difficult adjustment for us.
Ninety percent of our colleagues are currently working from home and have been since the beginning of the pandemic. Here we were also well prepared, for as most of our business is run remotely. Be it onsite, on the road or at our clients’ office--as an agile agency, we have relied on the active personal responsibility of our teams for years. It also helps tremendously that the majority of our VOK DAMS team has a digital background.
The issue of political support
In our main market—Germany--the event industry is very fragmented, with more than 27 different industry associations all coming up with their own campaigns for government support and regulations. It was important to raise political awareness of the consolidated market relevance of our industry. Together we stand for sales of almost 10 billion euros [$11.6 billion] a year. In connected secondary markets, it is likely to be a further 80-plus billion euros [more than $92 billion]
The diversity--and the recent cooperation--of the German event market was literally brought to light with the “Night of Light” (#nightoflight2020) on June 22. Thousands of event related entities including agencies, concert venues, exhibition halls, A/V companies, theaters, caterers and exhibition builders illuminated their buildings and local sites bright red to “highlight” the plight of the live-event related industries.
On a more political level together with all the associations, we developed a white paper of scientifically proven measures for "low-risk events" and presented it to the relevant regional and federal government entities. On the basis of these guidelines, politicians can develop the guidelines for the approval of events at country level.
It is also important to raise awareness of the extremely wide range of different types of events in our industry. A simple example illustrates this: While a local carnival gathering in Heinsberg with 300 participants in a small indoor space resulted in 70 infections, there were no known infections at the five-day EuroShop trade fair in Düsseldorf with 95,000 participants--happening at the date and only a few miles away.
In the other countries where we have offices (U.S.A., China, U.K., Estonia, UAE, etc.), we also cooperate as much as possible with the local event industry associations. Each country is developing its own rules and regulations in response to the pandemic and the resulting economic impact, and we try to implement learnings from one country to the other.
After China opened up again for events in June, European countries are following in July, and VOK DAMS North America is already working on events scheduled in the U.S. from late October 2020 again.
The desire for social interaction
One of the side effects of social distancing is that it leads to a strong need for real personal interaction. People are really craving social encounters, even in the current six-foot distancing situation. It’s what inspired the drive-in cinemas, the 50 percent capacity restaurants, and all the other possibilities to be social while keeping the appropriate distance. No matter how grim the pandemic is, people are inventive and finding ways to safely interact. And with the ongoing relaxation of the COVID-19 rules, certain public events are being allowed again--all while adhering to the safety rules for which we have developed easy to implement protocols
Not digital, not virtual, but hybrid
We also see renewed demand for major events in autumn 2020 and spring 2021. With many clients still reluctant to go for 100 percent live event and the proven limited effectiveness of full digital events, a large percentage of these requests are for hybrid events. These are vents where both live (offline) as digital (online) participants have the same impactful experience and can interact and exchange information with each other regardless of format. Depending on the current local COVID-19 situation, the live or the virtual part of the event is more dominant, but in essence both parts have an integral role.
Use what’s available and make it better
It is becoming increasingly clear that virtual events are not just a question of implementing technical tools. Strategy and concept are key for a successful event. This is as much true for a virtual as for a live event. The technical tools should not define the event. Therefore, we have developed an open platform for hybrid events that can utilize all existing online tools. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel with so many great applications readily and affordably available. This open platform offers the possibility of real time and natural exchanges between participants live on site and the virtual ones. We serve all proven digital providers on this platform and combine them reliably and sustainably in the customer's design.
Events of the future and how the industry will change
As the world changes, the event industry will undoubtedly change. Good or bad, we always find a way to adapt. It’s how we as an agency have been able to stay in business for the last 50 years.
We foresee four major changes to the event industry:
#1: Hybrid events will be the format of the future.
With a combination of live and virtual participants where - and this is new – both groups have the same meaningful and impactful experience. No participant will be “punished” for not being able to attend the live event; the virtual attendance will be – although in s different format – as impactful and relevant as being there in person.
#2: Open hybrid event platform concepts that integrate leading applications will prevail.
Agencies will develop into platform providers. From the point of view of the participants, these platforms are intended to be “digital first.” The direct translation of live formats to virtual formats will not work. The numerous online events from the last couple of months have made that abundantly clear. Initially they offered the comforting reliability of familiar environments in a new digital world, but eventually they did not deliver a meaningful experience to the online participants.
#3: Online everything is your competition.
In general people don’t compare live and virtual experiences; these are two entirely different things. People want an exciting or at least a pleasurable experience and are used to high-quality online content, like a good Netflix series. So as event agencies, we are not just competing with other events but with all the online content available. And if the offered online event solution seems rather boring in this comparison, it will be difficult to engage and inspire participants at a virtual event.
#4: We will see the end of the traditional event manager.
There will also be a rethinking of the job profile of the event manager: Today's event manager will develop into a hybrid event manager.
Although we don’t like to use the already old and tired monikers like “the new normal,” “unprecedented times” or “a post-COVID society,” we do accept that the impact of the pandemic on the world, the personal lives of hundreds of thousands of people, and our industry is severe and that we need to adjust and adapt. And without wanting to sound glib or obnoxious, we're actually looking forward to it!
Colja Dams is CEO of VOK DAMS. From its headquarters in Germany and offices around the globe, VOK DAMS has produced award-winning events for leading brands worldwide.