Behind Closed Doors: Event Planning and Communication During COVID
The world is certainly a strange place at the moment – in just a few weeks we’ve seen thousands of events cancelled or postponed, venues converted into temporary hospitals and many businesses looking to the future through a very different lens. One re-assuring comment that seems to keep coming up from many different sources is that we will get through this, that things will start to move again, event planning will happen and at some point we will all be back on the show floor doing what we love.
But if you’re an exhibitor who has invested time and money in expertly planning for a specific event which has now been cancelled, what do you do? How do you keep talking to prospects and customers? What are your options? Well, the good news is that there are plenty of ways you can keep talking from the safety of your (home) office.
From speaking to exhibitors, organizers and suppliers across the industry here’s some food for thought that might help you keep talking to the show’s audience.
Don’t jump to virtual as a default
There’s a plethora of webinars, on-line networking, Zoom panels and interactive conferences that have been launched since the world entered lock-down and for some situations they are a great solution – but not every one. Exhibitions deliver on face-to-face engagement like no other marketing tactic and simply moving what you had off-line onto a virtual platform is unlikely to generate the same results – some products / services just don’t convert well on-line. So before you automatically set-up your first corporate webinar think about whether your proposition works well on-line, to a group audience or whether there might be a more creative way of making your point.
Prep your proposition
The world is looking like a different place and what you were going to showcase at a trade show may no longer be appropriate, or needed. Visitors who were planning on coming to the show will still have the same problems that you provided the solution to, they may just not be the priority any more. Or the solution you provide might need to be articulated in a different way to clearly demonstrate how you help them out of the current situation. Whilst you have some spare time during the delay it’s a great opportunity to think about your offer and how it helps prospects. Why not ask customers what they most need now and then re-write your proposition grounding it in the benefits that you know you can deliver.
How clearly had you identified exactly who you wanted to speak to at the show or were you hoping the right people would just walk by? Remember on average only 16-20% of visitors are in a position to buy from you so now you have the chance to research who those people are. Making a note of the organizations and job titles of your perfect prospects will help ensure that when the show doors open you know exactly who to invest most time in. LinkedIn, trade press, corporate websites and trade associations are all great places to start when researching exactly who it is you want to speak to.
Talking through the organizers
Event organizers will be just as disappointed as you that events have been postponed, as their whole life is about bringing together suppliers and buyers. We’ve been talking to lots of organizers and they’re all keen to keep providing value to and engaging with their entire audience (exhibitors and visitors). We’re seeing everything from webinars, to virtual pub-quiz, e-learning modules and networking forums being hosted by organizers to keep their audience connected. It’s worth asking your organizer what their plans are and if they don’t have any, make a suggestion of something you could offer that could add value such as a virtual workshop or seminar. Distributing your content through an organizer is likely to have a wider reach with the audiences you want to connect with than doing it from your own base. And if there are prospects you want to speak to, why not ask if your organizer can make a introduction?
You can still say hello
The great thing about being part of an event community is that you have an established shared interest. If someone was already planning on visiting a show you can safely assume they have an interest in your industry. So when you’ve identified those prospects you’d like to meet, send them a LinkedIn invite or DM, stating you would have liked to meet at the show and start a conversation. It’s really tempting in these difficult times to start selling when the world is so uncertain but we’re finding people just actually want to chat at the moment – about the weather, about their daily walk, about Covid-19 and all that will help in building a relationship that you can more quickly move to business once you do meet at your exhibition stand.
Target trade media
All trade shows tend to be covered by their relevant trade press and more than ever this is a key way to keep the dialogue going with the wider industry. As with the organizers, get in touch with the trade media who were planning on covering an event and find out what they’re doing now – some are doing ‘virtual previews’ or running exhibitor marketplaces where you can promote your offer. Where you can, the advice would be to invest in bought (advertising) as well as earned media as this maximizes your coverage and gives you a number of different touch-points and now more than ever, trade press sales teams are keen to add as much value as they can for you.
Basically none of the above is any different than that which we’d be advising clients to do in a ‘normal’ situation – it’s simply the best practice planning and prep that ensures you make the most of your time on the show floor. The benefit of your event being postponed just means that now you may be able to spend more time thinking about what conversations you want to have with prospects, and then start having them before you can finally meet on the show floor.
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LinkedIn: Steve Reeder / Nichola Reeder