Face-to-Face Events Are Returning – Why You Shouldn’t Abandon Your Virtual Event Strategy.

Published on March 30, 2021

By Carolyn Clark

In early 2017 I wrote The Power of Digital Events white paper for PCMA. It did not result in the big embrace of hybrid as I hoped it would. However, it seems this testament is more relevant today than it was in 2017.

It’s a long game people.

In 2020 the pandemic left event organizers with no option other than to embrace virtual events. Now, as live face-to-face events return to their event portfolio, organizers should reflect on what they’ve learned, how their audience’s expectations and behaviors have changed and why they need to embrace hybrid extensions. 

PCMA was always the hybrid event trailblazer, driven by the belief and passion of then CEO Deborah Sexton. She had many naysayers that repeatedly told her she would cannibalize her face-to-face meetings, but she continued on and raised the bar each subsequent year. 

As The Power of Digital Events reveals, it was a wise strategy. Data from 2011–2016 proved their hybrid and rebroadcast events brought PCMA 3,933 new prospects and more than $1,000,000 incremental dollars to the organization. Where did the revenue come from? 

  • Participants that were motivated to attend a future face-to-face event.
  • Participants that were motivated to become a new member.
  • These same participants continued to engage and renew their membership.
  • Participants later decided to purchase an online product.

As you consider your event strategy for 2021 and beyond do not discount the power of digital hybrid and virtual events and remember these three lessons I’ve learned:

  1. Some people are never going to attend your event face-to-face – because of costs or inability to travel or they have grown comfortable with virtual – you still want to reach them.
  2. Engagement and Growth should always be your event end goals – and though you may have a banner first face-to-face event due to pent-up demand, don’t let that deter you from investing in a hybrid future. 
  3. Your audience’s engagement expectations will continue to rise as technology advances – make sure your solution providers are keeping you ahead of the curve.

I wrote these white paper conclusions in 2017 and they ring truer today now that event audiences have experienced a solid year of digital virtual events: 

  • Digital has revolutionized the way attendees consume content. It’s converting educational organizations into media companies. It’s changing the delivery of face-to-face events. It’s expanding job choices for Millennials and future generations. At its core is its capacity to reach a global audience with extensive cost savings.
  • Digital empowers organizations to deliver conferences, symposiums, and workshops to a broader audience in tandem with a physical counterpart — enabling organizations with the ability to communicate to their entire global audience from multiple physical locations into one single digital one.
  • Digital continues to expand our social footprint and introduce us to communication methods that connect us with peers we otherwise would not have met to exchange ideas we otherwise would not have shared.
  • Digital is a long-term engagement strategy. Too often, digital events are deployed with the idea of immediate return on investment — a jump in revenue or in membership numbers, for example. PCMA proved it’s not a one-off, but part and parcel of the entire engagement strategy for the organization. 
  • Digital as a strategic tool will grow as more and more associations necessarily shift from a member-only focus to a continuous engagement with both members and non-members. People are time-deprived; they want information and education when it’s convenient for them. Associations need to embrace this expectation, whether their audience is a member or not, and remove the obstacles. 
  • Digital events allowed organizations to spread their educational brand to a much larger, global audience. It’s a big world out there and organizations should be wanting to touch more of it. If associations don’t step up to the plate, they can be sure that someone else will.
  • Digital delivers the ability to measure data that eludes us in a physical setting. It provides us with reporting that can feed benchmark reports that highlight increased learning and retention. Return on Investment is not only proven but raised to levels rarely seen in the past. It continues to drive a level of satisfaction that strengthens its requirement as a core tool for engagement.
  • Digital has been at the forefront of a revolution, driving change in a direction that could only be supported in the advancement of technology and infrastructure. In 2017, digital technology will continue to drive the industry forward, shape new engagement strategies and elevate the impact of business events.