These dynamics are forcing event marketers to improve conference content to lure increasingly skeptical attendees. Organizers have had two years to focus on how to add value, and they’re now focusing on topics such as sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion as marketers look to gain ideas and direction from conferences.
Sharon Harris, the new senior VP of marketing, digital commerce at Ascential, an analytics company that owns the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, said the quality of the content, along with the credibility, diversity and representation of the speakers, has been elevated this year and that programming is less repetitive than it had been in the past.
“We’ve all experienced a million virtual events in varying degrees of quality and effectiveness so we’ve all said, ‘If we’re going to invest the time to get on a plane and spend time away from our family, we really need it to be a meaningful and impactful experience,’” she said.
Tita-Reid made the decision to go to Cannes just days ago, citing the ability to customize her agenda in a way that helps advance Logitech’s business objectives. She said it was her responsibility to “optimize” the investment.
Nadja Bellan-White, global chief marketing officer at Vice Media Group, said she plans to participate in “fewer, more impactful industry events and conferences,” as she searches out a long-term commercial impact from her travel strategy and ensures her attendance yields a “customer return on investment.”
The new breed of hybrid events that offer both in-person and virtual components is attracting CMOs who want to participate, but simply don’t have the time. For example, the Association of National Advertisers now offers its annual Masters of Marketing multi-day conference for live-streamed viewing, following its success last year, and plans to continue to offer a virtual conference option long-term. Duke Fanelli, group executive VP and CMO for the ANA, said the organization is seeing “solid increases” in in-person attendance, though numbers are not what they were pre-pandemic, as well as a “healthy” virtual attendance.
Greg Revelle, CMO at Kohl’s, attended Masters of Marketing in person last fall, but only because he was a presenter on stage, he said. Now, he expects that moving forward, he will be attending more events than ever but fewer in person as he takes advantage of virtual options. He does not plan to attend Cannes, though that is not historically an event that Kohl’s executives have traveled to.
“The biggest thing is the availability,” Revelle said, noting that going to a conference pre-pandemic meant losing days on either side for travel. “For me, it’s more about the productivity and being able to attend these events without having to invest the time. There are certainly cost advantages as well but the bigger thing is about time and being able to get everything done,” he said.
While watching conferences virtually is not the same as networking and seeing colleagues in person, it still is helpful to consider it as an option, Tita-Reid said.