Events > Forward — Why You Need an Event Technology Strategy
Event technology has been a hot topic with event planners for years and the options not always easy to navigate. Hear why, especially now, you need to develop an event technology strategy for all your events. In this interview, our host, Jeff Naue, Special Projects Marketing Lead, discusses with Missy Peterson the role that event technology strategy plays in the design, planning, and production of in-person, virtual, and hybrid events.
Missy is the Sr. Director of Event Technology Strategy for M&IW. This role was created in quick response to the pandemic and the need to shift client events from in-person to virtual. In her position, Missy provides consulting, guidance, and training on both virtual and hybrid strategies.
Tune in to our interview with Missy Peterson to learn what you need to consider with your event technology strategy as your move your events forward.
To stay up-to-date on M&IW’s efforts on safety initiatives and protocols for returning to in-person events, be sure to turn into our Events > Forward Podcast Series. In each episode, we interview subject matter experts on relevant and timely topics. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Hello everyone and thank you for joining us. As we ready our organizations for the return of in-person events, many will be in a hybrid environment. We talked with Jessica Menzer a few weeks back on what it takes to build a powerhouse hybrid events team. If you missed that episode, go back and take a listen. She shared how events of the future will be more dynamic and have blended audiences with dynamic content. Today, we are going to continue that conversation around hybrid events and I have invited Missy Peterson to the show. Missy Peterson is the Sr. Director of Event Technology Strategy for M&IW.
Welcome to the show Missy. Before we get started, let’s give the audience some background on what exactly is Event Technology Strategy?
Wonderful to be on the show. Yes! M&IW is a global event management and strategy firm – but we’ve always had a strong focus on event technology and its role in supporting our client’s goals and objectives. Even before the pandemic, it was a daunting task for our clients to select the right technology for their events when you looked at registration platforms, mobile apps, QR codes, beacons, and more.
And, well after the pandemic, it accelerated and amplified! So, our event technology team and digital producers did the heavy lift. They vetted hundreds of platforms – building, testing, and refining – so we can make the best recommendations to our clients. In the past year, our team managed thousands of virtual events for our clients. And, now we are supporting our clients in returning to in-person events as well as hybrid formats.
Great, tell us more about your role and what you’ve been working on this past year.
Even though the meeting industry was thrown into a tailspin that did not stop M&IW from staying ahead of the curve. This is part of our nature and has evident through 9-11, GDPR, Pharma Code – you name it. M&IW embraces the evolution of our industry and the change that comes along with it. From the early weeks of the unknown, our team did all we could to prepare for the new technology and production needs of virtual events.
As we continued to evolve with the new landscape; we also started to prepare for what going back in-person would look like. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to manage the onsite staffing and logistics of 20 weeks of new hire training during the pandemic. We were able to put into action our safety protocols, and the necessary steps to keep attendees and staff safe and healthy.
In March, we hosted our first-ever client hybrid event, the M&IW Events Reimagined Forum which included 30 clients in Chicago and another 250 virtual attendees. A large cross-functional team was tasked with developing our hybrid event strategies. And an important part of that exercise, was to put ourselves in the seat of our customers by testing, producing, and refining our hybrid event playbook as well as showcase a real-life hybrid experience.
Behind the scenes – we have been working diligently on discovery documents, workbooks, templates, and checklists to support and guide our account teams and event managers on the How’s, What’s and Why’s of Hybrid.
This has been an evolution of skills from our seasoned, solid team of in-person event planners to our expertise in the virtual space to now combining those two worlds – along with the added elements of marketing, content development and attendee engagement to execute hybrid events. It is important for our clients to be able to trust us on this next level of planning their events.
Why are clients interested or considering hybrid formats?
Hybrid provides a unique opportunity for inclusion. Once the commitment is made to invest in a hybrid model, to add more attendees on the virtual side does not have the same budgetary or logistic limitations of add in-person attendees. Think of it as an opportunity to scale and to meet the needs of your audience. We are still facing a changing landscape of travel restrictions, CDC or local guidelines on capacity and individual’s comfort to attend in person. This is your safety net to allow all of you attendees to participate. It also shows a stronger commitment to your customers/attendees than narrowing to only an in-person.
If you are having conversations about the uncertainty of hybrid, and if it is a fit for your client, the most important place to start is with the goals and objectives of the meeting. Does hybrid meet the needs of this event? Or better yet, HOW can a Hybrid event meet the needs of this event.
Many seasoned meeting owners just want to go back to what they know. However, like the evolution of virtual events, a hybrid event is not just adding on technology. Just as a virtual meeting is more than logging onto Zoom or WebEx. Taking time with your clients or meeting stakeholder to understand the goals and objectives of the meeting, the agenda, how the content will be delivered, and identifying how your attendees will engage throughout the event will begin to ease the minds of your clients.
How do you even begin to budget for a hybrid event? What do you advise your clients?
There is an inside joke of meeting managers to reply to the event budget question – How much will this cost? And the answer is – How long is a piece of string? Meaning the budget can really end anywhere you want!
However – I don’t want to mislead anyone that you can successfully host a Hybrid Event that engages both audiences on a shoestring or very tight budget. Our team has always been cost-conscious, creative, and collaborative with our clients when it comes to event budgeting. But, a hybrid event adds another layer of complexity and costs.
A good rule of thumb from our experience is to take your in-person budget and increase it by 50% to accommodate this 2 in 1 experience. Because this is truly two (2) events in one experience.
When we think back and talked about “hybrid events”, they weren’t really hybrid, but more of a livestream for a virtual audience. There was very little engagement or interaction, or much thought given to that virtual audience experience.
So, you can’t make comparisons to the past. In this new environment, much of the budget will be dedicated to AV/Production and Staffing – due to the 2 events in one experience.
Let’s switch and talk about staffing. What needs to be considered to cover both roles of on-site staffing and virtual staff.
As we discussed with the budget, there is added expense for staffing. Hybrid events require dedicated teams to focus on the content and experience of that audience (virtual/in-person). For the in-person event, you will have familiar staffing roles such as Food & Beverage lead, Transportation, Registration, and Housing. Then your AV/Production team will take on an elevated role managing both the in-person content and the delivery of the virtual content.
Plus, add on additional lead staff to manage the virtual attendees – a Virtual Emcee, tech staff on the virtual event platform to manage chat, push notifications, tech support. The key is defining the roles yet working as a cohesive team – more than ever the AV/Production, Event Technology (mobile app/digital venue), and the Logistic Planning staff need to be in sync.
The upside, as we mentioned before, is the ability to reach a wider audience. And, from a strategy standpoint, this allows for a lot of play to elevate your events with multiple experiences.
We can’t have this conversation and not talk about technology glitches. How do you ease the concerns of your clients?
Planners who say they don’t like virtual meetings because when planning an in-person; they have control over everything are fibbers. In-person events present even the most seasoned meeting planners with challenges and spur of the moment reasons for Plan B. I think where the virtual scary-ness comes in is the vulnerability of these tech issues happening live and in real time.
The same steps to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ as we did with in-person find their way into virtual and hybrid planning. Needing a weather contingency plan for an outdoor reception is no different than having a backup recording of your keynote speaker or redundancy of tech support to switch to another server or technician if something goes down.
What about event marketing considerations or differences with a hybrid event?
We are seeing Marketing, Branding and Content development have a new seat at the table even for internal, corporate (or event Pharma) meetings. Our event marketing and creative services team has been very busy with the pivot to virtual and now hybrid!
Hybrid is built on taking attendees on a journey and telling a story through visuals, presentations, and technology. Like EventTech, we are seeing so many advancements in the world of MarTech.
A strong communications plan that incorporates pre-event emails, instructional and tutorials, teasers, and promos, as well as details on the event, need to be developed per audience (virtual/in-person) as well as attendee types such as Staff, Customer, and Exhibitor. You need to customize messaging that is concise, and visually pleasing needs to be just as important as picking your menus or venues.
In closing, do you believe hybrid events are part of our future event landscape?
The pandemic was the accelerator to Hybrid Events. Many people are wanting to just go back to in-person, but the reality is that we now have additional considerations such as: International Colleagues who with travel bans, Companies navigating and determining their risk of bringing people together – which is introducing the need for new corporate travel policies, day-to-day changes to the CDC and local guidelines as numbers continue to be influx (keep in mind we can meet safely and have been preparing since the pandemic hit to return to in-person events) and also an individual comfort level of travelling and how a company is providing an alternative to travelling and large gatherings. Client and attendee feelings are as diverse as local and state opinions on in-person and public safety.
And, yes! I believe that we continue to move events forward with new experiences, innovations, and creativity. There are times when virtual makes total sense. There are times when all in-person is the best option. And, I believe that best-in-class companies and conference organizers will leverage hybrid experiences in some form or fashion. It might not be immediate, but I do believe that hybrid experiences are here to stay.
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