Marketing events: how has Covid-19 changed the landscape?

Deborah Laird

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Marketing events: how has Covid-19 changed the landscape?

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Covid-19 has rewritten the rules for all of us. Since the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe, we’ve had to rethink every aspect of our society. The realm of marketing has been no exception. As we outlined earlier this year, businesses are having to rethink their strategies and messaging in order to meet the shifting expectations and experiences of their customer base. This goes further when it comes to marketing events. Simply put, holding them in their current form has been impossible this year. Many have opted to switch to a virtual environment.Others have cancelled or postponed altogether.

What are the options open to businesses who miss the opportunities presented by events, and how should they approach them?

Don’t count your chickens

As I write this, we have had a succession of updates regarding a Covid-19 vaccine. The preliminary trials have all been excellent, with some showing an efficacy of 90% (far above the usual 70% we would expect from other vaccines). Many have heralded this as a “return to normal” and an end to much of the anxiety and disruption that’s greeted us in 2020.

Is this cause for optimism? Absolutely. Thus far it certainly seems that 2021 will be a brighter year in many ways. However, it may not be wise to start booking large public events just yet.

According to a poll of the public by Ipsos MORI, more than two-thirds of Britons would feel uncomfortable going to a public event after lock down. This poll was released in May and did not account for a vaccine (not to mention the ongoing fatigue and desperation for a life outside the home) so the current figure is likely much lower. However, the fact remains that a significant number of people will likely avoid large-scale events for some time, even in light of a new vaccine. If people are wary of attending concerts or sporting events, why would they risk their health for a work event?

Next is the issue of timings. Currently, the UK hopes to roll out the vaccine ASAP and have it widespread in the first half of 2021. The smoothness of this process is far from guaranteed, however. What about slow down in the supply chain? Issues with distribution? It’s unlikely that even the majority of people will be able to mingle safely for several months yet at least. Don’t mistake this for pessimism – the news is undoubtedly worth celebrating. It’s just worth noting that booking events now is still a risk. Even with the roll-out of a vaccine, people will still prioritise their safety and may not wish to unnecessarily expose themselves at a trade event.

There is one final factor – will people even want to go to your event? With so many having transitioned successfully to an online format and more people discovering that they prefer working from home, we should see online events for what they actually are:another potential opportunity for you to use, not just a pale imitation of the“real thing”.

Which brings us on to the most important question of all…

What do you hope to achieve with your event?

We touched on this in January in a separate blog. In hindsight, that blog didn’t come out at an ideal time, but the arguments still stand. Holding or attending an event just for the sake of it requires a great deal of time, labour and resources that – if you have not defined clear goals for what you want to achieve – will only deliver underwhelming returns.

Each event must have a point, both for your business and the attendees. If the previous main benefit of your event was a chance to catch up and network with other industry figures, this will be more difficult at the moment – though not impossible. In fact, the virtual option might grant you more leverage and attention than before.

Let’s say, for example, that you usually have a stand at a regular industry event. They may or may not have plans, but let’s assume that event has been postponed indefinitely. Perhaps you could create your own miniature event online to make up for this?

The framework could be something like this: a Zoom event that has an hour or two of talks and/or seminars hosted by industry experts within your business. These could also incorporate presentations or Q&A sessions as you see fit. Afterwards, the social element can be preserved too, albeit in a different form. Zoom, for instance,allows creation of several video chat rooms under different topics, letting people meet and chat in an informal way from the comfort of their own home.

Such events don’t have to be particularly grandiose or marketed as such. Webinars were already a staple offering for many businesses before the pandemic, offering as they do a chance for a relatively cost-effective and targeted opportunity for digital engagement. This requires much the same framework as the above but at a smaller scale. Pick an area in which your business can offer insight and craft a webinar on that topic. The subject can be niche – remember, making valuable connections is more important than filling the ranks.

Events like these are not just a stop gap in lieu of something grander, but often a lifeline for many industry figures during these times. Creating a memorable and useful event during Covid-19 isn’t impossible. In fact, it might be much more straightforward than you think.

Don’t forget your messaging

The new era of social-distancing and increased isolation has required advertising and marketing collateral that reflects the new situation and, where handled appropriately and sensitively,has indicated brands that are more resilient and flexible (and thus worth supporting) compared to competitors who may have made a few perfunctory tweaks to their existing campaigns, if that.

Even as restrictions alleviate, be mindful of what people have experienced. Rushing to host new events can project an uncaring attitude. Even if circumstances do permit a physical event at some point in the next year, take steps to reassure your customers what measures or precautions you are putting in place. A brand that can’t be trusted to take its own customer safety seriously will not be trusted for much else either.


In summary, 2021 is set to be a more optimistic year all-round. But we should not presume a sudden lurch back into“normalcy” overnight. Take time to set out what you hope to achieve with any event and then work out what strategy best suits your business. View the recent restrictions as an opportunity for innovation – what kind of event can I offer in the Covid-19 era (and beyond) that will benefit my business and deliver value for our customers?

We at RDP Marketing wish you well during this difficult time. If you would like to discuss any of the above at no obligation from your end, please get in touch.

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