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We all know how great the event industry is; but how do we get better? Here are 10 changes we need to see.
I love this business, I’ve been here for every step of the way to watch how we have flourished into the economic powerhouse we are today. But for all our advancements and successes, some things haven’t always changed for the good, and it seems some things haven’t changed at all. So despite my long standing love for it, if I had a magic wand here are 10 things I would change...
The Word ‘Event’
It seems we’re always struggling with the terminology of our industry, and the word event is just not really what we do anymore. I think we create experiences, and I suppose the difference between an event and an experience for me is an event is a one-off moment in time and an experience is a whole campaign that really builds a community of interest around the subject or topic we’re promoting. Of course the event itself is an important part of that, but we as an industry are much more complex and diverse with many more reasons and connections and stakeholders that build out from an idea to just call that an event.
Over the last 8 years I think we’ve really downplayed the amount of money we spend on creative and creativity because we’re always under pressure from a budgets perspective. And because when working with brands and procurement departments, it’s hard to ‘procure’ creative. It’s impossible to commoditize. So we have squashed it, and, indeed, a lot of agencies give away their creative in return for the production delivery of the event. So most clients don’t see the cost of the creative development. And I think that’s a mistake, we’ve got to be firmer around how much creative costs us, what role creative plays in our events, because great ideas change minds. Great ideas change brands. Great ideas change the world. And we have to invest more in our creative output, and we have to make sure clients understand the value of it too.
Lack of Self-Belief
I don’t think events are actually seen as important by some people who do events. In one way events are just a media channel, clients can either communicate through advertising, they can do PR, they can do brand activation, or they can use events as their medium. So we in the industry must keep circulating the truth that events are so important, because it’s that emotional connection between brand and audience. Brands aren’t looking for awareness - everyone knows who ’Coca Cola’ is. What brands are looking for now is a relationship with their customers and most important audiences. So firstly we need to take ourselves more seriously and we need to make sure our clients take us seriously too, because we are the future.
Forgetting that Content is King
The online hashtag ‘#eventprofs’ is an incredible movement that connects like-minded professionals and opens up the conversation, but it has a habit of looking like one big love-in, suggesting that everyone loves events as much as we do. But that’s not entirely true. ‘People’ don’t love events. They don’t sit at home and think ‘gosh I really want to go to an event tonight’ like you would the movie theatre or restaurant. People want to go and attend the event for the content. So whether it’s going to hear your favourite fashion blogger speak, or whether it’s Comicon or Glastonbury or even IT professionals going to TechED or Cisco Live, no-one chooses an event, they choose to pursue content which engages them. And we have to get more serious around developing great stories and great content that brings people into our events.
We don’t really have a standard form of measurement in the events industry and I think it’s a real drawback. If you look at advertising, every agency and every client knows about advertising ratings and audience penetration, and adverts are measured in the same way by every agency so you can get consistency. Even if the brand changes agency there’s an understanding that everything works from the same scale. We don't have that and we’ve never had that. And I think that is the most important thing we need to establish moving forward.
I think we've happened upon social media as a strategy but social media doesn’t acquire audiences. Then again, neither does spam emails to a million inboxes asking people to go to events. I think we have to get smarter around audience acquisition. That starts with content and the creative, it will find the audience it finds, but in order to find it, we have to use a diverse range of media channels. We have to try and encourage a community to group up around our events. Because that’s really what we’re doing, growing communities of interest.
The Commoditization of Production
Linking to the point on creativity, most successful event delivery is in the creative use of production techniques in order to engage the audience. But once procurement entered the fray, production became commoditized and there was less scope for what were called Creative Producers - people who bring the technical and the event to life through clever ideas. People who bring that extra level of engagement. Since the rise of procurement in 2008, there has been less time and less money to be able to make those creative leaps, and that has to change.
Tech for the Sake of Tech
People writing ‘we need the latest technology’ at the end of a brief doesn’t help anyone. We must ask; what is the technology doing? What purpose does it serve? What problem is it solving? Then go off and find the technology that helps you do that. There is amazing technology in the events space and all around us, but what we’re doing is getting distracted with adding bells and whistles which doesn't serve any purpose, which isn’t embedded into the event, which isn't needed by the audience or the brand. To serve a purpose if it has to have a business objective attached to it.
Too Many ‘Leaders’
This is going to seem a little ironic coming as it does from the current President of ILEA UK. We have too many associations, too many small groups representing our industry. The alphabet soup of acronyms, needs to mixed into one minestrone (sorry for the tortured analogy). Even a council of councils would help so that we can coordinate share and lobby all from a shared understanding, it will help us get further faster.
Buzzwords like ‘Disruption’
All great creative ideas should be disruptive. It’s almost tautology to have the word disruption when associated with events, because they should already be. I suppose the trouble with most events is they follow a very safe path, the client gives you a brief, you set up the room, you run the agenda and everyone’s going to tacitly nod their heads and agree. But that isn’t engaging. We as humans are problem-solving beasts. Most events don’t have a problem to solve therefore can’t engage the audience. What we need to do is create a narrative arc that allows for people to participate and solve problems, to share their point of view and share with people outside the room - all of those things are disruptive because they’re not what people expect and that’s how every event should run.
We’ve come a long way in the event industry on our journey from a communication dead end to a seat at the boardroom table. But we still have a way to go to ensure that what we do is seen as brand building, as connecting brand and audiences and creating real behavioral change. These are the 10 things I would change. What about you?