Last week, I was at PCMA Convening Leaders, a gathering of 5300 event professionals. I spoke to a lot of industry leaders, attended sessions and experienced the event. My conclusion: only eventprofs willing to commit will succeed in 2020.
In late November, we launched what remains one of the most successful event trends reports ever released. The theme this year is Game On!, meaning that, without a full-blown, all-in type of commitment, events will fail this year.
If you want to be sustainable, paper straws alone won’t make it.
If you want to design an experience, special effects and a loud band won’t cut it.
After talking to dozens of industry leaders that control events for millions of people, the consensus is that commitment will be the key to success in 2020.
Read on to see how we got there.
2020: The Year of Commitment
Attending industry events always gives you a snapshot of what we are doing as opposed to what we are saying. That’s why I was at PCMA 2020.
Commitment to Change San Francisco
Only a few months ago, the perimeter around the convention center was scary. I am used to rough neighborhoods, but I felt genuinely unsafe around there – and I wasn’t the only one.
This time, I found myself in a very safe San Francisco. I am not sure what they did, but the city looked great and totally safe.
That combined with an incredibly easy commute to the airport and to key entertainment areas such as Pier 39, where the welcome party was held, amazed me. It showed a clear commitment to change a negative narrative.
Commitment to Sustainability
The meatless lunch sponsored by IMEX was definitely a positive highlight. What a fantastic wave of disapproval the event received for embarking on such a venture. Well, this is exactly what an event like this should do to push the boundaries: taking attendees out of their comfort zone to really make them think.
You could hear many, many attendees saying they were not happy (maybe they did not realize the media was right behind them listening). What a beautiful outcome. I am not being sarcastic. I will remember this lunch forever – more than any beef fest.
Could you improve on it? Perhaps. But it got me thinking – and more importantly, it actually took a significant step in considerably reducing the event’s CO2 emissions. Not in theory, in practice.
Commitment to Non-Alcohol: Still Not there
The unbelievably cool opening party left me feeling a little bit out of tune.
What a fantastic night taking you through a journey of San Francisco’s neighbourhoods. But I don’t drink at events, and I was surrounded by wine country booths dispensing amazing wine. I could only drink cola or sparkling water, and I can assure you it wasn’t as fun.
Inclusive networking seems to be still very far off at industry events. Is it just me?
I put myself in the planner’s shoes. What would you do? People want to party – how do you solve the issue?
Commitment to Risk
We need bold moves, whether it’s virtual audiences (800 followed the event online) or vegan lunches. We need to explore how decisions from suppliers and events show their commitment to the cause. Business as usual is not going to cut it. Business as usual is not sustainable.
I talked to PCMA President and CEO Sherrif Karamat about the event and the future of PCMA. Other than the usual press talk - the incredible success of the event, the new partnerships with Abu Dhabi and CEMA - I loved what he shared on risk.
I spent two days interviewing people, and the result is three main areas of commitment that struck me as the most significant for those planning events in 2020: experience, security and community.
A Commitment to Cocreated Experience Design
Experience is not something that you try to emulate. It’s part of your design. It’s part of your culture. One of the most valuable things a destination or a venue can offer is their support in incorporating their uniqueness and culture into that experience, and that extends to professional services and expertise.
We had the opportunity to talk to Tina Baitan-Jones, the Marketing Strategy Manager at Disney Meetings & Events at Walt Disney World, and she gave me prime access to what the undisputed leaders of theme park experiences and storytelling have to say on the topic.
It’s always nice to have an expert validate our research.
With a huge park, themed environments, and all Disney’s set design resources at a planner’s disposal, you might not expect that service is at the core of what sets Disney apart.
Disney’s training offers another value proposition for business events, as they extend their business knowledge to visiting organizations through the Disney Institute in a number of formats. “Whether it's a keynote or a team building activity or some type of experience with art, we've been able to take that knowledge and share it with our clients.”
Adding value through the cocreation of content is a compelling trend. Venue and destination partners can create a context in which planners can really leverage a destination’s unique resources to create the best event experience.
A master of context is the German Convention Bureau. They are working on context like no other, whether it’s by defining what the meeting room of the future is, connecting events to topically relevant locations and experts, or making sustainability a legal necessity rather than an option. We sat down with the Bureau’s Managing Director, Matthias Schultze, to learn more.
The German Convention Bureau acts as a hub to connect planners with the appropriate local expertise for whatever the current conference is about. By collating all the resources and providing consultative services, they “help the customer or the meeting planner to find the right environment.”
The experience commitment was particularly reinforced by all the activations at the show. Giving out cotton candy lost the game to those activations that actually provided value, what I like to call functional sponsorship.
Two examples stood out:
The Steelcase Work Lounge. Based on research from previous PCMA events, Steelcase created a functional work lounge where I pretty much spent the whole day doing interviews, as press rooms were far, hard to find and not equipped.
By the end of the event, it didn’t matter who Steelcase was. I became best event friends with their sales manager. I could have given them my car keys if they asked.
Plugs, coffee, private meeting rooms. Shut up and take my money. Every event should have one of these.
Functional sponsorship is the most powerful tactic to seriously activate attendees.
— Julius Solaris (@tojulius) January 6, 2020
Locketgo. I also loved the Tourism Montreal activation with Locketgo, a bookable storage locker that also contains a phone charger. So cool, and a tremendous lead generation opportunity as you need to sign up online.
We sat down with Emmanuelle Legault, Tourism Montreal’s Vice President of Marketing and Strategy, to find out more. I was happy to discover that this was a startup incubated by a joint initiative launched by L'Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and the city of Montreal called MT Lab, which supports and encourages startups to create more tourism-oriented products. In their Innovation Quarter, they gave birth to C2 among other cool things.
That said, the next startup they’re working with intends to use Google-powered artificial intelligence to offer travelers voice-powered guidance and itineraries as they walk around the city.
Come and check out the @locketgo lockers at @pcmahq? #pcmacl One of the many reasons why Montréal makes meetings better, guaranteed according to the #MTLSuccessPledge. Want to know more? Read about it here: https://t.co/Ao68NPDPHx #Montreal #eventprofs pic.twitter.com/d8FuGjuljc
— Business and Sports Events Montréal (@MeetMontreal) January 6, 2020
On my way back to Las Vegas, as I was boarding my flight, Iran launched a missile strike at two US bases in Iraq. I felt very unsafe. It is reassuring though to know that some key leaders from the industry are taking security very seriously.
Just a few hours earlier, I asked Mubarak Hamad Al Shamisi, the Director of Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau, how he feels about the instability in the Middle East and its effect on the event industry in the region.
As much as some destinations are taking the game seriously, the lack of standards and compliance is scary. This perspective was reinforced by the wise words of Tony Lorenz, ex-CEO of PRA Business Events and board member of PCMA and the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, who has recently founded Headsail, LLC.
Despite some who take the threat seriously and set the industry best practices, Lorenz believes the general approach reflects a pretty low bar for security preparedness and responsiveness in the event of tragedy. “There's work for the industry to do in that regard. This is one that really keeps me up at night as an industry professional.”
For Lorenz, the issue is consistency. “Some do a wonderful job, some do zero job and some do a middling job.” The first thing planners across the board can address is communication. “It's remarkable how many events out there would have to go through a number of gyrations to notify everybody if disaster strikes.”
I found it remarkable that he was able to frame technology adoption and, by implication, the event’s wifi as a security element. Not a lot of people in the industry are willing to own this.
I spent time talking to many destinations, and a common theme echoed throughout the conversations: as much as a destination can offer an event, events give a lot to the destinations as well. It’s a cyclical, mutually beneficial process.
A major point of disappointment for me at previous events was how destination marketing always has to revolve around stereotypes. Italians like pizza. Bavarians like beer. With more investments in services that add real experiential value, are things changing?
They are, but slowly, according to ICCA President James Rees.
But Rees is also conscious of a shift in what planners care about. Maybe those emotional triggers are effective for visitors and business travelers, but for those of us who steep ourselves in events all day, every day, that novelty wears off. The fact is that you could show me the incredible food scene of a specific place, but I couldn’t care less. I’m more drawn by some of the initiatives the most forward thinking destinations are embarking on.
Making your city’s resources available for event experience cocreation is an excellent way for a destination to engender trust and foster a long working relationship. Another is to encourage a relationship between the event and the communities within a destination.
Junior Tauvaa, Senior Vice President of Sales and Services at Visit Anaheim, discussed how Anaheim puts community at the center of their initiatives – a strong and bold leadership direction for a touristic destination.
As event professionals, our marketing focus is traditionally exclusive to the attendees. How do we attract more attendees? How do we swell our numbers and make sure everyone gets a good ROI?
Tauvaa reminded me that, to truly foster opportunities to cocreate the experience, the destination’s population has to be on board as well. The trouble is that “in most destinations, whether you're in San Francisco or even New York or Barcelona for that matter, there is an anti-tourism sentiment from the locals.”
Visit Anaheim’s approach is to change the conversation, focusing instead on less abstract, more tangible benefits to their communities.
Improving the lives within a given community is going to have a favorable effect on events within that community, and Tourism Montreal gets it better than most.
Legault blew my mind talking about Tourism Montreal’s approach to local communities, discussing a correlation between investment in the local community that then attracts visitors. For Legault, a destination’s role in offering a positive experience to business travellers starts with investing in the city infrastructure itself to ameliorate the lives of its residents.
The more local governments spend for the benefit of locals, the better the experience for attendees.
And Montreal isn’t the only city where attendees can enjoy the city’s transportation initiatives. Desiree Everett, VP of Convention Sales at Travel Portland, shed some light on their incredible public network that makes the city so accessible, and how they use it to add value for attendees.
Another great example was the commitment to support local agriculture in West Palm Beach. Kelly Cavers, Senior Vice President Group Sales at Discover The Palm Beaches shared how their partners in local agriculture support community engagement and bring the unique qualities and industries of the area to bear on their event appeal.
West Palm Beach's agricultural business community is another asset to organizations and government institutions that want to leverage its experience and innovation for their own local projects.
One of the largest gatherings of event professionals just ended, reinforcing a vision of commitment for 2020. Commitment in designing better experiences, making events more secure and including community in the equation.
A ton of inspiration from many leaders convening in the same place and confirming the challenges but most of all the opportunities of face to face in 2020