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Examining the Return to Live Events

It’s January 2021 and there are so many questions regarding the event industry.

When will live events come back? When live events happen this year, how will attendance compare to pre-COVID? How will the event experience be affected by health and safety concerns? Is a live engagement the best spend of my marketing budget?

Well, here’s two things we do know. These questions will continue to be asked throughout the year. And there is no easy answer. However, at EP, our commitment to partnership includes helping our clients through this decision process.

Every day there are new stories or updates from the event world. In recent weeks, Natural Products Expo West postponed their dates to May 2021 in order to increase the chances of a successful live event. Major League Baseball laid out safety guidelines for welcoming back fans to stadiums, not just for regular season games, but as early as Spring Training. And events such as the Minnesota State Fair, the nation’s second largest State Fair, are “full steam” ahead in their plans to recover from the devastating economic losses of the 2020 cancellations.

So, how do you start the decision making process? Here are a few of the determining factors when it comes to 2021 planning:

Timelines Depending where you were in the event world pre-COVID, your timeline may be flexible or it may limit your options. If you have the infrastructure ready to go, you can afford to wait until events make their final decisions for the year. If going back to trade shows this year means creating a new exhibit, you may need a longer lead time. If your company was affected financially by the pandemic, you may also be limited with not just budget restrictions, but staffing. Smaller agencies with some flexibility may be just what you need at that point; they will have the ability and mindset to not only create your event strategy, but provide you with the strategic thinking and implementation support that you need.

Attendance Expectations are that by mid-summer, outdoor events will be making a recovery, vaccinations will be more prevalent and consumers are hopeful to be able to attend these events. Therefore, if you need to reach the consumer directly, your options will begin to open up. Among the considerations for safely returning to live outdoor events could be pop-ups with controlled access, mobile tours for smaller, more exclusive audiences or even the drive-in events that gained popularity in the summer and fall of 2020.

Indoor events, such as trade shows are a little different. With some companies committed to not opening their workplaces until fall of 2021, those groups also have travel restrictions in place. This could mean your audience is unable to attend in person.

With that in mind, there needs to be a cost analysis. Can you reach enough of your audience with a live strategy to make it worth the budget investment? The other options of course include virtual and digital solutions or hybrid events where you attend in person, but have ways to digitally amplify the experience to reach more people.

Restrictions Any live event activations will have multiple layers of guidelines to follow. Obviously, city and state restrictions will prevail when it comes to permission, event sizes, capacity and mask requirement. Additionally, there will be venue guidelines, which could be more restrictive and then each company, whether participant or attendee, will be governed by their rules. Most restrictions will be commonplace and have already come to be seen as the norm as people return slowly to public venues, but some may affect your strategic business goals. Let’s say, you have a new beverage product that is not sold in individual servings. In 2019, you would have poured that beverage, but in 2021, some areas will have sampling guidelines that may prohibit that. There are always solutions to these challenges, but it needs to be acknowledged and addressed and not assumed that it will be back to business as usual.

So, where does this leave us as we navigate the early months of 2021?

According to the findings of a GES survey, 88% of the respondents (from associate level up to C-level) are open to attending trade shows. Additionally, i-Meet, a global community of event professionals, reports this month that 85% of their responding event planners have a future event booked and 90% of the planners expect to resume face to face events in 2021.

EP does understand the decision making process and can assist in all aspects whether it is a comprehensive plan to return to events or an alternative solution to reach your audience with virtual solutions. We are monitoring the evolution of best practices and new ideas and we do this to be the best partners for our clients. For our Back to Live guide or to schedule a conversation with our team, please e-mail


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