The global health crisis has seen huge restrictions placed on in-person gatherings. Events as we know them are not possible at the moment, annual scheduling is no longer possible and long-term planned events have to be postponed or (worst case) cancelled. Here at ProSiebenSat.1 we have risen to the challenge: we have adapted our events programme to meet the latest regulations and developed new formats which offer our audiences something new and exciting. Franziska Böhm, Head of Event Management, gives an overview and outlook of what the future holds for event professionals.
Some events transfer effectively to online
A logical first step is to check whether you can keep to the event date and hold the event online. Particularly events which focus on communicating essential information and inviting some audience interaction such as questions and presentations, for example press conferences, management townhall meetings etc., can be run very easily and efficiently online. The most important thing to remember here is to keep these sessions short and to the point. Also note that an offline event should never be converted 1:1 into an online event.
A great example of a format which worked very successfully online was our first ProSiebenSat.1 virtual pitch day. The main aim of the event, which took place on 22nd and 23rd April, was for ProSiebenSat.1 to find the next exciting new TV format ideas by inviting virtual pitches from production companies. Wolfgang Link, ProSiebenSat.1 Board Member for Entertainment, started proceedings by welcoming the participants via Microsoft Teams Live and giving them an introduction to the process. In 20-minute sessions, 260 companies presented their ideas to the brand bosses and programme managers via Teams. In addition, another 100 companies had the chance to submit their concepts by email. The jury was on site at our ProSiebenSat.1 offices, listening to the pitches together online, but were actually sitting in separate rooms under strict hygiene measures. The event was a great success and development contracts were immediately awarded to more than ten of the pitch formats.
The Screenforce Days, normally one two-day event in Cologne and two one-day events in Vienna and Zurich, is the largest German industry event for TV and moving images. With SCREENFORCE WHAT´S ON, this has now been transferred online into a digital talk format where experts provide information about the insights on advertising, TV, moving images and advertising impact.
For some event formats, the Covid 19 crisis also serves as an accelerator for decisions: for years we have been discussing the topic of online general meetings. Driven by the current prevailing regulations, the legislator very quickly decided that the mandatory annual shareholder meeting could take place virtually this year and this could completely replace an in-person AGM.
Online is not always the answer
It would be a mistake to think we can run all event types online. People have been living under contact restrictions now for two months, going outside less and working in front of a screen all day with little human contact. The truth is, many of us have virtual fatigue.
The character of some event formats simply do not transfer to the online world and at this time it might be prudent for event professionals to simply postpone these events until contact restrictions are lifted. The Top100 Event from ProSiebenSat.1 in Hamburg, for example: every year in July, press representatives, faces of the broadcaster, customers and business partners are invited to this event - the focus is on personal exchange and a "thank you" to important partners. This event of course cannot take place in July in the usual way - and a virtual variant cannot achieve what the core event does. The decision was taken therefore to cancel the event this year.
A new innovative “product” might be more suitable than an online replica event and more appealing to your specific audience. Last year the SevenOne AdFactory organised the live event "#GNTM Experience" which invited fans into the colourful world of Germany’s Next Top Model (GNTM) and offered them the opportunity to enjoy GNTM trend themes such as beauty, fashion and food all in one place. This year, ProSiebenSat.1 has invited GNTM 2020 enthusiasts to take part in a new virtual experience: the "Virtual GNTMX”. With the help of augmented reality, fans can photograph themselves with their favourite candidates as part of the #poseathome challenge and win the chance to attend a virtual personal "meet and greet" with the top ten finalists. With the "Virtual GNTMX” the SevenOne AdFactory offers something completely new and exciting to fans and avoids trying to reproduce last year’s in-person event.
Alternatively, there is the option of adapting to the changing times and developing a completely new event format. That is what organisers of the Seat-Sat.1 Autokino did when they announced a live concert with Tim Bendzko on 15 May where fans could watch the concert via livestream at the Autokino Düsseldorf from the comfort of their cars. In doing this, event organisers (SevenOne AdFactory, StarwatchEntertainment, Seat and Sat.1) were not only able to maintain the excitement of a live event, but cars also helpfully provide virus protection in times of social distancing.
If you don’t wish to postpone your event and you are legally allowed to hold it, you might follow the example of the DMEXCO this year and go ahead. While other trade fairs such as the NOAH conference and the Digital Lifestyle Day (DLD) have scaled back their offer by moving online this year, the DMEXCO (which last year attracted over 40,000 visitors) is taking advantage of the latest state ruling from Nordrhein-Westfalen which says trade fairs and congresses can be held again from 30 May 2020 under certain conditions. To assist this, many service providers from the event sector have been highly innovative here and have reacted quickly to developments. The website states that measures will include “appropriate hygiene, distance between people involved …and consistent guidelines for the processes at the entrances, in the halls and on the stands.”
Will the events world go back to normal after the crisis is over?
No-one believes the in-person event will ever die: personal interaction and networking hold so many benefits and the thrill of common experience simply has too much to offer. However, the events world is also unlikely ever return to what it was in the “before time”. The health crisis has dramatically sped up a trend which the increased focus on sustainability and digitalisation had already started. It has really pushed us in the industry to see what works online and what does not. Therefore expect to see online, offline and hybrid events in the future and hopefully – given what we have learned during this crisis – many more exciting new formats.