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How Marketers Can Bounce Back from $1 Billion Conference Cancellations

Major events like the Adobe Summit and Salesforce Dreamforce reconfigured their annual conferences due to public health concerns amid the international COVID-19 outbreak.

In March, Adobe announced it was moving its highly anticipated annual gathering Adobe Summit 2020 from Las Vegas to the web due to coronavirus fears – throwing marketers in-person event strategy in flux. But it wasn’t the first conference to take this action. Many marketing and technology companies made the same difficult decision. Google Cloud Next, Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional Summit, SXSW, FacebookF8, Mobile World Congress and, most recently, Dreamforce have all been either postponed, moved online or canceled this year.

Canceled Events: Costly, But come with an Opportunity for Everyone!

In an analysis for ReCode, PredictHQ calculated that the economic cost of these schedule changes has already surpassed $1 billion. These losses include direct costs like airfare, lodging, food and transportation, but don’t even begin to touch on professional depravations. For sponsors, exhibitors and attendees, these conferences are critical for developing skills, keeping up with the latest industry developments, nurturing existing relationships and forming new ones. The missed opportunities around networking, deal qualification and lead generation could be devastating.

However, all is not lost.

If you’re one of the hundreds of ex-conference exhibitors currently wondering what to do with the resources you’ve created for these events, know that there are thousands of ex-attendees who are still interested in consuming your information. Now is the time to adapt, adjust and make lemonade out of lemons. Redirect your event team’s talent and energy and think differently.

Pick up the Phone (or Web Cam)
Attendees don’t go to technology conferences to just passively absorb information. They go to have meaningful conversations with vendors, hear about featured product sets, ask questions and learn about product capabilities in-person, in a hands-on way.

To recreate this experience, you could set up a series of informal calls that will give your clients the chance to ask their pressing questions and have them answered. You could also shift some of your conference budget to travel so you can get on-site with our clients and do real-time solutioning sessions if they’d be interested.

Make your Online Content Engaging
While conference organizers work to move massive amounts of content to an online forum and make sessions available remotely, ex-exhibitors can do the same.

For example, you can develop a series of webinars and/or technology talks and deliver them on a set schedule. The goal with these webinars would be to expose your customers to what they would have seen during the conference and formalize content sharing. This requires thinking very carefully about how to boil content down or split it up to make it digestible and impactful. It also requires digitizing a rich collection of online training materials, videos and resources that help the content come alive.

Network Nearby
A big component of what makes industry events so valuable is the networking—the serendipitous encounters and meetings that lead to partnerships down the road. It’s an intense 3-4 days of people with similar interests all circulating in the same room and connecting. That’s a benefit that’s incredibly difficult to replicate online and with health concerns not available today. To compensate for those lost opportunities, try to focus on attending smaller, regional events throughout the year that provide opportunities to have those organic conversations.

Challenge Your Peers
Recreating your event in a digital forum is a great start, engaging your audience online is a multi-channel effort and, ultimately, we are all held accountable for generating new opportunities. So, challenge event hosts to deliver as much or more than they could in person. Ask for lead guarantees, request direct access to a subset of the audience to solicit questions and spend some of the funds you would have spent in-person to drop something valuable on their doorstep. This is the time to make a pivot and improve our game.

There’s no doubt that the sudden shuffle of industry events throws a serious wrench into many companies’ plans. That said, there are positive aspects of moving the conference online.

Public health, of course, but it also makes the event more accessible to companies that could not afford to send teams across the country for conferences.

My whole career I have made a concerted effort to democratize content, and in-person conferences can be cost-prohibitive. It’s ultimately a good thing for more people to have access to a rich collection of online resources that supports customers and partners. I look forward to seeing how the culture of sharing information, which was always a big part of the experience, unfolds online.

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