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New Data and Trends Point to Significant Growth Opportunity as the Event Industry Heads into Post-Covid Future

September 15, 2022

“Great Reshuffle” brings new audiences to events and a new set of expectations, too

Dallas, TX — As the events industry returns to in-person, Freeman, the global leader in events, recently analyzed the sentiment and behaviors of current event attendees against the new societal and cultural landscape to help show organizers and exhibitors better plan for the future.

“While many in the industry want to draw comparisons to 2019, looking back really isn’t the best reference point given all the change that has happened,” said Ken Holsinger, SVP Strategy at Freeman. “The choice is to focus on recovery by going back to doing the same things, or grabbing the opportunity for growth by changing approaches because everything is different.”

The insights are based on a compilation of more than two years of industry data and research, including syndicated, primary, and third-party research, and are focused on North American show attendees and show exhibitors.

Impact on attendance

  • Secondary sources show that 47.4 million Americans (or 29% of the entire workforce) quit their jobs last year. And even before that, nearly 30 million Boomers retired and since then, the exodus has accelerated. It’s estimated that 50.3% of people over the age of 55 have now left the workforce with resignations growing month over month.

“This ‘Great Reshuffle’ has not just had a huge impact on the labor market, but on our attendee acquisition efforts as well,” said Holsinger. “WIth these statistics and accounting for those who were laid off or let go, more than 70 million people are impacted.”

  • B2B marketing contact databases decay, on average, at 30% per year in normal times (source: Marketing Sherpa), and Freeman data shows a more than 50% bounce rate of emails in the past year.

Given the enormity of these changes, current event attendance shows the impact.

  • Compared to 2019 numbers, event attendance of professionals and exhibit staff is averaging 64%. This new data comes from a comparison conducted by Freeman of 50 professional and association trade shows in the same 12-month periods pre- and post pandemic.
  • An analysis of data shows registration patterns have not changed significantly other than registration is trending 2 – 3 weeks later.
  • Attendance numbers are only part of the story as verification rates (those who register vs. those who attend) are showing significant decline. Freeman research found that attrition has gone from an average of 20% pre-covid to 50% post-covid and is likely based on consumer expectations of an ability to easily cancel and the generous cancellation policies by airlines and others that allow for it.

“Tracking registration is no longer enough for show organizers,” says Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes, President of mdg, A Freeman Company. “Planning aggressive verification campaigns aimed at those who have registered helps to ensure those registrants engage and become event attendees.”

Expectations of attendees

As the attendees are different, so too are the expectations for events.

When event attendees were asked to rank the importance of event elements, expectations varied based on the in-person or virtual format of the event.

  • For in-person events, exhibits and networking top the list followed by special events, education, and keynotes/general sessions
  • Those attending virtual events, rank education first followed by keynotes/general sessions and then networking, exhibits and special events

(Source: Freeman event research)

“The focus now for in-person events is to make up for lost time,” according to Hardcastle-Geddes. “The attendee’s expectation is really for all the things that fell short during virtual-only meetings. These new audiences want it all – – time shifted, curated, and more personalized content that’s only possible by creating an integrated event strategy.”

Demand for values alignment

The changing values of a younger group of potential attendees shows what they most value, and in turn, prioritize: sustainability, DEI, transparency, health and wellness, and privacy.

“Your values proposition as an organization matters more than ever,” notes Hardcastle-Geddes. “Attendees will likely demand value alignment with the events they support, whether that be reflected in the destination, keynote speakers, panel compositions, catering options or even event scheduling.”

It’s likely only a matter of time before the same expectations millennial (and younger) consumers apply to brands will also be applied to events.

So, the alignment of values is important:

  • 83% of millennials want companies to align with their values
  • 76% want CEOs to speak out on issues they care about
  • 65% say they have boycotted a brand that took the opposing stance on an issue
  • 62% favor products that show off their political and social beliefs

(Source: 5WPR Consumer Culture Report)

 Different measurement and more predictability

As events bounce back from Covid and face headwinds in inflation and supply chain, constrained budgets drive the need to better predict results in order to maximize revenue for show organizers and exhibitors. Performance models based on multiple data sources are being used to predict registration numbers, which inform revenue and innovation decisions.

“These changes are a lot to manage but there is a crystal ball,” said Holsinger. “Data-mining technology can now help us accurately predict registration and revenue outcomes based on spend levels and inbound channels giving show organizers confidence to navigate the new world of events.”

In looking at current industry data and societal trends borne from the Covid era, “the industry has an opportunity to move from measuring quantity to look at quality, from measuring sentiment to also evaluating behavior, and from return on investment to consider return on objective and opportunity,” said Holsinger.

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Contact: Andrea Wood

[email protected]

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