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The Comeback Strategy for Live Events

By Bob Priest-Heck

Recently I uncovered a report I wrote back in December, which now seems like another era. It showed that while Freeman took care to recession-proof our plans, we expected that 2020 was going to be a strong year for our business and for the live events industry. I guess it’s now safe to delete that file. My predictions did not include a global pandemic. For businesses like Freeman, which work in the events, travel, hospitality, and entertainment industries, it’s been crushing.

Everything has changed. That is disheartening in so many ways, and devastating to too many people. But at least one thing hasn’t changed — the fundamental need for people to connect with each other. If anything, social distancing has made it clear that we long to be together.

This tells us that events aren’t dead. When the time is right, events will return stronger than ever. That day, though farther off than we’d like, looks bright.

But when that day comes, events are going to look different. They will have to be in order to stay relevant in a world that will never be the same. Many organizations are rethinking everything, not just marketing strategies but entire business models. Everyone is trying to do the right thing for their employees and audiences, and that means that when we look ahead, “business as usual” is an obsolete concept.

As eager as we are to see 2020 in our rearview mirrors, events won’t return the day the calendar flips to 2021. We’ve been conducting considerable research, and right now it looks like late summer of next year is the earliest we can expect to see the return of in-person events. Would we love for it to happen sooner? Of course. But that gives us a precious gift: time.

We will have time like we’ve never had before — time to plan, time to strategize. Time to test, learn, and test again so that when in-person events return, we are positioned for success. We will have time not to recover, but to completely relaunch.

We will have months of digital events under our belt, and will know what works and what doesn’t in the new post-COVID world. And as we learn more about the emerging needs of organizations, and design ways to support those needs, we will forever redefine what events look like moving forward.

The great football coach Lou Holtz once said, “How you respond to the challenge in the second half will determine what you become after the game.” Our second half is here, and it’s time to put in place our plan to win.

It will take some trial and error, fearlessness, and a whole lot of innovation. We will tackle the challenges ahead with fact-based optimism, using our best design thinking to imagine events as a brand new medium. We’ve already made a solid start, with content, research, and resources — like our insights paper, the Freeman Future Forecast — to help you navigate the way forward. Stay tuned for more news.

As with anything worthwhile, taking the first steps into a new era of event marketing will feel both scary and exciting. The events industry is down, but we are not out. And wait until you see our second-half comeback’s brilliant.

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