Nearly a year and a half has passed since the pandemic irreparably altered the world of experiential marketing. Seemingly overnight, event professionals were required to learn brand-new skills and disciplines, from high-caliber virtual event production to influencer marketing to keeping up with COVID-19 safety protocols that vary by region, and even venue. To be blunt: It’s been rough out there.
But in the midst of this tumultuous time a silver lining has surfaced: Event marketers have come out the other side with a more diverse skillset, a more sophisticated understanding of the customer journey and overall marketing mix and the ever-important ability to pivot on a dime.
So as the industry begins to emerge from COVID’s fog, event marketers looking to cultivate career growth should be keeping their established skills sharp while embracing the new set of tools they’ve added to their arsenal. Ready to flex those post-pandemic marketing chops? Here are five ways industry experts say the experiential community can plan for—and land—the event marketing jobs of the future.
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Embrace Integrated Marketing
When in-person events slowed to a grinding halt, event marketers had to tap other aspects of the marketing mix to achieve business goals. That meant collaborating with social media strategists, influencer experts, digital teams and others. As a result, having an end-to-end understanding of the marketing cycle became critical—and will continue to be moving forward.
“We need to understand the whole marketing mix and the customer journey, and then how events fit into that or supplement it,” says Nicola Kastner, vp-global head of event marketing strategy at SAP. “So rather than an event being the random three-day moment in time that’s off-message to everything else that’s in market, it should continue the same message, and the content and assets that are used in the event can be repurposed and reused in other campaign materials.”
Flex Your Broadcast Know-how
In some instances, a hybrid event model will replace the in-person approach of the past—though what constitutes “hybrid” is up for debate. And virtual events are poised to stick around, in some cases, becoming the preferred event format for meeting specific business objectives.
These digital experiences require a proficiency in high-end content production that might be new to many traditional event marketers. “To be really good at building digital events, you need to have a broadcast skillset,” Kastner says, from creating content segments to scripting to production.
Dial Up Your Storytelling Skills
Hybrid doesn’t come cheap. Virtual events coupled with in-person activations will increase the overall spend of experiential marketing, requiring event departments to request a larger slice of the budget. This will necessitate that event professionals make a convincing case to higher-ups when pitching big ideas and seeking buy-in. The key to success: a story that supports a clearly-delineated objective. “To convince senior leaders, know what the objectives are for the program you’re building, because then you can build your story against those objectives,” says Keryn Sethi, experiential marketing manager at Nestlé. “You can then get buy-in from your cross-functional partners that help build against that story.”
It’s also important to craft a narrative around how the event contributes to defined marketing goals. “Craft your story, your strategy, and clearly articulate how experiential fits into the larger model,” says Anna Karefa-Johnson, director of events & experiential marketing at Overtime. Her pro tip: Provide visuals and audio, and build an overall vibe when pitching an idea, so that the look and feel of the proposed experience is part of the conversation from the outset.
Hone Your ROI Expertise
One advantage of virtual events is the amount of data that’s produced, analyzed and ultimately attributed to an event’s success. “In the pivot to virtual, it’s been a lot easier,” says Kevin Schwoer, senior manager-events at Verizon Media. “You get people’s information when they sign onto your platform. You have touchpoints with communication and email, and you can track your ROI in that way.”
It behooves event marketers to scrutinize event portfolios and determine whether a virtual event, an in-person event or some combination of the two will deliver the greatest ROI. At Verizon Media, customer advisory boards are typically expensive affairs featuring several days of programming. But a more curated, intimate virtual conversation could lead to “better innovation, better customer experience and more ROI on our client engagement,” Schwoer says. “There’s definitely going to be certain [virtual] events that have had that ROI and that scale that we can’t match in person.”
Smart, next-gen event marketers will be able to assess the options and best determine which format and strategy will generate the strongest ROI.
Become a Culture Whisperer
To survive a year like 2020, marketers had to adapt to cultural changes brought on by COVID, the fight against racial injustice, a heated political environment and other factors, all of which seemed to shift daily. That ability to quickly adapt to unforeseen circumstances is now a critical skill for marketers, particularly in the world of experiential.
“The fluidity of what we have been through and will continue to be through, as we learned from the pandemic, has made us need to be nimbler and more flexible,” Kastner says. And considering the new reality of compressed planning cycles, “that flexibility becomes so much more important.”
Staying attuned to cultural shifts will not only help mitigate potential disasters, it will also help event marketers stay on the pulse of innovation. “You have the opportunity to flex into different things,” Sethi says. A few examples: Tap new technologies to help drive the amplification of your events or become a trailblazer of a new hybrid approach. “Be inquisitive and keep yourself on the pulse of culture,” she says. “Then you’ll be able to connect where you’re bringing value.”