Taking Event Marketing Online

  • Categories:

    Industry Trends, Public Relations

  • Date:

    April 16, 2020

Taking Event Marketing Online

Industry Trends, Public Relations

Wimbledon, Coachella, SXSW, the Olympics — almost every major event has been canceled for the foreseeable future. And on an industry level, trade shows, marketing events and brand experiences have gone dark, leaving companies without key elements in their marketing programs.

How does event marketing change in a time of pandemic uncertainty? And, what does it mean for events when all of this is over?

Event marketing often depends most on intangible elements: The connection of in-person networking. The shared experiences of being in a room for the same event at the same time. The sights and sounds of a product launch. The opportunity to touch, feel and interact with a product. While some in the industry become paralyzed by the loss of these opportunities, others are doing what the marketing world does best: pivoting.

Pivoting big and small.

Global Events Make Major Changes

Internationally known Art Basel Hong Kong made an enormous pivot in late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic by becoming a completely online art experience. Normally held in galleries and event spaces, Art Basel blankets a city with events and has a positive impact on the local economy. In Hong Kong, event organizers transitioned to digital rooms where attendees could enter, get pricing and interact with gallery representatives in much the same way they would in person. Even the pre-show VIP event was held online. After some initial technical glitches, the event functioned well in a time of socially distanced interactions, with art buyers from across the world accessing a range of galleries to add to their collections.

In a different part of the world, organizers of North Carolina’s High Point Furniture Market postponed the April event to June, then canceled the spring occurrence altogether. To help bridge the gap until October, a company called Steelyard has created High Point at Home, a web-based presentation platform that allows exhibitors to participate in an online furniture collection roll-out. High Point at Home is exclusively for the interior design audience. While it’s far from the showroom-hopping, nightly cocktail hour Furniture Market that people are accustomed to, the platform will allow interior designers to stay ahead in their work, continuing to specify furniture for client needs and get a jump-start on future projects. And it means that all the effort furniture manufacturers have put into new products will not go to waste; they’ll just go directly online.

Small but Crucial Events Go Digital

So, what about small-scale events, sales team meetings, shareholder events and summits that are crucial to businesses large and small? Companies are overcoming budget restrictions and tight timelines with a range of online options.

Webinars have gained popularity, with a pre-registered audience that engages with content and presenters through a hosting platform. The same rules apply for webinars as they would for in-person events when it comes to format — online polls, attendee questions and comments are welcomed and break up the content, making it more digestible. Virtual events with prerecorded and livestreamed content are also popping up. They are more extensive than webinars and have a similar look and feel to physical events, with themes, downloadable materials and flashy execution that’s part pep rally, part TED Talk.

One obvious benefit of the pivot to online events should make all marketers happy:


Webinars and virtual events require preregistration, which means a guaranteed exchange of information. Interaction with comments and questions during online sessions gives insight into attendee behavior and preferences. And the accessibility of online events means an immediate expanded geography and attendee list, which marketers hope will eventually turn into new sales in territories they may not have been able to connect with previously.

So, what happens to event marketing post-pandemic?

If brands find success with virtual events, many in the marketing industry believe they will never return to in-person events at the same level as in the past. It’s more likely, however, that event marketing will evolve to be a better combination of in-person and virtual components, allowing brands to maximize on actual touch-and-feel brand experiences as well as expanded data collection.

The reality is that people crave face-to-face human interaction. It’s in our DNA. And once it’s safe for people to be together again, they will gather, though perhaps in smaller groups or on a more local scale, and we’ll learn how to be part of in-person shared experiences again.

Explore more articles from Wray Ward.