Producing successful, audience-centric hybrid events

Producing successful, audience-centric hybrid events
By Gemma Mortimore and Matt Ede
Senior Partner, Strategy and Transformation
Jul 14, 2022
6 MIN. READ

The ways in which we come together as customers, colleagues, and citizens changed dramatically over the last couple of years. First, we witnessed a shift from in-person to all-online events. Now in 2022, there is an increasing trend toward hybrid events.

More than ever, it is clear that we do still need events. But the many responses to the question of what they will look like shape our understanding of current and future trends in the industry.

At their core, the most successful events—from leadership conferences and internal company events to customer activations, brand launches, gatherings of citizens, and government meetings—is a desire to connect and participate. We believe that the best events are built around three key principles:

  1. Audience-centric: We ask: What does our audience need from this event?
  2. Value-focused: We build events around the value of connection through participation.
  3. Sustainable: We strive to produce events in the most sustainable way possible.

Together, we call these ”connected experiences.”

Every event should be a connected experience

Events become experiences when they drive participation. This happens when an individual’s purpose aligns with that of the brand that they’re interacting with—whether as customers, employees, or potential business partners. These experiences become particularly impactful in meaningful moments of congregation that bring shared purpose to life.

That sense of playing your part towards achieving a shared purpose hasn’t gone away, even as hybrid working becomes the norm. In a world where we meet and shop online, our lives are more disjointed. But we hear from our clients that the need to come together is more important than ever. Creating opportunities to connect and network with colleagues, customers, or other businesses is now even more critical. Even in this very different world, we are still desperate to participate with the people and ideas we believe in.

Participation is, of course, a two-way dynamic. It is an interplay between the motivations, purpose, and values of two parties—the brand and the audience. The right event can create a space for interaction, an opportunity where both parties can create an experience together. But this can only happen if it is grounded on a shared set of truths, identities, and values—building blocks that are mutually beneficial to both parties. Participation requires intent and desire. Build that into your planning and it forms the basis for a set of connected experiences that an organization can continue to nourish and evolve over the months and years ahead.

It is time to deliver events more sustainably

Given the worsening climate crisis and the need to rebound from the impacts of COVID-19, organizations should consider new ways to deliver events more sustainably. In a recent article on the biggest trends of 2022, Forbes mentioned the imperative for sustainability in the top position. Businesses are challenged to manage their Scope 3 emissions, facing pressure to work more sustainably under the Paris Agreement and live up to net-zero 2050 challenges. The event industry itself recently pledged to work toward delivering net zero events.

There is also a far larger spotlight on operating virtually due to the pandemic. Many now work in a hybrid model or fully remote, reducing our carbon footprint. While many businesses know that bringing people together in person is the right thing to do from a connection perspective, it can also significantly impact carbon footprint—a serious consideration for any organization working toward a more sustainable future.

We appreciate the challenges of in-person events in the current environment. It’s why we are ISO 20121 accredited, providing us with a framework for creating sustainable events.

We put that sustainable approach at the heart of everything we do. At each stage of an event, our team of experts combines innovative thinking with practical actions to reduce, reuse, and offset—from messaging design to building production, sourcing and supply chain, travel strategies, and carbon tracking. We also use tools such as emissions calculators to support our events teams in their planning so that they can best advise clients on how to reduce the impact of any event. All of this is backed by the expertise and experience of our global network of energy experts and climate advisers—all thought leaders in climate change and sustainability.

The rise of hybrid events

Hybrid events are the most significant current trend in events, with 79% of companies expecting to host hybrid events in 2022. By combining a smaller in-person audience with a much larger online audience engaging with livestreamed content, hybrid offers opportunities for creating events that allow us to connect and participate in more sustainable ways.

The in-person element of the hybrid event is still crucial. For both B2B and B2C events, face-to-face interactions are still the best way to build certain kinds of connections, such as business networking opportunities, contact development, and relationship building among existing contacts. Many struggle to get the best results from exclusively virtual events.

As the world pivots to an online space, event creators must design and use new and different techniques to engage an online audience. In this sense, hybrid brings multiple benefits. You have people together in person, giving you the congregation moment. Beyond that, you can reach a broader audience you may not have previously engaged for reasons of time or cost. This often means that the per-head cost of putting on a hybrid event is lower. For example, where you might have previously invited 500 people to an in-person event, you can now invite 2,000.

The hybrid event we ran for the St. James's Place (SJP) Annual Company Meeting (ACM) in 2022 is a great example of the benefits of a hybrid event.

This event offered the perfect balance, allowing SJP to bring together thousands of people as a live audience to participate at The O2 in London, but also to extend their reach further with thousands more watching online.

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Key questions for event organizers:

How will you build participation through the experience you create?

What are you doing to boost attendance?

By continually applying our latest insights and experience-led techniques, we create hybrid events like SJP’s as a way to enjoy the best of all worlds. Such engagements deliver a moment of congregation while also empowering a wider audience to choose how they want to consume content—all delivered within a more sustainable, customizable framework.

SJP, like many clients, now wants to develop similar hybrid solutions for future events.

“Taking a hybrid approach to the ACM was a natural development for us. We get to build our community by creating a unique in-person brand experience while widening our reach online and giving our diverse audiences the choice of how they want to participate. We’ll be building on the hybrid format for ACM 2023, focusing equally on the quality of live experience, whether it’s virtually or at the venue.”

— Hari Miller, Director of Corporate Communications and Events, St. James’s Place

Of course, many companies eye hybrid events as the ideal. Some emphasize the need to connect both your live and online audiences with a more consistent experience. Others take the view that those viewing online only need the core essentials. It’s important to remember that events evolve. At the height of the pandemic, many were completely online and demanded a single, consistent experience for everyone attending. Now, with hybrid, we have far greater flexibility, allowing us to design an experience that meets the specific needs of the organization and event .

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Key question for event organizers:

How connected do you want online and live audiences to feel at your hybrid event?

Does this mean every company should now switch to hybrid events? Not necessarily. Events like SJP's show how hybrid opens up opportunities to create an experience and promote connection and participation. As leaders in this field, we help many of our clients accomplish this. And this support is sorely needed, with 32% of businesses reporting that their existing platforms are only barely sufficient for hybrid events.

We also constantly build on our learnings. Many businesses that currently run hybrid events may need to make tough decisions around which element they invest in and prioritize—live or online. Ultimately, those decisions will be made based on the specific needs of that particular organization and audience. As event creators, it is our job to listen to those needs and continually respond in new and creative ways.

Meet the authors
  1. Gemma Mortimore, Client Services Director
  2. Matt Ede, Senior Partner, Strategy and Transformation

    Matt has more than 15 years of experience leading communications for simplification, integration, and change management. He manages a team that brings world-class thinking, insights, and a comprehensive understanding of client priorities working globally across major industry sectors. View bio

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