Event profs, mind the digital gap

Is the business events sector keen to hire digital strategists or are existing employees taking on digital as an add-on skill?

In the post-pandemic environment, digital skills are increasingly part of the multi skills event strategists possess.
In the post-pandemic environment, digital skills are increasingly part of the multi skills event strategists possess. Photo Credit: Adobe/Gorodenkoff

It’s a familiar story. During the pandemic, many agencies and clients pivoted towards digital events but then found that their systems - and their staff - lacked the necessary skills to successfully execute a virtual event.

Fast forward to today and while face-to-face events are firmly back on the agenda, agencies and brands are being flexible in their approach, offering virtual elements as part of a bigger physical event. With this in mind, will the role of the digital strategist become a prominent one within events?

Mun Yin Liu, digital strategy director, global GDPR & data protection officer at agency Pico, says that event planners have been enhancing their digital skills for some time now, as it was a growing factor even before the pandemic.

“The pandemic accelerated the pivot towards digital delivery, and that experience should not be forgotten too easily,” he says. “However, we do need to recognise that attendees crave physical interaction at events.

"Pico’s latest survey insights in 2022 show that attendees have begun to shift their main focus away from virtual networking and back to doing their mingling in person," he adds. "In this case, behaviour changed during the pandemic, but the underlying preference did not.”

Similarly, he adds, event managers must take into account that it’s unrealistic to expect an attendee to be logged in and attentive for long periods online. Without the benefit of having left the office to attend in person, online attendees prefer to maintain their regular productivity whilst joining agenda sessions as their schedules permit.

The past couple of years have led to on-the-job learning, but platforms have a responsibility to explain more about why their solution works, rather than just taking people through how to use their systems.
Mun Yin Liu, digital strategy director, global GDPR & data protection officer, Pico

Liu says the issue is not about addressing a skills gap – it’s better described as an ‘understanding gap’.

“With the sudden mandatory shift to online delivery, many event managers are familiar with the execution,” he says. “What they may lack is a clear explanation on what these changes mean. The past couple of years have led to on-the-job learning, but platforms have a responsibility to explain more about why their solution works, rather than just taking people through how to use their systems.”

Luther Low, regional operations director, Asia Pacific at CWT Meetings & Events, says that companies are now thinking much more intently about the role of digital events within their M&E programmes, particularly as sustainability considerations continue to take priority. CWT expects to see more virtual and hybrid events than it has in the past.

“Organising digital events involves various considerations that are distinct from purely live events – from accommodating multiple time zones, to the duration and format of your sessions, keeping remote attendees engaged, providing networking opportunities, and of course contingency planning for technology issues,” says Low.

All M&E professionals will need to have a certain level of skills and competence in this (digital event) area moving forward.
Luther Low, regional operations director, Asia Pacific, CWT Meetings & Events

“While there’s a growing demand for specialists who have a deep understanding of how to plan and run such events, all M&E professionals will need to have a certain level of skills and competence in this area moving forward.”

Liu believes that a digital event strategist can certainly be a specialist role within events, but says that there will more likely be overlapping responsibilities for broader event strategists.

“For general event strategists who are picking up more digital responsibilities, stay ahead of the game – it’s critical to give more consideration to how data is collected,” he says. “From the perspective of attendee behaviour, the focus should be on how to take advantage of digital activations to capture more information about what attendees are doing.”

By keeping the data collection aspect in mind, strategies and tactics at events will naturally veer towards digital components.



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