Like all agencies, VOK DAMS has seen a switch following the pandemic: “at the beginning of the year around 30% of our events were digital, but between March and the end of May this shifted to almost 90% digital events. Now with the COVID-19 measures slowly being relaxed, we are experiencing a strong increase in clients requesting a mix of live and online formats: hybrid events” says Colja. Not yet the big one, but progressively substituting the purely online communication for something more experiential.
More than an event posted online. Put simply, a hybrid event is a limited-size physical event, completed with an online event. But here comes the first mistake: “Organising a live event and posting it online doesn’t make a hybrid event” says Colja, as it will not take fully advantage of the online communication potential of the digital component of the event. He stresses the need to conceive two distinct experiences, since each medium has its own rules, formats, ways to engage and should be conceived in a specific way. Then, "you can dose how much should be digital and how much physical“: more or fewer people on-site, and the rest online.
"You have two different experiences, and each must have something special. Participants can discuss the issue online with a moderated chat, and on-site, they see the real product and interact in a more complete way with other attendees“. But both communities can connect, something we still have seen very little of: "We link people attending the event with those participating remotely, for instance with a screen during lunch where attendees can go and see who they want to interact with“, selecting them in a Tinder way before starting a conversation with who they prefer.
An example? VOK DAMS produced Vodafone Sales Kick-off as a hybrid event, managing the concept development, content creation, content management and production. The idea was to create a personal, interactive experience. The kick-off became a dynamic and diversified hybrid event where information sharing, interoffice interaction and seamless connection from HQ to home office were the main objectives. The office became a stage for moderation, presentations, talks and entertainment. Most of the 5,000 participants participated from home via the Vodafone-branded interface and used a number of interaction tools.
Reach and data. The main advantage of hybrid events is obvious: reach more people in your target market, irrespective of where they are and whether they have time to travel to the event. But another key advantage comes from the DNA of the digital world: data. Beyond communicating to your audience, you can increase your data gathering about participants and hence your market intelligence. We all know that a lot can be monitored online, both in the registration process and during the experience, you can see what attendees are doing, what sessions they see, what interests them, of course always respecting GDPR and getting the participants‘ approval – something that is easier online than in a physical events.
New skills. Careful, this is a new tool, which you have to master. Such formats require completely new concepts and methodologies, both in terms of content and technology. In that respect, the pandemic just accelerated this necessary change: it “has been a catalyst for digitalization developments in the communications sector that would have come in the near future” says Colja.
An example of this specific know-how: Colja comments that in Germany, recently, students organised a digital event which turned out to be much better than those conceived by many event professionals, as they were not coming from the physical experience but mastered the keys of digital communication and were not trying to copy a physical event but rather to think, based on the target and objective, of how to engage people online. So the agency integrates professionals which master the digital language and format. “We are not starting from scratch; we have built up our experience and competencies in the digital, virtual and hybrid area for years”, he adds.
Multi-city events as another opportunity. In a world where you cannot gather many people and travelling is still difficult, brands can being their experience to local markets. For instance, a client of VOK DAMS, an automotive client, needed to plan a car launch to its top customers, bringing them all to Spain. They changed this event into a road show in many cities in the world, gathering in each city between 15 and 50 local people. The setup is modular and fits in five trucks which move from city to city. "This format is very popular with clients“ says Colja. "The brand becomes more exclusive, top clients can have a direct connection with the top management of the firm, which is impossible in a large event“.
Significant agency work. Many agencies dread virtual events, a format with which they can not generate enough income to sustain their activity, but multi-venue events require significant agency work (an hence, fees), since on-site coordination will be necessary in multiple locations. The agency work consists mainly in the initial conception of an experience and setup which will be moved from city to city, and then ensuring local production.
An opportunity beyond Covid. Hybrid events are not according to Colja just a way to generate activity in these troubled times: we will soon go back to organizing large events but irrespective of COVID-19, he is convinced that hybrid events will have a significant impact on the future development of the event industry. A tool to engage the target on site and online from anywhere is a great opportunity and the question which may come at the beginning of any event conception in the future could be “what should be physical, what should be digital?”