KEY EVENTS TRENDS IN 2021
Updated: May 19
With the UK hospitality industry re-opening in force from Monday 17th May and with the country currently still looking to exit lockdown restrictions fully on 21st June, the events industry is shifting into gear to carry out live, in-person experiences on all scales. The last 4 weeks has seen successful pilot events including a ‘live music club night’ attended by 3,000 guests who didn’t need to socially distance or wear masks and this year’s FA Cup Final hosted a crowd of 20,000 at Wembley Stadium. Looking ahead, this summer’s domestic calendar features large scale events including Reading music festival, attended by 105,000 revellers in 2019.
The industry has, of course, seen immense changes since the the beginning of 2020. Consumers, strategists and planners alike have seen a rapidly developing lexicon with ‘virtual’ and ‘hybrid’ events, ‘engagement boxes’ and ‘platform management’ coming to the fore, and ‘event production’ becoming a wholly different set of considerations and workflows. Certainly, some of these changes are here to stay out of necessity with 43 of the UK’s 50 biggest employers implementing a hybrid working model, with no full-time return to the office on the agenda. As such, the need and desire to facilitate and drive meaningful connection virtually will only continue.
With such seismic disruption altering the way we organise and attend events, we take a look at our key upcoming event trends of 2021.
Virtual and Hybrid – planning for contingency, success and sustainability
Whilst many event-goers had never attended a virtual event at the beginning of 2020, and the majority of event organisers hadn’t overseen the delivery of one, the virtual model is very much here to stay. A 2021 survey found that 93% of event marketers planned to invest in virtual events moving forwards.
Many in-house marketing and events teams have mentioned to us their frustration at investing in live, in-person experiences over the last year, only to have these curtailed by changing restrictions. A virtual model has, for many, represented contingency. However, it has also shown us new commercial and marketing opportunities with 80% of event marketers surveyed in 2020 managing to expand their audience reach through their virtual events. This model also increases our ability to diversify content strategy, increasing access to resources such as expert headline speakers who may not be available for in-person experiences.
The easing of restrictions will see ‘hybrid’ events become the new buzz-term, as event organisers look to offer the physicality of in-person experiences with the scalability of virtual. The challenge here will be for marketing teams to decide their strategy – when do you go ‘in-person’ only, virtual, or hybrid?
As time progresses, we believe we will see virtual and hybrid less through a lens of contingency, and instead with a greater focus on the sustainability benefits of these models. Organisations will find that hosting virtual or hybrid events may can help them work towards corporate social responsibility aims in a cost considerate manner, with hybrid events also offering opportunities for in-person networking and interaction. Consumers may also change their own behaviours in line with sustainability values as they seek to lower the environmental impact of their travel, and in-person attendance.
Festivalisation – a tool to maximise engagement
Festivalisation focuses on building events where attendees are able to set their own agenda from the content and networking opportunities on offer. In the same way as a consumer can flick through on-demand or live television to find what they want to watch, event organisers will be looking to offer attendees a variety of choice – a smorgasboard of content and opportunities – allowing them to consume the event in their own, personal way. Through offering a wider range of content, the organisers will also be able to engage with a wider audience in a more meaningful way.
Whilst there can be higher costs associated with this strategy (though not always!), we expect Festivalisation to become increasingly relevant and sought after as a tool to maximise visibility, audience engagement and return on investment.
Simply put, the scalability of virtual and hybrid events, alongside any hesitation from guests to attend in-person experiences post lockdown, will present event organisers with a challenge of how to engage their attendees in an increasingly competitive marketplace. We have written previously about how we see personalisation as being a key driver of engagement with virtual events, Festivalisation is an extension of this sentiment on a greater scale.
Outside Events – encouraging audience confidence
Over the last 15 months, we have consistently heard, whether implicitly or explicitly that ‘outside is safer.’ Reports state that the presence of effective ventilation and fresh air is as important as social distancing and hand washing, and lockdown restrictions have allowed certain behaviours outside – meeting, eating, socialising – but not indoors. We will see outdoor events playing a key role this summer and beyond in building consumer confidence in attending events, specifically those on a larger scale.
In the same manner, meetings and event venues that offer an abundance of natural daylight with their spaces will find themselves in increased demand.
Like many others, we are hugely excited both by the return to in-person events, and the increasing commercial and creative possibilities offered by virtual models. It remains to be seen if 21st June will be the ‘end point’ after which no safeguarding measures and therefore barriers to event planning on a pre-pandemic scale remain. Regardless, it is clear that this progression into a ‘new world’ for events will continue quickly as organisers seek to build meaningful connection between their product and their audiences, and indeed, between guests.
Fancy a chat about your events? Whether you want to discuss your strategy, a specific event, virtual platforms or programming, we’d love to have a chat over a coffee – virtual or in person – so please pop us a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.