We Feel Your Virtual Pain

Sparks Marketing
Virtual Event Planning Blog Cover Image

The 2020 Spring Trade show season turns out to be unlike any other. COVID-19 brings a wave of cancellations, postponements, and the rise of virtual shows. Now, in the COVID wake, we’re looking at cancellations this fall extending to the end of first quarter 2021. Virtual shows are becoming mainstream. But how do you prepare?

One thing is clear — virtual event planning and execution is a constant learning process. From looking at your performance as a virtual exhibitor to figuring out the actual best practices for executing a virtual event, we’re all optimizing and fine-tuning as we go. In other words, we feel your virtual pain.

In this post, we share our virtual event planning tips to help you adapt to the “new normal” as virtual events are now at the forefront. Check out our guide to successfully navigating the digital road ahead.

Your Show is Virtual. Now What?

First things first… many of us are now quite familiar with the term force majeure. Let’s break this down. A force majeure is a contractual provision that excuses one or both parties’ performance obligations when circumstances arise that are beyond both parties’ control, and make performance of the contract impractical or impossible. In light of the pandemic, this clause is the reason why so many associations are making the decision to cancel, postpone or go virtual with less than 60-90 days notice.

Initial Questions to Consider

A good place to start is scheduling time with your association sales representative to understand how your company’s sponsorship dollars and investment are translated into the virtual meeting environment. Questions to consider:

  • If we choose not to participate in virtual, is my booth space and sponsorship dollars refunded or applied to the next in-person meeting?
  • Do I lose priority points or standing if we choose not to participate?
  • How is my company represented at our sponsorship level?
  • If our company purchases convention center signage and banners, for example, how does that translate to the virtual platform?
  • Are there any new sponsorship offerings?
  • If we choose to participate in the virtual expo hall, how does the association drive and guarantee attendee visits? Are there incentives to encourage participation?
  • My agency is developing the virtual experience and managing the content. Do you have guidance and specs to share with my agency?
  • What kinds of customization are available on your platform?
  • Am I limited to use only the association platform?
  • Is the virtual booth space put together in real time as content is uploaded or does the content go to a third-party provider who builds it behind the scenes?
  • If a third party provider is building the platform, how soon do I see my content before the virtual show goes live? (This is critical depending on your MLR/RC review schedule and process.)

Continuing Down The Virtual Road

Once you have a better understanding of what the association’s plans are for virtual, you’ll need to determine the level of participation with your stakeholders — another important part of the virtual event process. Establish a GO/NO-GO process by developing key criteria and numerical weighting to inform your decision.

  • Develop key criteria and weighting to determine participation in a virtual event.
  • Does not participating in a virtual event create negative impacts including loss of priority points, etc?
  • Are key competitors cancelling or powering their participation level?
  • Are microsites acceptable side destinations or are virtual event attendees required to stay on the chosen platform?
  • Is virtual event preferences or potential attendance behavior research conducted by the association?

The Virtual Event is a Go!

You’ve decided to participate in the virtual event! Next steps are to kick off the planning process with your internal and agency teams. Here are some things to discuss.

  • Discuss virtual event options with your MLR teams to communicate expectations of what is permissible in the virtual space, the limitations of the platform and specifics like maximum character counts.
  • Due to social, political ramifications of the pandemic, consider getting all content and usage approvals for all mediums — print and digital.
  • Be aware that many virtual platforms offer chat rooms which pose risks to companies in regulated industries; a potential liability rather than a benefit.
  • Are there special opportunities to access VIP leadership including those normally not accessible? Panel discussions or round tables with KOLs?
  • What are next steps if your upcoming launch 120 plan is submitted and didn’t include virtual events?
  • Do sales reps require special training? Who or what group is conducting the training? When does training scheduling begin?

For all of us who love live, in-person events, we are hopeful to get back to live events soon. In the meantime, we continue to help our clients move their businesses forward by pushing the envelope of the new normal in experiential marketing whether it’s virtual events, mobile activations or interactive digital experiences.

As a digital+live brand experience agency, Sparks is uniquely qualified to help our clients quickly pivot their experiential plans. If you’re facing challenges due to the cancellation or postponement of a trade show or an event, contact us today to discuss how Sparks can help you connect with your clients and reach your goals in these challenging times.