With once-steadfast industries like automotive and hotels undergoing seismic changes, how is the events industry being redefined for a new era? And how are agencies and audiences responding?
New business models
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a bit of a buzzword, but the new business models that come with all these new technologies are a game changer,” says Oscar Cerezales, chief operating officer, APAC at MCI Group. “It’s changing how value is created. For a lot of years, agencies have been creating value by saying to customers: ‘You don’t want to do a number of things – outsource them to us and focus on your core business.’
“But now it’s changing because one, new technologies mean clients can do a lot of it themselves; two, who does what is changing. And three, new business models are appearing where communities are being created without traditional backers like corporates or associations.”
Cerezales points out that Globalisation 4.0 is not about trading goods like the previous waves of globalisation. “It’s about content, it’s about ideas,” he says. “I can have a company based in Madrid, develop VR content in Canada, and have three labs in Hong Kong designing everything. It goes beyond borders.
“So if I’m an association organising a conference on cardiology and I see there is a Facebook page on cardiology with 30,000 members and they’re creating their own content and group members are not paying a fee – I’m in trouble. This is also changing the way companies and agencies, should strategise and organise themselves.”
But Cerezales sees little innovation amongst agencies. Some are offering new products and services, but very few are innovating beyond that.
“Business model innovation is probably 25 times more powerful than a product or service innovation because a new business model changes everything — your value proposition, your customer segments, your channels, your cost and revenue structures — everything. And for the most part, business innovation is stagnant.
“In a way, the high-performing agencies are those that are very agile. They’re becoming global in a smart way. They’re flat. They’re creating distributed networks, not centralised networks.”
Amid all of this, how is the client-agency relationship changing? Natalie Ackerman, EVP greater China, Jack Morton Worldwide sees it as an exciting time.
“Clearly there’s this merging of above-the-line and below-the-line. Everyone says they do everything, that they have an experiential arm, but everyone is just responding to what brands are looking for,” she says. “Brands don’t want specialist agencies; they’re looking for a holistic, overarching experience from top to bottom.”
Laura Roberts, managing director at INVNT, also sees experiential being integrated into the marketing funnel, and client-agency conversations moving upstream as a result. “Brands are really understanding the importance of live events and how they can produce ROI, it’s becoming a huge factor in the marketing mix and it’s no longer acceptable just to have a production and logistics agency. What clients want now is a partner, they need their events agency to provide a creative and strategic offering and not just deliver production and logistics.”
Adds Ackerman, this means providing more measureable results. “Clients are asking: ‘How did we move the needle? How could we have spent our money better in terms of the impact?’ That’s something that if an agency isn’t thinking about the ROI and the feedback and this constant improvement cycle that we need to be doing – then I see problems.”
Uma Reade, head of experience, APAC, at Essence says data is turning the old marketing shortcoming of learning after the fact, into a thing of the past.
Experiential has come a long way from free flow at happy hour, so how are brands using it today? And what can we expect in the future?
Reade says: “Experiential has always been the most authentic way to connect with audiences. The way we see it, time is a very limited resource and attention is more valuable than ever. That’s become our battleground, we’re fighting for peoples’ attention.”
Of course it’s no longer just about the live audience, but those tuning in globally. Meaning “live events” and “experiential” are no longer synonymous.
“It’s almost like unless it can live on and be shared, it didn’t happen,” says Jack Morton’s Ackerman. “Knowing that people are going to have their phones out the whole time, we create these experiences specifically with that in mind. You have to make the event more impactful than just the people in the room.
“Consumers are definitely engaged, but they don’t make as much effort to go with the brand,” she adds. “They want the brand to be where they are and because everything is mobile and online, we have to go to where they’re living their lives and respond to them.
“So for a launch, it’s understanding how they want to see it. Do they actually want to go to an event? Do they want to watch it as a hologram? Do they want to see something in AR? That’s still experiential, but it may not necessarily be a live event. Live events are important, it’s just how you layer in all these different aspects so you’re much more relatable to the people watching.”
Reade also sees experiential moving firmly towards digital audiences. “The reason it’s different and the reason it’s evolved is that there are far more channels where you can experience something live,” she says. “It can be a live stream that people tune in to watch, it can also be an immersive VR experience. It could be a wearable.
“There’s a massive online and social component to experiential today that there wasn’t a decade back. Everyone is their own media channel. Branded hashtags on social allow people to engage with events they haven’t even been to.”
So what does all this added value mean when it comes to agency selection?
“Agencies have a responsibility to spend their clients’ dollars wisely and we continue to have to be cost-conscious and competitive,” says Ackerman. “But when we show we are partners, invested in creating events that deliver business results, we stand a much better chance.”