ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Ken Holsinger, SVP of Data Solutions at Freeman, and Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes, president and chief marketing strategist of mdg, stirred up the room with one premise of their session during SISO’s recent CEO Summit.
“We’re not going back to 2019,” Holsinger said, and with Hardcastle-Geddes, laid out research supporting that fundamental societal shifts have dramatically changed the business events landscape.
Measuring an event against the last full year of trade shows before the pandemic is futile, Holsinger said. “The conversation is constantly going back to trying to measure against 2019. That’s just not the case, we’re not going back. We have to move forward and evaluate this new environment that we’re in and make changes and adjust accordingly — and that’s painful for us.”
As a researcher who has been in the business for a long time, he has 10-year benchmarks that go back 50 years, he said. “We’ve thrown those away. It’s certainly where we’ve come from. We’re not discarding it but we need to understand that there are a lot of things that have changed about our audiences, about consumers and about the environment.
“We’re seeing a frantic need, emotionally and logistically, to make up for lost time and that is a big danger,” he added. “On the association side, we’re seeing a cramming of content into schedules when, in reality, the research tells us that the No. 1 complaint attendees had before Covid was that sessions were too long, they were too busy and there was too much content all day long to absorb it all. In fact, attendees are saying they don’t need more learning time, they want to hang out with their colleagues.”
Though we are seeing people re-enter society en masse, Holsinger said, they are looking for quality experiences, whether that applies to sports or restaurants or travel. “If people are going to risk their post-Covid chips on something, they’re not going to risk it on a sub-par restaurant. Fine dining and chef’s tasting restaurants are booked out for months. If people are traveling, it’s not mundane, they’re taking epic trips. The destinations they are going to are more experience-rich. As we look at events in this context, we have to realize that we can’t go back because the world has changed,” he said.
The final shift is in the attendees’ themselves: Audiences are coming back younger, less loyal to specific industries and more digitally savvy. The Great Resignation and The Great Retirement have lowered the average age. An estimated 70 million people have changed emails in 2021 because they have lost their jobs, retired or resigned, dramatically affecting email marketing results. Add to that the millions of women who have had to leave their jobs to care for young children or aging parents, and the fact that the youngest children still can’t yet get vaccinated, making it difficult or impossible to travel.
“All of this means different audiences, different preferences, different ways to communicate with them, and we’re just getting started with this cultural shift,” he said.
Reach Ken Holsinger at Ken.Holsinger@freemanco.com