How to claim value in the virtual world, with Bob McGrath, VP @ Volt Mobility

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Posted on November 16, 2020

2020 saw the events industry merge with the virtual world. In this ever-changing scenario, how can event profs claim their value?

Often lauded for the ideas he brings to the table, Bob McGrath has an extensive career as a servant leader in the events industry. He believes people don’t buy products – they buy into working with another person.

To help event profs better understand how their skills can be used on a day-to-day basis in this new virtual world, as well how to leverage their abilities, Bob talked to us about how 2021 will be like.

1. How do you see live and hybrid events in 2021, in this virtual world context we’re living?

According to a group of meeting planners with whom I have been voting weekly during this pandemic, our take on whether F2F live events will be safely happening again is that live events will not come back until Q2 of 2021, and even then, primarily as hybrid events.

Virtual events will remain in place until that time, and perhaps beyond as an alternative to live events, as some people will remain hesitant to resume travel and mixing at live events until enough people have been vaccinated to develop herd immunity within the general population.

The general rule is that event planners, exhibitors and attendees should plan for hybrid events for the foreseeable future, since communicable viruses may emerge and mutate to remain a new, ever-present phenomenon. 

2. The acceleration of digital transformation we lived in 2020 caused event profs to go through a steep learning curve. What do you think will be their biggest challenge in 2021? 

Event professionals have had to choose 3 paths due to the coronavirus and ensuing industry collapse:  pivot to virtual events; reinvent yourself in a new, non-event role; or hang on until live events return while monitoring evolving conditions affecting the return to live events.  Each of these present unique challenges in 2021. 

For those who pivot to virtual or hybrid events, there are several challenges – how does one measure success?  The old rules about event success – event density, number of dedicated hours for exhibits or programming, guaranteed numbers of appointments or booth visitors, or number of anticipated leads and sales conversions per event – have all changed under COVID.

Making the right questions in a virtual world

How do you determine who else is in attendance, including your competition or your target prospects?  Now one must measure whether guests are willing to pay for the privilege of attending a live-streamed event when they have many other live-streamed options, often at no cost.  How do you price your services in a virtual economy?  Also, how do you hold the attention of zoom-weary attendees?  Still, how do you identify and recruit presenters who may not excel at broadcast presentations? How do you prove ROI to management or sponsors or justify multi-day attendance at a virtual event to attendees when their barometer for success is past live events?  How do you deliver the serendipitous experience of chance encounters on a show floor or in the hallways of the meeting?

And most importantly these days, how do you break through the clutter of repurposed live events masquerading as virtual events, when what most attendees are reportedly seeking is networking F2F time? 

From the credibility side, as an event professional, how do you master the new virtual platforms and differentiate the pros and cons of each?  Where do you even turn for your research, when no central repositories of the array of virtual technologies exist, and no registry is kept to track the list of scheduled virtual events and related contact information?

Claiming value in a virtual world

Finally, how do you claim your value in this new virtual world?  Are you now positioning yourself as a virtual event consultant?  Do you need one of the new virtual event certifications to demonstrate your mastery of this new world?   

For those reinventing themselves in a non-event position, will you hold out for a return to the event industry at a later date?  Will you choose related industries that may provide an exit back to events? 

Finally, for those holding out for live events – how long can you hold out?  It may be a year from now (November 2020 at the writing of this article) before people feel safe to return to live events.  Can you sustain yourself for another year?

3. What is the secret to keeping people engaged in the midst of so many advancing technologies? 

Live event marketing differs from digital marketing in that it involves all of your senses. One can see, feel, touch, taste, smell and hear the live event environment and experience it through all of your senses. 

Many virtual event producers are seeking to recapture some of the sensual nature of live events. They do it by sending out dimensional promotional materials or tangible activities to the attendees that will be tapped during a coffee break or breakout session or happy hour. These items can be like drink mixes, and colourful glass or party tumblers are popular for group drink sessions. Cooking ingredients and mixing bowls are popular for celebrity chefs to create an interactive session.

Whole cottage industries have sprung up offering virtual team-building activities, with participatory events that promise audience engagement that offer to keep eyeballs on the event and away from distractions.  As an event organizer, you must now pay attention to attention spans, time of day in multiple time zones, spreading content over multiple times and offering repeat sessions for those who could not make the original schedule and more.

Offering engaging activities that appeal to your attendee’s senses are ways to extend engagement, event recall, enhanced networking opportunities, and in many cases, one-on-one breakouts to reinforce our humanity. 

4. You’re an experienced Marketer and now VP of Volt Mobility. One of your main activities is to recruit leaders. What’s an indispensable characteristic you look for when hiring these leaders? 

Volt Mobility is a mission-driven organization. We are all about placing people and planet over profits, yet we still aspire to be a profitable enterprise.  When seeking talent, we look for someone who gets that our planet faces ever-increasing threats to our climate, and understands the need to take concrete steps to address these threats.

Removing CO2 from our atmosphere through the use of electric-powered vehicles is a way to address the role that transportation plays in adding carbon to our planet.

Beyond the passion for our cause, we look for people who can listen and use tact in communicating with others.  In our polarized discourse, it is vital that we reach out to engender understanding to move consumers to action.  

5. After working in so many niches and industries, what is the main contribution you still hope to make as a Marketing Prof? 

I’m at a point in my career where I seek to leave a legacy for my son and his fiance and future generations.  It is not fair that their future has been robbed of the possibilities we had when we were their age. 

Economic inequality, coupled with climate catastrophes, pose threats to their future.  I’d much rather focus my remaining time on the earth working towards good rather than consumption for consumption’s sake.

If I can contribute lessons I’ve learned in crafting go to market plans, SWOT analysis, and applying my creativity to new solutions for the future, I will feel I’ve made a difference.

If I can educate those coming behind me to how each of us can make a difference, I hope I can provide hope for the future.  So many of our young people are drifting without hope, seeking experiences since they may feel purposeless.  We need to reinstill hope in our people. 

Ebook The 2021 Guilde to Perfect Virtual Events

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You can also check the latest projects Bob is working on at the moment, connecting with him through his LinkedIn profile or Volt Mobility official website.

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