Live Events Will Come Back—What Changes Will You Be Making?

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The GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation Program has entered the live event industry lexicon. Although most of us are familiar with it, this credential indicates that a facility has established a comprehensive system of cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention for their staff and their building. The certification is earned through comprehensive training, which covers the proper protocols, correct disinfection techniques, and cleaning best practices for biohazard situations like the novel coronavirus.

In our efforts to provide a healthy environment for attendees and exhibitors alike, we now pay attention to a venue’s GBAC status, and we read the fine print when event spaces describe what they are doing over and above GBAC standards to ensure that participants on all levels are assured a safe and healthy event.

On the other hand, a return to live events means some additional concerns for exhibit and event professionals beyond vetting the venue. Here are some issues that could be looming:

Wider aisles. If show organizers decide aisles need to be wider to accommodate social distancing norms, it only follows that there will be less space available to sell to exhibitors. Does this mean that the price per square foot will go up? Before you submit your final budget, which will probably be based on the data from the last show you attended, double-check the cost per square foot, and adjust accordingly.

Mandatory masks in the exhibit. This includes attendees, staff, and support workers. Until a vaccine is approved and in wide use, masks not only make sense, but health agencies agree on their effectiveness. Because in exhibits and events the glass is always half full, nothing is standing in the way of branding those masks with company and/or product names as well as your color palette.

Accommodating global attendees. If you are exhibiting at a show that generally draws a significant number of global attendees, you will want to determine how you reach them if travel bans are in place. If the event is hybrid, that’s a start. If not, are you able to create sharable content independently from any show offerings? The amount you invest in this offering should be commensurate with your projected ROI. And healthcare, as always, demands compliance with approved labeling. Assuming you are a US-based company, the indications in your virtual offering should follow FDA guidelines.

COVID Compliance Officer. At the (virtual) 2020 Experiential Marketing Summit, speakers Andrea Ramsay and Hillary Cartwright, principals at The Event Ally, explained why this role is necessary. You need someone to enforce health and safety measures in your exhibit. Someone refuses to wear a mask? Your COVID Compliance Officer takes over. If there is signage in your exhibit giving social distance guidance, your CCO will ensure that the protocol is observed. Yes, it’s the person you didn’t know you needed, but imagine being responsible for enforcing health and safety measures along with all your other responsibilities—and then you’ll understand why filling this role is necessary.

Conference Rooms. If you are accustomed to providing conference rooms for private meetings, you will want to make sure that the room’s airflow is set at recommended levels. Ventilation is an essential factor in preventing the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading indoors. If your conference room will not have windows that allow natural airflow, your best bet is to follow WHO guidelines. WHO recommends an increased ventilation rate through natural or mechanical means, preferably without recirculation of the air. In the case of air recirculation, filters should be cleaned regularly, especially for jobs that place an individual at a medium or high risk of exposure to COVID-19, such as when people are in enclosed rooms, even with social distancing and face coverings. Ask your exhibit partner to investigate portable units for spaces where air circulation isn’t optimal. Conference rooms will also entail planned sanitation of the room after each use.

Sanitation. Work with your exhibit house to schedule cleaning and sanitation regularly throughout the duration of the event.

Hospitality. Have you visited Costco lately? Most Costco shoppers have a love affair with the samples at the ends of the aisles. Costco has gone from free-wheeling sample distribution to no sample distribution to (at this writing) distributing wrapped samples with the caveat that the samples are not to be eaten in the store because of mask regulations. When our live, face-to-face exhibits return, the most likely food scenarios will be similar to the ones that Costco uses—wrapped items—or dedicated servers working with gloves and masks behind a transparent shield. Strangely enough, we have all adjusted to this process as we pick up orders at restaurants. Last spring, that wasn’t the case. Don’t do away with catering; just adapt to the current circumstances and work with a caterer who understands what you need.

Engagement. Think about all those show-site tactics that have worked in the past: touch screens, VR glasses, competitive games. They need to be replaced. As we have learned to make the most of virtual events, we are more open to alternative solutions in general. The world of the phone app has exploded with new engagement opportunities. If you are going to use a unique app, send out download information in your pre-show promotion. Ask attendees to download the app, making it a call to action (CTA) where visitors can earn a reward. Because you won’t be storing premiums in your exhibit the way you did pre-COVID, when attendees come to your exhibit to use the app, you can send them an immediate gift (Starbucks gift cards or something similar), you can enter their names in a drawing which will be conducted off-site, or allow them to win prizes with a gamification component. These are only suggestions; the tech options for engagement have become more accessible and easier to use.

Finally, the return to live shows will not be a return to the way things were. Don’t dig in your heels and complain about how things used to be. Stay open to new possibilities, including the fact that a live show will, in all probability, be a hybrid show that will increase your audience and your ROI. You’re up for the challenge, aren’t you? We are! Call us if you want to hear some of our ideas.