Physical, virtual or hybrid? That’s the question on every event organiser’s lips as we start to emerge from lockdown and face the prospect of a return to in-person events.
As we all know, the events industry did a phenomenal job of pivoting to virtual after everything ground to a halt last March.
Virtual events have delivered many tangible benefits, as illustrated by Nikki Clare, Hearst UK’s head of events and client service, at the recent PPA Leadership Summit.
Take their annual Esquire Town House event as an example. In its physical form, it attracts about 3.5k visitors, whereas its virtual incarnation last year reached a virtual audience of 107k plus a social media reach of 2.3m. Those numbers opened Hearst’s eyes to the potential of combining physical and virtual into a new hybrid offering.
For Hearst, Nikki said, “the optimal event plan will encapsulate a physical event, wrapped with a virtual experience” with the content pushed out through social media and available on-demand.
Because, she continued, whilst “the experience will always be better in person, virtual gives us greater reach and content longevity, so hybrid gives us the best of both worlds.”
But she had a few words of caution:
- Hybrid might not always be the answer. Make sure you have a clear sense of the purpose, objectives and opportunity. It might be that physical-only or virtual-only will serve you better.
- Hybrid is not a cheap option, because you are effectively creating two versions of the same event.
- With hybrid, as much thought needs to go into planning the virtual as the in-person elements. For instance, during an awards dinner, what are your virtual guests going to be doing while your in-person guests are tucking into their three course meal?
This year’s Esquire Town House will be Hearst’s flagship hybrid event. With the learnings from last year’s virtual version, coupled with people’s desire to meet up face-to-face, the potential is very exciting.