How the Human Element Can Make (or Break) Your Event

December 22, 2020

Experiential marketing events are slowly making their way back into our lives. This is a good thing, provided that the events are well-planned and adhere to local health and safety guidelines. The best experiential marketing activations are the safest ones. Although it might seem difficult, there are ways to ensure your COVID-19 brand activations and experiential marketing provide a healthy balance of safe and fun. 

When Good Activations Go Bad

Of course, not all events can balance safety with celebration. Over the summer, when people were tired of staying at home and missing out, the Chainsmokers decided to attempt to host a live concert, complete with health and safety precautions to keep the risk of COVID-19 transmission low. That didn’t exactly happen, though — and it’s not entirely the fault of the event coordinators.

The drive-in concert fundraiser, dubbed “Safe & Sound,” took place on a 100-acre plot of land. Attendees were instructed to park their cars and remain within their own 20-by-20-foot sections, only leaving the space to use the restroom. The Chainsmokers are known for popular dance music, and many attendees decided to leave their designated areas and move closer to the stage, where social distancing was not enforced — and mask-wearers were in the minority. Whoops.

Unfortunately, quite a few events during the pandemic have ended up being superspreaders. Weddings, rallies and political gatherings have all caused widespread infections in recent months.

One group taking the right approach to events, though? Brands. South by Southwest, a festival hosting major tech companies and artists, was quickly called off in early 2020 as officials in Austin, Texas, declared a local disaster and said it would be impossible to host the gathering safely. Without time to put safety plans in place and completely reimagine the way the festival would be held, it wasn’t possible to let people from all over gather. Later in the year, Samsung had to adapt its Halloween campaign and pivot from a live event to one that worked only with select families. 

Both of these brands were smart in heeding COVID restrictions to guarantee the safety of everyone involved — and to ensure their creations didn’t end up being super-spreader events.

Lessons Learned for Experiential Marketers

Needless to say, if you plan to have an event in the coming months, even the best safety guidance isn’t enough. Humans are human and will sometimes break the rules. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to host an event, it just has to be done right!

In the middle of a pandemic, a few essential lessons from these struggles can save your brand activations and experiential marketing efforts from becoming the center of attention in less-than-positive ways. Here are three things to keep in mind as we await widespread vaccine distribution and slowly, smartly start to bring events back to life:

1. It’s difficult to plan for the human element.

Events can’t just convert to a virtual format and call it a day, which means you have to develop creative experiential marketing ideas. Keep this in mind when planning your event, and consider every possible outcome for your activation. Then go back and think about it some more. Having a plan in your back pocket for how you’ll handle every crisis will prove invaluable when a problem arises.

2. Make your experiential marketing activation guidelines airtight.

Like the Chainsmokers concert, anyone hosting a drive-in concert should consider whether attendees might easily be able to leave their designated areas without being stopped by event staff. Are the guidelines clearly stated? Are there courses of action you can take when individuals choose to ignore them?

Once an event gets out of hand, it’s hard to get it back on track. Make sure that every aspect of your activation is airtight. This means creating guidelines and setting up your physical event space in a way that keeps your audience enjoying the experience without jeopardizing anyone’s health. 

3. Theory is not the same as practice.

While it might seem safe to assume that everyone knows there is a pandemic, that’s not an assumption you can make when planning your event. Some attendees might be incredibly careful about the surfaces they touch, while others might refuse to wear a mask. It’s important to plan your activation according to local health and safety regulations, going above and beyond to ensure that attendees don’t push your event past the point of no return.

For in-person brand activations and experiential marketing to return as they once were, organizers must plan and coordinate completely safe experiences for everyone involved. While it might be difficult, putting on the best experiential marketing activations means planning for the human element. This is the best way to protect and bolster the future of experiential marketing.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.