The Post-COVID Event Model: Rethinking Ways to Promote Virtual and In-Person Events

December 1, 2020

Andrew Witkin

Andrew Witkin is the founder and CEO of StickerYou, a global e-commerce leader in custom-printed, die-cut products that empower consumers and businesses to create high-quality materials for personal expression, marketing and packaging.

Unless you’ve spent the last eight or nine months under a rock, you probably know that the trade show industry has had its worst year on record. I’m hard-pressed to think of anything in recent history, including 9/11 and the 2008 economic meltdown, that has had such a devastating effect on corporate events. Just about every conference that was scheduled for April 2020 or later has either been canceled, postponed or moved to online-only. In the midst of such misfortune and devastation, how is it possible to be even remotely optimistic? 

The answer is simple: we have no other choice. Billions of dollars are spent on conferences and their associated expenses every year. It is a major driver of the economy and a critical component of the long-term economic success of cities like Las Vegas. We can’t just throw in the towel on this entire sector of the economy. What we do need to do is look at new angles and opportunities to keep trade shows relevant and top-of-mind for people who attend these events and the companies that exhibit there. And one of the key ways to do this is by providing physical reminders of the value of corporate events.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend an online conference that was scheduled in place of an in-person event that was cancelled. I sat in front of my laptop and stared at a screen that was filled with dozens of tiny faces. I felt absolutely no connection to the event or to the other participants, and after 20 minutes, all I wanted to do was throw my computer out the window. Of course, we’ve all been living virtually since last spring and have done hundreds (if not thousands) of Zoom calls. We’ve come to accept and tolerate that, but trade shows are different – they are about human connection, and that can’t be done effectively in a purely digital world.

That’s why savvy trade show organizers need to think creatively about creating physical components for their digital events. Not many people are willing to get on an airplane or enter a convention center right now, but there are still opportunities to create real human connections. This is where sending branded items to attendees — even if they are sitting at home — can provide that critical element of connection that we are all missing right now. I’m not talking about an expensive bottle of whiskey or a new iPad. While those kinds of corporate gifts have their place, it’s not an especially cost-effective way to build bridges to thousands of people at a time. Instead, think about how you use swag at physical events and adapt that approach to our current online reality. 

One of the best parts about going to a trade show is picking up the freebies at the various booths. Just because we are not all in one big ballroom right now doesn’t mean that these giveaways are any less valuable. In fact, they could be more important than ever because so many of us are missing out on the kinds of interpersonal interactions that we have come to take for granted. Now is the time to double down on memorable giveaways.

For example, trade show organizers could contact all of the exhibitors at their virtual conferences and ask them to send a box of branded items, ranging from magnets to mousepads to coffee mugs to stickers, or even masks and branded bottles of hand sanitizer. Once all of these are assembled, the organizers could create personalized “care packages” that are personally mailed to all attendees. They could also include branded items from the event itself, including t-shirts, bags and other common giveaways. Shortly before the event starts, everyone would receive a package in the mail containing all of these items.

The real engagement begins with this care package. From there, these items serve as catalysts for conversations throughout the event. Imagine a music festival with multiple acts. Organizers would send festival attendees personalized items with their favorite band, like temporary tattoos, water bottles and t-shirts. An attendee could choose to put a tattoo on his or her hand or wear the t-shirt during the virtual festival. Other attendees could see that person and start a side conversation because they’re interested in the same band. The value in physical components for virtual events is creating and extending connections and conversations in an organic, meaningful way. 

Why is this important? It all comes down to one word: connection. Humans are social creatures, and we were never built to work this way. Receiving a box of unique branded items can create that sense of belonging and community that so many of us are missing right now. It also gives event organizers a way to let exhibitors and attendees know that they are committed to hosting the best possible event, even if it’s online. More importantly, it’s a way to let the world know that they are open for business and are already planning for an amazing event in 2021 — in person this time!


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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.