In Times Like These, admittedly a large number of live events have been canceled or postponed, but the industry has experienced a significant increase in demand for digital event formats and hybrid events since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Voks Dams has achieved this by being as agile as possible and adjusting its concepts to the local government regulations in real time. With smaller events (e.g. up to 150 participants in Berlin and up 500 in Shanghai) allowed again, it switched its usual central 1,200 guest large-scale live events to hybrid events at 25 different venues across Europe – sometimes simultaneously. Often as a decentralized roadshow but always with a digital attribute.
For them this is the essence of a hybrid event: a setup where the online audience is as important as the live onsite audience. An event where both audiences can see eye to eye and where online is not an afterthought but an equally important aspect of the event experience.
What is your current operational and staffing structure?
In 2019, around 20% of our projects were virtual events, today we are at 100%. VOK DAMS is developing from an event agency with digital expertise to a hybrid event platform provider. Luckily we have been producing digital event formats for more than 10 years, so this is not difficult adjustment for us.
90% of our colleagues are currently working from home and have been since the beginning of the pandemic. Here we were also well prepared for as most of our business is run remotely. Be it onsite, on the road or at our clients’ office. As an agile agency, we have relied on the active personal responsibility of our teams for years. It also helps tremendously that the majority of our VOK DAMS team has a digital background.
Do you feel that you have sufficient political support?
In our main market Germany, the event industry is very fragmented, with over 27 different industry associations all coming up with their own campaigns for Government support and regulations. It was important to raise political awareness of the consolidated market relevance of our industry. Together we stand for sales of almost EUR 10 billion a year. In connected secondary markets, it is likely to be a further EUR 80+ billion.
The diversity – and the recent cooperation – of the German event market was literally brought to light with the “Night of Light” (#nightoflight2020) on 22 June. Thousands of event related entities including agencies, concert venues, exhibition halls, A/V companies, theatres, caterers and exhibition builders illuminated their buildings and local sights bright red to “highlight” the plight of the live event related industries.
On a more political level together with all the associations, we developed a whitepaper of scientifically proven measures for “low-risk events” and presented it to the relevant regional and federal government entities. On the basis of these guidelines, politicians can develop the guidelines for the approval of events at country level.
It is also important to raise awareness of the extremely wide range of different types of events in our industry. A simple example illustrates this: While a local carnival gathering in Heinsberg with 300 participants in a small indoor space resulted in 70 infections, there were no known infections at the five-day EuroShop trade fair in Düsseldorf with 95,000 participants – happening at the date and only a few miles apart.
In the other countries where we have offices (USA, China, UK, Estonia, UAE, etc.) we also cooperate as much as possible with the local event industry associations. Each country is developing their own rules and regulations in response to the pandemic and the resulting economic impact and we try to implement learnings from one country to the other.
After China opened up again for events in June already – European countries are following July 2020 and VOK DAMS North America is already working on events scheduled in the US from late October 2020 again.
What developments are you currently seeing?
The desire for social interaction
One of the side effects of social distancing is that it leads to a strong need for real personal interaction. People are really craving social encounters, even in the current six foot distancing situation. It’s what inspired the drive-in cinemas, the 50% capacity restaurants and all the other possibilities to be social while keeping the appropriate distance. No matter how grim the pandemic is, people are inventive and finding ways to safely interact. And with the ongoing relaxation of the COVID-19 rules, certain public events are being allowed again. All while adhering to the safety rules for which we have developed easy to implement protocols
Not digital, not virtual but hybrid
We also see renewed demand for major events in autumn 2020 and spring 2021. With many clients still reluctant to go for 100% live event and the proven limited effectiveness of full digital events, a large percentage of these requests are for hybrid events. Events where both live (offline) as digital (online) participants have the same impactful experience and can interact and exchange information with each other regardless of format. Depending on the current local COVID-19 situation, the live or the virtual part of the event is more dominant but in essence both parts have an integral role.
Use what’s available and make it better
It is becoming increasingly clear that virtual events are not just a question of implementing technical tools. Strategy and concept are key for a successful event. This is as much true for a virtual as for a live event. The technical tools should not define the event. Therefore, we have developed an open platform for hybrid events, which can utilize all existing online tools. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel with so many great applications readily and affordably available. This open platform offers the possibility of real time and natural exchanges between participants live on site and the virtual ones. We serve all proven digital providers on this platform and combine them reliably and sustainably in the customer’s design.
What will the events of the future look like? Will the industry change?
As the world changes, the event industry will undoubtedly change. Good or bad, we always find a way to adapt. It’s how we as an agency have been able to stay in business for the last 50 years.
We foresee four major changes to the event industry:
#1 Hybrid events will be the format of the future
With a combination of live and virtual participants where – and this is new – both groups have the same meaningful and impactful experience. No participant will be “punished” for not being able to attend the live event; the virtual attendance will be – although in s different format – as impactful and relevant as being there in person.
#2 Open hybrid event platform concepts that integrate leading applications will prevail.
Agencies will develop into platform providers. From the point of view of the participants, these platforms are intended to be “digital first”. The direct translation of live formats to virtual formats will not work. The numerous online events from the last couple of months have made that abundantly clear. Initially they offered the comforting reliability of familiar environments in a new digital world but eventually they did not deliver a meaningful experience to the online participants.
#3 Online everything is your competition
In general people don’t compare live and virtual experiences, these are two entirely different things. People want an exciting or at least a pleasurable experience and are used to high quality online content like to a good Netflix series. So as event agencies we are not just competing with other events, but with all the online content available. And if the offered online event solution seems rather boring in this comparison, it will be difficult to engage and inspire participants at a virtual event.
#4 The end of the traditional Event Manager
There will also be a rethinking of the job profile of the event manager: Today’s event manager will develop into a hybrid event manager.
Although we don’t like to use the already old and tired monikers like “the new normal”, “unprecedented times” or “a post COVID society”, we do accept that the impact of the pandemic on the world, the personal lives of 100,000s of people and our industry is severe and that we need to adjust and adapt. And without wanting to sound glib or obnoxious, we’re actually looking forward to it!
VOK DAMS worldwide
VOK DAMS worldwide is one of the leading international communications agency for events and live-marketing. At 19 locations around the world, around 300 experts produce brand appearances for events, trade fairs, road shows and showrooms – live, digital, hybrid and virtual. VOK DAMS has offices in Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart and its headquarter in Wuppertal, Germany. In addition, international offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hongkong, Bordeaux, London, Madrid, Prague, Vienna, Tallinn, New York, Philadelphia, Sao Paulo and Dubai.
VOK DAMS Events & Live-Marketing
t: +49 202 38 907-181