Inspiration Story: The rise of hybrid events: permanent or mayfly?

Since March 2020, the coronavirus has gripped the Netherlands. Just about all branches are being hit hard, including the event industry. In one fell swoop, many companies lost their business and the whole country went into a strict lockdown. How do you deal with this situation when your core business involves bringing people together? The Utrecht Convention Bureau discussed this topic with Jeroen Coers, partner at PINO, a full-service conference and event agency from Utrecht. For more than twenty years, PINO has been creating solutions for live meetings. The unburdening of clients is paramount.

What now?
Just like many other organisations, the pandemic had a huge impact on PINO. “We were well on our way to making 2020 our best year ever. And then in March, piece by piece, the world started to close down. People started to get nervous and checking the cancellation policies. When the news came on March 15 that the Netherlands was going into lockdown, everything collapsed. With regular calls, an update after every press conference, and every Friday an online drink with the staff to finish the week, we tried to position ourselves as best as possible in this new situation. But also for us as management board, the times were unsure and we didn’t really know what to expect either."

Eventually the question arose: 'what do we do now?'. The first weeks were all about dealing with cancellations, or changing and postponing dates. But soon we started – together with our clients - to focus on how to rearrange events. “Some events we were able to immediately convert into online talk shows. We soon received requests whether we could also facilitate webinars so the client could still stay in touch with their customers and relations. We have researched the possibilities and were able to organise our first online events in the second week of April.”

Reinventing yourself
At the end of March, one of the technology suppliers contacted PINO to see if they were interested in using its warehouse which they temporarily converted into a recording studio. PINO didn’t have to think twice about this request. “With this new online approach, it makes it easier to answer questions such as 'how do I set up an online event?'. That was a bit of a search for us too. After twenty years we suddenly had to (partially) reinvent ourselves. We had to spent a lot of time learning about new systems and procedures. However, these efforts also make it challenging and exciting!”. The small silver lining in this crisis is to notice that many small organisations seek out each other, and together find the strength to move forward and strengthen one another. This partnership is a good example of such a supportive collaboration.

At the beginning of May, PINO started recording its first talk shows in studio Stream. Due to the success of its online events, PINO is also realising its own studio in their The Hague office.

Is the hybrid event a keeper?
Since the 're-opening' of the event industry on 1 July, we have seen an increase in hybrid events: a combination of live and online, in which interaction is an important component. According to Jeroen, the first reactions to this new form of events vary. “As an agency you are actually secretly organising two events at the same time, namely a live event and an online event. Of course, that also has an impact on the budget, which means that it is not an option for every client. The turnaround time of these meetings is also much faster. Some inquiries are coming in today and have to be realised in two weeks.”

Jeroen expects that the hybrid meetings will remain for the time being, but will slowly disappear. “I think we will eventually go back to the 'old' normal. However, I also believe that online will remain an inseparable new component in the event industry. On the one hand, the need to meet live and travel will remain, it is important for the social aspect and for building relationships. However, (inter)national travel entails additional operating costs where attending events online can save money. Where we used to see each other abroad four times a year, that will now perhaps go to twice a year. There are also plenty of meetings within the Netherlands that are now said to take place online just as well. We don't have to travel for everything, if it can also be done online”.

According to Jeroen, this also applies to international speakers: “Dialling in speakers or sending video messages will last longer. In the past, we would have found the idea of ​​dialling in less appealing. However, nowadays it is much more accepted and we are really not going to pay thousands of euros extra to have a speaker fly in, stay and pay for his services while he can also give a good presentation at home in a studio”.

Furthermore, the high costs of a 'combination' event will also play a role in the eventual watering down of hybrid events. “Unless we can go back to normal room capacity and stream at the same time, and if this can be purchased as one (combined) affordable package, then hybrid events will become attractive again. The costs must remain manageable if the hybrid event is to survive.”

The future of the event industry
COVID-19 has drastically changed the future of the event industry, at least in the short term. Jeroen is convinced that in five years' time we will be able to meet live again as we did pre-COVID, even though online will remain prominent for the first few years. In addition to the online component, he expects that some elements from the COVID era will remain for a longer period of time. “Both organisers and visitors will pay more attention to hygiene and routing, because corona now forces them to be aware of this matter. People have also become accustomed to space. You can no longer just cram everyone into a small meeting room, they won’t settle for that anymore.”

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