Launching an events business mid-pandemic: what I've learnt

Publish Date :03 Aug,2022 - 8:44 AM

Two years ago, the world was thrown into turmoil as COVID-19 ripped its way across oceans and borders. 

Two years ago was also when I decided to launch a new events business out of the emerging need to support under-utilised and financially struggling physical spaces across London. A global pandemic seemed to be the perfect setting for such a venture.

And so, Unlocked was born.

Starting a new business is challenging enough, pandemic or not. But, even though event professionals have had it rough these past couple of years, they have proven to be an incredibly resilient and versatile community, not willing to let a £70 billion industry disappear. In fact, according to a report by Allied Market Research, the global events sector is expected to reach $1,552.9 billion by 2028 – an economic force to be reckoned with. 

Now we’ve made it through to the other side, I’ve had time to catch my breath and reflect on our journey so far. I’m keen to evaluate what lessons can be learned as a result of the pandemic, what areas we should be focusing on most heavily and what the future of events holds for a startup like us. 

Improving event sustainability is still a top priority

Sustainability in events is not a nice-to-have – it’s a necessity and has been for a while, even before the pandemic. 

However, thanks to the downtime experienced over the last two years, planners, event spaces and suppliers have been given an opportunity to reassess their strategies and innovate their offerings so that they can better meet their customers’ demands for sustainable events. A 2022 forecast from Global Business Travel suggests that 83% of organizations address sustainability in their meetings and events planning and I’m confident this figure will continue to rise in coming years.

From reducing single-use plastics to minimising long-distance travel, we have more solutions and greater means to implement them than ever before. Yet, one of the most remarkable trends to come about as a result of COVID-19 restrictions is the rise of micro-events.

These events, though smaller in size and scale, are proving to be effective at reducing environmental impact. Instead of transporting thousands of people from various locations to one centralised venue, organisers can reduce travel by hosting these micro-events at multiple localised venues. This also serves corporate responsibility policies well, as organisers can source local products and suppliers and, as a result, can better support the local economy.

Hybrid events are here to stay…

…Only we’re not talking about remote staff joining in-office meetings via Zoom or pub quizzes held over Microsoft Teams. No, we’re levelling up.

Take the IACC’s Americas Connect conference, for example. In 2021, they swapped their traditional format of one large, centralised conference with smaller, localized “pods”. Attendees were still present in person within these scaled-down settings, but every pod was connected virtually to recreate the large conference experience.

With hybrid, the options are limitless. Organisers can build bespoke configurations to suit the specific requirements of each event, whether that’s hosting primarily in-person but, at the same time, delivering the content to remote attendees via digital platforms or running a virtual event with upgrade options for attendees to access in-person meetings.

When 97% of industry professionals expect to see more hybrid events in the future, this is a trend we can’t afford to ignore.

Event tech is the key to industry growth

When the world was thrown into lockdown, organisations scrambled to get their digital infrastructure up to par with the overwhelming demands. With such rapid, disruptive change taking place in a matter of months, technology had to race to catch up.

For the events industry, it’s no different. Technology is what will enable us to deliver powerful events that meet sustainability criteria, engage effectively with our audiences (both remote and in-person) and produce ROI. 

But there’s a problem; event tech is not yet where we need it to be. One survey showed that 40% of planners are unsatisfied with their available tech solutions.

The good news is that significant investment and development are happening as we speak. British start-up, Hopin, successfully raised $125 million in 2020 and launched their hybrid event product in the same year. London-based creators of the event networking app, Grip, raised $13 billion in February 2021.

As we push forward, we’ll see further innovations around AR and VR applications and the metaverse.

Events are viable marketing strategies

Perhaps the most notable shift we are now seeing is leveraging events as part of a marketing strategy, rather than as a revenue source. The industry experienced a steep decline in revenue made directly from ticket sales as a result of the pandemic, so an innovative approach is needed.

Back in 2020, a report by Bizzabo showed that, on average, 84% of event marketers believed in-person events would increasingly become important to their business’ success. This figure has likely not changed much in 2022, with the possible difference being a preference for hybrid over in-person events. 

In order to make event marketing a success, the focus needs to shift away from the transactional element of ticket sales and onto the entire event cycle – from pre-registration to post-event. Running several micro-events throughout the year keeps audiences engaged, as does incentivising them with personalised experiences and content across multiple touchpoints. This is the way to build lasting, loyal participants that will go on to generate revenue in the long term. 

In summary

There is no doubt that the events sector has undergone a radical transformation in two short years. Though it’s clear to see that, out of this disruption, the industry seems to have grown exponentially stronger and more adaptable. At Unlocked, our whole mission is based on innovation, fresh thinking and fluidity, so it’s exciting to be a part of a community that shares these same values.