Another week, another inspiring story about pivoting to virtual events! Now that the industry has come to terms with the so-called “new normal”, we want to bring the best stories to the forefront. All across the nation, event planners have been learning the ropes of virtual events. And they’ve been doing so in order to deliver high-quality experiences with the tools they have at their disposal. So there’s no shortage of success stories out there.
On this week’s #EventIcons, we introduce yet another incredible tale of pivoting. Our amazing guest, Magdalina Atanassova, is the Marcom and Brand Manager at Kenes Group. She studied Convention, Event, and Exhibition Management and has been a titan of the industry for years. Today, she joins our always lovely host Sarah Christl to tell us how she went about pivoting to virtual events – and most importantly, what she learned and how the company succeeded. Press play to find out!
When The House Crumbled
Much like everyone else in the industry, the people at Kenes Group were caught completely off guard when the pandemic hit. “When it really hit us, it also hit us with a few cancellations. For example, in our Madrid office, they had planned a huge event in the aviation industry”, Magdalina recalls. “And that had to be canceled one week before the event. So that was a huge hit for us”.
“We were devastated. I mean the hard work and everything that had to be canceled and all the money lost. So that’s when we started to really worry. We had to think quickly on our feet. So we established internally a situation room where all the management gathered and we could discuss projects and how we should react in each situation. We decided what we should communicate and with whom. And we developed a very thorough communication plan that had to be executed by each team, and talking to sponsors, to clients, to delegates, and to have a unified message for everybody”, she adds.
Pivoting To Virtual Events: The First One
Soon after, the pivoting to virtual events began for the Kenes Group – and they had under three weeks. “What we did was really take the program, the scientific program, and literally move it directly online”, Magdalina explains.
“And people were really gracious with us. They understood that we didn’t have much time. So maybe the platform wasn’t perfect or the few hundred talks that we had to record were not the best quality or as perfect as we would have liked. But people were gracious and they really enjoyed it. They liked it. We kept the registration fees the same, it didn’t change anything. We didn’t have as many cancellations as we expected, and we also got new registrations coming in, which was great. So it gave us hope”.
In regards to how the team handled pivoting to virtual events, Magdalina has nothing but good things to say. “I think it’s our culture in the company. We don’t have can’t do it. It’s how do we do it? Because we’ve been in business for 55 years. So to survive for such a long time, you really have to be agile and think on your feet and sometimes make hard decisions. Our management was the first to lead us into this and help us make the decisions. But on the other hand, we had the support from clients because for years we’ve been talking about hybrid and virtual. And at this stage in time, they were open”.
Pivoting To Virtual Events: The Advice
“There has to be a completely different design thinking behind. So you have to design the event for the virtual world, and it’s different. So in terms of that, we’re trying to design a virtual experience and not really to have the usual in-person event with too many holes, long days, and all that. We may have done it for a few events where it was difficult or not enough time to do otherwise. But other than that, we’re really focusing on the networking side, on how to really engage people with the platform, not to be like a Netflix of scientific content where they can just view science on demand, but to have something extra”.
What Matters Now?
“Our current model that we have applied is to have live days of the event where it’s really interactive, there are extra things to do and meet with speakers, talk with them, for example. And then the content is extended for another three months. So those people that wanted to watch more or wanted to rewatch something – they can still do that. So for scientific meetings that we are organizing, it proves a great model and we received a lot of feedback that that’s actually something that people appreciate it. They can pause and rewind, especially when something is very complex or English is not their first language”, says Magdalina.
“And also to check if we’re actually going the right way, in terms of designing an experience, we recently did a survey with healthcare professionals where we literally ask them do you want the virtual events? Do you like them? What’s missing, how can we improve it? And interestingly, they said that really the first thing or the drive for them to attend a virtual meeting is still the content. So content is still the king. The delivery is the queen in these terms because virtual is a different medium. There are many tools that we can use, but we shouldn’t forget they’re just tools to deliver something. So having the strategies, having KPIs that you’re chasing, that’s as important as in any in-person event”, she adds.
It’s A Team Effort
Magdalina and her team had to really band together while pivoting to virtual events. “Our IT team really had a fun time this six months. I think the first time when we told them that in three weeks, they have to convert an event with hundreds of sessions to record, they were like, okay, we’re done. Thank you very much”, she says with a laugh.
“But it hasn’t been easy. It’s been a team effort again because our IT team is rather small. So we are all supporting them. We’re all watching all the demos. So we really try to scan and browse through things. And also attending different virtual events. We see different ideas being implemented, different tools being used. So of course that helps a lot. And we’re trying to put that list together of what works, what doesn’t work. And then we do pilots in different events. We are still having a huge list of things to check, October is a super busy month for us. So we have a lot of things to check and in November we’ll probably have a lot of, yes, this works and yes, this doesn’t work”.
What Does The Future Hold?
“Well for next year, most probably, predominantly virtual and different kinds of hybrid will be happening. Whether multi-hub or one hub depending on the client and what they want or what they want to achieve. But for 2021, probably virtual will be the answer And with the current situation that we’re seeing now with cases rise in different countries, it looks like 2021 will be challenging as well”, believes Magdaline. “I think that this period has helped us at least to open up some conversations with clients, for them to be less afraid of technology. And of course, now they’re better versed in technology so they know what to expect. They know what to ask of us, which is great. It’s really hard for you to push the client. So finally we have these doors open, and it’s up to us pretty much to decide what we want out of the future”.
“I’m really hoping that more even professionals will see this as an opportunity rather than a tough time. And I understand we had the period to mourn the loss, events that we had, and the fact that we cannot do in person. And we’re still mad about it. We can’t do anything. We want to be onsite. But it’s not the case. So what can you do?”.
“But I think there’ll be much more integration in the future between in-person and virtual. And I really believe that it’s an opportunity for in-person events to have really the best content. So if you make all the effort to actually get to the destination and be there and listen, you would really require something out of those speakers. So I think all the media will go away hopefully, it will stay in a better-edited version online. But the really best speakers and best content will be live”, she adds.
And that’s a wrap on this amazing episode of #EventIcons! This week, we brought yet another amazing story from the realms of pivoting to virtual events. More and more, companies and planners everywhere are embracing this new way of cooking up experiences for attendees. And it doesn’t seem like virtual is going away anytime soon.
So if you need help with your very own virtual event, don’t hesitate to contact us. The team here at Endless is looking forward to helping! Plus, stay tuned for more unique and exciting content about everything event-related.