What We’ve Learnt From Omicron: Inaction Is Not An Option

Even seemingly mild variants can have devastating impacts on the event sector - here's how to protect yourself from postponements and calculations when the next variant arrives...

Vanessa Lovatt, January 6, 2022

As I sit here in London witnessing another raft of postponed or cancelled events in the European region, whilst also hearing of US events resting on the all too familiar ‘should we/shouldn’t we?’ knife edge, I am feeling confused that this is happening.

Specifically I mean the postponements and cancellations. Again. This is the 3rd or 4th time this has happened in some regions. I’m confused because it simply isn’t necessary.

If there is just one thing that we have learnt from the turmoil of Covid it’s that contingency planning and risk mitigation is now an essential part of every single event, from strategy through to design and development. Not planning for the worst is not an option.

I just spoke to an Event Director who’s event is in May 2022 and they said ‘Hopefully we will be okay by then, so we will sit tight for now and see what happens. We just hope another variant doesn’t emerge before then.”

When did hope become an event strategy? I was drilled for over a decade by an incredible CEO that ‘Hope is not a strategy!’

Omicron has taught us that sitting on our hands and hoping Covid won’t be a problem is just not good enough, as this seemingly mild variant is still causing major disruption. Every event needs a robust plan for whenever this next happens again…

“Effectively, we have been scheduling, rescheduling, negotiating, renegotiating every three months for almost two years,” said Stephen Carter, chief executive of Informa, in an article published this week in the Financial Times.

The most painful bit of this quote is the ‘almost two years’ time frame. This turmoil is not going away next month, or in two months or potentially for the rest of this year as new variants continue to emerge. Here’s a quote from Arjun Venkatesh, MD, Yale Medicine Emergency Medicine physician and associate professor at Yale School of Medicine, from December 2021:

“Variants are common and expected in the evolution of any virus, so trying to stop mutations may be a fool’s errand,” Venkatesh said.

Across Europe, countries have responded to Omicron by encouraging caution, ranging from face coverings and work from home when possible recommendations, to restricted numbers for meetings, through to full stay-at-home orders in some countries.

All of these things threaten in-person meetings and events, so yet again the postponements and cancellations are back.

But this has to stop - this is not sustainable, nor a necessity. The hybrid and online solutions not only offer an insurance policy against cancelled events that not many are yet exploiting, but they are also far more sophisticated than they were two years ago.

You do need to design your insurance policy into your event strategy from the beginning. That’s the only way to guarantee that your event can go ahead, successfully, with perhaps more online elements than you originally planned. Events are still high risk, so managing risk and leveraging your 'insurance' strategy when needed is simply part of the job at the moment.

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Now's the time to invest in a hybrid-ready tech solution. Download our free guide '12 reasons why inaction is no longer an option’ to share with your decision-making team today.

I can concede that an in-person only trade show may not be best placed to move more online, but there are two crucial considerations here:

1) Firstly, trade shows are only a portion of B2B meetings and events globally and almost all other meetings and events can not just survive, but THRIVE, if designed well for hybrid or online, even if those formats are contingency formats.

2) Should there really be any in-person only events of any kind anymore? Attendees are saying loud and clear that they want to be able to choose how to attend due to safety concerns, or maybe just down to old-fashioned human desire to be able to choose how they spend their time. They’ve had a taste of online and, when delivered well, many enjoy or even prefer online thanks to what it gives them back (lost travel time, lost time away from family, just time!).

Let me be clear - I love going to events in-person, they offer networking that you can’t replicate online, but I strongly believe that events are stronger when they are both in-person and online. For example I am very pleased to be registered to attend CES online this week - I would never have afforded the time or cost to go in-person, and that’s before we even get into the Covid travel challenges. Oh and by the way, when I completed my registration it looked like they had over 3.5million registrations either online or going in-person - that’s not a number to ignore.

Back to my main point… Omicron tells us loud and clear that inaction is not an option if you want to be sure your event will go ahead. ACT now and develop a contingency plan to ensure your event can proceed which means a strategy, event design and execution plan for in-person only (if that was ever the plan), hybrid with sliding scale of in-person/online attendee ratio, and online only.

For each scenario you need:

1) Tech solutions confirmed - from your platform (be sure to pick a hybrid ready option for your hybrid scenario, of course I will recommend Glisser) to your registration systems, to your integrations with existing platforms like CRM
2) Manpower resourcing requirements
3) A confirmed budget
4) Content and programme design
5) Your follow up content plan for on-demand content

Is this hard? Hell yes.

Is this time consuming? Hugely so.

Does this give your event the best chance of success? Without doubt.

If you simply can’t do all of these, then your safest option is to plan for hybrid, with two scenarios: a) higher percentage of in-person attendees and b) higher percentage of online attendees.

Omicron has made it clear that we need to take responsibility for stepping back from the Covid knife edge of ‘do I go for in-person or online?’ and instead be ready for whatever else Covid throws at you, so that your event can and will still run successfully.

Inaction is not an option, so act now to prepare your event for success in whatever scenario Covid forces upon you. Hope is not a strategy.



Now's the time to invest in a hybrid-ready tech solution. Download our free guide '12 reasons why inaction is no longer an option’ to share with your decision-making team today.

Check out Glisser.com to find out more about the award-winning meetings & events platform focused on audience engagement, wherever you are.

 

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