Inner Circle

Event Marketing  

The New Rules for Marketing In-Person Events

by Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes


Over the past decade, event marketers have experienced transformational shifts that have impacted – both positively and negatively – our ability to reach and engage audiences. From the introduction of technological innovations to restrictive data privacy laws to the rise of a more empowered and discerning customer, we’ve adapted to change and accepted that agility is the key to our survival. Never has this capacity to navigate uncharted territory been more important than in today’s post-pandemic reality. Event professionals must question everything they thought they knew about marketing events, unlearn bad habits and even buck some traditional thinking as they plan their next in-person campaigns.


Bigger isn’t always better. Historically, event marketers have inundated their audiences with detailed statistics that demonstrate the size of their events (net square feet of exhibit space, the number of sessions offered, the number of attendees anticipated, etc.) in an attempt to draw a parallel between magnitude and value. This messaging was often supported with visuals that showed congested aisles, packed sessions and crowded networking events. Today, using images and statistics from pre-COVID trade shows and conferences could call your integrity into question, set unrealistic expectations and amplify lingering fears about COVID-19 and mass gatherings. This approach could also provide fodder for negative comments in the press and/or on social media.


Safety matters – but not as much as you think. It seems that organizers are so eager to tell their audiences about all the safety measures they have put in place – from touchless registration to wide aisles to enhanced cleaning and more – that they are doing so in lieu of communicating the basic value proposition of the event. In the same way that you wouldn’t eat at a restaurant only because of its sanitation rating or shop for something you don’t need simply because the store enforces mask-wearing, your audiences won’t attend your events because they are clean, socially-distanced and well-ventilated. Before you assure your prospects that an event is safe to attend, convince them that it will be worthwhile to attend.


Digital marketing matters – more than you think. Direct marketing has become less effective as industry disruption has decimated databases (in some cases) and email fatigue has led to increased opt-outs and disengagement (in most cases). On the other hand, digital marketing tactics, including SEM, programmatic advertising, paid and organic social, retargeting, etc. are proving to be effective at reaching and engaging our audiences, including those that exist outside of our “house lists.” It’s time to invest in the people, tools and resources needed to execute sophisticated digital marketing campaigns.


Location. Location. Location. Bleisure. If you aren’t yet familiar with this term, you soon will be. Bleisure is the blending of business and leisure travel that is predicted to become a major factor in influencing business travel in a post-COVID era. While most professionals have enjoyed the freedom that working from home has allowed, they also have stressed that they are ready to break up the monotony. To capitalize on this phenomenon, ensure that you are putting an extra emphasis on the event location and experience, and marketing both appropriately. Consider expanding events into interesting local venues, hosting culinary adventures, wine tours, food tastings, charitable community activities, fun runs, golf tournaments, etc. and giving your prospects another reason to say “yes.”


Think outside of the hybrid box. Scheduling a digital version of your event on top of the physical version can add layers of unnecessary costs, complexity and resource demands. If you are marketing both offerings simultaneously, do so in a way that won’t cannibalize physical attendance. In your messaging, communicate distinct value propositions for each offering rather than suggesting that you’re producing one event that can be experienced in two ways.


A version of this article originally appeared in PCMA Convene.