I’m happy to see that the advertising community is done announcing once IRL experiences are “going virtual for 2020.” This shift isn’t a strategic choice. Today, events are virtual or they are nothing. So, I was thrilled to see Advertising Week 2020 roll with the Zoom-punches, branding their annual conference as a global event, which also happened to be virtual (because duh).
Advertising Week united thought leaders from London, New York, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Mumbai, Sydney, and Tokyo. As a former member of the event industry, I bow down to the marketers and producers who showed resilience, determination, and innovation pivoting 500 sessions, interviews, and panels to virtual-only.
Trade shows and conferences were invented for me. I love to travel, even if it’s just to hang out at the business center by the airport, learn from experts, and think strategically about how to improve my role and processes. So, adapting to digital has been a challenge. Of all the “events” I “attended” this year, Advertising Week has stood out as one of the most rewarding.
Here are nine thoughts I had during Advertising Week 2020:
1) “I appreciate that they aren’t trying to recreate a live event, virtually.”
I’ve logged on to virtual birthday parties, concerts, and yoga classes and never once thought, it’s just like being altogether in person! Knowing that, Advertising Week made their virtual panels shorter where the takeaways came quickly to hold our attention. At live events away from the office, it was easy to focus during a 60 minute presentation. However, at my desk I’m juggling Slack notifications, emails, and my “real” work just one click away. By being realistic, Advertising Week drew more people in.
2) “We don’t need all of the Zoom activities.”
I understand the reasoning behind hosting evening events like virtual bingo, origami classes, and trivia. Really, I do. The producers wanted to create a community online and engage the whole family while everyone is home together. However, we’re seven months into the pandemic with daily routines. This might have worked in March or April, but we’re seasoned professionals at this quarantine life now and need time in the evenings away from the screen.
3) “… but I’m a hypocrite, because I loved the morning meditations.”
Okay, I take it all back. I attended three morning meditation sessions and they were awesome. As someone who has tried (and tried and tried) to incorporate meditation into my routine, I need the structure of a guided class. Lenore Moritz‘s 15 minute sessions were easy to follow and grounded me not only for the sessions, but my whole workday.
4) “Every famous person is on the docket.”
Everyone’s here, from household names Al Roker, Halle Berry, Jennifer Garner, and Paris Hilton to marketing stars Neil Patel, Bozoma Saint John, and God-is Rivera. One of the biggest benefits of virtual events is the ability to book big-name speakers. Without worrying about travel, schedules, hotels, and additional compensation, Advertising Week producers used their event budget to sign on an incredible list of experts across industries.
5) “The sessions topics were actually innovative and forward thinking.”
With names like “COVID and the Creator Economy,” “Reset You: Building Your Resilience at Work,” and “Bridging the Gender Divide with Radical Candor,” the sessions felt timely and communal. Industry events, up until February of this year, focused content around success, money, and power while pushing VIP, VVIP, and Super Extra VIP tickets. This year felt like a reset as executives and thought leaders openly shared failures, fears, and hard lessons learned.
6) “Impressive use of sponsors for tracks and presentations.”
Advertising Week 2020 had dozens of corporate sponsors. Not only does it speak highly of the event when Google, Salesforce, and Disney all want their names attached, but their involvement felt more supportive and less interruptive than at past events. Perhaps this is one benefit of virtual events — when sponsors have one shot at a clear message on why they’re invested in this event and/or session track, their presence is understood. It sure beats brand ambassadors in matching t-shirts cornering you for “a quick demo and the chance to win swag.”
7) “Martech is only going to get bigger.”
Winmo CEO, Dave Currie spoke on two panels at the event. The first one, “Solve, Don’t Sell – What Clients Really Want To Hear From Martech Providers” featured Currie in discussion with Kerry Dawes, Director of Marketing Technology at TUI Group and Propeller Group Director of Content and former Marketing Week Deputy Editor, Branwell Johnson. Watch the recording to learn what brands are prioritizing in martech, what they expect for their investment, and what vendors should know when pitching.
8) “TikTok is the hottest platform on the market.”
Everybody wants to know what it’s like behind the scenes at the most talked about social platform on the planet. In his second panel, Currie moderated “Attracting Ad Budgets: How TikTok & Integer Group Win High Profile Clients” between TikTok’s Head of US Advertising, Sandie Hawkins, and The Integer Group’s EVP of Growth and Marketing, Nicole Souza. The panel covered TikTok’s rapid growth and how to know which brands have ad dollars to spend. Watch the recording here.
9) “I wonder how events will forever be changed by this experience.”
There’s no going back to pre-COVID life. When the world normalizes again and gathering is restored, we will take many quarantine adaptions and mindsets with us. So, what will that look like for events of the future? Will there be virtual-tracks as well as in-person sessions? Will there be less tickets sold to foster a community feel instead of a cattle call? Let’s check in during Advertising Week 2021 and see what’s evolved.