Author: Leslie Dickerson

What Organizations Need to Know About Planning an Event in 2021

Last January, you had an event plan for 2020. No matter how great a plan it was, it likely had to change because of events beyond your control. Now it’s a new year and time for a new plan. As you start to develop a plan for your company’s events in 2021, here’s what you need to know.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Plan

It’s understandable that you might be anxious about making a plan when so many things can be up in the air. Don’t let this stop you. A good plan provides a framework for you to make decisions if something needs to change down the road. This includes things like how you’ll deal with inclement weather to under what conditions you’d decide to shift to an all-virtual event and what that would involve. By making a plan, you’re not committing to things never changing. You’re committing to your ideal outcome and a way of working with changes if needed.

Plan for Hybrid

Hybrid events may have become popular out of necessity, but they are now the event type of choice for attendees. Hybrid events are intentionally designed experiences that consist of two well-timed experiences (in-person and virtual) that intersect seamlessly. Attendees love hybrid events because whether they decide to attend in person or virtually, they have a worthwhile experience that delivers value for their investment. In a hybrid event, there are no “also rans.”

Plan to Engage Your Key Audiences

Most people are viewing 2021 as a time to focus on new habits and thinking more purposefully about how they spend their time than they might have pre-2020. This means engaging with your key audiences is vital. If you want your event to be one of the habits they keep, you need to give them a meaningful reason that goes beyond “because you’ve always done it.” Consider ways that you can communicate your value to your customers and key stakeholders throughout the year. This not only helps them choose your event as part of their reset, but it makes it easier to weather changes (big or small) when they inevitably happen. What do your key audiences need from you right now? Use the answers to this question to inform your opportunities for creating something new.

Plan to Do Something New

A year ago virtual events weren’t part of our collective conscience. Today, most of your audience will have attended multiple virtual events, so things that may have been novel twelve months ago aren’t the things that are going to cause excitement in a 2021 audience. Simply repurposing what you did last year isn’t an option. Starting with an evolved content approach, you need to consider all the opportunities for making your event fresh, including new features and additional technology. When you’re thinking about “new,” remember that elements that were nice to have in 2020 are going to be must-haves in 2021. If you did it last year, it’s not new for your audience.

Plan to Be Selective — and Thorough

Last year’s need for virtual platforms created a “gold rush” market where lots of new businesses sprung up, claiming to offer plug-and-play technologies. Several times we were brought in to salvage a virtual event after it became clear a tech vendor couldn’t deliver on what had been sold. Many of us have even attended virtual events that completely fell apart because the technology wasn’t supported or implemented correctly, including an international conference that went dark for three hours because the vendor hadn’t planned for the right server configuration. When selecting technologies, including event platforms, make sure you understand what their experience has been to date and ask for examples.

Plan Now!

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that because an event is virtual or hybrid, there’s infinite capacity. However, platforms fill up just like hotels. There’s only so much to go around, and as in-person events start to return the demand on physical venues, lodging, catering, equipment, and other resources will also increase. Many events in 2020 were rescheduled for 2021, so new events are already competing for what’s still available. If you wait to plan your event (whether it’s in-person, virtual, or hybrid), you could end up with a 2022 or 2023 event date.

You Don’t Have to Plan Alone

Find a partner to work with who has a demonstrated history of successfully planning and producing in-person, virtual, and hybrid events from a top-down experience design approach. They can help you understand the options you have for events and what a change in circumstances would mean for your event goals.

Resetting for 2021 – Wellington Style

Human connection is at the core of our business. We design purposeful experiences to create and deepen those connections, and we understand how experiences need to be customized for what’s happening in the moment.

In years past, the holiday season has brought something that most of us probably took for granted: a reset. Yes, the holidays meant running around to school events, parties, services, shopping, and family gatherings, but they also meant a break from the normal routine. In 2020, though, the daily routine changed, and for many people that meant it had some of the “look” of a reset (Stay at home! Wear pajamas!) but with the same – or more- responsibilities. This leaves us thinking that we’ve had a reset when in fact we’re doing the opposite.

We know how important a reset is to our mental health, physical health, and relationships with others (both personal and professional). Without the external factors that normally create that reset for us, we need to create the reset ourselves. In other words, we need to fill our own buckets instead of waiting for something or someone to do it for us. And for those we care about, including our family, friends, and co-workers, we can help fill their buckets, too.

How do we do that? By thinking about the feelings and experiences we look forward to having during the holiday season, and designing virtual alternatives to help generate that same joy. These can be wonderful opportunities for creating and nurturing our personal and professional communities.

We know you’re busy, so we’ve created a list of ideas for ways to reset this holiday season and into the New Year that work for the current moment.

Virtual Experiences

General Tips for Virtual Experiences

  • Whether you’re doing a 15-person Zoom call or something more involved, it’s really important to give everyone an active role. Without that, you will inevitably end up with periods of time where everyone’s talking or no one is. Shyer people may say nothing or “hide” in a virtual corner, and more extroverted people may inadvertently dominate. Roles don’t have to be serious – go with what fits the personalities of your group best.

  • You may also want to select a leader or “host” for group gatherings. It should be someone who’s comfortable with the role and will help encourage other people to talk. The leader’s main function is to make sure everyone is able to relax into the experience and participate.

  • An ice breaker topic can do wonders for putting people at ease. This should be something that is not at all controversial and something that makes sense to everyone.

    • “What’s the last movie you watched?”

    • “What’s your favorite holiday food?”

    • “Where’s your favorite place to travel to?”

  • To keep everyone engaged, you can also randomly call on people to answer personal (but not uncomfortable) questions.

    • “What’s your favorite family tradition?”

    • “What do you admire about ______ (a coworker, family member, or friend)?”

    • “What’s something you loved doing this year?”

      • Office variation: “What did you enjoy most about working with ____?”

      • Office variation: “What was your favorite project this year?”

  • You can also ask people to bring something to share: a recipe, a joke, or a photo are all good options. For larger groups, make sure you have several “plants” you can count on who will definitely bring something and be willing to go first.

Slideshows and Videos

With basic software, you can create a slideshow or video that people can rewatch after the experience. You can ask people to submit photos or drawings and mix them with a few transition slides. You can even create a soundtrack that can be circulated to everyone as a playlist. Your slideshows can be funny (pets, unfortunate family photos) or more serious.

Toys for Our Younger Selves

Draw names and each person has to purchase a gift they think the person they picked would have liked as a child. After you share your purchases (and you find out if you were right!), donate the toys to an organization that serves children in need.

Interactive Cabaret

Mentalists, magicians, artists, singers, comedians and even dancers now are available for hire over Zoom. Go for the full cabaret experience by asking attendees to dress up and send out a recipe for a signature drink ahead of time (preferably one using ingredients they’re likely to have on hand).

Winter Camp

One of the most fun things about camp is learning new things together. Recreate that spirit with online mixology classes, cooking classes, dance classes, and even improv classes. You can also follow the lead of crafting maven Amy Sedaris and have a crafting and cocktails night.

Lifetime Achievement So Far Awards

A great way to boost spirits is to give people a tribute to what they’ve accomplished and who they are no matter where they are in life. Trade names so guests make a short video, slideshow, collage, or even a toast about how great someone else is.

Family Holiday Night

Go all-in with games, hot cocoa, holiday music, and ornament painting (there are great kits available online or you can make your own with a basic salt dough).

Progressive Holiday Party

In real life, a progressive party moves guests from room to room or venue to venue as the event unfolds. Recreate that in the virtual space by creating different themed virtual rooms that host a different course or a different activity in each room

Contests

Contests can be great team-building exercises. For larger groups, you can put people into teams.
Background Contest
Challenge guests in real time to create a Zoom background. The criteria can be “most creative,” “most intense holiday decorations,” “worst vacation destination” – there’s no wrong answer.
Gingerbread House Contest
You can send pre-made house kits to guests ahead of time, make the baking of the gingerbread part of the challenge, or have people draw their houses. Prizes can be given for best, worst, weirdest, etc.
Holiday Ornament Challenge
Ask guests to design a holiday ornament out of a list of common household items, or send them a template so they have a base to start with.

Baking

Baking has become the nation’s unofficial pastime. Put your own spin on it by sending out a recipe that you all make together in real time, asking everyone to make the “ultimate” version of an item (like a breakfast sandwich) or do your own Great British Baking Show technical challenge: give everyone exactly the same recipe and same ingredients and compare the end products.

Retro Games

Take advantage of the many online versions of retro games that can be played by multiple people over Zoom and other platforms: trivia, Connect 4, bingo, and even Cards Against Humanity (depending on your audience).

Awkward Zoom Calls Are This Year’s Tacky Christmas Sweater

Invite guests to share their most awkward Zoom calls – because everyone has at least one. For groups with people who like to draw, someone can sketch out a cartoon version of each story, turned into a book commemorating the Year of Awkward Calls.

Office Variation: Personal Message from the C-Suite

Ask each C-level company member to record a short personalized message to each employee in the group they’re assigned to. Company-wide holiday messages are great, but that level of personalization is incredibly impactful.

Office Variation: Zoom Surprise

Send guests a link to what appears to be a Zoom meeting, but turns out to be a visit with Santa, a cocktail party, or a gifting experience. (To anyone reading this who is disappointed their scheduled meeting is, in fact, a meeting, we apologize.)

Holiday Spirit Week

Don’t limit yourself to one thing. Consider a holiday spirit week, where each day brings something different: wear a Santa hat, listen to a playlist, bake a holiday cookie.

In Person (Sort of)

We’ve culled our list of in-person experiences to ones with low risk as defined by the Center for Disease Control. It takes some creativity, but that’s what we do.

Parking Lot or Driveway Drive-In

With a projector and a solid wall or a screen, you can turn your parking lot into a drive-in. (You can do the same thing on a smaller scale in your own driveway or backyard). Pick a holiday-themed comedy and pass out individually wrapped snacks to guests when they arrive.

Christmas Light Caravan

Take in one of the amazing Christmas light displays or create a map of residential neighborhoods that have a lot of lights. Coordinate with other cars – you can even have passengers use their phones as speakers or walkie talkies to talk to each other while you view the lights.

Secret Secret Santa

A traditional Secret Santa, except gifts are dropped off on the person’s porch. You get the joy of giving a gift and the joy of receiving one. For bonus points, leave the gift at night – just like Santa!

Gifting

The Gift of Choice

This year has left many people feeling powerless. Giving the gift of choice helps people feel empowered and seen. Consider assembling options for people to select from or even creating a virtual gifting suite.

  • Office variation: Create an online gift portal where employees and clients can select the gifts they’d most like.

January Gifts

Consider gifting in January instead of for the holidays, The unexpected surprise in a month that is traditionally difficult for both weather and mental health is a wonderful way to show people that you care about their well-being. To avoid holiday disappointments, consider a very small token or card with a note that 2021 will carry a delightful surprise (or some other way of letting them know that they haven’t been forgotten).

No matter what experiences you decide to do, here are some tips to help:

  • Not sure what everyone will want to do? Give your group up to four options that they can vote on. This helps create a sense of community before the event even starts – and you never know who may be inspired to offer to help!

  • Plan around the personalities and skill sets of the people in your group. This might mean choosing activities that they a wider group will enjoy, or specifically (non-randomly) grouping people into teams based non-randomly. This helps ensure that everyone feels comfortable (for example, Game of Thrones-themed trivia won’t be much fun for people who haven’t watched the show).

  • If you’re working with a large group, find ways to break out into one or more smaller groups. We’ve all been on the 15-person video call where no one knows whose turn it is to speak. Small groups are where the magic of connection tends to happen, so create those opportunities.

  • Ask questions, because questions build community. Asking people what they miss, what they need, or what they would enjoy means you don’t have to guess. It also helps people feel cared for and valued. Carry this curiosity through your experience with ice breakers. These can be lighthearted, like “Fruitcake: good idea or bad idea?” or more serious, like “What do you most wish for in the New Year?”

Looking for specific resources? Just reach out to us and we can help you out!

How to Strategically Replan Your 2020

How to Strategically Replan Your 2020 | Wellington

If your organization or company’s events and communications calendars have all but imploded, you’re not alone.

Conferences, trade shows, annual meetings — many are on temporary hold in conjunction with the social distancing guidelines recommended to help ease the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latter half of 2020 is likely going to look very different from what you originally envisioned. With continued uncertainty swirling, it’s difficult to make concrete plans, especially those regarding events and gatherings.

Before you completely disregard your 2020 calendar and start from scratch, try a different tack: replanning. While your strategic goals will stay relatively consistent, you might find yourself and your team working toward some new, critical priorities, like keeping your audience connected and informed about what’s happening. Having communications and sustaining connections with key audiences is more important than ever.

Gather your calendar, your goals and your strategic marketing plan. Then, follow these 5 tips to build a new approach without reinventing the wheel.

5 Tips to Replan Your Year Without Starting Over

Assess your goals.

Examine what you had planned to accomplish and work toward this year. Then, decide if those goals are still relevant or if there are additional or new priorities that you should fast-track. While there are many unknowns, the need for plans that attack what’s next remains strong.

The good news is that common goals — brand- and community-building, communications and calls to action — are no less important now. You may find that some or all of your goals are more important than ever, given the sudden and stark change in circumstances.

This updated list of goals will serve as the foundation for your strategic planning process, helping you identify what you want to accomplish so that you can now focus on how to do it.

Prioritize events and communications.

With your desired outcomes verified, revisit how you’re going to get there. Look at your existing meeting, marketing and communications plans. Is there anything you need to reprioritize to fit your updated goals?

Many organizations and companies are fast-tracking communications that detail their approach to COVID-19 and the steps they’re taking to refine their operations and pertinent event updates. By understanding your top convening and communication priorities, you can structure a timeline that helps give you confidence and consistency in a time that otherwise feels anything but. One thing to keep in mind: you need to communicate more frequently right now. Adjusting to do so is a good first step.

Look for alternatives.

This is the part of the replanning process where you can start to get creative. Let’s say that your 2020 plan includes one or more major events or meetings. Even if something is taking place later this year, it’s wise to be proactive with a plan B so that you’re not caught off-guard and can also keep your audience in the loop.

How can you still host that essential gathering within our current social distancing parameters? Can you host a virtual version now and the key in-person later? It might not be a full-fledged meeting or trade show, but you could look at the event plan, goals and audience and create a suitable alternative for the now while planning for the need for the whole later.

If your plans to host a mission-critical event or show have been derailed, this is when it’s most tempting to just throw in the towel and start over. Yet it’s worth taking a look at what you had planned and thinking through some modifications. An online event never takes the place and creates the value of an in-person event. But is there a way you can still capture the essence of the experience and what you wanted to accomplish with a virtual video conference, mobile apps and digital communications now and plan for the full value later in the year? This is an important time to maintain stability wherever you can, which will not only help your audience feel reassured and engaged; it will also help position your business or organization to hit the ground running as conditions rebound. Then be ready to have critical recentering conversations when we all come out of the current situation.

Fill in the gaps.

Now that you’ve got an updated list of goals and how you’re going to accomplish them, you may realize you have some communications and other gaps to fill. What assets and content do you need to create in the coming days and weeks to support your strategic plan? Do you need to source virtual tools or other resources to implement your modified event plan? Plug these needs into the timeline you created for your upcoming strategic, events and communication priorities, then share that information with your team to delegate tasks and stay on track.

Revisit frequently and adjust accordingly.

If there’s one thing we’re all learning this year, it’s how to deal with big and sudden changes. We likely haven’t seen the last of a departure from “business as normal.” But there will be a new normal that comes out. That’s why it’s important to be ready to pivot as needed.

If you don’t already, you might also want to take a quarterly approach to your strategic planning. That way, you’ll be well-positioned to operate under any current restrictions or guidance. And if things do significantly change again, you won’t necessarily need to overhaul your new plan for the year. Revisit your plan on a monthly basis, so that you have more time to react with minimal scrambling.

And remember this: you and your business or organization aren’t alone. So many people are dealing with the same challenges now — including all of us at Wellington. If there’s anything we can do to help you, reach out at any time. We would love to have a no-obligation strategic brainstorm with you if it will help. We’re all in this together. And we’ll get to the other side.

What to Do If You Have to Postpone Your Event

Across the country, many events are being postponed or rescheduled because of public health concerns over coronavirus. If you are one that has had to make that difficult decision, there are steps you can take to help make everyone feel good (or at least less bad) about the change.

Identify everyone who will be impacted.

This includes attendees, speakers, the venue, event staff, hotels, transportation providers, and any other vendors. They’ll need to be notified, and you’ll need to work together on the logistics of the rescheduled event.

Figure out your “Plan B.”

Focusing on the purpose of the event will help you quickly identify the best alternative format, dates, or location. That way, you can announce the big picture of your Plan B when you announce the postponement. This helps reassure guests that the event will still happen. Every important objective will still be met.

Communicate clearly and often with attendees.

Once you’ve made the decision to postpone and have your alternate plan, communicate that in an email to your attendees as soon as possible. (Email is available on multiple devices and can be referred back to over time.) You don’t want your guests to hear the news from someone else or on social media, which will make them feel like they don’t matter. Even if you don’t have all the details to share with them at this time, let them know that – then give them a date when you’ll next update them and make sure you follow through. The frequency of communication should be relative to how close the original event date is: an event originally scheduled for two days from now could require almost hourly messaging, while the postponement of an event a month from now could be messaged once or twice per week.

Communicate with your team.

Make sure they understand the internal plans, to both help manage their stress and to empower them to communicate effectively with attendees, vendors, and contractors.

Be consistent in your messaging.

This will help everyone feel confident in your plan and will help you keep track of what’s been said. Make sure all of your messaging, from social media to the person answering the main phone line, conveys the same information.

Find something you can do in the meantime.

Even if you can’t hold the event you planned right now, there are many things you could do to stay connected to your audience and give them a bright spot in what might otherwise be an incredibly stressful time. Things like webinars, virtual meetings, or even simple giveaways can help people feel cared for and part of a larger community.

Be a source of calm.

People were looking forward to attending your event, so on top of being generally anxious they’re also going to be disappointed. Remaining calm in your messaging, approach, and demeanor is an act of kindness that will be remembered long after the event has passed.

Experiences Will Sell Your Brand

What people believe about your company’s reputation, products, and services is based on what they see and experience. Their perception and how they feel when they purchase or use your company’s products or services will determine whether they buy that brand, donate to that cause, or spend time on that again. Experiences create the opportunity for the company to influence what people see, perceive, and feel about their brand. They have the chance to cut through the information clutter prevalent in our society and create connections.

What is “Experience”?

Experience is an on-site interaction between company employees, products, and services, and the people that come into contact with them.

According to a survey conducted by the Event Marketing Institute:

  • 72% of consumers say that they positively view brands that provide quality event opportunities and experiences.
  • 74% of consumers say that engaging with branded event marketing experiences makes them more likely to buy the products promoted.

Types of Brand Experiences

Corporate Events. A corporate experiential event could be anything from a sporting event to a community campaign for a cause.

Conferences or Trade Shows. Where else can you get a large group of businesses in your target niche all gathered in one place, where you can introduce your company products and services?

Pop-Ups. A pop-up is a booth or stand or short-term store at a festival or entertainment event. It is an excellent brand strategy for retail business as it provides a broad, captive target audience of consumers to test out a new product, a new audience, or demonstrate existing product features. Pop-up shops are less expensive than a storefront.

Digital Experiences. Sometimes you are trying to reach a broad base of people that are widely dispersed across the world. While digital experiences lack some of the power of person to person connections, don’t discount bringing an experiential approach to creating them. Things like online prize programs can fill in the gaps in a very effective way in between live gatherings if the same things that make a great live experience are brought into your online creation.

The Purpose of a Brand Experience

A successful brand experience should create a robust, meaningful interaction between the brand’s products or services and the people that would likely use them. The experience provides a chance for the consumer to become an advocate, friend, and supporter of your company’s brand.

Successful brand experiences:

Make an emotional connection between a brand and the participants. A (now) well-known shoe company donates a pair of shoes to a needy person for every pair of shoes you buy.

Allow people to associate your corporate brand with positive feelings, emotions, or memories. Why does a family spend over $100 per day entrance fee to visit a cartoon theme park? Because the company makes feel-good family-oriented movies and creates family-oriented experiences that become lifetime memories.

Impact an individual so much that the brand becomes ingrained in the consumer’s thinking. Every product that a certain tech company invents is unique, innovative, and created with the user’s ease of use in mind. It has many imitators, but only this company’s products can command a higher price and generate such a loyal following.

5 Benefits of Experiences

1. Delivers a longer lasting advertising message. It’s not a 15-second ad spot on a radio or TV station; it’s an authentic conversation that allows the consumer to understand the brand.

2. Immerses people in the brand story. A performing arts venue celebrated its grand opening with a weekend of events that each highlighted different aspects of the venue and its history in the community.

3. Builds excitement for your brand. An exclusive international trip for top performers reflected a property development company’s commitment to employees and inspired continuing enthusiasm and loyalty for the brand.

4. Encourages participants to share with others. People who did not attend the event will hear about it, read about it, see clips about it, and feel they missed out on something amazing. When the brand puts on another experience, attendance and participation should increase.

5. Creates opportunities for social media engagement. Experiences draw in media, bloggers, photographers, and the like who want to share breaking and exciting content with their followers.

6. Creates authentic connections. In an ever growing society built around surface level interactions (“likes,” “loves,” “lols”), having an authentic experience creates a connection. Having a connection between customers, employees and brands is one of the only ways to truly stand out in an information overload state that is our current reality.

The Return on Investment of an Experience

Brand awareness. An experience puts your brand in front of large numbers of consumers.

Earned media attention. Before, during, and after the event, press and social media will usually feature the corporate brands responsible for a successful, well-attended event.

Targeted marketing. Specific events are often geared to niche audiences. Through events on college campuses highlighting water sustainability, a major automotive brand was able to reach its next generation of customers.

Increased social media traffic. Mention of your company brand on a social media post from a participant creates curiosity among social media channel viewers.

Brand loyalty. For already established company brands, experiences create an opportunity to increase brand loyalty. A major soft drink brand has been well-known since 1892, yet it continues to be a partner of major sporting and entertainment events to keep it top-of-mind for consumers as the soft drink brand to buy.

Goodwill. Companies who create experiences that show they are personally invested in a cause, or a local community, spread a positive image of their brand. A local bank that starts a book drive for a local K-12 school earns the appreciation and business of the community it serves.

Cost-effective advertising. Brand experience can be more cost-effective than traditional advertising. A half-day experiential event in front of a small audience that is shared via social media to a much larger audience can cost less than a full-page ad in a national magazine.

An amazing brand experience doesn’t just happen. It requires a well-thought-out brand strategy, publicity design, incredible content, technology, and production, all working seamlessly together. That’s what we do best.