COVID-19: Your Event’s Been Canceled. Postpone or Virtualize?

Business events being canceled is one of the most immediate impacts of social distancing guidelines and shelter-in-place orders due to COVID-19. As an event host, the most pressing question is whether to postpone until later in the year, or shift to a virtual event. On the one hand, when this crisis has passed, in-person events may feel fresh and more important than ever. But on the other, the fall calendar is already getting full of rescheduled and prescheduled events, making a virtual event all the more tempting.

I’ve seen some perspectives on this issue that have been slanted based on who was publishing the content; while I don’t think they meant to be opportunistic, it’s not surprising to see digital marketing shops touting digital marketing as the replacement for events, while event hosting platforms recommend you transition to virtual events.

Because The Mx Group employs a diverse set of B2B marketing services, we have the ability to take a holistic look at the situation and our clients’ realities, and recommend what truly fits, not a specialty we represent. If you’re trying to sort through what’s best for your event plans, hopefully this guidance will help you as well.

Postpone or Virtualize? Six Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. What value were you giving attendees when it was a live event? Virtual events work great for content sessions. Networking, not so much. And if the focus was product demos or something more experiential, you may be better off with a live event later in the year, or creating on-demand videos that can recreate the demo experience, rather than a virtual event.
  1. Is the content still relevant given the current context? If you’ve already done a lot of the work on the strategy and creative, and the content is still valuable and relevant for the current situation, then a virtual event might make sense.
  1. What’s the competition doing? What’s happening in the industry? Massive event cancellations could crowd the virtual event space quickly, but this may vary by industry. Technology vendors have been running webinars and virtual events for some time, so that space may be saturated. But industrial marketers haven’t had a digital focus over the last few years, so a virtual event for that audience may stand out and be more successful.
  1. Do you have the right technology to make a virtual event work well? People will quickly abandon your virtual event if it’s slow or cumbersome, if it has bad audio or a confusing UI, etc. If you’re not already set up to do a virtual event, make sure the investment makes sense right now compared to paid social or SEM.
  1. Will you be successful if you postpone an in-person event? Think through whether postponing will bring its own pitfalls. Will your venue be available at a reasonable time? Is the month you’re looking at already crowded with too many other competing events? If so, you may be better off experimenting with a virtual event now, when you have a chance to stand out.
  1. Can you do both? Is there any reason you can’t give it the ol’ college try and do a virtual event now, and still have your in-person event later in the year? This will allow you to make double use of the content and strategy.

I hope these six ideas are helpful as you reconsider your event strategy for the foreseeable future. If you have thoughts you’d like to share on this topic, I invite you to follow me and The Mx Group on LinkedIn to continue the conversation.