Massive events have been cancelled and rescheduled due to Covid-19, including TTG Eventsâ€™ own tentpole IT&CM China. Managing director Darren Ng shares how the team is turning the tide for the virtual event in August
TTG Asia Media, through its TTG Events business unit, been organising and executing business events for more than two decades now. How has the pandemic changed the way the company, and the events industry at large, approach business events and technology?
This pandemic has forced many companies and organisations to really look at new ways of doing things. I think this has been said in many webinars. Over the years, we have seen many evolutions in technology, but this pandemic is forcing businesses to take it seriously as an option for doing virtual meetings and events. There’s no other option â€“ either youâ€™re in it, or you’re out.
In some way, it has expedited and pushed everybody to start adopting technology. For those who are already working with technology, weâ€™re looking at fine-tuning platforms that can help virtual events move and grow much faster than before.
One of TTGâ€™s tentpole events is IT&CM China, which was originally scheduled for March 2020. How have you navigated this crisis to salvage and reposition the event?
From the early onset of the pandemic, we realised that physical events were going to be a challenge, especially those in China. This was about a month before IT&CM China was scheduled to happen, and the reality of how to approach it probably didn’t sink in for a few more weeks. We had hoped that we could still defer (the physical event) to August, but it became quite clear that we will not be able to do that as the situation evolved and we could see the severity of the whole crisis.
From there, we noticed what other industry professionals were doing, and also took from what China themselves have found success in. Webinars were one of our first forays into online events. That was our first experience with anything virtual for an event. At the same time, we were planning for a virtual exhibition that will eventually turn the August event into a virtual show.
Speaking of China, big news for Singapore is the business fast-lane with China. What are your thoughts on this announcement?
China has started to open up and resume events, but this has taken a slight backstep because of Beijing’s recent second wave (of infections). There’s some reversal in trying to proceed further, and there should be a lot of caution in learning what we can from these examples. The situation is evolving rapidly â€“ it can be fine to go on the first day, but the next day the news comes out and things change.
Although technology is expected to become a mainstay even when physical events return, what traditional elements do you believe will still hold a place?
The business objectives for sending someone to attend an event will still remain â€“ things like business sourcing, appointments, meetings, learning and networking. The formats of how these are going to run have already started changing, but this year, because of the physical distancing requirements at venues, the capacity of people that can attend such events is going to reduce significantly.
Face-to-face meetings will not change, but it all depends â€“ perhaps, in the future, when there is a vaccine for Covid-19 and the world is free to travel again â€“ the adoption of virtual hybrid (tools) will help take events to a different level.
I believe there’s a proportion of people who still want to do face-to-face meetings, but for those who are not able to, hybrid elements will give them the option to actually attend the event through virtual means. It would allow greater participation from more sellers and buyers who would be otherwise constrained by time and budget.
Industry experts are predicting that the industry will see more small, fragmented events â€“ meaning more competition. What are your thoughts about this?
If adopting technology is easy and not too expensive, there’s a great possibility of a lot more smaller events on the sidelines taking place. Instead of waiting for big organisers like TTG or IMEX to get everybody together, some suppliers may hold their own smaller online events, like the virtual roadshows theyâ€™re doing now.
I also have an inclination that these smaller-capacity events will be just for the short- to medium-term. After a couple of years, I think people may start pushing back on guidelines as the situation evolves. The call for ROI is also going to push (smaller-capacity events) out, but it’s anyone’s guess at this point.
In the near term, how do you envision that will change the attendee mindset?
In terms of outreach and to make the event more inclusive, businesses will have to do hybrid (events). TTGâ€™s international shows have local and foreign delegates, but our ratios will be different. For IT&CM China, we used to host 20 per cent international buyers (and the rest Chinese). But because of more (travel and venue) constraints now, the delegate-attendee mix is likely to change.
Going forward, delegates are going to be more discerning about the events they would want to travel for. We envision that there will be people who will now choose to attend virtually. So, itâ€™s up to the event organisers to make a very strong proposition for delegates to be there physically.
What would make a strong proposition?
In order for organisers like us to be successful in the future, I think there’s a need to make sure that our platform â€“ apart from the content â€“ allows buyers and sellers to successfully conduct business. Weâ€™ll need to put in elements to set it apart from smaller events. So, this is a challenge, of course, to event organisers to make sure that that we’re able to attract the right delegates to our event.
For instance, IT&CM China will bring the business meeting opportunity and validation of buyers into the online space. Some other shows are less structured in organisation, but we will consolidate the high points of what have made the physical event a success and translate them online.
The main driver for exhibitors coming to our show is the business appointment element. Buyers will pay a token registration fee that is fully refundable when they complete their appointment fulfillments. There will be incentives and surprises for participating in events, either by earning points for lucky draw prizes or doing more appointments for a cash prize.
IT&CM China 2020 Virtual Event will be held on August 3-5, 2020. Interested participants can register at www.itcmchina.com/register.html.