Disruption & the Future of Virtual Events

Virtual Lunch: Disruption & the Future of Virtual Events

Trade shows and events won’t go back to the way they were pre-2020 – which means we all must adapt and evolve for the next generation.

In this rebroadcast of Virtual Lunch in the Exhibit Marketers Café, Allen Yesilevich shares tips for dealing with disruption in the trade show industry and improving your digital playbook, including how to:

  • Thrive during disruption
  • Deliver value and make money with virtual events
  • Create a community for future events
  • Build alliances in the industry

Here are links to items mentioned during the interview:

About Allen Yesilevich

Allen Yesilevich
Allen Yesilevich

Allen Yesilevich is currently the head of marketing and growth at Accelevents, an all-in-one virtual and hybrid events platform. Prior to joining Accelevents, Allen led strategic marketing and growth initiatives at MC2, an exhibit, events, and experiential company that worked with global brands including Canon, Samsung, Motorola, Unilever, Netflix, Bloomberg, and Nike.


[00:00:00.480] - Marlys Arnold

You're listening to the Trade Show Insights podcast, Season 16, Episode two.

[00:00:19.150] - Marlys Arnold

I'm your host, and exhibit marketing strategist, Marlys Arnold bringing you tools to improve your exhibit results on today's episode, brought to you by the Exhibit Marketers Cafe, we've got a rebroadcast of our virtual lunch with a special guest sharing tips for virtual events and how to improve your digital playbook.

[00:01:02.100] - Marlys Arnold

If you don't already follow Allen Yesilevich on LinkedIn, I highly recommend that you do so because I ... The posts that he shares are so insightful and thought provoking. And I always, you know, you know LinkedIn has that little light bulb and the little guy that's thinking for their icons. Those are some of the images that I use on a lot of his posts.

[00:01:25.840] - Marlys Arnold

But anyway, he's got some great ideas. We're going to get right to it here. But Allen Yesilevich is currently the head of marketing and growth at Accelevents, an all in one virtual and hybrid events platform. Prior to joining Accelevents, Allen led strategic marketing and growth initiatives at MC2, an exhibit events and experiential company that worked with global brands including Canon, Samsung, Motorola, Unilever, Netflix, Bloomberg and Nike. So, Allan, welcome to Virtual Lunch.

[00:01:58.800] - Allen Yesilevich

Thank you. Thank you. And thank you so much for the kind introduction. Wow. I should come back every other week then. Sounds like.

[00:02:06.420] - Marlys Arnold

Yeah, whenever you need a boost. Right. You just come back to virtual lunch. But but no it's true. I mean you always I can tell that you're not just like throwing out, you know, just spur of the moment things. You really put a lot of thought into your post before you put them out there. And and you started some industry groups on LinkedIn. And so, you know, you really are out there and and helping everybody try to move forward.

[00:02:32.100] - Marlys Arnold

And that's really what our topic is for today is about moving forward. Because, you know, and I and those of you that are on my newsletter list, you got your newsletter this morning and you saw that my whole thing right now is, you know, the road ahead and trade shows are not going to be like they were. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, we're we're reimagining and reinventing, and a lot of that is tied in with virtual.

[00:02:58.140] - Marlys Arnold

And so when I first ask Alan to be a guest today, it was because he had written an article on LinkedIn about why modern marketers and how modern marketers can thrive during disruption. So I think that's a really good point to just start with and talk about disruption and how do we how do we make the most of this situation?

[00:03:20.370] - Allen Yesilevich

Yeah, totally. I think that's a great place to start. Look, 2020 was such a difficult year for the industry. Everyone was impacted one way or another. It it was an incredibly difficult year for myself professionally. But, you know, I feel like there's still tremendous opportunity. We can all agree that the trade show industry has not evolved as quickly as some people would have liked. And if anything, this pandemic has created this rapid evolution.

[00:03:52.020] - Allen Yesilevich

And whenever there's disruption in an industry, there's opportunity. And that's kind of where I'm coming from, where as difficult as last year was, I do feel if you're savvy enough to find ways to innovate and insert yourselves in a way that can deliver value in the new climate and what the future of events will look like, you will come out ahead.

[00:04:14.100] - Allen Yesilevich

And that was essentially where I was coming from because a lot of my colleagues, friends in the industry have been impacted. So, when when I start to think about the future of events and that's the majority of where my thought leadership is coming from, I want to help out the community. So I feel that the entire landscape of events and specifically as an event professional or an event marketer, there's such a big opportunity and as so-called traditional event marketers who worked in trade shows and exhibits have been reaching out to me for some advice or just mentorship. I am fully transparent with them and I tell them to start thinking more like a growth marketer and less as an event marketer, because with digital you have the opportunity to drive revenue for the organization like you've never done before.

[00:05:05.130] - Allen Yesilevich

And at the end of the day, when you're working with a brand or internally with a CEO, CMO or CFO, they care about the bottom line. And never before has an event marketer been able to drive revenue for an organization and then show the results. And that is the opportunity with virtual. So as an event professional, you have to be comfortable going outside of your comfort zone and you've probably been doing something year over year the traditional way. Now's the time to upscale, reskill, reinvent yourself by learning and thinking like a digital marketer and thinking more about how you can provide growth for the organization through the lens of events. So that's that was the genesis of the article that you referred to earlier.

[00:05:53.700] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and like you said, our industry has not necessarily been one of the most innovative and rapidly changing industries out there, and so all of a sudden you get thrown into this and being forced into doing the innovating, you know, I know for years I've been trying to shake things up and get people to try new things and get so much resistance. In my newsletter today, I, I said it's like pushing a car up a hill with the brakes on, you know, and that's how it's felt a lot over the years, is just trying to get people to try new things.

[00:06:28.570] - Marlys Arnold

And now all of a sudden people are trying new things. And yes, there's some that aren't working, but there's a lot that are working really, really well. And there are some things that some and I know before anybody starts typing in the comments that, yes, there are some virtual trade shows that have been horrible that didn't work at all. But there's also some that have been very creative. For example, last week I sat in on NAMS Believe in Music Week and they actually did one session that was very creative. That was, I guess, at the actual event I've never been to. But at the actual event, they have what they call room full of pianos. Well, they did world full of pianos where they had five different people on video playing, but they had the sheet music available so people were able to join in and play along from all over the world, wherever they were joining from. And I thought that was such a cool thing. And so, you know, some of these things that people are doing are innovating in ways they could never have done before.

[00:07:31.210] - Allen Yesilevich

Yeah, absolutely. And look, I totally understand how difficult it is to put yourself out there and start learning a new trade or new skills that you may have not been familiar with. But the reality of the situation, and this is where I feel I might be a little controversial, is I don't think we're ever going to go back to what trade shows and conferences used to look like. And I'll be the first one to agree. I've been on some terrible virtual events and early on in 2020, I think it was more about discovery. People were experimenting. It was the first time they were getting their feet wet. In a virtual event, while 2021 is going to be more about optimization, the landscape of options, the spectrum of different virtual event platforms are are very wide. Right. So there's, there's something for everyone and they're nuanced.

[00:08:22.360] - Allen Yesilevich

There are some platforms that focus on a 3D trade show, Avatar, SIM City type of environment. And there are others like Accelevents that focus more on high quality live streaming, gamification, attendee networking. You know, so I think even in the last year, there's been so much evolution in technology that is making the event experience so much better. And I also think that people are comparing in person to virtual and that's a bad comparison. Virtual is different thing. They're complements to one another and they're going to be the perfect recipe for a hybrid event landscape in the future.

[00:09:00.950] - Marlys Arnold

Yes, yes. And I totally agree because it is it's something that it's an enhancement to a face to face event. And the one thing I think that show organizers are finding as they're doing more of these virtual events is they're tapping into an entirely new audience of people that have never been able to come because they don't have the travel budget or, you know, they don't they they just for whatever reason, they can't come. Accessibility is another big issue as well, but it definitely gives them a whole new audience to tap into. And it's a whole new it's a whole new way to reach people. Let's see, Chloe had a question here.

[00:09:40.690] - Marlys Arnold

Would you say certifications are a hindrance to creative thinking and innovation?

[00:09:45.580] - Allen Yesilevich

Yeah, I would say no. I think by getting a certification, you're essentially educating yourself, right? So it isn't a hindrance. And a lot of the certifications or programs revolving around digital marketing and growth marketing that I've seen offer you the framework that you can educate best practices and then insert your own layers of creativity around it. So I don't think it's a hindrance. You just have to take the time to find the right one for you.

[00:10:12.010] - Marlys Arnold

OK, and Nicole says that as event and trade show marketers, it's important to learn and help the clients navigate how to leverage sponsorships and virtual these events will need to make money soon. And I think that is one of the biggest problems with virtual right now is because so many of them last year especially did free. And that is not a revenue model. But as we're moving forward, I think there's still that that perception, at least like, you know, virtual is not as valuable as in person.

[00:10:42.550] - Marlys Arnold

And so people are feeling like that. The show organizers are feeling like they can't charge as much for it. And so how do we how do we move forward and really prove that virtual is a valuable tool?

[00:10:58.120] - Allen Yesilevich

Great question. This this is obviously top of mind for everyone, how do you make money with virtual events while also delivering value to both the brand, the host and the attendee? I actually spoke about this in a room on Clubhouse last Friday. It was such a hot topic. We had event technology founders, we had event organizers and people just generally interested in events. And early in 2020, yes, people were doing virtual events for free but they were testing it out and all they wanted to do was get attendees to sign up and attended and check it out. Right. It was more about brand awareness than revenue generation. The solution going forward, or at least one of the recommended solutions is with virtual events, you have the opportunity to create a community around your events.

[00:11:46.520] - Allen Yesilevich

So by definition, an event is a defined timeline of a social gathering, whether it's in person or virtual. Now that more brands are getting comfortable with the notion of congregating virtually online, you can extend that event year round. It can be a community where you can deliver value. And the events that you host essentially creates content that you can repurpose and disseminating convey throughout the entire year. Now, if I'm an attendee, yes, maybe attending a two day event, I'd like to go for free just so I can get access to some of the topics and some of the subject matter experts and network. But if I want to be part of a year-round community where I'm consistently getting fed value, then I'd be willing to pay a membership fee or subscription fee to be part of that.

[00:12:38.300] - Allen Yesilevich

So the framework that I'm envisioning and actually Freeman published it in an e-book recently, is that the event landscape is now going to be 365, 24/7 year round where you're going to have a handful of physical in-person events and then you're going to have a multiple of virtual events. But what's going to connect everything is going to be community, whether it's within the event tech platform or Facebook or Slack or something proprietary, such as something you're creating Marlys. You know, charging a membership fee is a way to start generating revenue and in a way that traditionally the event organizer or the event marketer didn't even think about.

[00:13:25.940] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and those of you that follow me and know I've been talking about this for 10 years, I did not pay him to say any of that. We're just of the same mindset. Kevin Carty says events versus exhibits is the critical distinction. Trying to recreate a traditional event will always fail virtually. Virtual needs to be an experience. When people think of virtual, they think of gaming, etc. And then he continues that thought, virtual can be infinitely more valuable if people look to use it not just on a showfloor, but use it in their existing sales and marketing strategy weekly.

[00:13:58.010] - Marlys Arnold

And that's exactly what you were talking about, Allen. It's like it's got to be a part of the over. And that's one thing I've always said is trade shows are not a totally separate thing. It's part of your overall sales and marketing. And so it should be a part of the overall umbrella strategy. And I think that too many people have have kept trade shows as this own little pocket. But now they're suddenly realizing it's like, oh, yeah, we can incorporate all of it together.

[00:14:26.060] - Marlys Arnold

We've got another comment here. I think people are becoming a little jaded about overhyped virtual events that overpromise and under deliver. I feel people will be less inclined to invest and take a chance.

[00:14:37.490] - Allen Yesilevich

Yes. So, obviously the barriers to entry for a virtual event are nearly non-existent. With event technology like Accelevents or any other platform, it's relatively easy to create an event. So once that happens, yeah you're going to get significantly greater number of events happening. And as a result, a large number of them are going to be garbage. But the burden then falls on the attendees to do their due diligence to figure out how they can best spend their time and whether it's a brand that's credible and, you know, you're going to get value or there's a handful of speakers who you've followed on social media and you've attended their talks before. And, you know, that's going to be a good experience. Or you have colleagues or peers in the industry who are attending an event and you can have workshops or roundtable conversations with them. Absolutely. It's a more cluttered environment when it comes to events, but the responsibility now falls to the attendees to figure out how they're going to spend their time and what events to attend. So, you know, just because there's a greater number of choices doesn't mean it has to deter you from finding the best one for you.

[00:15:46.880] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and that's definitely true. And Kenji weighs in and said there were definitely profitable virtual events last year. They required a level of savvy to deliver the value on the part of the management team. So, yeah, and that wasn't to say that no events were profitable last year, but I think a lot of them were not not trying that. It's like that wasn't their goal for last year. It was just they were in survival mode. So you also have another article that you wrote that was about what event marketers should know about the future of events.

[00:16:17.780] - Marlys Arnold

And so we're going to put that link up here in just a minute. But let's talk a little bit about it, because you mentioned in your articles about creating new processes and techniques and developing a digital playbook. So can you kind of expand on that thought a little bit?

[00:16:34.490] - Allen Yesilevich

Yeah, absolutely. So the way that I look at virtual events is it's now going to be a tool within your marketing tech stack. Like you have a CRM, you have a social media scheduler, you have an email service provider. Now, every brand is going to have a virtual event tech solution that they're going to use to have multiple events throughout the year. So you have to think less about events being these isolated enigmas that event professionals are working on that are sometimes even outside of the marketing function. Now, with virtual events, it's holistically going to be included as part of this integrated omni channel approach to marketing. And the biggest opportunity is with respect to digital or virtual for your attendees to have to fill out a form, right. And the the better tech platforms, you have the ability to aggregate and collect analytics on what the attendees are interested in.

[00:17:36.230] - Allen Yesilevich

Right. So where's the opportunity there? Once you have that progressive profile on your attendees, you can then segment them into different audiences based on what they're interested in and then deliver ongoing marketing communication to them after the event is done. Or you can have niche events or mastermind groups where you can segment the audience based on their interest. So it's it's a way to include them into this cohesive, year long relationship where you can deliver more value to the attendees. It's no longer confined to the two, three, four day event. The events are now a gateway into your brand's ecosystem.

[00:18:19.660] - Marlys Arnold

That's true, yeah, and again, it goes back to the blending everything together and making it all a part of the process, Rama says your theory about getting value falls upon the attendees is always true. I think new attendees are less likely to be able to find value if they don't know what to look for because they are new. And that's where you were talking about in some of the platforms that they have that capability where they can actually, you know, some of the ones I've participated in have been great because they make recommendations.

[00:18:47.740] - Marlys Arnold

It's like you may be interested in this session or you may be interested in this exhibit or this, meeting these attendees and, you know, having that kind of a more of a again, it's a community feel. It's like, you know, here is since you've indicated you're interested in this, we recommend this. And it's just it's going back to the whole thing that Amazon's done for years about, oh, if you bought this item, you may want this as well.

[00:19:12.130] - Allen Yesilevich

Right. And another way that you can find events that might be relevant for you is connect with thought leaders, subject matter experts on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter and see where those individuals are speaking or what types of events they're attending. And then you can cut through the noise and start attending events where you know you're going to get value from.

[00:19:37.930] - Marlys Arnold

Well, and I think that's important, too, is like we've all and I think most of us have done a really good job of about connecting. I know I've been a lot more active on LinkedIn in the last year, but just connecting to the network and and building your and you talked about that in your article as well, about building alliances and connections with with vendors and with other people in the industry and just building those connections. So I think that's a big part of it.

[00:20:03.760] - Marlys Arnold

So any final thoughts about where we need to be really looking at what we need to focus on as we move forward in the future of events and trade shows?

[00:20:13.840] - Allen Yesilevich

Yeah, I guess the major takeaway here is things are going to be different. Things are very different right now. And post pandemic, we will start to revert back to somewhat of a traditional event landscape. However, it's never going to be the same. Virtual is now going to be a mainstay. And I think the quicker that you recognize that, the quicker you'll see the opportunity of how you can fit in to that equation. And look, on a personal note, 2020 was a difficult year. I'm an introvert by nature, but I told myself that I'm going to put myself out there. I'm going to start to be more active on LinkedIn. I'm going to join communities. I'm going to network with peers. I'm going to find mentors. And through that process, I'm optimistic that I will get out of this disruption and chaos at a better place. So if I have any recommendation to the people listening to this right now is put yourself out there, connect with like minded people, but also connect with people who might deliver value in ways you never expected. And I think LinkedIn is a great way to start that journey.

[00:21:23.580] - Marlys Arnold

That is so true and and, of course, coming back to virtual lunch, this is a community that I've been building for almost a year now. And so it's just been great to hear all the thought leadership and and and the comments and things that people weigh in on. It's just I think that all of us will be better able and better equipped to move forward if we're all working together and focusing as an industry.

[00:21:48.120] - Marlys Arnold

So thank you so much, Allen, for taking time out today to be our guest on Virtual Lunch. I really appreciate it.

[00:21:53.580] - Allen Yesilevich

Absolutely. Thank you for having me. It was a lot of fun.

[00:22:02.190] - Marlys Arnold

You can find all the links mentioned during our interview in this episode's show notes at TradeShowInsights.com. And if you'd like to join us for an upcoming virtual lunch, you'll find info on that at ExhibitMarketersCafe.com/lunch.

[00:22:28.580] - Marlys Arnold

If you enjoyed today's episode and would like more, you can subscribe to the podcast and automatically receive future episodes on your chosen device, simply search for Trade Show Insights in Apple, Spotify, Stitcher or virtually anywhere else that podcasts are found. Then click the subscribe button. Trade Show Insights is protected by the Creative Commons copyright license, you may feel free to share this recording with colleagues or embedded on your own blog as long as it's shared in its entirety and is not used for commercial purposes.

[00:23:03.350] - Marlys Arnold

To learn more, please see the link in the sidebar. The show notes at TradeShowInsights.com. Well, that's it for this episode of Trade Show Insights. Be sure to check out our show notes and archives at TradeShowInsights.com. You can also connect with me using the social media links or the contact page on the site. I'm Marlys Arnold. Thanks for listening and be sure to join us next time for more tools to improve your exhibit results.


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