The past 30 years have seen changes in the events industry that have transformed it almost beyond recognition. Event planners now have access to an unprecedented level of technology and resources that can help their events stand out from the competition. In this blog post, I explore how the events industry has changed over the past three decades, looking at key trends that have been shaping the industry for years and current advancements impacting modern event planning.
In the mid-nineties, when I started out in the events industry, stilt walkers, contortionists, and vodka luges were everywhere you looked. That was the epitome of creativity back then.
As the industry evolved, I witnessed the proliferation of corporate events when brands recognised they could partner with music and nightlife to connect with their audiences. I noticed corporate branded events continuing to gain popularity. Marketing partnerships became a thing. This was basic at first, with brands often simply putting their products on display at events. For example, at the MTV EMAs in 1996 we simply slapped a Mitsubishi car in the middle of the room at the post show party.
The Millennium and Beyond
By 2000, brands were owning entire events or delivering their own branded experiential zones and in the early 2000s, “experiential” became a new buzzword for the industry. “Experiential" and "events" essentially became interchangeable terms.
With the advent of digital technologies, the conference industry saw the biggest changes by digitising and automating the registration and guest management process.
The emergence of social media in the 2000s had a significant impact on the event industry. With the rise of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, event organisers were suddenly able to connect with attendees and each other in new, innovative ways. Instagram exploded onto the scene soon after. Social media provided channels to promote events, build excitement and share information in real-time. This allowed for increased engagement and attendance at events, and perhaps most significantly, an expansion beyond physical boundaries. Events enjoyed a huge amplification, delivering impact and influence to wider audiences, for any associated brand.
According to a survey by Eventbrite, 52% of millennials today learn about events through social media, 50% use social media to share event experiences, and 57% are more interested in attending events that have an active social media presence. These statistics demonstrate just how integral social media has become to the event industry and highlight the importance of leveraging these platforms to create successful events.
During the pandemic, virtual and hybrid events became more popular than ever. Event owners, organisers and brands were forced into becoming well-versed and comfortable with virtual tech during lockdown. They soon discovered that while solving problems imposed by the suspension of face-to-face events, they could also reach much wider audiences post-pandemic. Without proportional increases to budgets.
LinkedIn recently interviewed more than 1,800 marketers responsible for events across 13 countries and 85% of these marketers had held a virtual event in 2021 and 28% said that between 90-100% of their events are now virtual post-pandemic.
I am also seeing that attendees are seeking unique and immersive experiences, whether virtual or hybrid, with event organisers focusing on creating interactive environments incorporating augmented reality, virtual reality, sensory stimulation and gamification.
In fact, according to Gartner, gamification has been adopted by more than 70% of businesses belonging to the Global 2000 list of companies. This trend will continue to grow as more organisations gamify their business operations and no doubt events will continue to utilise it.
Sustainability and social responsibility have become much more important considerations for event organisers since the 90s. Many now adopt eco-friendly practices to reduce waste, conserve energy and minimise their carbon footprint. However, there is still a long way to go before the industry can be seen as entirely sustainable. In fact, according to research conducted by MeetGreen, a 1,000-person, three-day event with attendees from overseas creates about 530 metric tons of CO2 emissions, that is more than consuming 1,233 barrels of oil!
To combat this, organisers are embracing social responsibility by supporting charitable causes and giving back to the community. Often partnering with non-profit organisations and events that align with attendees' values and contribute positively to society. Many events companies claim to be, “considering sustainable processes” or “working towards sustainability goals”. However those that have made the move to delivering verified, carbon neutral events remains low.
Events are no longer just about passive spectating. In today's world, attendees want and demand a unique experience. With this shift, attendee engagement has become of utmost importance in the events industry. Events now provide hands-on workshops and interactive sessions, encouraging attendees to take part and play an active role. Ultimately, brands and event organisers are answerable to attendees.
The events industry has come a long way in recent years. As event planners we must use current trends and advancements to deliver more engaging experiences, that continue to innovate, explore new possibilities and embrace new opportunities to make events stand out. Events have become more participatory, immersive, and engaging than ever and I'm excited to see how the industry will continue to evolve and push boundaries.