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The Big Event: Very online

Transitioning to a virtual events services provider.


June 2, 2020
By Tara Jacobs

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No, video conferencing is not your company’s strong point. You are experts at providing the things that populate actual, physical space. But you do know events and you know a thing or two about what people want for an engaging experience. Here at Annex, we’ve had to make a sudden and radical shift to putting our live events online. Here’s what we’ve learned. Maybe there’s an opportunity here for you to broaden your store’s offering and take something positive out of this lost season.

As event industry professionals, we already know the show must go on. It’s innate to what we do. There’s always that extra table (or 20), the need for last minute carpet (or not) and two, no, make that five, more chairs at booth X. And this is just to start. The reality is, you predict the unexpected, and resource each event anticipating these changes. At the end of the day, the event runs seamlessly (to those attending, of course), thanks to your preparedness and agile team.

While we pride ourselves in expecting the unexpected, pandemics are a bit out of our wheelhouse.

Our initial response was to stock up on hand sanitizer, so we could be prepared to “do our part” at registration. Hand sanitizer was already sold out. Right. Only a few days later, we were contacting venues and vendors, begging for financial mercy and the flexibility to postpone our events until fall. I had to make these difficult calls to you, the rental operator, knowing the impact it would have on your business. And for the first time in March, I had time. Time to reflect on what just happened, and think about how we could “MacGyver” our way out of this one.

Not unlike you, we’re sitting tight in anticipation of what the fall will bring. Are we worried about the financial repercussions of a lost live event season? You bet. But therein lies the opportunity.

We decided it’s time to think outside the booth and re-imagine how we can connect buyers and sellers from their home offices. After attending numerous virtual events (on virtual events), and being inundated with requests to demonstration digital platforms boasting exhibit halls and auditoriums (do we really want to do business with avatars?), we decided to pause and take a look at the resources and tools we’re already using in-house.

To start, we’re launching virtual sponsored conferences this spring, that will bring people together for a half or full day, to engage with live content, or watch sessions on-demand as time permits. These sessions may range from keynotes, to panel discussions, or interviews, but there is so much more we can do.

Now, more than ever, people are getting comfortable using video conferencing tools like Zoom or Facebook Live. A session could be broadcast live from your store. If vendors can’t show off the latest products at a tradeshow, we’ll help them bring it to you “live” online. If we think beyond the physical walls of a booth, there’s a unique opportunity to give access to spaces, processes, products and services that wouldn’t fit in a 10-by-10.

Speaking of access, we can expand our reach beyond the geographical restrictions of a regional tradeshow. For many small to medium size rental owner/operators, it’s difficult to find the time to leave the shop, even for a day. We’re hoping this new experience will offer you an alternate way to identify new prospects, see the latest in products and technology, find out what your competitors are doing and learn about the latest developments in your sector, all from the comfort of your desk, or counter or wherever you may be working these days.

The event industry as a whole may have been hit hard by this pandemic. The way we do business in the future will certainly change. Rental tables and chairs will never have been so clean. But one thing hasn’t changed – and that is the need for people to connect, share ideas, and innovate to develop new business opportunities.

We all need to look for new markets and opportunities to expand revenue and stay relevant. Until then, rest up. When events make a comeback, and they will, I hope I’ll have the stamina (pretty sure I’ve gained my COVID-19), to sustain the demand for live events.