Then & Now: The Evolution of the Event Industry

The event industry continues to change each year because of the emergence of innovative technology and new ideas. In this blog we are going to delve into some of the things that have transformed the industry throughout the years and how event professionals and attendees have adapted!

Events aren’t successful without careful planning and organization, and the way event teams are structured and managed has changed. Just 8 years ago, event teams were set up with multiple managers who had different methods on event planning. According to an article written by Tom Crawford, stakeholders held all the power in planning, there were no budgetary or expense controls and event success wasn’t measured the same way it is now. Today, event teams are at the forefront of the planning process and specific positions based on skill-sets, such as Customer Experience Managers, Meeting Designers and Event Tech Experts, have emerged. Event success wasn’t determined by factors or research whereas now, in order to see the value of a specific event, teams are sending out surveys, tracking sales or money raised, counting the number of attendees, following social media mentions and more.

The event business significantly advanced in the 1990s with the invention of the internet! With websites and emails, event professionals could communicate and market their events more effectively and efficiently. However, the planning process didn’t become fully digital right away.

“Back in the year 2000 many things were still being physically mailed or faxed, even though the internet was around, I remember still racing to FedEx or physically mailing back a survey or registration form to an event,” says Errol Ahearn, an event marketing professional, in an article by BizBash.

As the technology and the popularity of laptops and smartphones continued to advance throughout the 2000s, planning and communication started to become completely possible on a digital platform. Binders full of contracts, maps and menus disappeared with the development of cloud-based systems. Event teams, vendors, venues and more started to collaborate through mobile agendas and itineraries. They now have everything from important lists to production designs right in their pocket and are able to make quick changes or contact anyone within a matter of minutes.

  • An LED social media wall display at a corporate conference in Austin, Texas

Smartphones have also helped make social media more popular and more user-friendly with mobile apps. Before events begin, teams can start marketing with a tap of a finger. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social platforms allow event planners to instantly connect with potential attendees. Buzz is created and excitement builds as the event date approaches. Attendees post about their experience within seconds and tag their friends to spread awareness and since 2007, hashtags have been used to customize tweets, statuses and captions while also making it possible for organizations to track what is being posted and display the posts in real time during the event!

With the internet, laptops, smartphones and social media, live streams and video conferences have made events readily available to people no matter where they are located. With virtual events, attendees don’t have to travel across the country to be there. They can watch it live and participate in the conversation on social media all from the comfort of their home or office! Video conferences also make it easier for organizations to have conversations with clients and other professionals from around the world. The technology lets them have a global presence by expanding their audiences and relationships!

  • Dropbox Mural at SXSW
  • Live stream of Toyota's Carpool Karaoke

Events have evolved past one-night affairs that only happen every five years. Organizations are looking for ways to keep live events as a key player in the marketing strategy. They have made events all about the experience and the goal is to market their brand in a way that touches the audience. Since audiences have become less passive, they won’t tolerate just sitting through a long, powerpoint presentation anymore. They expect to be drawn in and be able to interact with brands, organizations and other participants. Experiential events have become increasingly popular as a way to connect brands and consumers. Activations by brands such as Lean Cuisine and Toyota have accomplished those connections using the experiential method and you can read more about them in our blog “Why You Should Use Experiential Marketing.”

  • DCYC Projection Screen Display
  • Kaleidoscope Gobo

Customization and creativity are more prominent in the industry due to technology and the emergence of experiential events, with more of a draw towards experience than the actual reason for the event itself! Event production plays a huge role in the high impact events we are seeing today. Events can be customized with lighting and displays to fit different themes and brands. Lighting and visual effects are taking events from simple to engaging. We are starting to see trends such as video mapping and virtual reality be used in order to change the way attendees are stimulated!

One of the main priorities of event planners and the companies hosting events is the attendee experience. In a world where everything is happening faster and faster, attendees want events to be simple and easy, that’s why event teams search for innovative ways to make the event experience completely seamless. Ramesh Sitaraman, a computer science professor at UMass Amherst, examined the viewing habits of 6.7 million internet users to find that subjects were only willing to be patient for a total of two seconds waiting for a video to load. The same thing rings true when attendees come in contact with an event. Changes such as providing a faster registration process with mobile ticket buying systems and check in, creating an event app with schedules, location information and networking opportunities or providing cashless payment options have helped simplify the event experience.

With all of the new technology and expectations from attendees, has the cost of events gone up? Enterprise Event Marketing found that event tech can create a 20 percent increase in event attendance while reducing related costs by around 30 percent. However, one of the biggest reasons event professionals don’t use new technology is due to the costs. So it all depends on if organizations and event teams see the value in technology and determining which technology will generate the most revenue and attendee satisfaction.

It’s no doubt that the industry will evolve more in the next few years. Attendees will continue to be a top priority for event teams. They will seek to stimulate and challenge attendees even more by focusing on diversity in topics, opinions and speakers. As far as technology, the use of augmented reality and artificial intelligence will gain more traction and events will become full of “smart” devices designed to anticipate and respond to attendees’ needs! Overall, events will continue to be integrated and engaging!