May 27, 2020 Valerie Rivir

A Tale of Two Truths – Event Marketing in a COVID-19 World

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

     – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

First published in 1859, Charles Dickens had no way of predicting the Spanish Flu Epidemic that would sweep through the world 59 years later and infect over 500 million people. And now, 161 years later, here we are in 2020 facing our own pandemic. 

For those of us in the event industry, this is the winter of our despair. 

Here’s the thing. Catastrophic events force change, hard change, uncomfortable change. 

What we once knew as normal has been completely turned upside down. No more live events. Shut it down. Social distancing. No more than 10 people gathered. There just aren’t going to be live events in the foreseeable future. So, what’s the plan, planner?


How do you create an event marketing strategy that works in a COVID-19 world? Harness the power of the inspiration below.

Astute meeting planners quickly recognized the need to fully pivot, with 82% of them expecting an increased need for virtual platforms, according to the April 22, 200 Northstar Meeting Group Pulse Survey.”  according to the April 22, 2020 Northstar Meeting Group Pulse Survey. Now that you are on the virtual path to enlightenment, how are you going to keep your attendees engaged? 

“By definition, remarkable things get remarked upon.” 

– Seth Godin

  • In a May 2020 interview with BizBash, Claire Hoffman recommends cutting your sessions in half, capitalizing on the Q&A time, and spreading out the content into a series a la Ted Talks. 
  • Of course, gamification with badges captivates audiences, as do interactive polls and the ability to chat or network with others. 
  • According to a recent Cvent blog featuring Jeff O’hara from Allied PRA NOLA, “research shows that people do not engage the awareness part of their brains until something happens that they did not anticipate. Give attendees the unexpected. Present a video of a marching band or gospel choir…people will pay attention.”

With so many virtual events swirling and circulating in the great, world wide web, they have been known to infect attendees with a nasty bug appropriately named Virtual Event Fatigue. 

It’s real, it’s out there. But a healthy dose of engagement before, during, and after the event will squash and defeat that Virtual Event Fatigue. 

  • Direct mail is back, bigger than ever, and it is being used to create excitement leading up to the event. Creating a customized package to audience members in the form of a time-based gift card for lunch during the event is an excellent engagement technique, according to Marisa Hernandez from PR NEWS.  
  • Ariel Valley, Marketing Manager at Banzai, reports “with so many of us stuck at a computer for our jobs all day, getting to work with our hands is a privilege. Plan a fun craft project that your attendees can do at home, with the plan on sending them the materials needed ahead of time. This is great for not only encouraging teamwork but also showing off your brand’s fun personality.”

But how do you garner that elusive PR attention for your virtual event? 

Ian Zelaya, who is AdWeek’s top reporter on Experiential Marketing, praises the event marketer who seizes the darting attention of the press by presenting a virtual preview of the online event. For example, Jägermeister Cold Brew Coffee held a private Zoom for the press. Prior to the preview, the Press Corp received a bottle of Cold Brew with cocktails supplies, and they were blended into an assortment of adult beverages during the preview. And guess what? The event was promoted across the news wires before the actual virtual event went live.

So, what about marketing’s role in transitioning from live events to virtual?

Our superheroes completed an incredible pivot for one of our Fortune 25 clients. Details here!

Bottom line—we cannot change the truth, but the truth can change us.

They will change how and where we hold events, but events will go on. We look forward to our season of light where hybrid events are the norm—a healthy blend of virtual and in-person. Thanks to our season of darkness, we truly understand the positive benefits of reaching out and connecting with others vs. isolation from the screen of your laptop.

Take heed, planner. Go build that virtual event with confidence. Leverage the lessons and recommendations from those who have gone before you. Knock their socially-distanced socks off.

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Valerie Rivir

Valerie has nearly two decades of marketing experience and serves as the Consulting Manager of Marvel Marketers' Events and Experiences Team. She enjoys spending time volunteering for her kids' extracurricular activities, and she'd love to be able to fly--because it's the ultimate freedom!