By Daria Knupp, Sr. Content Marketing Manager

It’s time to return to normal. That was the central message of the dynamic discussion among event industry trailblazers regarding returning to in-person events. 

In a recent Personify webinar, we brought Susan Newman, SVP of Conferences at the National Retail Federation and The Big Show, Melissa Householder, Trade Show Manager of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), and Kelly Finney, Trade Show Manager of the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show (MANTS) together to talk about their successful 2022 in-person events. 

In this lively panel discussion, Rich Vallaster, the Director of Marketing at Personify, guided a group of event professionals in their quest for guidance from the speakers on topics currently affecting the events industry.   

Hot Topic: Health & Safety 

The three presenters began the discussion by stressing how important health and safety was and continues to be to their in-person events. And extensive preparation is vital.   

Finney said they started communication more than nine months before the MANTS event and made it clear that their protocols, including a mask mandate, must be adhered to. 

“We frequently communicated all the protocols, as safety was of paramount importance,” he said.    

Householder chimed in that safety concerns were an essential part of their marketing. They followed California’s rules and required vaccination or proof of a negative test within 24 hours. 

Newman, whose event historically sees more than 40,000 attendees utilized the health and safety measures as the why you should come to The Big Show. The NRF purchased 35,000 rapid tests and had many masks available, as well as PCR trucks ready for testing.   

“We have a large percentage of international attendees, and attendees took advantage of the testing and were very appreciative of the extra safety precautions we had in place,” Newman said. 

 All three events saw minimal issues regarding health and safety, and overall feel like the measures they put in place were highly effective.   

Hot Topic: Registration Trends 

Understandably, many questions involved registration and cancellations. 

According to Newman, registrations usually come in late for The Big Show, but 2022 was particularly late. They also observed many cancellations. However, they did not provide refunds for the cancelations.   

“I likened it to a party when I discussed cancellations with people,” she continued. “We still threw the party, and the party happened. The prices are the same; it’s not about making money; it’s all about covering expenses.”   

GCSAA also experienced an increase in cancellations, particularly during the final three weeks of January. According to Householder, they did provide complete refunds or transfers until 2023 when it came to cancellations. 

MANTS registrations were at about 50-60 percent of the levels seen at previous events, according to Finney. MANTS, like The Big Show, did not provide refunds for cancellations. Their fixed expenses for the event have already been paid, and they typically do not offer refunds anyway unless the city cancels the event. 

Even though there were fewer attendees overall, the quality of the discussions was more substantive in all three events. Exhibitors were thrilled with the connections and conversations they made. 

Hot Topic: Hybrid or Virtual Only Options 

Many of the audience members at the webinar were curious about their feelings on hybrid and virtual gatherings, and the panelists didn’t hold back.  

“I’ve been pretty vocal on the subject,” Newman told the crowd. “Virtual has a role in events, but it’s more educational.” “It’s not something I’m into, and I just don’t believe it works as a revenue generator.” 

Both Finney and Householder agreed. While the GCAA did offer a virtual component of recordings two weeks after the in-person event, it would have occurred even before COVID.   

“This was targeted towards people who weren’t planning on coming in any case,” Householder said. “We wanted to generate more money by educating golf staff that isn’t able to attend each year.” 

Finney clarified that MANT’s goal is for in-person interaction. They held their event virtually last year, but they have decided to stop moving forward. 

Hot Topic: Surprises or Challenges? 

The conclusion of the session elicited questions about any surprises or difficulties. There were very few problems, according to the consensus, because everyone wanted to be transparent and regular with their communication before the event.  

“I had fewer complaints than I expected,” Householder added. “The talks I had were ones I would have handled in a typical year.” 

“Everyone, for the most part, was very grateful for the show and to be there in-person,” Newman agreed. “It was a half-full atmosphere rather than a half-empty one.” 

Finney concluded that the most significant success was that they pulled it off. From the decorator to the hotel to the staff, everyone came together and did their best. And that indeed was what makes in-person events so special. 

Click here  to watch the webinar recording.