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How will 3rd party events show up in your 2022 marketing plans?

When marketers are plotting out their demand gen strategies, third party events are usually a huge piece of the puzzle. Where else can you get fresh leads, showcase your capabilities, and get thought leadership opportunities in front of your target audience?

Over the last two years, brands have tried a variety of new digital strategies to accomplish the same goals, but sales teams report that nothing beats the energy and connection of live events. So how are companies looking at 2022 for their 3rd party event participation? How much effort should be put into the virtual component if an event is hybrid? And how are organizers working to maximize target personas this year, knowing that many corporations still have travel bans in place?

We asked a variety of brands to look into their crystal ball and let us know what their vision for 2022 was shaping up to be.

While many shows have powered through the safety protocols and safely hosted large-scale productions, participation from the attendee side has left exhibitors and sponsors feeling like they needed to shift their objectives from demand gen to something else entirely.

One global event director at a Fortune 500 company reported that while they did not scale back on their 20x20 booth size for the 2021 shows they participated in, they did adjust their KPIs. “We used to measure these shows just for MQLs, SQLs, and pipeline, but since we

began seeing that most of our booth traffic was just other exhibitors, we turned it into a partnership conversation and really leveraged the shows for our partner marketing initiatives,” she said. “We used the virtual components of the shows to double down on the demand gen activities for our target markets and get speaking opportunities and use our virtual booth as a content hub.”

There continues to be hope for 2022’s programs, as by the end of January, Omicron cases were beginning to decline. The strategy by many for this year is to find the right balance of in-person and virtual presence… and how to staff for it.

Kathryn Franskon, Director of Event Marketing for Informa, agrees that tradeshows are vital to the event portfolio. “Third party events continue to have a role in our marketing and sales mix but with an even more critical focus around lead generation within very specific ideal customer profiles or personas for sales teams,” she said. “[We also focus on] the expanded reach we can leverage in terms of social media and earned impressions through marketing [our] participation in advance.”

Frankson believes that being crystal clear on your audience targets is pivotal to success. “Connecting with the organizer on clear expectations around the type and quality of buyers, rather than just the pure volume of buyers, is key so that it’s clear we are aligned in terms of audience targeting,” she said.

This year, her team is focusing on going back to the basics of event selection. “Having a presence at a third-party event is an investment that we want to get the most mileage out of, so we are much more joined up in terms of the “why” around exhibiting/sponsoring, the goals we expect to reach and how we’ll have coverage pre, during and post event,” said Frankson.

But how much effort should be put into the virtual component if an event is hybrid? Third party industry events and branded events have always been an important part of a balance event portfolio, and virtual components have been part of these programs for decades. But never before have we experienced such screen fatigue from our virtual audiences, necessitating a more mindful and strategic approach to the virtual presence.

“At Atlassian, we are eager to be in-person again, especially at third party trade shows; however, I don't think we are going to be quick to write off digital sponsorships,” said Ashley Edwards, Senior Team Lead for Field Events at Atlassian. “The two sponsorships serve different purposes, as I am sure many can agree the digital "expo" experience doesn't translate to in-person but it is undeniable that the digital experience expands the reach of your sponsorship,” she said.

“After the first several months of the pandemic, we shifted our digital sponsorships strategy to focus on thought leadership opportunities as the digital booths were not delivering high quality leads. Moving into 2022 planning, we will continue to do just that,” said Edwards. “Our in-person sponsorships will focus on intentional connections in a booth, via a networking event, etc., as well as thought leadership, and our digital presence will remain focused on broadening our reach via thought leadership.”

Frankson agrees. “If the event is hybrid and the partnership package includes a virtual event element, we want to get the most bang for our buck with that reach as well given we know virtual is attracting another set of engaged buyers who are unable to attend in person,” she said.

“The question becomes how we engage given our goals and the bandwidth of the team. Ideally, there is a content or speaking presence that we can build in as virtual formats lend themselves so well to conference-led events rich in content. Our goals for virtual and in person may very well be different depending on how much we can lean into a custom partnership virtually. The goal is always to be as embedded into the formatting as possible, even beyond a virtual booth so that we can pull audiences into our brand directly,” said Frankson.

Overall, the event marketing professionals we spoke with are excited to evaluate 2022 third party shows with confidence, knowing exactly how they want to engage. Now it’s time for show organizers to be ready to support them and evolve from traditional sponsorship packages.

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