Even though the pandemic is far from over, the events industry is starting to pivot from virtual events and preparing for the return of in-person trade shows and conferences, albeit safely. Rich Vallaster, Director of Marketing and Tradeshow Wonk at Personify, recently sat down with Susan Newman, Senior Vice President of Conferences at the National Retail Federation (NRF), to discuss the decision points for moving forward with their largest annual event in January of 2022.
“No matter what the world has thrown at us, NRF has been there to unite, guide and provide critical insights to the retail industry. We’re excited to bring Retail’s Big Show back to NYC in 2022, not just to help retail move forward, but speed ahead,’” explained Newman. “It attracts more than 40,000 attendees and 850-plus exhibitors each year.”
Many considerations were discussed when making this decision, and Vallaster and Newman addressed several of these factors in hopes of providing decision points for other businesses thinking of moving forward with in-person event planning.
Consult and Listen to Feedback
“First and foremost, you need to bring in the key decision-makers such as executive leadership and board members at the very beginning of your event strategy,” said Newman. “Seek continued input from your partners and members to ensure their confidence levels align with your plans.”
Another important thing you can do is keep your communities engaged and help them navigate challenging times. Offer support and lobby for retail professionals. In the NRF’s case, the pandemic gave them a chance to showcase their primary purpose. They provided valuable content during the pandemic and kept track of confidence levels, which was highly beneficial. Through this feedback, Newman and other leadership knew how important it was to get back to business for their membership and partners alike.
Evaluate the Negotiables vs. the Non-Negotiables
According to Newman, attendees’ health and safety are non-negotiable. Establish safety measures and keep up with the COVID rules and current guidance. Utilize your venue’s know-how and lessons learned to keep attendees safe.
Newman stresses that some industries may be less confident, but the retail sector is anxious to return. “We collected input by phone calls and surveys on when we could realistically have an in-person show,” Newman said. “As confidence levels increased, that’s when we felt pretty good. But it is important always to make your own considerations.”
The Retail Big Show will require proof of vaccination, but it is an industry that is already largely vaccinated. Some considerations are still being discussed, but overall, decisions are being made to align with ongoing and sometimes unpredictable changes.
Reconsider Your Traditional Marketing Tactics
Everyone can agree that the world has changed drastically in the past eighteen months. And what worked in the past may not be an ideal model anymore. Businesses need to be more transparent about their policies and expectations. You don’t want attendees to be surprised. Newman reiterated that you need to make attendees comfortable before registering. Shifts in timing may also be required in this new environment.
Vallaster agreed that this issue is such an important consideration. People are making decisions later and later, and your marketing collateral needs to reflect that. Messaging should be geared toward the excitement and energy returning to in-person events entails. “There’s really nothing quite like the rush of the floor when the expo doors open,” Vallaster added.
Even so, it is also important to remember that post-show content is more important than ever. With such demanding schedules, many people like to watch content at their leisure. And for the first time ever, the NRF will be offering their valuable content for purchase after the live indoor event.
“We offer a robust conference program and are equally known for our thought leadership as our expo,” Newman said. “Our overall goal is to bring the technology of today and tomorrow to retailer’s fingertips.”
The Path Ahead
The NRF isn’t naive and obviously follows the Delta variant closely, but it is very serious about moving forward while keeping healthy and safe. Newman noted that they have heard nothing but positive responses regarding in-person events as people “are ready to be with like-minded people, get business done, and be safe doing it.”
Vallaster and Newman had big smiles as they both agreed that seeing all their friends in person is something they eagerly look forward to. Sometimes, it’s the little things, and the little things are, indeed, what matters.