On the future of events and place branding | Marco Bevolo, Ph.D.

Filiberto Amati, MBA, founder of Amati & Associates and partner of BOMA in Poland and Marco Bevolo Consulting engaged in an independent research focused on exploring the future of business events. The purpose is to determine the disruptions and evolutions of the radical changes that Covid-19 triggered in the sector, sketching scenarios of the mid-term future, that is half a decade from now. The study will be based on a first round of qualitative interviews with the likes of senior managers and thought leaders from companies like Rinco van Rijn, Global Manager Events and Sponsorships, Signify; Rieko Shofu, CEO, Pokka, Singapore / Sapporo Food, Tokyo; and media relations High Tech veteran, Simon Poulter, Vodafone, and previously at Nokia, Alcatel Lucent, and Philips. Transcripts of a qualified sampling conversations in this class will be analyzed by “open coding”. The purpose is to enter into the study with a co-creative mindset, letting further theoretical framework design and next waves of interviews be oriented by the input of experts. The approach is therefore that of sociological constructivism. This will be followed by an A.I.-enabled validation with Shaping Tomorrow, our foresight partner in the program, and a number of online seminars with “emerging talents” in the event industry, from creative to sustainability younger professionals who will bring their fresh insights and innovative views to the table.

The first among institutional voices from independent scholarly and professional organizations, Dr. Robert Govers, Chairman, International Place Branding Association; Editor, Journal of Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, and distinguished author, with the dearly missed Dr. Frank Go of a fundamental textbook on Place Branding for Palgrave, and more recently of his research into the dynamics and the opportunities that lie at the very heart of “ imaginative communities” as an engine of future value for place-making and future destination tourism. The IPBA is a unique congregation of scholars, experts, and practitioners from both the consulting and the city management side. Dr. Govers connected from his office in Antwerp, Belgium, while Filiberto Amati did join from Warsaw, Poland, and moderated the dialog from my library room in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, at the very heart of the Brainport region.

The conversation did give the opportunity to Robert to introduce main initiatives and leadership roles for the International Place Branding Association, namely the forthcoming 5th Annual Conference planned in presence only in Barcelona, in December 2021, and the IPBA Academy, a new professional and vocational learning community where the knowledge-rich nature of IPBA as a hybrid association of practitioners and scholars will be connected to create learning opportunities, globally, by means of the provision of didactical packages and educational services. The IPBA Conference, the yearly large multidisciplinary event in partnership with academic institutes, originally planned in 2020 in Barcelona was postponed as “in presence-only” event to be held in December 2021. Just like the IPBA, the IPBA Conference is a hybrid event with a clear model focus on incentives and the performance of both industry and academic presentations and relations. As such, a peculiar “multiple parallel session” format determines the necessity to work towards the in presence model, whereby attention might remain high across the entire program. For its peculiar networking traits, the online transfer of such an event into a digital format seems neither effective, nor viable. Furthermore, at sheer marketing impact level, Robert highlighted how online conferences and events do not generate sufficient stimuli in view of social media, as online conference contributors do not seem to communicate their attendance as much as in presence participants typically do. From here, Dr. Govers was invited to elaborate on his perception of prospect changes that will affect the industry sector of this class of events (e.g. academic conferences, government conferences, exhibitions/fairs). Even more so, experts like Robert expect major change, in continuity with March 2020, regarding small business meetings and incentives, when it come to the current impact of the pandemic and future perspectives.

Of particular relevance was a discussion of next evolutions in the speakers’ business, as both Filiberto and Robert are highly valued keynotes and moderators with BOMA, IPBA and in the commercial circuits. As of before the 2008 economic crisis, it was feasible, for a well connected and featured speaker, to earn a relevant side income or event o make a living out of the speakers’ circuits, whereas the value that this area of activities enabled in the last decade has been progressively declining, with a sharp and increasingly distance between few “star speakers” who will require a premium fee for each engagement, and a relatively anonymous mass of relatively unknown contributors who will take the stage for free, sometimes even paying their own travel and accommodation costs, for the sake of supposed self promotion and business development. Robert, Filiberto, and I did reflect together on how this niche sub-sector of the business event industry will evolve after the major explosion of online conferences, seminars, and micro-sessions, that Covid-19 has inspired as a diode effect of the impossibility to travel and of social distancing. Since we might collectively continue (or not) to migrate to online meetings and events, some thoughts might be shared on the practical impact of migration to online and virtual events, in the next 5 years, e.g. new competences or processes required to design and manage events.

Time was devoted to discuss the future impact of events on the positioning, the marketing, and the perceived value of cities. This seems very relevant as “in presence” events are expected to restart regionally after the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, with priority on “bubbles” (read: compact and concentrated events) at a smaller scale and a shorter travel distance than we used to experience before 2020. Furthermore, mega-events like Olympics or Soccer World Cup (or even perhaps European Capital of Culture) have historically proven not to switch the brand perception of the host city. Here, a rare success story might be identified in the World Cup 2006 in Germany, that marked a paradigmatic shift as far as the reputation of Germans in the world goes. As an alternative to mega-events, local events with high visibility and a unique connection to their place of origin might emerge more and more as defining and re-defining element in the branding of host cities, as observed with SXSW in Austin, Texas, or with the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. In conclusion, a strategy of smaller, recurring, multiple events, to be designed and programmed as a coherent portfolio of strictly on brand manifestations, might offer city marketers and consultants the opportunity to systematically achieve measurable improvements on positioning, perception, and reputation.

Lastly, given Robert’s several academic commitments in Rotterdam, Antwerp, Turin, and globally, we did touch upon latest trends, needs, and challenges in didactics and in the educational sector, where the rising importance of digital design might result in radical rethinking of both curricula and formats.

As anticipated above, the conversation did last some 60 minutes, and was broadcast live at 12:00CEST on the 4th of May, 2021, and it is available at no charge on YouTube on its dedicated link.

Originally published at https://www.marcobevolo.com on May 1, 2021.

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Italian living between NL and Japan. 1967, born; 1994, Literature and Philosophy; 2016 Behavioral and Social Sciences; 5 books; 20 scientific papers; Keynote.

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