Hybrid events: A U.S. perspective from Marcus White of MCW Events

We remain Stateside for the next edition of our hybrid blog series. Since launching our hybrid events package offering, Live From Tobacco Dock, we’ve been talking to industry experts to find out their thoughts and advice on hybrids. Here, Marcus White, founder and CEO of MCW Events based in Seattle, gives his take.

Marcus White, CMP founder and CEO, MCW Events

Why Hybrid?

From someone writing from across the pond, I long for the day that we can even entertain this. As with many places, we have a political divide in this country, if I may, ours feels a bit worse for the wear. What I believe has become clear for us is that crisis accelerates change and adaptation and digital events/hybrid events are what we are going to see for the foreseeable future. The technology for digital events finally has caught up and we’re able to produce them relatively well and the technology is stable.

That said, there is nothing like being together. Nothing. Companies are seeing massive attendance rates and the barriers to engage with more customers in a short amount of time is huge and will continue to play itself out.  As we move into hybrid the benefit is to have that delicious balance of those able to attend (their companies allow it, they feel safe doing so) and those that would not normally be able to attend in-person for whatever reason. As planners for events that continued to grow, we were always working to keep that intimate feeling. Toss in a pandemic – and boom, we have intimacy again. The experience for those in person is going to feel like camp.  The connections among attendees with each other and sales people is going to be incredible.  The shared experience of something new will connect them.

Anything event organisers need to pay particular attention to when planning this type of event?

So many things, but I think the biggest is going to be how to connect those in-person attendees with the digital experience.  There are connections to be had here and finding that bridge is the next puzzle I hope to unearth. It also surrounds schedule and ensuring that there is always time to accommodate for those online and those in-person.

How can you make it a VIP experience for those attending online?

This is all driven by the goals and objectives of your event.  Ultimately though, the goal for a VIP experience is to ensure that those participating have special access to specific people, specific learning and/or education/entertainment “edutainment” experiences. 

We’ve seen so many mixologists online lately, but what if that mixologist was the CEO or keynote speaker at your event?

Taking a traditional meet and greet and turning into an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session with pre-mailed engagement packets that somehow tie everyone together. 

The goal here is to create that connection between everyone – that common experience that happens many times at in-person experiences.

Different budget distribution? 

This is the big question.  The biggest take away since 23 March when this all started here in the US is that these events, in-person, digital or hybrid are an investment. While there is likely cost savings realized in-person (savings in F&B, travel, housing) there will be a greater expense from the production (broadcast), technology, planning and platform elements.

I foresee a tremendous opportunity for sponsorship in this new realm and how these are monetized that could give a much needed boost to event budgets. There is real power in the data and insight from the online experience that gives sponsors better qualified leads.

What are the most important elements in which to invest your budget for hybrid events as opposed to live events?

Logistics and broadcast. Not to toot our own horn, but ‘toot’. You need to still have your experts in place to help curate that experience and journey for both your in-person and digital persona. This does not change. What does change here is the broadcast backbone you have to ensure that the experience online matches as best we can to the one in-person. Transitions are important, introductions are important, hosts are important. Spending money here will pay off handsomely. We have not gotten there yet here, but my gut is that the same vendor that is producing your in-person keynote experience will manage this digitally as well.

As well as ensuring they both have a great experience, how can you connect your two audiences with one another and with speakers?

There are so many ways, so many that we’ve not discovered them all yet. As we have started down the digital path we have seen over and over again that it was the intention behind building the in-person experience that is what made them great. The same goes for the digital experience. How we build these for the hybrid model, are again, the same in that we will start from scratch and build with the hybrid model intentionally. Creating moments for in-person to connect, digital to connect and the biggest bridge, the in-person to digital.

I heard about this great idea where there would be a model of a little house at the in-person event and when an attendee enters, on the screen would be another person to connect with – what if we created a place for the digital attendee to have a brainstorming session with someone at the event and this was the meeting spot? What if we created a space at the in-person event that was a digital zone and there were screens and headphones for people to talk to one another?  You maybe could create a TEDx style breakout for in-person that is broadcast out and then flip it on it’s head where the people in-person are then watching a bunch of digital attendees presenting to them.  Truly, this is endless and nothing better than a good try!

Content considerations – how is your timetable likely to be different to a live event? 

As we all know, time is a thing of beauty for planning events.  The more time you have the better.  With that, having really clear alignment with event stakeholders as far up the chain is essential to the success of this. I was on a call recently with Ike Singh Kehal,  CEO of Social27 the digital platform, and he distilled events as ‘the catalyst/reason for getting buyers and sellers together’ and he’s absolutely right. Finding that balance of content to support this is going to be key. 

The other big part of events as my colleague Dana Pake, an Event Strategist points out, is that this is group therapy. People connecting with others to solve common problems. Be sure to design agendas with more breathing room for serendipity to occur and do less of the hour-long presentations in both the live and digital experiences. Finding these touch points is key.  How to do that – boy, I don’t know yet! We are a bit far off from this here in the US.

What you look for in a venue to host hybrid events. 

Intimacy moments, engagement moments and a real, real, real strong IT team.  The technology to support these is going to be massive and failover plans will be more important than ever.

Pitfalls to avoid

Ensure that you’re always considering both journeys.  It would almost be advantageous to have two planners who meet regularly to manage each experience.  Then connect with the content teams to talk about how those journeys and messages intersect and connect.

It’s alright to make mistakes. That is how we learn, how we grow.  No one is an expert at these, but if you’re reading this you’re at the head of the pack, you’re a leader and that means people will follow and take chances!

Next steps

We’d love to talk to you about our super-flexible hybrids events packages, Live From Tobacco Dock. Call the team for a chat, or drop us an email to info@tobaccodocklondon.com.

MCW Events are a global agency with special expertise in virtual and hybrid experiences. You can find out more about them here.