As COVID-19 spread across the world in 2020, the Cambodian exhibition and events industry, like its global counterparts, faced the near-total postponement or cancellation of the source of their revenues. In order to survive, the innovative ones have adapted to the pandemic challenge by adapting and going virtual, often with the visual telephonic app Zoom. With pandemic disruption affecting virtually every industry, business experts are saying that adaptation could in fact be one of the few positive developments of the COVID-19 disruption.
Events and exhibitions, part of the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions sector (MICE), are key platforms for the promotion of new products, corporate strategies, campaigns and milestones and are widely considered to be one of the most effective tools in the business to business (B2B) marketing strategy toolbox exploited by top hotels with large ballrooms.
For the organisers, sponsors and attendees of these events, the cancellation of business they had on the books and were anticipating for 2020 represented the potential of incurring measurable revenue loss down the road. That’s because the brand-awareness, deal-making opportunities and media exposure usually garnered during a marketing cycle through events and exhibitions once lost, cannot be regained.
Losing these marketing touchpoints heightens the likelihood of looming difficulties for B2B companies in 2021. The potential savings in marketing budgets as events and exhibitions were cancelled, in no way balances the potential impact on sales, say experts.
With so many businesses already struggling to maintain profits, how are they coping without the benefit of face to face personal events?
Glen Oliver de Leon, digital marketing manager for Events Dojo Cambodia, explained that virtualisation is rapidly becoming the “go to” option in place of holding events.
“Since businesses had to start postponing events, their sales have taken a hit. Because of this, businesses are focusing on how to allocate their marketing budget with the strategies that remain possible to execute. In some cases, they have discovered they can achieve even better “bang for the buck by going virtual with their campaigns”.
He did warn though that businesses need to be wary and do their homework before they shift their marketing spending.
“Because ‘virtual’ is the hot thing right now, many agencies are jumping on the bandwagon and suddenly offering these services. Although I’m not questioning the ability of these agencies being able to execute what they say they can do digitally, but due diligence in vetting an agency by looking at its track record of previous digital campaigns is very important,” Leon stated.
An event that recently made good use of a virtual workshop approach was the Clean Energy Week 2020. Students, energy developers, energy experts and property developers participated in a number of virtual workshops promoting clean energy, sustainable development, economic productivity and innovation in Cambodia and abroad.
However, not all businesses are following suit. Some have decided to settle on postponing events to later dates. An example of this is the Cambodian Constructors Association (CCA) having decided to delay their annual construction exhibition from this week until 2021.
The event, which normally takes place in November and December each year, showcases thousands of products with hundreds of displays, large and small, manned by local and international companies.
CCA Secretariat General Manager Chhiv Sivpheng praised the government’s outstanding measures in dealing with the COVID-19 situation and has high hopes that the event will be held at the beginning of 2021.
“We may delay the date for the exhibition by three months or more because it requires sufficient time to prepare. Even if the government gave us a green light tomorrow, we would still need quite a bit of lead time to ensure that the event is in line with the required COVID-19 safety standards,” he said.
While it is unfortunate that the event remains in limbo, the CCA has embraced an interim measure in aiding members’ marketing efforts by launching a new Telegram group that will share members’ marketing collateral (videos, posters, and articles). The CCA will review the material and then re-share it to their various social media platforms to generate more outreach to potential customers.
Industry experts agree that until a vaccine becomes available and the world recovers, the sector will need to remember the fundamentals of good marketing as it ponders how best to adapt to a new palate of digital and virtual marketing platforms being used in the MICE category. The pandemic has triggered the need for a re-think about how companies reach out to potential customers and partners without in-person engagement. The ones who embrace creativity, innovation and adaptation may ultimately find themselves in a better position than they were pre-COVID-19, say observers.