The in-person events industry was crushed in 2020. About 83 million people had to change plans when the pandemic hit, per Forbes.
Two years later, live events are making a comeback, but SmartBrief’s most recent survey of marketers finds that many of them are still focusing their budgets on virtual events and other digital advertising avenues.
More than 475 B2B and consumer marketers responded to the survey in March. We compared the findings to a July 2021 survey of the same audience. Live events were starting to return then, although new variants and challenges made the fall and winter rocky.
Now that mask mandates have lifted in many places across the country, we took a fresh pulse of how marketers are approaching events.
Here’s what we learned:
Marketing budgets are still focused on virtual events
Many companies slashed marketing budgets in March 2020, but there are signs of recovery. Only 15% of marketers said their budget completely went away in the more recent survey, down from 23% in July. The percentage of marketers who said they reduced their budgets and shifted to virtual events remained about the same during the period. Some marketers simply moved their events budget to other digital and B2B tactics.
Live event budgets vary widely across brands
Thirty percent of marketers said they’re planning to spend less than $10,000 on event marketing this year, which could include exhibition, sponsorship, digital and/or print advertising associated with the event. Conversely, 14% said they plan to spend $100,000 or more in 2022.
In-person networking is a growing priority
When we surveyed marketers in July 2021, two of the top three reasons for influencing their decision to attend an in-person event were “strong safety protocols” and “vaccination status of attendees.” In March 2022, the No. 1 reason was “networking opportunities,” followed by “strong safety protocols,” “clients may be attending” and “lead generation potential.” This shows an eagerness and cautious optimism by marketers to return to the face-to-face experience of in-person events while still taking precautions to protect their health and the health of others.
There’s more business travel, but fewer people at events
More companies are allowing business travel – 86%, up from 70% in July 2021 – but 28% of marketers said they’re planning to send fewer people to in-person events this year.
Virus variants remain a concern for many
When we first surveyed marketers in July 2021, the Delta variant hadn’t significantly affected our lives, and the Omicron variant had yet to be detected in the US. Since both variants caused numerous in-person event cancellations, we asked marketers whether they were concerned another significant variant could alter their plans. Fifty-five percent of marketers said they were concerned about another variant, while 45% said they were not.
Virtual event sponsorships were successful for some
Twenty-five percent of marketers said their virtual event sponsorships were successful or very successful, but the majority of respondents (35%) rated the success of their virtual event sponsorships as neutral.
Digital advertising investments remain strong
Seventy-three percent of marketers said they’re planning to invest in nonevent tactics even as in-person events return. Webinars topped the selections followed by email, web, social media, SEO and gated content.
There’s more data to share. Watch this space for an updated infographic on the future of in-person events. In the meantime, subscribe to SmartBrief’s marketing publications, including ANA SmartBrief on Marketing Leadership, designed specifically for B2B marketers. Request a media kit to find out how SmartBrief can help your business target the right audiences.
Jared Stearns is the director of demand generation at SmartBrief. If you like this article, sign up for the SmartBrief on Social Business email newsletter for free.