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Live events at a digital crossroads

By - 3 June 2020

Ahead of ICE-SiGMA Asia Digital on June 8, G3 asks Clarion Gaming’s Kate Chambers whether the events sector has changed indefinitely.

How difficult was it taking the decision to cancel so many live events in 2020 – and what were the processes involved in making those judgement calls?

Our number one priority with any event is around the safety of all the participants that are going to attend it. We want it to be the best it can possibly be, having high standards to which provide the desired returns for any of the potential suppliers and attendees that come along.

By moving the trade show into a digital format, the ICE brand can still engage with participants that are expecting to engage and now – more than ever – need to because of the current set of circumstances they face that are undoubtedly at present affecting their businesses.

Is it better to cancel events or continue to postpone and push them further back down the calendar?

That’s an interesting question, because – and I don’t want to sound flippant here, but – it could come down to semantics. With that, I mean that we at Clarion Gaming don’t approach a situation like this from our perspective, rather we think how this is affecting our customers.

With that in mind, we look to develop events that work for our markets at any given time. So we don’t see this as a case of ‘cancelling’ or ‘postponing’. Take ICE North America Digital for example: the in-person version of the event had to move, of course, but the core of the event – the potential for learning, for networking with peers – that was still in demand and so we ran the event, but in a format which would work best for our audience.

Do you think we’ll realistically see any live events in 2020?

You know I’m not one to avoid questions, but that is really not one for me to answer. The world has seen, and is still experiencing, significant changes and the future is uncertain – but what we do know, what we can control here, is how we respond to our audience. If situations develop positively for any given customer group, then we are then in a position to be able to help them move forward in the ‘new normal’. It really is a case of us preparing things in the background so that we’re well positioned to help as and when needed.

What has the switch to digital events meant in terms of event organisation for Clarion Gaming? And what’s it been like coordinating the new digital events while in lockdown?

For any organisation, such a seismic shift in working processes can be very difficult indeed. What I’ve found here is pretty remarkable, in that people across the board have taken to these new and challenging conditions as if it were any other working day. The key thing during this period is communication and the team have been fantastic when it comes to both internal and external activities on that front. It’s testament to the fact that our first ever online event, ICE North America Digital, was so successful.

How are the ongoing travel restrictions and quarantine measures going to affect the live events business in the short and long-term?

To go back to a previous answer, I’m afraid this isn’t really one for me to address. This all comes down to how agile we are, being able to adjust according to both the limitations of the landscapes we work within and to still be able to deliver what our customers want and need during this difficult time. Certainly, hosting events online help us to do this when travel restrictions are in place and I think that has proved to be quite valuable for our stakeholders, given the positive feedback we’ve had so far.

How have you quantified the success of ICE North America Digital?

That’s an important question – and we have been delighted with the quantifiable results from ICE North America Digital, such as the 2,300-plus active participants, the fact that more than 2,000 connections were made and that over 9,000 messages were exchanged – but, actually, we prefer to look as the quality.

For us, numbers come secondary to the experience that our audience have with any of our events, whether in-person or online and I’m pleased to say that the digital event has been very well received. I think, more than, ever people need to stay connected and we have all had to adapt over the past couple of months, both professionally and personally.

What did you learn from ICE North America Digital that you’ll adopting in the forthcoming ICE Asia SiGMA Digital?

I think the takeaway points we’ve found is to realise what you can do within the sphere of what your day-to-day activities are. Your sales teams, your marketing teams etc., but equally where you need help from the right partners. We’ve partnered on our digital events with Smart Digital for our content, which is a partner we use at ICE London. It really ensures you’re getting your content in the style you want in the visual and audio formats you want.

Another thing we wanted to incorporate was a platform for interaction, for contact exchanges as well as networking facilities, which we’ve done through a process called Swapcard, exactly as you would during a live event. That’s put us in good stead. For ICE North America, we had just over 4,000 people register; we’re noticing we’re getting higher returns, so if you compare those registrations to pre-registrations, you’re looking at 60-65 per cent, dipping in and out of contact and content. We’re very pleased so far and looking forward to the same for Asia.

As an inaugural event forced into making its debut digitally, can ICE Asia SiGMA Digital establish itself fully in this format?

That’s an intriguing question – ‘fully’ for us simply means to deliver the event that our customers need at any given time. For ICE North America Digital back in May, that meant providing an online platform where the Gaming industry gathered to still get the level of insights that they craved during this challenging period and, importantly, to be able to network with peers on a large scale.

The situation for ICE-SiGMA Asia DIGITAL is very similar, so we look to deliver an equally valuable event for the Gaming industry seeking guidance on the way forward in the region – it’s simply that the event will, likewise, be online to best suit the needs of our audience.

Clearly, before the COVID-19 crisis, a ‘fully’ delivered event may have included a physical floor packed with exhibitors – and that is certainly what we would like to deliver as soon as situations allow.

What are your goals for the ICE brand in the APAC market and could you explain/describe the relationship you’ve struck with SiGMA to achieve your aims?

Our online event for Gaming in Asia aligns with Clarion Gaming’s strategy of organising fewer but more all-encompassing events, by using a successful brand and migrating it into other geographies. It’s down to the market to decide and it’s also down to us to put on in every instance, not just Asia, an event that can be objectively scrutinised afterwards by all the participants.

This event forms part of one global brand, and Asia forms a part that can fit alongside and help cross-fertilise our other events. We are delighted to be working with SiGMA and it fits the needs perfectly – you have different segments of the gaming market represented by two co-located events, making one larger event as opposed to two separate events for the same region running at different times in different locations.

Do you think digital events will continue within your portfolio of conferences and exhibitions once you’re able to host live events?

I think you will continue to see digital offerings. I think they’ll probably be two-fold, depending on the amount of information or change that’s generated in any particular industry. Within regional aspects as well, things are changing at different rates, especially in Gaming. But I think it’s a great way to offer a 365 potential for both sets of customers. As well as to utilise digital within the live environment; I think you’ll see that being used more often.

Looking into 2021, how do you see the pandemic affecting your most important show -ICE London?

Wouldn’t it be great to have a crystal ball? We, like everyone else, aren’t in a position to put a timeline on the pandemic, but what we can do is keep a very close eye on developments. That’s not just in terms of what we think we can deliver, but what the Gaming industry wants us to provide. We will continue working with our stakeholders on this basis and we will of course make any announcements that may be required, but – and I would put an emphasis on this point – ICE London 2021 is still planned for 2-4 February at ExCeL London.

We are currently already working with our customers on this event and so, unless they tell us otherwise, we very much look forward to giving the industry the in-person experience of ICE London. Now, there may well be many changes in provisions for such an event, as safety of our audience is our key concern, but we are ready to deliver whatever may be required.

Do you think normal service will resume in 2021 – or has the exhibitions/conferences sector changed irrevocably?

When events are stretched across the globe, not everyone can come every year. But if you identify the people that can’t attend, you may be able to offer them something virtual during the live event itself. I think some of those products would need to be a bit more advanced than what we’re currently using. For now, what we’re using is absolutely fine but, with more time, you can develop more technology. The future’s going to be out there; there’s lots of new technology in gaming anyway.

A non-Covid-19 question, but an equally disruptive one in relation to ICE, is what are your expectations for the impact of Brexit on ICE London 2021?

As with my earlier response, no organisation is in the position to be able to see into the future and plan with 100% accuracy – but what we are doing is working in the background, keeping lines of communication open with our stakeholders and, importantly, listening. Our business is in the provision of events and intelligence resources to help our customers’ businesses, so we will continue to be driven by our audience.

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