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Easing back into events – how will we make the transition from URL to IRL?

Easing back into events – how will we make the transition from URL to IRL?

London’s BT Tower said it best on Monday as it displayed a special message to herald the next phase of reopening – “Less URL, more IRL. Welcome back.” 

For the past 12 months, comms industry work has been conducted very much online, virtually, and with little opportunity for face-to-face interactions. With 17th May now past and us all enjoying a bit more freedom, thoughts are turning to the 21st June and the prospect of real-life events and experiences for our clients.  We’re all VERY much looking forward to the return of media launches, experiential opportunities, and at this pace we might even be able to squeeze in a few of those industry favourites – a Christmas in July – but how will they look and what can we expect as we head back into the events world?

Everything has changed

2020 has been dubbed the year of great acceleration. At no time in recent history has such a great number of people (literally billions of us) changed their day-to-day behaviour so quickly and dramatically. With the huge swell of change has come new technology, new developments, new ways of working and for many completely new life perspectives that allow us to tear up the rule book, and create a new path going forward. We don’t have to do things a certain way because ‘that is how they were always done’ anymore – if there was ever a time to question the old way, this is it. 

‘Enthusiastic caution’

It’s a phrase we have seen crop up more and more recently in relation to events and experiential activities. We want to get back out there. Our clients want to get back out there. There is an overwhelming sense that we all just want to be together, but cautiously and with an understanding that there is now a whole number of factors we need to plan for and consider in terms of safety guidelines, risk assessments and back-up plans that were unheard of 18 months ago.  From considering how people enter the venue, to break out rooms for those looking for some space and handwashing facilities – considering our guests’ comfort and safety will be as important as ensuring they have a good time and we land our client’s key messages. 


Friends eating together


This will be a key theme, catching up & creating post-Covid memories with friends & family. At the end of the day one of the key things that makes us human is the need to connect with our communities and our loved ones. Brands who help facilitate opportunities for us to come together and cater for different interests across the friends and family spectrum are going to prosper.

More open to new experiences in small ways

So many of the things we love to do were put on hold in 2020 and most of it was the really fun stuff. In 2021, expect a desire for people to hit their bucket lists, make up for lost time and push themselves out of their comfort zones. It might be small things close to home, be it new hobbies, new cuisines, new cultural experiences, but we are all going to be more willing to try new things – so how can we support this through the events and experiences we offer? It might be cautiously at first (there is that word again) but once we get into the swing of it, and with travel still restricted, we’ll all be looking for adventures and excitement close to home. 


People drinking outside

Less fear of the weather

The sun is great, we all love it and with outdoor events it really helps, but the past few months have also taught us we can adapt and change. In the last year we have also learned that meeting friends outside for walks, outdoor cinemas, dining under blankets – as long as it isn’t raining – can be quite cosy really. With scientists stressing that fresh air and ventilation is one of the best ways to prevent Covid spreading, we won’t be going inside back to our laptops if we can avoid them. Expect to see more outdoor experiences (drive-in cinemas are now again a thing) and activities year-round. 

Hybrid events

Before March 2020 it’s fair to say that not many of us had watched a theatre production on YouTube, enjoyed an Art Gallery tour remotely or had even heard of Zoom, let alone used it for working, learning and socialising for nearly 18 months. Whilst there is a desire to get back out into the real world, what the past 12 months has shown us is that you really don’t always have to be physically present to experience it. So, as we return to real-life events, there will still be opportunities for those who can’t be there to still, well, be there. The hybrid event – where there will be options to either attend online or to stream in – either live or as a post-edited performance, is already being very much seen as part of the new way. 



Whilst this year we’ve all learned that future-gazing is not without its risks… as we come to the end of 2020, it’s worthwhile reflecting on the seismic shifts that have happened across society in 2020 and what that might mean for communications in 2021.

One big trend for 2021 will be consumers redefining what value-based spending means to them – and this is a big watch-out for brands heading into 2021, especially for those whose defining consumer-facing CSR messages haven’t been a priority in recent years.


What is Value-based Spending?

Value-based spending is a term traditionally used when talking about budgeting. The principle behind it is that you should spend your money on the things you personally value the most in life – be that holidays, your children or the latest tech, and be more stringent with things you have less interest in (…stop browsing Deliveroo). The thinking being, that you then don’t feel you’re wasting your money on things you don’t want and are more appreciative of the value of what you buy. Think of Marie Kondo and her “Does it spark joy?” line of questioning around your household clutter… and you get the idea.

However, in 2021 it won’t be enough for our latest interior purchase to spark joy for us as individuals, we will be increasingly asking ourselves – does it spark joy for communities, the environment and social good? In 2021 value-based spending won’t be about what we personally value in life – but also what the positive value of that purchase is to a greater good.


Good guys vs bad guys

It’s fair to say many consumers before 2020 were increasingly aware of positive habits with their spending – with increased emphasis on shopping local, avoiding single-use plastic, being mindful of where goods were produced and so on. But 2020 has lifted our social consciousness on spending to (dare I say the word) unprecedented heights.

Covid, and its subsequent impact on all areas of our lives, saw brands being either lauded or named and shamed daily in the papers. Leon and AirBnB are examples of the good guys Vs Wetherspoons and Topshop who were heavily criticised for their treatment of employees. The increased focus on Black Lives Matter sees many of us now seeking out BAME run companies to show our support. Whilst lockdown and its restrictions have seen a shift in support for smaller, local businesses, the dramatic move to online shopping and, as holiday plans were kyboshed, millions of us planned home makeovers instead.


Hopping off the fence

Added to this – sitting on the fence in 2020 is increasingly seen by many as picking the ‘wrong side’. Brands who have been silent have been called out as much as the bad guys, whilst others are more open to making stands in terms of their political opinions and social causes. Burger King’s recent campaign to encourage customers to also shop with competitors, ITV’s public support of Diversity following their record number of complaints to OFCOM from their charged performance on Britain’s Got Talent and McDonald’s donating 1 million school meals after the Government was accused of not doing enough are recent examples. Will those brands supporting the consumer perceived ‘wrong’ side also come under increasing pressure? They certainly have across the Atlantic, as the #grabyourwallet campaign to boycott brands that supported Trump shows.

It is also probably no coincidence that it is in 2020 – it’s 18th year, the charity Movember has finally got Julius Pringles to remove his moustache, the first time the brand’s iconic identity has been changed since 1968 (over 50 years).


So, where next?

CSR and cause marketing are not new additions to the marcomms handbook. However, as we head out of 2020 and into 2021, ‘CSR campaign’ can no longer be a line in the budget. Brands will be expected, as a given, to communicate their brand values and contribution to society – be that their local community or on a wider scale. This acceleration in value-based spending means that consumers will increasingly spend more with brands who care about the same issues they do.

And, as a final prediction – in 2021 what will those issues be? It is not unreasonable to predict that as 2020 comes to an end, with the Covid vaccine hopefully helping us see a way out of the pandemic nightmare, Biden’s incoming presidency and hype around the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference COP26 already starting to build, climate change and the human impact on the environment will return to the headline news and brands should be ready for it.

Are you?