The Corona Impact on Event Marketing

Posted on Mar 10, 2020 by .

The last thing I want to do here is beat a dead horse, but let’s face it – the Coronavirus is having a massive effect on B2B events and B2B event marketers. SXSW just cancelled their March event last week. Facebook cancelled their event. Google cancelled their developer conference. Oracle, SAP, RedHat and many others have either cancelled or postponed what many see as industry critical events. Side note – even the BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells) was cancelled on Sunday and I’m a huge tennis fan! You get the picture, it’s a mess out there. If you want to see the lineup of B2B tech events that are being cancelled or postponed, here is a good resource for it.

With all this event hysteria, virtual/online events have come to the forefront again. Organizations are scrambling to put a digital event structure in place because, regardless of the coronavirus or any other pandemic, they still have an audience and they need to be able to give their audience what they want. With physical, in-person events not being an option right now, they’re turning to virtual events, online events and webinars as the main way to meet and engage their prospects and customers. All of this reminds me of two prior events that forced B2B marketers to look at physical event alternatives – the 2008 financial crash and the 2014 oil bust. In 2008, the first items that were slashed from the budget were travel, entertainment and thus, events. I would argue at that time virtual events had the biggest surge they ever experienced. In 2014, oil and gas marketers had to find alternative ways to meet with their audience. The good ole’ boy way of shaking hands at conferences and racking up big expense reports was no longer an option. We then started to see more oil and gas companies leverage virtual events, webinars, webcasts and all sorts of online events to market to their base.

It shouldn’t take a time of crises, however, to put an online event strategy in place. Too many companies dedicate most of their budgets to physical events and too often the ROI is just not there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked an event marketer how their physical events are working out for them and I get the response of “they’re okay.” When I proceed to ask why they keep investing so heavily in something that is just ‘okay’, I typically get the following:

  • “If we don’t show up or exhibit, people are going to wonder why we’re not there.”
  • “If we don’t have a presence, our competitors are going to get all of the leads.”

I call complete and total BS on both. The main reason most companies continue to invest in physical events more than anything else is because it’s what they’ve always done. There’s a resistance to digitally transform their event structure. They don’t want to step outside of their comfort zone and change the event narrative. I’m not saying to scrap physical events. I get that they need to be a part of the mix, but they need to be scaled back to make room for alternatives that have less barriers, are more measurable and more often than not give you more bang for your buck. Enter online/digital events.

When you think about planning your next event and all the money it’s going to cost, ask yourself if it would be better for you, your company and your customers/prospects if you did it via an online event or webinar. Is it really necessary to rent that space for $20k, pay for everyone to get there and pay for everyone to eat/drink, when you could’ve done it all online? Couldn’t that lunch and learn at the Marriott (with that brutal banquet food) have been a two-part webinar series? Again, I get that physical events need to be a part of the marketing plan. However, the smart marketers are going to ensure that every physical event has a digital element (see hybrid events, on-demand event webinars, on-demand virtual events) and are going to ramp up their webinar and online event game significantly moving forward. Online events are for everyone, regardless of industry, and there’s never been a better time to look at them as your go-to event option.

Jason Stegent is the Founder & President of Elastic Solutions. Email him @