RX Global CEO Hugh Jones, Latam Managing Director Claudio Della Nina and Global Head of Digital Innovation Ade Allenby joined a 58-strong speaker panel at the first all-virtual UFI Congress in November to talk resilience and recovery.

UFI is the global association of the exhibition industry and its annual Global Congress is the exhibition industry’s largest meeting of the year. Taking place from 16-19 November, just days after news broke of two highly effective new vaccines, the mood at the 2020 congress was upbeat, whilst at the same time acknowledging the terrible toll Covid has taken on our industry.

900 UFI members from 51 countries tuned in across three time zones for 16 hours of live sessions broadcast from Hong Kong, Dubai, London and Bogota. Breaking new records for attendance, the ambitious event was well produced and a great example of the power of digital to reach new event audiences.

In one of the most widely anticipated sessions, Hugh Jones joined a Global  panel of industry leaders from IMEX Group, Clarion Events and Informa Markets to share their 2020 experiences and learnings.  All agreed this was a challenging time with big impacts on our business, but also a time for experimentation, changing our business model, and coming out of it better prepared for the future.

“You don’t take the binder of the successful 2018 show and think it’s going to be a success digitally,” said Hugh. “When you start going hybrid, you are competing against the entire Internet, not just another show, and that funnel is much larger.”

Hugh also said that one of the biggest lessons he has learned in the past year is about failing. “In a time of crisis, your exhibitors and visitors will allow you to fail,” he explained. “Your webinar might go flat, but there’s a sense of gratefulness that you tried. At least you did something. At RX Global, we test, we learn, we test again, and over time our hybrid solutions become better and better.”

Alongside fellow industry leaders in the Americas, Claudio Della Nina also reflected on the incredible learning journey his team have been on. He spoke of the devastation caused by the pandemic but said that the industry will emerge stronger. “I truly believe that the future is hybrid. Face-to-face and virtual shows will leverage each other. We are still in the early stages but digital will become an increasingly prevalent component of our shows and industry.”

Diving deeper into the digital theme, Ade Allenby, Global Head of Digital Innovation, participated in a fascinating group discussion on digital and hybrid events. He spoke of the current disparity between what our exhibitors want from a digital event and what most events are currently able to deliver. 

“Virtual events have fallen well short of our usual obsession with registration data in order to avoid putting people off. But we can at least capture their interests, their engagement level and use registration information to understand their decision making power” Ade said. “This data can be used to understand needs, to make recommendations to attendees, and to score lead opportunities for exhibitors. It can also allow us to target product demonstrations and case studies by exhibitors to the decision makers that are in the market for those products.”

Ade believes another key challenge for digital events is to look at the gap in our offering and how we curate those interactions that we previously left to serendipity. “We need to allow the spaces where more discussion can take place” he explained “to curate the panel discussions, round tables and surgeries that help the vendors engage directly with decision makers to help them see the value in their offering.”

“I expect in the coming months and years we will see more experimentation with the kinds of digital tools that focus on these 2nd tier interactions” Ade added. “But it is also underpinned by having good content programmes with good data analysis to understand the audience. I believe that if we can get this right, as physical events return then we can deliver better year round interaction that will drive better outcomes for exhibitors at live events.”