As the vendor of choice in more hotels than any other event production company, Encore has had a front row seat on the return of in-person meetings and is preparing to play an outsized role in smoothing the journey by partnering with meeting professionals and industry partners to incorporate new tools in their programs regardless of whether the meeting is in person, online or in some hybrid combination of the above.
The repositioning of Encore as more than just an AV equipment supplier is being championed by a new senior team working with President and CEO (and 2021 Smart Meetings Catalyst Winner) Ben Erwin.
Former Aramark executive Cathy Schlosberg was named senior vice president of marketing in June of 2019 and former Enterprise Holdings Assistant Vice President of Global Travel and Meetings, Amanda Armstrong, took the role of senior vice president of brand and community engagement at Encore in January of 2022. Armstrong was Meeting Professionals International’s 2018 Chair of the International Board of Directors and serves on Event Industry Council’s Business Recovery Task Force.
Smart Meetings caught up with Schlosberg and Armstrong last month and asked for a snapshot of where we are as an industry and where we are going based on what they are hearing from customers across the country.
This Future Will Be a Little Bit Hybrid
“Three years ago, the whole concept of hybrid meetings wasn’t in the vernacular the way it is today,” said Schlosberg. Now it is constantly discussed, but the actual execution of true synched hybrid events may not be living up to the hype of a year ago as companies scramble back to ballrooms.
Encore’s quarterly Planner Pulse survey shows that the number of in-person events has increased exponentially in the last year and is now at 60% of all events. Hybrid meetings range from 20% to 25%, which means 85% of events happening today have an in-person audience as at least one part of the equation. Virtual is still present, but hybrid is flat.
“Hybrid is going to be with us for the foreseeable future. The allure of data is not going to go away, but in person will be dominant,” she predicted, noting that her insights also come from how customers are using Encore’s Chime platform, which helps with engagement during virtual and in-person events.
Armstrong saw a nuanced picture of the events landscape. “The whole dynamic of meeting has changed. We are meeting differently by design because attendees are asking for it,” she said.
Meeting professionals are picking and choosing how to deliver content based on meeting purpose and size. A higher percentage of small meetings (50 or less) focused on delivering information are opting for virtual or hybrid formats, but those with 250 or more often want the power of networking in person.
Schlosberg also wanted to dispel the rumor that hybrid necessarily costs twice as much as an in-person meeting—something that is seen as the third most prevalent meeting professional concern in Encore surveys behind engagement and the complexity of planning two separate events.
Her suggestion for managing all three challenges is to bring the technology partner in early to help get clarity on goals and strategies. “The additional data available at a hybrid meeting creates a conversation about value rather than just cost,” she said.
The bottom line is that event technology is more important, even in person. “The pandemic created expectations of engagement that are real,” Armstrong said. In the past, much of the event technology was standard. Meeting professionals could duplicate, then rinse and repeat set-ups from year-to-year. Now a menu of choices includes streaming, hologram speakers and microphones on each table. A technology partner can help make those choices strategically.
“People are rethinking their approach and thinking about speakers and audiences they couldn’t include before. It is about limitless possibilities,” Armstrong said. “The pandemic broke down barriers as we all worked together to figure out how to bring back the industry stronger than ever,” she added, pointing to partnerships with established companies such a Notified and Cvent.
The next question is where meeting professionals and technology companies are going to find the people to manage all that technology amid a staffing crisis. In response, Encore is getting creative on training staff and clients. “We are doing road shows on how to put together a meeting for multiple audiences, including the room set-up, sound requirements, Internet strength and screen set-up. We have done a lot of training through our Encore University for continual learning,” Schlosberg said.
She sees The Great Resignation shifting to The Great Regret as those who left the industry are looking for ways back in, even if it’s in a different capacity. Encore’s new recruiting campaign is called, “You Make the Moment” because “technicians make magic happen,” Schlosberg said.
Recruitment includes appealing to Twitch users who are experts in gamification and online behavior. The company is also heavily focusing on the recruitment of female technicians to rebuild differently.
Business events are coming back quickly, but the upward curve looks different in different areas. The Sun Belt was the first region to recover along with the West Coast. In April, for first time since the pandemic hit, Encore went above 100% of 2019 volume. Staffing up to serve all the new needs at those events is requiring a new method of hiring.
“The world has changed, our industry has changed, events have changed, people have changed and so has our company,” Armstrong said. “We feel that our time is worth more now. We have to be conscientious that people’s time is valuable, so we need to deliver in ways that are convenient for them.”