The Future of Hybrid Events Starts Now

Anna Pettyjohn, Vice President & General Manager of Events at Government Executive Media Group

“With events, we’re looking forward to a return to normal.”

“We can’t wait to see what the new normal looks like in events.”

These are common sentiments we hear from public sector marketers. But what if the new normal has already been established, and what if a return to that state is already upon us?

Event programming has always had a level of uncertainty. As we look at the landscape right now, let’s discuss what we know

First, putting CDC guidelines aside, we know that an event program is only as successful as the government audience you’re able to recruit, engage, and activate. Research shows that government audiences are unwilling to commit to attending live events in the same ways they used to. 

  • 21% of all respondents say live events will return in 2022 at the earliest
  • 85% of government employees say it is at least somewhat likely that their agency will incorporate stricter guidelines and/or requirements to attend live event gatherings
  • Only 12% of government employees say that live events should account for almost all event programming in the future

Overall, government leaders have adapted to the virtual world. They are meeting the demands of their mission from their home offices and are gravitating to virtual events in higher numbers than ever before. Additionally, they believe virtual work and events have staying power for the years to come.

  • Only 29% of government employees expect their agency will require their personnel to return to office full-time once COVID-19 vaccines are widely available
  • 90% of government employees have attended a virtual event in the last year; nearly 40% of respondents have attended 10+ virtual events in the last year
  • Government employees ranked personal convenience, the removal of travel and transportation, and lack of formality as factors they liked most about virtual events
  • Government Executive Media Group (GEMG) saw a 90% attendee growth in 2020 (with an 8% increase in government attendance).

While live events will have a place in this landscape when they can be safely attended by target audiences, they will look very different than they did pre-COVID. Additionally, digital activations have proven their ability to sustain engagement, generate pipeline, showcase thought leadership, and drive the outcomes on which marketers are measured. 

This new era of event marketing in the government community carries numerous benefits:

  • Actionable, integrated data: A digital landscape allows brands to track activity in real-time and across the scope of their program, allowing them to generate a 360 degree view of each individual they engage.
  • National reach and visibility: Digital experiences are unbound by who they can reach, enabling brands to think bigger about the content they can create and the outcomes they should expect.  
  • Extended market moments: Event programs are longer—days, weeks, and months in some cases, and extensions before and after can make your market moment that much longer.  What does that mean for marketers? Sustained visibility and engagement.
  • Reduced risk and expenses: The pressures to ‘fill the room’ for a live event go hand-in-hand with the hard costs of hosting a live event. A virtual setting not only mitigates some of those costs but also, through at-home and on-demand viewing, makes it easier to draw larger audiences than ever before.
  • Influential speaker lineups: With live events, booking a high-end speaker would often get derailed due to scheduling or logistics. Newfound flexibility in a digital environment has largely removed that barrier for booking top-notch speakers. In 2020, GEMG booked 1,257 speakers across over 210 events, including Dr. Eric Schmidt, Chairman, National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence; and General James C. McConville, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army.

At GEMG, we believe the paradigm has shifted, permanently, with digital experiences not just included in event programming, but driving it. How can brands engage in this new normal right now? Below are some data points to guide your thinking:

  • Government employees ranked in-person networking and interactive workshops/breakout sessions as the things they are most eager to see when live events return.
  • Government employees ranked follow up communications with on-demand session recordings, improved video resolution, and more audience Q&A engagement as the things they think could make the digital event experience even better.

Event programming will continue to play a vital role in the marketer’s toolkit, but adaptability is just as important. By utilizing digital best practices and touchpoints, understanding your audience’s preferences, and determining what data to capture, the hybrid events model will have staying power for years to come.


2021 Government Executive Media Group audience survey