Conference cancelled. Summit postponed. To be rescheduled. These are three phrases we’re all too familiar with these days.

No large gatherings of people means the future of major conferences and even more intimate, panel-focused programs are likely off the table until we have better treatments for COVID-19. For our clients, that means a huge cut into demand generation and sales efforts. Leads from conferences often help set strategic revenue goals for the quarters and years ahead. Virtual events are making a name for themselves as a replacement option, but their ability to fill the long-term sales pipeline is unknown.

The Professional Convention Management Association recently polled its database of event planners and suppliers to better understand the future of major conferences, including many that both we and our clients attend, such as HIMSS and RSA. Seven out of 10 respondents have moved their in-person events to a partially or fully virtual platform. This isn’t just a short-term fix but rather something the association believes will continue alongside in-person events going forward. Why? The poll predicted that travel and attendance rates won’t rebound to 2019 levels until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19.

So, what to do in the meantime? Here are two recommendations:

Consider Alternative Event Ideas and Models

As communications and marketing teams, event planners, and even sales executives look for new ways to reach their audiences, alternative event models will become the “new normal.” If your breakout sessions or workshops were cancelled, consider turning the content into a self-produced podcast or webinar. Even better, bring in a customer and another industry expert and host a virtual panel discussion with engaging topics and listener Q&A. The results of these conversations can be leveraged for sales, as well as for content for thought leadership or media outreach.

Revisit Digital Content

In the absence of events, consider engaging with target audiences “in-person” (through video) where you normally would rely on the written word. For example, supplement blog posts or regular newsletters with short add-on video commentary. Design virtual demos to enhance a new capability press release. Get comfortable posting regular video updates, news, thought leadership and advice on social channels. This can have a profound influence on message comprehension, website traffic and brand recall.

As with any outbound communications, consider your audience first. What challenges are they facing in the moment? If your customers are “all COVID, all the time,” don’t force topics that aren’t of absolute importance today. Certainly, plan for them now, and mobilize those efforts as the fog lifts and we can more clearly see what the future looks like.

This blog is the third in a series of six blogs produced by the firm’s healthcare practice. You can read the other blogs in the series here:

How to Navigate the Media’s New Normal During COVID-19

Five Tips for Internal Communications During a Crisis


RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm with a nationwide presence and additional global reach via membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group. We provide strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, government and healthcare markets.