The main event – by Entourage’s Ziad Faour

The events industry has been reshaped and disrupted but is adept at adapting to new trends, writes Entourage’s head of strategy, Ziad Faour

The marketing sector faced a whole new set of challenges with the surging impact of the pandemic and technology’s evolution. The pandemic took spending behaviour to its lowest simply because all marketing budgets were slashed and brands and advertisers were trying to manoeuvre the new normal, like everyone else. Events and advertising were heavily affected by cancellations and indefinite postponements, travel bans and the raging economic impact of the pandemic. The whole of the industry had to be completely refocused.

This in turn created an opportunity for technology to disrupt even the most traditional markets, with purchasing patterns rapidly shifting to e-commerce platforms. Adapting to the new trends, advertisers significantly increased digital spending, making performance marketing shine as a great media tool, with higher cost on the cost-per-click (CPC) and conversion.

As major economies in the MENA region have shifted their focus to building non-oil-focused ecosystems and diversified revenue streams to bring other industries to the forefront, the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry has seen unprecedented growth as it has far-reaching impacts on its adjoining sectors and GDP, not only hospitality.

Major Middle Eastern economies, led by the UAE (particularly Dubai) have built a great infrastructure to host and support mega-scale events, exhibitions, and conferences. Saudi has also made huge investments by hosting major global events in Riyadh like the 2020 G20 Riyadh summit and the MDL Beast Festival. This year the focus will be on Qatar, as the country gears up to host one of the biggest sports tournaments in the world, the Football World Cup 2022. As fans from across the world travel to watch their favourite teams compete, and major events take place on the periphery of the World Cup, the economy of the country will most definitely flourish with the influx of tourists and surge in demand for the hospitality sector. Egypt on the other hand has been making strides of its own in the sector, with its new MICE strategy and is gearing up to bring the world to Egypt for the next UN Climate Change Conference (COP 27), slated for November this year.

The hybrid approach seems to be the motto of our generation of marketers. With media planning taking the lead to split budgets between offline and online media to events being planned with physical and virtual touchpoints, strategies have evolved to include every new media channel, various audience segments, static and interactive branding elements, and consumer engagement activations, all tied together with brand messaging.

For example, at Entourage, we have worked with multiple countries to devise marketing strategies to promote tourism, highlight all the important sectors of the country and bring in investment. Promoting countries is the most challenging marketing job there is. Promoting countries not just for tourism, but for business and investment, and actually witnessing the intangible impact of the success of the campaign on the development and progress of the country itself. With multiple avenues that need to be marketed and messaging that needs to justify every aspect, it requires in-depth knowledge of geography, history, culture, traditions, population demographics, agriculture and industry and everything you can imagine. With countries, the most important task is to align the marketing strategy with the overall country strategy and develop a bank of content and media to drive the narrative through the right marketing channels, using the right mix of storytelling and immaculate creativity and to always remain true to authenticity. As destination marketing campaigns involve multiple different clusters of audiences and different geographies, media planning and budgeting are as crucial as producing the creative campaign itself. But once you have a successful campaign, the results percolate down to all sectors. This is where I feel our next biggest opportunity is.

The other side of an opportunity is always a threat or a challenge. As volatile as our industry may be, it has proven to be resilient and agile in the face of instability. The threat of financial recessions and the possibility of another global contagion creating havoc in our lives is very real. With more than two decades in the business, I am certain, we will come out on the winning side of any challenge.