The Power of Positivity, by VMLY&R COMMERCE Katie Streten

By Katie Streten, experiential strategy director, VMLY&R COMMERCE.

Throughout the last year, while much of the world was locked down and at home, the UAE has continued to maintain a subdued, but effective, live event program that delivered highly innovative physical and virtual engagement. However, as many markets drive the vaccine rollout and hope for some sort of return to ‘normality’, we look at what this means for a return to the more extensive live event programmes that so many people crave.  Indeed, there is a recognition that the Middle East may be the first post-Covid economy.

So, what immediate futures can marketers learn from the region’s front-foot approach to keeping us connected? How can they ensure that they deliver strong commercial value now, and throughout 2021?

We have identified 3 key trends for the immediate future of 2021 that will help marketers when thinking about their own programmes.

B2B – Back to Business

Businesses typically reduce costs of in-person sales meetings by 46% simply by attending tradeshows. You meet more new clients face-to-face more efficiently and strengthen existing customer ties.  Combine that with the ability to raise brand awareness, and it is easy to see why tradeshows are essential in driving the end-to-end commerce journey.

Smart thinking and new technologies have taught the established medium of television some new tricks. Find out how to grab viewers’ attention at our Campaign Online Briefing – TV 2021: Changing Channels


Around the world, the pandemic has halted all kinds of live shows as the global community seeks methods to reduce the risks posed by Covid. This has resulted in a loss of opportunity that shouldn’t be underestimated. For example, Dubai Expo 2020 was originally projected to contribute Dh122.6 billion in value to the UAE’s economy by 2031. The value hasn’t gone away, but it has been shifted out by a year as we prepare for the event to take place in October 2021.

We saw IDEX take place in Abu Dhabi and Gulfoods in Dubai, which was held at the same venue as Gitex, in November 2020 and in May 2021 we have seen Arabian Travel Market return. These are major trade events, still going ahead even in these unusual times. What’s making the region stand apart? In short, clear safety regulations.

The UAE has been proactive in releasing guidelines for exhibition organisers and event agencies that layout spacing, timings, F&B distribution, sanitisation, seating – everything event organisers need to consider for hosting events. That has meant that events, big and small, have been able to plan and deliver all-important moments during this pandemic.

Reduced attendance and safer behaviours at events in the GCC will demonstrate the possibilities of large-scale events re-opening. This will be watched by other markets so that as we move towards Q4 of 2021 we will be heading towards a solid increase in all kinds of B2B conferences and events globally.

Action: Think of events as possible – then work out how you will make them happen.

Smaller is bigger

While tradeshows represent the large end of the scale, we have also seen announcements and launches taking place in physical spaces across the past year, such as the Hope Probe event for media and decision-makers and last year’s opening of the Expo tram station.

Smaller attendee lists have 3 key advantages. The first is practical – manageability. While we still have regulations managing smaller crowds is easier than managing larger crowds.

The second is exclusivity. For high end, luxury products and important societal moments, smaller is better. Such moments help the public to understand the importance of the moment, if it’s hard to attend then only the most important people are there. This then leads to desirable online content, a FOMO moment.

The third is ease of delivery. With smaller footprints and fewer guests, the logistics and costs around smaller events are easier to manage.  If you are going to go this route it is essential to ensure that you connect the end-to-end journey from the physical through your social and digital channels so that you achieve your objectives in sales or brand uplift. And with the world watching online, small will punch above their weight in the coming year.  Take Hermès’ installation, Hermès Carré at Concrete. It was impeccably laid out with beautifully distanced seating, stages and installations. Registration was required and the full effect was desirability and exclusivity.

Action: Think smaller but more interesting. And remember the importance of connecting your event with your digital commerce.

Online excitement

While the region is forging ahead in physical space, it’s not forgetting the new value in the digital and hybrid space that we have all learned from our 2020 experience. And there are moments when a fully digital experience is the best solution. But marketers have learned that simply hosting a webinar is no longer enough to attract and hold the attention of delegates.

We have worked with companies such as Twitter to effectively pivot their events into a fully digital space, incorporating innovative greenscreen technologies, remote video and virtual environments that allow for individual learning journeys through interaction. Engagement and retention have been high, often at 100%, and for the end of year event, Twitter reached 5m+ viewers in 2 days, which has meant that key commercial conversations have been enabled by continuing these events.

Engagement in live events isn’t only via more established platforms and methods. In KSA, there has been an upswing in live shopping behaviours. Think of these as less pure-play retail moments and more performance retail. Innovation grabs the attention, convenience drives engagement, but the creative approach and creating lively content is what will ensure that your customers take commercial steps. If you bombard them with boring formats or make your engagements too long you will lose them and lose critical opportunities.

Action: Ensure your events are more than talking head webinars. Marketers should take as much interest in the creative expression of their brand as the digital platform it’s expressed on. Looking at events in the region will certainly provide inspiration.

Concluding thoughts

The region has displayed optimism throughout the pandemic, way beyond that of other continents and territories. Marketers can move into a leading position globally if they make the most of the GCC’s emergence from the pandemic ahead of other countries and regions.