The coronavirus is causing untold disruption to people and businesses across the world, and in one sense, it’s easy - and understandable - to think that nothing else matters right now, other than getting through it. On the other hand, while it’s far from business as usual, it’s important that the wheels of commerce do continue to spin as normally as they can do, or we’ll all be in a worse place than we are now.
With that in mind, I thought it worth sharing my experiences of the last week. On Saturday, 14 March, I flew to Melbourne to host Masterclasses we were running there and in Sydney, two on Digital Marketing, one on Mobile & App Marketing. With hindsight, some might say the trip was a tad reckless, but it’s easy to forget how much has changed in the last 10 days, and as I boarded the plane, we had a high level of registrations and confirmations for each event.
By the time I got off the plane late 24 hours later, late Sunday evening Melbourne time, things had changed significantly. Half an hour after I passed through Immigration, a new rule came into force requiring anyone entering into the country to self-isolate for 14 days. The following day, less than 24 hours before our first event was due to begin, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic. A steady stream of emails arrived from delegates cancelling their attendance at our events, not just in Melbourne, but for the Sydney events on Wednesday and Thursday too.
At that point, we had two choices: cancel the events and come home early. Or flip them into virtual, online events, and hope that our delegates would be able to attend those. We went for the latter option as we had myself to host the events, and my colleague Suela to handle logistics, in the right time zone.
If I’m honest, neither I nor my colleagues back in the UK and the US had any idea what reaction we would get from the delegates. They might have more to worry about than attending a Masterclass, with everything else going on. On the other hand, with many of them working from home, they might be glad of the human interaction, albeit virtual, and, we surmised, they still needed to keep up with the latest digital and mobile marketing trends and hear from the companies on the coal face who are best placed to help them with this sort of stuff.
The reaction from our sponsors was, if I’m honest, mixed. Some appreciated the fact we were trying to make the best out of a bad situation and make the event happen, albeit virtually. Others were disappointed that they would not have the opportunity to meet the delegates in person and talk to them during the round table sessions that are a key part of our Masterclass events. Nevertheless, virtually all of them accepted the flip to the online format and “turned up” on the day to give their presentations.
On the delegate side, we were amazed to find that for all three events, virtually everyone who had signed up to attend the physical event was there for the virtual one, as well as a number of people who had not registered for the physical event, but had heard about the virtual one via their colleagues.
The feedback from some of the sponsors was that the online event was better and more interactive than they had expected, with delegates submitting questions via a Chat function on the online platform while the speakers were presenting. Delegate feedback has also been positive, as many people come to appreciate that this type of event is the new normal for the foreseeable future. Going forward, we are evolving the events to incorporate virtual breakout rooms to simulate the round table sessions.
What the whole episode told me was that, in spite of everything that’s going on, there is still an appetite among digital marketers to learn and to get on with the day job, and among the vendor community to meet new prospects and outline how they can help them. Business as usual, in short, even if it’s nothing like “as usual”.
So as we all try to work through the disruption that the coronavirus is causing, we’ll continue to report on the mobile and digital marketing scene. We also plan to see through our two Awards programmes, the Effective Digital Marketing Awards, created three years ago by our parent company, Masterclassing and the Effective Mobile Marketing Awards, which Mobile Marketing magazine launched back in 2010, with this year’s edition due to launch in May.
The deadline for the Effective Digital Marketing Awards is less than a week away, but to give everyone time to adjust to the new normal, we plan to extend this by a further four weeks, and to waive the late entry surcharge that usually comes with entries entered after a deadline extension. The Awards Ceremony, originally planned for July, will take place later in the year, if conditions allow, and if there’s any appetite for such a gathering.
That makes the new deadline Friday, 24 April. We will announce this officially later this week, but for now, if you accept that business must carry on as normally as it can do, and that winning an award is a great way to prove your credentials, you can get more information here.
For now, stay safe and carry on with the day job as best you can.