by One Two Collective staff
So your event’s been canceled.
The rising panic around the COVID-19 virus and the uncertainties that come with its level of transferability and mortality have stuck a stake in several marquee spring events. Some, like ShopTalk, have smoothly managed the hiccup, promptly rescheduling for a future date (made possible by taking over the dates for Groceryshop, a sister conference with a smaller audience that is being pushed out to 2021). Others, like SXSW, have publicly floundered with their cancellation plans while weighing how to mitigate both the risks of spreading the virus against the slew of speaker and sponsor cancellations that would adversely affect the experience for attendees who might choose to attend despite a virus scare. After a week of waffling, SXSW ultimately did cancel the 2020 event with the city forcing its hand, and the blowback for both Austin and conference will undoubtedly be felt for months and years to come.
While the reason for canceling these spring 2020 events is due to an unforeseen pandemic, it’s hard not to step back and look at the overall landscape of events and see a crossroads. Face to face is always going to be the gold standard for networking, but the strength of virtual platforms has rapidly expanded, thereby opening the possibilities of interaction around live events. The rise of thought leaders sharing content via TikTok, podcasts and Instagram has lessened the exclusivity offered by industry and entertainment events by increasing access. This digital evolution would continue to peck away at live events regardless of a virus scare, so how can savvy event producers embrace the duality rather than reject it at the expense of their event’s livelihood?
A look at NYFW
In its heyday, nothing was more glam than scoring a seat at a New York Fashion Week show in the Bryant Park Tents. The shift to Lincoln Center came with a loss of designers interested in showing and a more obvious deference to the whims of our corporate sponsor overlords. Socialites in the front row gave way to first wave (Tavi, Garance, et al) bloggers, eventually giving way to the cohort of influencers filling seats at venues that could only be referred to as tents in the most metaphorical sense. New York Fashion Week is not the only event that has suffered in magnitude as consumer interest has changed, but it is one of the most obvious.
The shift in events like NYFW popularity can be attributed to several factors: notably, a shift in industry requirements and changed consumer behaviors. Big designers no longer need to show on the runway for their collection to be seen, and as such the more interesting story has become what designers are doing to reinforce their presence on the scene without physically participating in the shows. Tanya Taylor has been showing her collection off-runway for a few years, but for Fall 2020 stretched her creative wings by showcasing her collection via a collaboration with four women comedians. The 2-5 minute videos allow the collection to be the main centerpiece to the storyline each comedian is central to, creating a zippy overview of this season’s prints and designs and cementing her status in the fashion scene even apart from the once requisite runway.
Inclusion over Exclusivity
If fashion brands are able to maintain their entire presence via digital engagement while simultaneously expanding their fan base, we feel festivals and conferences should at least have a significant enough digital component that an unforeseen circumstance like COVID-19 doesn’t completely derail the event from occurring. While there is no question that the preferred level of participation at an event like SXSW or ShopTalk is in-person, a baked in way to partner and share content and reactions could expand the reach of the festival even when there isn’t a wave of forced seclusion. Driving external participation also brings in an element of inclusion when people can’t afford or have physical limitations in regard to traveling. While some could argue this diminishes event exclusivity, we believe that it in fact creates an opportunity for tiered participation levels that incentivize more attendees and additionally expand monetization opportunities.
The cancellation and potential rescheduling of these two major industry events is going to have countless negative financial implications for many people involved. The independent film community is notably reeling from the loss of SXSW and the very real threat it has to the perpetuation of the event as a whole. An established digital component here would be particularly valuable as film is one of few areas where home access now rivals theater releases in compensation, if not quite prestige. As brands and event producers begin to pick up the pieces from the wave of coronavirus cancellations happening now, these takeaways around utilizing new digital trends and embracing a model that supports platform diversification will define in part how the conference and events industry rebuilds.
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