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Cvent's Patrick Smith on Hybrid Meetings and Hope for the Future

December 7, 2020

Meetings Today’s Tyler Davidson talks with Cvent Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Patrick Smith about the meetings tech giant’s new hybrid meeting solution, Virtual Attendee Hub.

Learn how the company has fared during the pandemic and what he and others at Cvent see as positive signs for an industry recovery from the COVID calamity. 

Listen to this Meetings Today Podcast to find out more.            

Read the Transcript

[start transcript]

Tyler Davidson: Hello, and welcome to this Meetings Today podcast. I'm Tyler Davidson, vice president and chief content director of Meetings Today. Joining us today is Patrick Smith, a senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Cvent. Thanks for joining us, Patrick.

Patrick Smith: Thanks for having me.

Tyler: A lot of stuff is going on in the industry, in this year of years, 2020. The big news for you was your annual Connect program, which you did virtually this year, and you actually unveiled a new offering, a virtual attendee hub there. Why don't you let people know what that is about, what it offers? And any observations from Connect you want to share?

Photo: Patrick Smith
Patrick Smith, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer with Cvent
 

Patrick: Yeah, that's a great question. We had the privilege of putting on a huge user conference, and it was virtual. We were going to be in person in Vegas in June, but like everyone, we were forced to move our conference online. So what's really interesting about Cvent is, every time we do one of these conferences, we're essentially running a conference for people in the meetings and events business, which adds even more pressure, because our audience knows something about the topic. But then to make it even more interesting, we ran it on our own platform. So, our event was our product. It had to look good, it had to be good. It had to be seamless. And we were really proud of what we ended up doing.

It was a great rallying cry for the industry. I think a lot of great speakers, CEOs from the top hoteliers and obviously Reggie, our CEO, spoke and just good thought leadership content all about what's going on in the industry, what's the future of events look like? So really took a lot of pride in just getting the industry together. And we ran it on our own new product called our virtual attendee hub.

I think the virtual attendee hub is something that we're really proud of, because it's a platform for running a very seamless virtual event, whether that's a couple hours or a couple days. And it allows you to watch great sessions and showcase great sessions, from keynote speakers to breakouts, where you can see the speaker and you can ask questions, and you can interact that way. It's a place where you can have exhibitors, and they can showcase their wares. And they can post their content. And you can meet them and have meaningful discussions, you can talk to sponsors, you can kick off a one-on-one appointment and have a discussion if you want.

But also it’s a place that's really built around engagement overall. And we track you know, 25 or 30 different engagement points in the virtual event platform. What's really fascinating there as for our event, which had 43,000 registrants, we were able to calculate 1.1 million engagement points. This is sessions people attended, how long they stayed, did they ask a question, who did they visit from an exhibitor standpoint? So from a marketing perspective, it gave us astounding insight into the attendees, which we used for follow up afterwards. So, it's really built on the concept of engagement and measuring those engagement points. So organizations can quickly learn what they can about their attendee online and quickly take action, whether that's the next marketing action or that's even kicking off another meeting or if your association [wants to] learn more about the people that are giving you money, and are your big advocates. We're really excited about how it can really give you that attendee profile that you want.

Tyler: And, Cvent—like everyone else, like us, everyone listening to this—didn't see the big train barreling at them at the beginning of the year, of course, and now seems like everyone and their uncle is jumping into virtual meetings. And a lot of listeners out there, a lot of meeting and event planners, really are being challenged with figuring out what the best platform is for virtual and hybrid meetings. What does a virtual attendee hub bring into the market that maybe makes it stand apart from some of the competition?

Patrick: Yeah, I think the building attendee engagement score that I mentioned, is certainly notable but what we really pride ourselves on is managing the entire event lifecycle. So, you can invite people through Cvent’s email marketing tool, you can build an event website that allows for multiple registration paths. So if you're a senior person or a certain industry or a certain persona, you might have a different event than someone else. Then you can register people and you can make sure they were invited, obviously, and then attended, and you can track all that information. And then you can go to all these analytics after the fact so we can run your total events program.

Tyler: That's always been in your ecosystem, right?

Patrick: Exactly. And now we just have a big virtual component. What's interesting is even last year, about 20,000 events that were virtual ran on Cvent. This is using Cvent for things like webinars and so forth to invite people and build a registration site. This year, that's obviously exploded. It's many times that. So we've always played a role on the virtual events. But now we have the virtual attendee hub, which is the one place to go to run a big multi-session, multi-day event and do all the things that I mentioned before. We continue to innovate, we continue to bring new features to the table literally every couple of weeks. We're really excited about the evolution of this tool and how that's going to power not only virtual events, but also hybrid too.

Tyler: And you have another offering called Source Safely. And that really, I believe, addresses a lot of the concerns that meeting planners have, and attendees with safety protocols during the pandemic. Why don't you tell everyone what that's about?

Patrick: Sure, I appreciate you mentioning that. I mean, we're really committed to doing all we can to get the industry back on track. And some of this is making sure that we break down whatever barriers exist to having a safe meeting. Source Safely is a resource center that's really about three major things. The first is information—so information on the safety protocols of many hotel chains, destinations, and convention centers, independent venues and more. We're allowing these big chains and destinations to showcase their safety information. A lot of planners and marketers, when they kick off a meeting, need to understand this because you need to have a safe meeting, but you also need to stay out of the headlines, you don't want to a certain something, you don't want something traced back to your event where a major COVID outbreak happened because of the event you are running.

Tyler: And taking pictures these days, too, right?

Patrick: Exactly. I mean, there's a lot of risk there. So, it allows planners to really understand the very in-depth, very thoughtful safety protocols of the hoteliers and venues and destinations. It's also about access though, because once you have this information, you can quickly source and find venues to run an event. And finally, it's also enablement resources. We have webinars, we have links to training and certification that we're running, content to help people build their skills and knowledge so they can learn what to save meetings about; learn how to source better than before, and how to use our network to do so. It's really just a place that we think can help accelerate meetings when we need them the most. And it's going to take time until we're back in person, obviously, in full force. But to the extent that we can get that moving, and it starts with safety, we're all over that.

Tyler: I guess one of your original stock and trades was, and something I've always been very envious of, is your huge venue facility database. You really have your finger on the pulse of what they're up to. And speaking of hybrid meetings, have you noticed there's a trend toward facilities are ramping up even onsite production facilities for hybrid meetings?

Patrick: No question. While the hybrid wave hasn't quite hit yet, because we're not back in person, like we will be down the line, we think that hybrid is truly going to be the future of the industry in many ways because of a simple reason. All of what we've learned with virtual events is people are going to want to leverage. I mean, we've seen we had 4,500 people at our event in person in 2019 and 43,000-plus people this year for a virtual event. You're not going to want to let that go. You're going to want those numbers. But you're also going to want to get back face to face with your best customers, with your best prospects, with the people that you really want to engage and shake a hand and have a discussion and do what people like to do, which is get together. That's going to happen. You're going to want the best of both worlds. And I think a lot of forward-thinking hotels and venues are preparing for this day. And quite honestly, they have a lot of their event space going unused. So they are looking at things like building studios. How do I retrofit my room so they can be hybrid ready? Because hybrid is not just about putting a camera in a room and broadcasting what someone is presenting on a screen like you'd be sitting in a room, you might need a separate feed for that. You need the right technology and the right setup to do that right. You need the right Wi-Fi connections, power drops, all these sorts of things to make that work. A lot of hoteliers are seeing this and preparing ahead of time.

They're also using Cvent event diagramming too to showcase how their space can work in a hybrid environment. What would a layout look like if I want to run a hybrid event? And so forth. So, a lot of preparations happening. This is a resilient industry, Tyler, people want to do all they can now to prepare for the future when it comes roaring back and they're doing that. And at Cvent we stand ready to help in any way we can. Whether that's the solutions or just the advice or the network that we can promote out there to get people connected so they can run meetings going forward.

Tyler: And speaking of the industry roaring back, you analyze this, and all your team members there. What's your take on the overall health of the industry now? And do you have any thoughts about a timeframe for a recovery and what that “recovery” may look like?

Patrick: Yep. So I'll take this in two parts. The first is the overall health of the industry. And I'm looking down the line a little bit in terms of the potential and the value of events in general, and we think it's extremely good. Because we're still finding ways to meet, it's just virtually and all that we've learned there will serve us well. I mean, I can't tell you, Tyler, how much we've learned as an organization, on what virtual events mean, from putting on our own huge event in August, to helping the industry think about what they're doing and hearing from them a lot, both in the meetings that we've run on virtual attendee hub, and also the ones that we've powered through our software, even if it's just registration, and the email and website side. But I'll tell you this: They're not easy. Virtual events are not easy. There's a lot of production that has to happen, there's a lot of decisions that need to be made. And we have a whole series of webinars around how we pulled off Connect and what it means for the industry. People are welcome to learn more there. The pain was there, it's not easy to do this, but you're going to want to use what you leverage going forward. So, we think virtual is here to stay.

We think, as I talked about before, in person is going to come back because of that unique need that's been missing, that we can then get back. And hybrid, of course is going to be you’re going to want the big virtual audience are going to want people in the room. What this ends up doing is more people will value meetings more than before, and more events will happen. And so for overall health, if you just get by where we are right now and look a year or two down the line, we think we're going to enter a golden age of events. It's going to take a little bit of time, but in our current situation, this is the second part of my long answer, we totally understand that times are still tough, and so much is going to depend on getting a handle on the pandemic. And so much of it is out of our control, whether we get a vaccine, when we get a vaccine, the different protocols and restrictions and rules around how many people can meet and when. So we know times are tough, we know so much still depends on things that are outside of our control. But we're going to do all we can to help the industry get back on track. Incidentally, we are seeing that RFPs sent to hotels, for in-person events, have started to rise very slowly. But over the past even couple weeks, we're seeing some spikes there. So, the back half of ‘21 looks promising pending the health situation, but it could be 2022 until we're back completely in business.

Tyler: And I would love to have been a fly on the wall of a company such as yourself, when all this hit and sort of manifested. What was that like? Of course, it seems like you've really done a big pivot, I guess is the operative word everyone's using? What was it like when the pandemic first hit and sort of manifested itself? And what were you talking about as a company and what strategies you needed to do?

Patrick: Yeah, it's a great question. And I'll never forget this, because it happened so quickly back in March. And I think first we had a couple big decisions that we made, Tyler, which really guided what we did. The first one was, a lot of people were saying and encouraging Cvent to take a stance that you can meet, you just have to do it safely. And we're not health experts. And we're not epidemiologists. So we said, look, we're not in the position to tell people you can meet safely. If you want to, you can use event technology, we can tell you how to do it, but we're not going to make a statement on whether we should meet or not. Because that's really up to others that have different expertise than we did. So we weren't out there promoting that idea. But we were out saying we're going to help wherever we can.

The thing we did though, first and foremost is really rally around our customers. We have thousands of calls from customers, both from those that use our event technology and those that were hoteliers and venues that use Cvent supplier network and were using for advertising. They had lots of questions on their contract because no in-person events were happening and they signed agreements with us so what were we going to do? So we worked individually with many different organizations to navigate our way through this, given the financial difficulties that everyone was having. So that was our first order of business.

But very quickly, we came up with a framework on how to adapt, evolve and accelerate your events program and kind of be resilient, have a resurgence and restart your sort of meetings and events business from the hotelier standpoint. We quickly pivoted all of our marketing. So we weren't tone deaf, and all of our content strategy and all of our promotions to make it about what this means to all of us and how to navigate through these times. And it wasn't so much about selling things as much as helping to reassure and guide and connect the industry together. And that was a huge focus of ours, which is why we've created a lot of content, had a lot of webinars and so forth on a lot of these topics. Because it was really our prime mission to help the industry get through this the best we could.

We even did things like took our training and certification program and made it free for anyone, whether you're a Cvent user or not. So you can build your skills, when you might have some time on your hands. Maybe you got furloughed or laid off. Maybe you just didn't have as much to do or maybe had a ton to do but wanted to do it anyway. So these are all the things we did to help the industry in this time of crisis. Because we have a vested interest, of course, in seeing everything come back. And we really pride ourselves in being in a leadership position of informing and connecting this industry together.

Tyler: Right. We're going to wrap it up now. But one sort of overall question: what meeting and event planners need to be thinking about right now, and, and how, as an industry, including organizations, companies, such as Cvent and the major industry associations, what do they need to do to help us all recover and navigate this crisis?

Patrick: Yeah, so I would say that they need to continue to upgrade their skills. We really think that technology, what's interesting about whole world we're in now is that we've always been saying, and the reason why Cvent is in business is to digitize events. It was something that we saw as being very inefficient, and very manual, and we brought technology to that problem. When you have a virtual event, and your technology is your venue, everything is digital. So the rise of the event technologist is something we're seeing where planners need to be video editors, they need to be TV producers, they need to understand how do I set up a virtual event so I'm capturing all this information that I can then use from a marketing perspective? So even event design is more tied into the digital transformation that's happened. So we think this is only going to accelerate digital transformation. And we want people to embrace technology, and make it a core competency. So I think this is going to be something that some parts of the industry might have been laggards here, everyone needs to understand technology and events going forward, and they've been forced to with this virtual wave. So not being afraid of technology, and how that's going to help, both in-person events and virtual and hybrid is something that we think the industry needs to do and that's why we're doing a lot of training and certification courses on those topics.

Also, source for events in 2021 and beyond you can get favorable terms with hoteliers now, because of uncertainty and cancellation policies, but they need the business, they're hungry for RFPs. There are ways to meet safely, that are here now. And obviously will be down the line, you see some of these stories about rooms where they're six feet between people and so forth. So, you know, certainly there are ways that that you can educate yourself on holding a meeting. And I would just say keep the faith and continue to network with the venues who are prepared to have safe meetings and that'll help the industry get back on track.

Tyler: Well, thank you, Patrick, that’s sage advice. I really appreciate it. And I'm guessing people can just go to cvent.com to find out more about everything you're up to and the different tools and resources that are available.

Patrick: That's right.

Tyler: Thank you for joining us, Patrick. That was a Patrick Smith, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Cvent. I am Tyler Davidson, vice president and chief content director for Meetings Today. Thank you for joining us for this Meetings Today podcast. If you're interested in hearing more of our podcasts with industry thought leaders, just head on over to meetingstoday.com and check out our podcast section. So wherever you are right now, have a great rest of the day.

[End Transcript]

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About the author
Tyler Davidson | Editor, Vice President & Chief Content Director

Tyler Davidson has covered the travel trade for nearly 30 years. In his current role with Meetings Today, Tyler leads the editorial team on its mission to provide the best meetings content in the industry.