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Interview with Claudia Köhler, Corporate Vice President of VOK DAMS on the future of the meetings industry, how VOK DAMS has adapted to the “new normal”, and why hybrid events are here to stay.

“The powerful impact of events is based on the strong human desire to be social”

Q: What do you desire the most at the moment?

Rolling-out hybrid events big style and convincing even more people of the amazing potential they have – that is what I am most looking forward to at the moment. The past few months were a massive boost to developments we had anticipated a few years ago, and despite all the constraints and limitations we had to work with, I have experienced these past few months as a massive boost of innovation leading to new, exciting possibilities for engaging and enthusing people. Together with our clients, we are continuously developing and discovering new ways of marketing experience. So, the current challenges have, in fact, made it possible for all of us to further develop new creative marketing methods.

Marketing experts are realising that they need to step back and think about what it is they want to achieve – rather than being caught in the rat race of the exhibition and events schedule. A lot of our clients have actually asked us to become creative sparring partners and together we have developed new marketing experience hubs that will change the world of marketing and marketing communication. So, actually what I desire most is to continue along this exciting innovative path and roll out all the new tools and methods we are developing with and for our clients at the moment.

Q: Why do you love organising events?

I truly love how the combination of creativity, technology, research and human insights leads to impactful communications. Marketing events are truly one of the best methods to build meaningful and effective connections between people and brands.

Q: Can you present the tool or app you use the most during the corona crisis?

There’s no specific app, as our client requirements are different in each project, and each time we select the rights tools for the job at hand. We created an Open Platform for digital and hybrid events, which can include any tool or application the project desires. As we have been developing flexible concept platforms for virtual and hybrid events since 2010, we were able to create the Open Platform in record time.

But without a doubt, the best “tool” has been (and still is) our people. Be it in Germany, China, the USA or Estonia, everyone at VOK DAMS flawlessly switched to 100% remote working. Suddenly finding themselves working from home surrounded by their families and dealing with projects while also managing the COVID-19 impact on their personal lives. Not an easy adjustment to make and to keep up for almost a year, but they all managed it beautifully. I’m really proud of that.

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Photo Credit: VOK DAMS

Q: How would you explain to a client why organising events is essential?

The powerful impact of events is based on the strong human desire to be social and be part of a group. It’s what we call the “campfire DNA”; the need to be together with fellow humans to share experiences and stories. There’s simply no communication equivalent with the same emotional impact and ability to create meaningful connections.

The necessary switch from offline to online during the pandemic has proven this once again. VOK DAMS has been at the forefront of digital event solutions for a decade and a true believer in the power of hybrid event concepts. Nevertheless – we know it from television programs, sporting events and media presentations – the personal connection, the shared “experience” of a live offline event have an additional emotional and dramatic dimension that we cannot emulate online and cannot do without in the long run. And when we manage to convey this into a hybrid event, by clever interactions between the “live” and the “digital” attendants, we can bring marketing communication to a new level. This is why a hybrid event is much more than just a live event gone digital.

Q: Is it easier to organise digital or live events?

Nothing is easy… and we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s what makes events so exciting! Both live and digital events come with their own set of challenges and conditions. We approach any event the same way, no matter if it’s online, offline or hybrid. We have created more than 500 digital and hybrid events since the start of the pandemic, and each of them had different settings, requirements and encounters. That’s another reason why I love what we do – it never gets boring and you never end up dishing out old stuff from a drawer. Instead, it is about learning, exploring, discovering. And what I have learned over time is that if I had to choose between digital and live I would always go for both – for a clever combination of digital and live into a hybrid event. This taps into previously unexploited marketing potentials. And allows for a significantly more lasting impact.

Q: Is organising digital events cheaper than organising classic events?

Unfortunately, that’s a common misunderstanding. Some think that by not having guests physically present, we can substantially save on travel, accommodation and F&B. While this is definitely true, digital and hybrid events also need substantial additional budgets for content creation, speaker training, audience interaction methods and foolproof technical settings. Which don’t come cheap.

We base all our concepts – be it digital, live or hybrid – on the objectives of the client and the available budget. It’s one of the reasons why we insist on clients sharing their budgets. Without it’s impossible to create an effective concept.

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“face-to-face communication remains fundamentally important and effective”

Q: If the future of the meetings industry will be green, where do we start?

Our present (and a substantial part of our recent history for that matter) is as environmentally conscious as possible. We have been creating events with full recycling of event materials and waste, CO2 measurements and carbon offset for over 20 years. And I am sure we will continue along this road and develop even better solutions for a sustainable future.

Q: What will be the key trait of a great event organiser after the corona crisis?

Irrespective of COVID-19, we are convinced that hybrid events will have a significant impact on the future development of the event industry, as they enable parallel live participation on-site and virtually from anywhere in the world. At the same time, such formats, just like virtual events, require completely new concepts and methodologies, both in terms of content and technology. Simply taking a “live” event and producing it online is not enough and will not take advantage of the online communication potential. Our clients are increasingly coming to this conclusion as well and inquiring about our hybrid expertise, be it as event technicians or concept designers, or when simply looking for new solutions and possibilities.

Q: What is your view of the future? Where is the meetings industry headed?

I am actually rather confident about the future of the marketing events industry. Events will continue to be social, personal and live. They provide the essential drive in marketing and are crucial when it comes to conveying and anchoring messages. Even with social distancing and hygiene rules in place, face-to-face communication remains fundamentally important and effective. We all are social animals to the core and therefore always find a way to – safely – connect and interact. Be it live, digital or in a hybrid setting. And that has become blatantly clear over the last few months; for us humans, it is so important to be able to be together and to communicate with one another. Even when it’s with a safe distance between us or through virtual channels.

Therefore, we continue to develop agile concepts to achieve this basic need in a safe, effective and enjoyable way. Because there is nothing that achieves better results than direct communication from person to person. This has been the core of our company for the last 50 years and will continue to be so.

Q: What is the most surprising fact about organising events?

That everyone thinks it’s easy… We have clients that tell us that we make it look so easy to produce a smooth and impactful event. We take this as a great compliment, as no one doesn’t realise or see how much work we put into it behind the scenes. And that is the way it should be. Event production should have a little magic…

EXTRA QUESTION FOR CLAUDIA

Q: High Tech or High Touch?

Not “or”, but “and”. For us, Hybrid – the combination of tech AND touch – is the way forward.