Brands at Work: unlocking the possibilities of hybrid events

The term ‘hybrid’ is threatening to rival ‘pivot’ for most overused and under-defined phrase of all time. Karen Kadin from Brands at Work offers guidance on what a hybrid experience might mean for you.

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Karen is the co-founder of the award-winning experiential communications agency, Brands at Work. Brands at Work was just named 2020’s Challenger Agency of the Year by EVCOM, a leading events industry association.

From live, virtual and hybrid events and brand experiences to employee engagement and cultural change programmes; Karen has over 20 years’ experience leading transformational communications campaigns.

Forget the ‘new normal’. Normal never changed the world. 

The ‘new normal’. Have you ever heard a less optimistic phrase? Talk about going through the motions. Yeah, we don’t see it like that. We’re celebrators of ingenuity and we’re all about the art of the possible.

Take this time last year. The evolution of events was so quick that Darwin didn’t just turn in his grave, he grew wings and sprouted a third eye. Amid the slamming of shutters across business and venues and the restriction of budgets, the events industry responded in force. By embracing digital channels, we’ve been able to reach bigger audiences with greater relevance. Storytelling, creativity and technical innovation flourished. We’ve learned so much about human behaviours in virtual worlds. And frankly, we’ve come too far to turn back now.

Then again, it has also reinforced the power of in-person experiences (as if we needed reminding). And now, the prospect of a balance between in-person and virtual experiences sits tantalisingly on the horizon.

New normal? Perhaps, but there’s nothing normal about it. The possibilities here are endless.

Baby steps

Ok, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Everything is possible, but the majority of you will be tentatively dipping your toes in the hybrid waters. So, swimming caps on and armbands at the ready, let’s establish some of the more common and practical reasons why you may be considering a hybrid event.

Top of the list? Safety. If there’s one thing we all know, it’s that we don’t know very much about how this pandemic will progress. Sure, there are roadmaps to ‘normality’ in some countries. But the lack of certainty doesn’t help when you’re keen to increase engagement while keeping your audiences safe. Without doubt, hybrid events offer that glimmer of hope to bring some people together without opening up to the masses.

But safety isn’t the only motivation. Perhaps your biggest concern is how to engage multi-national audiences – each with different restrictions, cultural expectations or needs – across multiple time zones. Or perhaps you’re keen to explore hybrid because you’ve noticed some of that ‘screen fatigue’ set in and you want to shake things up. Or maybe, most of all, you’re just missing that ineffable, ethereal magic that sparks into life as people interact face-to-face.

And then there will be some of you coming the other way who are less convinced about hybrid’s usefulness. Perhaps you’re worried that the combination of an in-person and virtual event means double the cost. Or you’re unsure what the technical requirements are and don’t know where to start (‘wait, it was all about a digital platform before, but now I need a studio?!’).

Whatever your underlying feelings on the matter, fear not. While we’re not here to answer each and every concern, what we can tell you is that hybrid isn’t one size fits all. It has many applications that can be tailored to your needs.

Hybrid means lots of things

Sorry if you were hoping for a one liner on what Hybrid really is. The truth is, there are so many types of Hybrid events or communications, and they all have their place. It really depends on what your ambition is and who your audiences are.

If we unfurl the ginormous map of the experiences and events universe, you can generally plot three key areas. At one end, you have purely in-person events. And for some people, that’s prime rib – the ideal scenario to get back to.

At the other end, there’s pure virtual engagement. This is what we’ve all been focused on in the last year, and the best virtual productions have demonstrated the power of digital channels and their reach.

And slap bang in the middle sits the glorious third option: hybrid events. A balance between the two extremes that, in theory at least, offers the most powerful way to communicate and design content experiences.

But the truth is, that’s all a little too simplistic. These three areas are useful way finders, like the cardinal directions on a compass. But there’s an enormous amount of untapped hybrid opportunity that sits between them.

What Hybrid ISN’T

Given Hybrid can be so many things, let’s try to define what it’s not. Maybe you’ve produced an in-person event and broadcasted a live stream of it. Or recorded an in-person event with a couple of static cameras at the back of the room and posted it online for on-demand viewing. Yeah, sorry, neither of those are examples of a hybrid event. That’s digital amplification – footage published online, but with no digital experience in the content design.

But don’t be put off – what it shows is that there are key technical and production principles (show record, live relay, online broadcast, audience reach) that your agencies have been doing for decades. Combined with an intuitive understanding of how to create human experiences, they’re the foundation to much of where we’re going. You’re in safe hands.

So what IS Hybrid, then?

A hybrid event is one that balances the experiences of in-person and virtual audiences, acknowledging the needs, nuances and opportunities of each (oh hey, we could sum it up in a sentence after all).

At its most potent, a hybrid event results in a shared outcome between the audience types. By which we mean that you’ll likely have a single ambition for your project (sell a product, motivate a workforce, educate, change behaviours, and so on). And it doesn’t matter whether your audiences are in-person or virtual – that outcome is relevant for both.

But here’s the crucial part: that doesn’t mean the experiences should be the same. Different audiences and different channels have different needs. In other words, the plot of your story is ultimately the same, but the way you tell it will vary.

If you want to hear more from Karen, she'll be speaking about engagement in a hybrid world at simplyIC on the 20th May. 



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