Beyond 2020

Durl Jensen, President of CDI World-USA

In this Q&A, Durl Jensen, President of CDI World-USA, explains how the companies that form the global CDI World events business are providing brands with fresh ways to engage customers in a changed landscape.

So much trauma has been inflicted on families and businesses during 2020. Does talking about the future downplay those impacts?

Not at all. Getting the economy up and running again, while keeping people safe, is the best way to ensure that families and businesses have positive futures. Our industry, the events industry, has always operated at the interface between brands and their customers. This is where a lot of business gets done and so we believe we have a vital part to play in the recovery.

Isn’t it just a matter of waiting out the storm until everything gradually returns to normal?

For the fortunate few that can manage to wait, that might look like a tempting strategy, and it’s encouraging to see some organizations in the states putting on larger events again under strict controls. But our view at CDI World is that we have to do things differently and open up new opportunities rather than hope to wind back the clock. In fact, we try to avoid using the “normal” word!

Okay – but skeptics might say that you can’t get around the fact that events are events. Can you realistically do much to change them except maybe play with the cosmetics?

The skeptics are correct in that the fundamentals of events remain unchanged, they are about bringing people together. However, it’s easy to get locked into just a few standard ways of doing that when there are many more options – especially with all the technology we have available to us.

You’re talking about virtual?

Virtual is important and almost everybody in business, like it or not, has experienced it in simple, and sometimes frustrating form, during the past year with the massive growth in teleconferencing. But just “bolting on” virtual as a temporary fix to take the place of physical interaction isn’t a lasting solution for all kinds of reasons.

Which are?

Firstly, virtual isn’t a single thing, it’s a huge range of digitally-delivered options that need to be matched to what the individual brand or business wants to achieve and who their customers are. Every brand is different, even when they’re operating in a common marketplace. Secondly, virtual isn’t a swap out replacement for a conventional physical event – it’s a medium that needs to be optimized using its own strengths and not used simply to mimic another medium. It’s an immensely valuable complement to what we do.

So virtual isn’t a quick fix but should be considered on its own merits?

Exactly. It should always be there but as a major option, not a substitute. And that’s one of the principles we’ve adopted in our new approach to events. We use the term Hybrid Events. Some people define this as combining virtual with physical. Our definition is broader because we see it more holistically. It’s getting away from silo-thinking, being much more open and much more flexible.

Does that mean you think the events industry has been closed and inflexible?

I know many people in our industry and most of them are highly flexible and supremely adaptable, it goes with the job to a large degree. But there’s always a human tendency to stick with the status quo – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. That’s all changed now and clients are looking for new solutions to help them deal with ongoing uncertainty. That’s why we’re putting our energy into Hybrids.

You said Hybrid Events were more holistic. What did you mean by that?

In the past, clients would come to us with a confirmed show program with fixed venues and a detailed brief. In most cases, they had attended similar shows before and had good data on what worked and what didn’t. This meant you could focus your resources on a few key events. That narrow approach has gone. Hybrid encourages a more open mindset.  

You’re saying that Hybrid allows you to think beyond the box?

Yes. You can start a fresh page and look at the big picture. Identify all the crucial live interactions between your business and your customers and then consider all the various ways you can facilitate those interactions. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Uncertainty is going to be with us for some time, so build-in flexibility and the freedom to change arrangements at short notice.

And the Hybrid approach provides that kind of flexibility?

It’s flexible because you can use a blend of techniques customized to your business objectives and your market. You might hold some smaller scale private events in hotel suites to meet up with customers, or set up a temporary showroom to display new products, or maybe run a roadshow that visits key locations. And you can combine any of these with virtual options ranging from basic online chats to augmented reality.

That sounds very comprehensive. But doesn’t that also mean more costly?

The beauty of the Hybrid approach is that you can put together a recipe that matches your needs. You only need to use the ingredients that work for you and that can be very cost-effective indeed.

Finally, CDI World is a global events specialist with principal offices in the USA, UK and Singapore plus many international partners. Will Hybrid options be available throughout the business?

Absolutely. David Bay, our CEO based in Singapore and John Robinson, the Managing Director of CDI World-UK, are ensuring that Hybrids will be offered to all our clients wherever they market. From our experience so far and the feedback we’re receiving from those who have already taken the Hybrid route, it’s opening up some really exciting opportunities. We’re looking forward to helping many more brands worldwide benefit from Hybrid in 2021.