COVID-19 has uprooted business in every form. Even as some businesses prepare for re-opening, event organizers have put plans on hold indefinitely as the nation continues to adopt strict social distancing policies. But for event planners with a bit of ingenuity, the show simply must go on.
In that spirit, the National Football League (NFL) transformed its annual rookie draft into a completely virtual experience rather than postpone it. Here are four lessons marketers can learn:
1) These challenges are opportunities to connect with consumers.
The league may have had to dial back on production value when it switched to a virtual format, but not all was lost. While a virtual draft meant less fanfare, it also presented an opportunity for the league to give viewers a transparent view of the draft process.
As rookies were selected, the wide-angle shots of them taking the stage were instead replaced with livestream video of them celebrating alongside family. Coaches were seen making draft picks beside their kids. At one point, a coach’s dog even stole the spotlight.
The result was a presentation that fans found comforting and relatable in a time when they needed it most.
Uncharted territory means unexplored potential. As you consider how to pivot your event, don’t focus so much on recreating the formal structure that you forgo an opportunity to try something new. Your patrons are going through the same strange experience you are. By showcasing the ways that you and your employees have had to adapt, you may end up closer to your consumers than ever before.
2) When recreating the fan experience, the little things matter.
Whether the league likes it or not, it has become tradition for fans attending the draft to heckle the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell. This year, Goodell made sure that he could still receive his not-so-warm welcome. Before announcing the first pick, Goodell invited fans onto a video call to boo him on live tv, calling it “a draft tradition, and one that I genuinely enjoy.”
As you recreate the fundamental elements of your event, don’t overlook the little things that add personality. Like popcorn at the movies, sometimes it is our product extensions that set the atmosphere better than anything else. Think about what your typical patron experiences with all five senses when they frequent your event space and explore whether there is any way to recreate those special moments.
3) Practice makes perfect.
From a technological standpoint, the NFL draft went off without a hitch. However, that didn’t happen overnight. Glitches, low bandwidth and poor communication plagued the league’s rehearsal draft, leaving many media pundits to question whether the NFL should have postponed the event to a later date.
Dry runs always have been an essential part of event preparation, but now organizers must consider a whole new batch of potential logistical and technological issues. As you put your timeline together, make sure it includes extra trial runs and be prepared for hiccups along the way.
4) Now more than ever, the right tone is essential.
While the draft may have ultimately been a distraction, the league was extremely sensitive in its messaging, specifically regarding the pandemic. ESPN, on the other hand, was a little less self-aware. Following the draft, ESPN was ostracized by players and fans alike for highlighting some of the family tragedies (deaths in the family, health complications, drug addictions) faced by the drafted players. The network may have been well intentioned in its attempt to add emotional backstory, but the reception was overwhelmingly negative.
Audiences are looking to your event to help them escape and will be especially sensitive to missteps in your messaging. Proceeding with your event may help you stand out from the competition, but it also exposes you to more scrupulous criticism. Review your content with tone in mind and test drive it with an external focus group if possible. Zoom and other webcam services are easily recordable; the last thing you want is for one lapse in judgement to live on forever.