The buzz is almost audible as brands prepare for in-person activations at mega events like Dreamforce, AWS and CES. If you’re sitting on the sidelines wondering if you should attend, the answer is “YES! Act now—and plan to return to pre-pandemic levels!”

Despite inflation and forecasts of recession, we see brands dedicating 2019-sized budgets to make a big splash at these events. This year’s Dreamforce mantra says it all: “Go big and come home.” 

Bigger Budgets are Back

In the event world, 2021 through the first half of 2022 wasn’t a big jump back into the pool—it was more of a toe-dipping. Brands and attendees were happy to connect and reconnect in person, but activations were cautious and budgets were lean. Although industry pundits predict a return to pre-pandemic event budgets by 2024, we see that return accelerating as more brands participate in IRL events, increase their event budgets and plan new builds. 

In the AMEX 2022 Global Meeting and Events Forecast, 64% of event professionals surveyed increased their event budgets this year. Respondent optimism is clear with 67% agreeing that in-person events will return to pre-pandemic numbers within the next one to two years. We look ahead with even more optimism in high anticipation of in-person events returning to 2019 levels by 2023.

Plan for a Big Re-entry

In 2020, we quickly transitioned from IRL events to virtual activations. Now it’s time to go the other way—and it’s all about the reverse pivot! As you plan for your big re-entry, here are some planning tips to help you emerge like a phoenix from the upheaval of the past few years.

  1. Align your strategy with your “why”.

Be thoughtful and strategic as you create your reverse pivot blueprint. This is a huge opportunity to connect with customers and offer experiences that grow loyalty. Begin with the customer experience—what do you want attendees to take away from your activation? Meet with all stakeholders to ensure alignment on objectives and intended outcomes. Is your objective lead generation or brand exposure? Are you launching a new product or service? What are your pre- and post-communication strategies?

  1. Reserve an ample budget.

If you haven’t started your build yet, be prepared for the impacts of supply chain challenges and inflation. Your build costs will most likely be two times that of your 2019 expenses. Banish the “build and burn!” Plan your new build for reuse—this will not only help your budget, but also support sustainability. In addition to venue, staff, travel and meal expenses, be sure to designate a portion of your budget to engage qualified leads in a distraction-free setting. 

  1. Think sustainable.

The trend here is less about looking sustainable but, instead, truly BEING sustainable.  Plan to repurpose items, areas and materials when thinking through your activation. Your build could incorporate vinyl or fabric wraps, allowing you to refresh graphics and messaging easily, without rebuilding. Identify items that can be reused or recycled, and add social value through donations.

  1. Develop a measurement plan.

Peter Drucker, the renowned father of management thinking, advises “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” A solid measurement plan is critical to continual improvement. After your team has aligned on objectives, agree on your success metrics and targets. Then, determine how you will measure actual performance. There are many ways to embed measurement within your space without it seeming daunting to attendees.

Planning Ahead with Confidence

“We look toward 2023 with enthusiasm and extreme optimism,” shares Marc Herron, Sparks Senior VP of Strategy. “This is an exciting time—a time when we can rebuild in a new era of possibility; a time of innovation in pursuit of flexibility and sustainability; and, most importantly, a time to connect and reconnect in meaningful ways.”

With Dreamforce right around the corner, we’ll soon have an even clearer picture of the possibilities ahead.