The Future Of Corporate Events? ARIA Awards Founder Peter Rix Chats Post-Pandemic, Burning Man + More

The Future Of Corporate Events? ARIA Awards Founder Peter Rix Chats Post-Pandemic, Burning Man + More
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine

What will corporate and experiential events look like on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic? B&T chats with one of the industry’s most acclaimed event producers on what you can expect.

Peter Rix AM is best-known for his initiation, creation and chairing of the ARIA Music Awards, as a pioneering Australian artist manager, and as an acclaimed event producer.

He commenced Peter Rix Management in 1972 and over the following 15 years managed the careers of Marcia Hines, Jon English, Richard Clapton, Mark Holden, the rock band ‘Hush’, Billy Field, Sharon O’Neill, Anne Kirkpatrick, and many others.

After 48 years, Rix continues to manage Marcia Hines. While a total of 48 platinum, 53 gold albums and 35 gold singles have been awarded to artists he has managed and recorded under his artist-led label Midnight Records.

Recently, B&T had the privilege of speaking to the acclaimed artist manager and event producer on what corporate and experiential events will look like post-pandemic, after an extraordinary year that saw the industry adopt a digital-first approach.

However, Rix believes that while events as far reaching—and as unlikely—as Burning Man adopted such an approach, it will never replace the value of the in-person format.

B&T: Peter, have you ever encountered a year as challenging as 2020?

PR: It does not matter where you were in the globe, on March 15, 2020 the industry came to a shuddering halt!  No one but Bill Gates had predicted what then took place and certainly I have never experienced the challenges that followed.

It is not just the income that flows from the live performance process but the stimulation and the job satisfaction that comes from participating in the business of both creation and delivery.

All of this has disappeared and, whilst there has been a reinvention via the online world, it does not replace, in any way, the impact and relationships that are developed as a result of live, personal interactivity via live activations, be they large, medium or small!

What challenges has experiential and corporate event marketing faced over the past year, and what challenges will the industry continue to face moving forward?

The challenge of reinvention has always been at the core of corporate event marketing, including the experiential component. When you take away the audience, as we have just experienced, the only available avenue forward is via an online presence.

To survive last year the industry had to find appropriate ways to motivate and entertain an audience who had the opportunity to vote their interest by turning off the screen. Internal company management meetings have been broadcast online for many years but never exclusively.

The situation we are faced with will improve in 2021 but not until the second half of the year and potentially my expectation is October/November before vaccine immunity has given the general population confidence that they can attend live performances again without risk. I don’t believe we’ll lose face masks as a fashion accessory for some time to come! The transition from difficult online presentations back to live activities will be driven by the client and their new budget allocations.

Every company has learnt that they can provide a level of communication via online platforms that save significant monies in F&B, travel, accommodation and staging.

Our industry now has to find new ways with less budget allocation to rebuild confidence that the live component is the most successful and impactful way of bringing products and services to market and motivating staff, distributors and suppliers. It will all start slowly but I have confidence that, by 2024, there will be more demand than ever for experiential activations.

Do you believe experiential and event marketing will take on a new form in the post-pandemic world?

Technology will drive any new forms of presentation post-pandemic. I don’t know that it is post-pandemic that’s the key but rather the evolution and the introduction of significant technology, particularly in the vision and 3-D area that will drive new impact points.

It is in the hands of our industry to find these new methods of communication and format them to fit the corporate landscape. Some of it will be stolen from theatre, film and television, and the blazing new world of online and IT.

We must not underestimate the ongoing impact of social media and its extraordinary, often unmanaged relationship to the millennial generation.

Among the major events forced to go digital in 2020 was Burning Man, the cult-classic that normally occurs annually in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada (source: Flickr/Burning Man 2015)

Do you believe experiential and event marketing will continue to be valued by businesses, moving forward?

My experience has shown me that business will shift marketing budgets towards experiential and event marketing if they recognise that it has an increased value.

Be that selling more product or providing more motivation to staff and distributors, the last 15 years have seen extraordinary growth but not necessarily in the marketing budget but in how much of that budget has been moved from traditional advertising into experiential and events.

I believe this trend will continue as the strength of relations in a post-pandemic world become crucial to the population’s trust and commitment, both to products and to corporations.

Is the virtualisation of events temporary, or will events moving forward continue to be presented digital-first? What does a more tech- and hygiene-focused future?

There has always been virtual, online communication strategies by most corporate entities. It is a fiscally responsible and efficient method of providing information to the far flung entities of the globe. However, nothing will ever replace face-to-face, sociable, direct communication.

It is not only motivating but the networking opportunities that prevail when audiences are brought together in a single space can never be exaggerated!

Our job as an industry is to manage the expectations of our clients to ensure that they feel that we are fiscally responsible but collectively aware of the positive results that will come from live production and presentation.

There will be exceptions, thanks to Covid, as there is no question of the recent corporate experience being that online events can succeed but are dependent on the required outcomes.

Of all events that you would think could not pull off a virtual event, Burning Man, for example, was turned into an online experience this year. Does that prove this format can work?

I thought Burning Man, whilst well-intentioned, failed dismally to provide the level of experience that being half naked in the burning heat of the Nevada Desert provides for its constituents!

I don’t believe the intention was to replace the live event but rather to engage with their audience and provide some stimulation and a reminder of, not only what they missed out on in 2020, but what they can expect to again partake in (on more levels than we should be discussing in this conversation) once the tribe can reform!

What a very interesting question and a strong reminder that not every event on the planet is destined for corporate edification.  The online format does work but it has significant limitations!

Has the digitisation/virtualisation of events created greater opportunities for marketers to learn more from their clientele, in the way of greater data insights?

I have often been asked what the KPIs for the production and presentation of an expensive, large-scale corporate event are: Is it increased sales, better awareness of product and technical, or is it simply motivation? A good event production house will listen to their marketing client and frame the activation around both their expectation and an interpretation of what the marketer/client wants to get out of the activity.

Marketers have learnt, through Covid, that their client base has changed their thinking thanks to the restrictions and the impacts on their lives and the need to reinvent how they receive and react to information.

I believe this to be a rich new world of opportunity for all of us but I am wary of the data that might accumulate during Covid that, once the restrictions and lockdowns are removed and the general population is free to roam, how this research will reflect life in the new outside world!

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Peter Rix Peter Rix Management

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