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How Digital-Advertising Conferences Are Coming Back to Life

The resurrection of in-person events is big news for the entire digital-advertising community.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Offline expos and conferences have been a cornerstone of the global digital advertising industry for years due to a multitude of educational and networking opportunities they offer to market players, media experts and tech enthusiasts. However, when the pandemic hit, the world of in-person ad events as we know them seemed to have collapsed for good, giving way to their virtual alternatives.

In this respect, even though a variety of online ad conferences held during the past two years have been quite a success, the recent resurrection of the offline ad events ecosystem is huge news for the entire digital ad community.

Is online networking a lame duck?

Online conferences have been an undisputedly effective medium for digital ad businesses to exchange thoughts, forecasts and insights on how the industry should and will be evolving in the near future. The speed at which the event niche was able to transform itself in view of the urgent global crisis is also exceptional.

Nonetheless, the fallbacks have been noticeable throughout these past two years, too. Namely, one of the key drawbacks of online conferences is the lack of networking capabilities they're providing to participants. Even though organizers have been putting a lot of effort into the implementation of networking features in their virtual platforms, these have failed to become a real substitute to in-person business communications until today.

In particular, the frequent issues range from the way one searches for and connects with potential business partners (successfully or not) to the meeting setup specifics themselves.

Given that all these aspects were tricky to handle during the height of the pandemic, the initial vaccine rollout and subsequent return of in-person advertising conferences this year became great news for many advertising businesses across the globe.

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What are we returning to?

The gradual increase of vaccination rates, specifically in the U.S. and across Europe, is what has made the resurrection of offline advertising events possible. However, the reality comes with a list of limitations — ranging from mandatory vaccination certificates and indoor mask-wearing requirements to lower event capacity and specific social distancing guidelines. This raises the question: Will the in-person expo and conference experience ever be the same again?

While the future remains vague, the answer is ambiguous.

On the bright side, wearing a mask or leaving handshakes behind doesn't look like something impossible to put up with during a B2B expo in light of the newly reopened networking opportunities we have been so hungry for. On the other hand, ensuring everyone's health at large conferences will not be easy.

Are hybrid events a better solution?

In short, yes and no, depending on what one implies under "hybrid." Namely, while handling the conference offline and online simultaneously seems like a crazy idea (simply because it's nearly impossible to ensure the same large audience outreach in both dimensions in real time), separating expos from conferences may be a working solution for some niches.

Whereas watching speakers' keynotes should be easier, safer and more comfortable online, discovering potential business opportunities within the expo area is, obviously, better in the offline mode.

But are the event organizers ready to accept the challenge and launch separate events instead of a unified, larger one? And can these events be financially successful? We'll have to wait and see.

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So, where are we right now?

Undoubtedly, getting back into the game and launching a big in-person event after a discouraging 2020 is an expensive and very challenging project. Fortunately enough, there are some courageous (if not daring) conference organizers who are taking this risk in 2021. As for the rest of the market players, they will be paying close attention to this year's test cases while planning their strategies for 2022.

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