Conversations from Cannes: POVs on the future of events

Hubilo recently sponsored a brand activation in partnership with BizBash at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity in June 2022. We hosted event organizers and c-suite executives on our non-traditional booth (a yacht) for three days of sessions and discussions surrounding the future of the event industry. See what our esteemed panelists shared.
Cathy Song Novelli
CMO, Hubilo
July 19, 2022

Years before I had the opportunity to go to the Cannes Creativity Festival, I assumed it was mainly a bunch of executives partying on yachts, soaking up the magic of southern France and basking in their collective awesomeness. And while some company leaders undoubtedly sail the Mediterranean reflecting on their success, the Creativity Festival offered much richer conversations and experiences than I could ever have watching other people have expensive fun. 

The passionate environment, dynamic and diverse attendees, and merging of cultures make for a magical, and valuable, event. Hubilo’s activation at Cannes Lions exposed me to many inspiring conversations with brand and event leaders, discussing the near and long-term future of events. I spent hours connecting with ridiculously smart and humble executives—the opposite of what I’d imagined when I was young—collectively aligning on the future of creativity and marketing, bridging new partnerships, and creating new communities.

Here’s what I learned.

  1. Virtual is forever
  2. Hybrid events are a puzzle that will take time (and data) to solve
  3. We all want to see a victory for virtual

Before we dive into takeaways, I'd also ask you to scroll down for a peak at our photo gallery from the event as well as LIVE interviews and podcasts from our brand activation at Cannes. We are grateful to have had the chance to interview some of the great minds in the event and digital marketing space, LIVE from our yacht, including Clare Puddifoot, Chief Marketing Officer EMEA with Informa, Damien Baines, Experiential Marketing Lead of Instagram, Brielle Caruso, Chief Marketing Officer at SelvaRey Rum and Jitter Garcia, Senior Director of Event Marketing at TelevisaUnivision.

1. Virtual is forever

As the world evolved around an ongoing pandemic, restrictions lifted and in-person events burst back into demand. Brand and event leaders could not wait to activate in person again, myself included. 

It has felt absolutely amazing to reunite with communities in person, and while in-person events have returned, virtual and hybrid event structures aren’t going away. Nearly every leader I spoke with said that both virtual and hybrid are likely to make up the majority of their events as time goes on. This will allow for dedicated, intentional, and strategic participation in big-budget events where folks are linking up in real life.

These insights align squarely with a recent market sentiment study, which predicts that the future of events will be 60% virtual/hybrid:

Two themes came up repeatedly in these conversations:

  1. The grim economic outlook in the near-term is limiting budgets, which means fewer events, less expensive events of those that are activated, and certainly, much less travel. Business goals, however, aren’t likely to decrease in the second half of the year even with these changes. Businesses everywhere will want to implement more efficient and ROI-driving tactics, and virtual events can fill that need. 
  2. Longer-term, the power of the real-time audience intent data received from virtual/hybrid events is hard to get—but invaluable. It’s mildly embarrassing how much my fellow CMOs and I geeked out over the current and future possibilities we see with event data, but the opportunities are limitless. From real-time intent signals to making targeted campaign activations possible using event behavioral segments, events are becoming the new epicenter of marketing strategy, and it’s exciting to be a part of shaping the next era of event marketing.

2. Hybrid events are a puzzle that will take time (and data) to solve

Asking for the precise definition of a “hybrid event” is a little bit like asking what the “best” color is. There isn’t a simple or universal definition, because how a business chooses to combine a virtual environment with an in-person one in order to create a seamless, unified experience depends on multiple unique factors. The goals, mission, message, audience, location, and branding tied to that event can and should influence its strategy and execution.  

Hybrid can be 95% in-person with a few sessions live-streamed, plus half of all sessions available on-demand a couple weeks later. Or, it can be entirely live-streamed with most attendees virtual and only 20% in-person, with all content available on-demand same day for different regions. 

How one activates a hybrid event will be different between one brand and the next. And while a consumer goods brand might activate hybrid events a specific way, a software company will be focused on entirely different objectives. Both may find that they want to try different strategies at different times, and hybrid events allow for that continuous flexibility.

What’s crystal clear is that everyone, no matter the industry, is figuring out how evolving event marketing works with their business. We’re all in the midst of discovering what makes sense for our customers and partners, what helps us reach the right people wherever they are, and how we can scale and adapt while optimizing what is succeeding.

3. We all want to see a victory for virtual 

Ask any CXO what they like about virtual events, and they’ll almost always say the same thing: ROI. Return on investment—and then some, if we’re being totally honest. But what execs really want to see—so that they can recognize more of that delicious ROI—is how virtual events will innovate to become an end-to-end experience that attracts more interest. As technology and platforms advance, it will become a matter of accurately predicting, and then meeting, the needs of attendees within a variety of customized experiences.

It’s clear that the business pull exists for virtual: increased reach, democratization of knowledge, greater accessibility, massive amounts of data, and historically high ROI. But audience excitement has to match the business benefits, or those returns will start to shrink.

These changes are happening right in front of us, leading to discussions about exciting Metaverse experiences and the potential of NFTs. But as it stands, the barriers to fully leveraging these innovations are too large and too unpredictable, with hardware requirements and budget limitations putting very real constraints on access and engagement.

What’s ultimately needed is a virtual experience that provides the traditionally unique benefits and value of in-person connectivity. Much like watching a sport on television allows for replays and expert commentary without the crowds of excited fans to wade through, driving buzz for hybrid and virtual events will require brands to innovate enough that they provide value in and of themselves that can’t be achieved by in-person events alone. 

“Virtual can never emulate the magic of being here at Cannes…or Cannes it?” Of the many challenges given to me on the last night of the festival, this one sticks with me—and not just because of the memorable pun. Recent years have proven that predictability isn’t always an option, and while adaptability is necessary, there’s usually no way to tell what that looks like until you’re being asked to do it. But often, that’s exactly where discoveries are made.

And so, to the group of Amazon and PWC executives that posed the question: challenge accepted. 


P.S. Don't forget to keep scrolling for our photo wall and podcasts captured from our activation:

Hubilo's LIVE Interviews from Cannes:

It was all aboard at the Hubilo Retreat in partnership with Bizbash as Clare Puddifoot, Chief Marketing Officer of EMEA at Informa, joined us for Studio Chats at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. In this brief interview, Clare and Rachel chat about the event programming and activations at Cannes Lions, the similarities between B2C and B2B marketing, and how data supports brands marketing to people instead of logos. They also touch on how data can help marketers build the customer journey, and how events - virtual, hybrid, and live - can impact real people at different phases of their path for your brand.

Damien Baines, Experiential Marketing Lead at Instagram, sat down for Hubilo's Studio Chats and shared how it feels to be back at IRL events, even in spite of extreme weather patterns and a rigorous content schedule of activations. Gatherings like Cannes Lions are about more than showing off; showing up to meet and make connections is driving event attendees and event planners.

Brielle Caruso is the Chief Marketing Officer at SelvaRey Rum. During the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, she expressed how this was one of her most incredible experiences in the 17 years she's been working in this industry. Brielle and Rachel further chat about what brand building really is, that to be a truly global brand, you need to speak an international language, and how it is about creating an emotional connection with your consumers. Brielle ends with some excellent advice for event planners trying to create unique experiences for their brands. One of our favorite clips is, "you are your unique person, and you are your own unique brand. Create and OWN that space."

Jitter Garcia, Senior Director of Event Marketing at TelevisaUnivision, the largest Spanish language media company joins us one day after her panel "Dreaming big, what's next for events?" at the festival where they discussed what event planners are being challenged with now, what hybrid means and how to cater to an audience who has shifted their behavior. She shares a few highlights in this brief interview with us. Jitter also shares great advice for event planners as she provides insights about the strategy that she's built for the 70+ events that her company organizes in a year, their focus on storytelling for events, and how they are trying to innovate their event formats. Rachel seconds, "I have always looked at it to where it's almost like each event is a chapter of a book you're writing, you would hardly just like not read the rest of the book before it and then be like let me just write a chapter without knowing how this is going to fit in the story. You have to make sure it integrates in."

Here's Hubilo's photo gallery from our trip:

The weather was hot, hot, hot but we're very proud to say that BizBash touted our activation as "the ultimate trade show booth" - check out why.

The Hubilo BizBash event space
In-person events are back, baby!
Fuiji Film Fun with Friends
Session with David Adler, Chairman & Founder of BizBash, and Hubilo's Founder & CEO, Vaibhav Jain
Event organizers unite!
Post-panel discussion photo shoot
Cathy Song Novelli

Cathy Song Novelli is a purpose-led leader who builds and leads high-performing teams that are client and market obsessed, data-driven, and ROI-focused in driving growth, particularly in nascent B2B + B2C markets. She is a seasoned marketing executive with expertise in growth marketing (growing brands, products, and revenue), overseeing all marketing and communications functions, including brand and product marketing, content, demand gen, events, analytics + operations, design, media, communications and corporate social responsibility. Cathy is known for building and energizing cross-functional teams that operate with unified orchestration toward shared goals. She works under the premise that building happy teams who love their work enable them to build brands that customers love.

Stay connected with us.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Ready for the Next Level of Webinars?

Discover how Hubilo's Webinar+ can help you 2X your pipeline

Registration and attendance expansion
Addictive engagement features
Gen-AI Snackable Content Hub to make repurposing a breeze
Revenue Impact Dashboard
and more....
Get a personalized free demo today