Procurement Conferences: The Season Belongs to Virtual Events, but Fatigue Looms

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By: Sakthi Prasad -- Content Director

17 May, 2020

Procurement Conferences: The Season belongs to Virtual Events, but Fatigue Looms
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Data Collection and Compilation by Mirza Zack

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The Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in either the postponement or cancellation of a number of Procurement Conferences.

Conferences provide a great opportunity for networking. However, with travel practically coming to a standstill, it will take a while before physical events get going again.

Given the current state of affairs, several event organizers have moved their events online.

A debate has thus ensued as to what the new normal is: physical events or online/virtual events?

Conservatively speaking, one should expect events to primarily be conducted online until proper travel restrictions and social distancing measures are in place. The question then arises as to what will happen in the long run?

We ran a poll among users of Beroe LiVE, a community of thousands of procurement decision-makers, to find out whether they prefer Physical events or Virtual events.

 - Over 300 Procurement professionals across the globe participated in our survey with a majority of them coming from North America and Europe. Over 50 percent of respondents prefer attending both Online and Physical events.

- We asked our members about the type of events that will be in vogue once the global coronavirus lockdown ends. 46 percent of respondents said that online events will be the new normal and nearly 34 percent said that it is too early to say which direction the wind will blow.

- Irrespective of the format—physical conference or virtual event—an overwhelming majority of respondents were satisfied with the recent events that they had attended. This confirms that content and delivery are crucial, regardless of the event format.

A Supply Chain Director based in North America shared his experience of an online event that he had recently attended.

“The facilitator truly facilitated the meeting.  People were on mute. If you wanted to speak you typed your name or put an X in the chat box. You were then called upon, spoke, and went back on mute. The audience either led the conversation and when there was a lull the facilitator asked another question to provoke additional conversation.    

Another, session used polling questions. The questions were relevant to the topic and others were 'fun' such as ‘have you cut or died your hair during COVID-19 restrictions?’”

A Category Director based in Australia had this to say about online events:

“Peer networking through such events is difficult because there is no face to face meeting. But this is something that online events could seek to address by developing an online peer networking session prior to or after the session. Even breakouts are possible using some of the online tools”.

- Although online events offer great convenience, majority of the respondents said that networking was difficult in such virtual conferences. This clearly comes as no surprise

- We then proceeded to ask the respondents to describe the key aspects of Online and Physical events: Networking was their top priority in Physical events. Surprisingly, wine and dine scored very low on respondent preference!

A Strategic Sourcing Manager based in Europe shared his thoughts on the need to adapt to virtual events.

“We will have to develop new skills and strategies to communicate, engage and network in a virtual space as the extent of this pandemic is unknown and at the same time we need to keep doing business. Let's make the best out of the current situation”.

A Sourcing Specialist based in North America had a different take on virtual/online events.

“Really hard to have the same kind of casual ‘shoot the breeze’ conversation, or at least there are a lot less opportunities for it. Plus it can be hard to move as fast virtually and you interrupt each other more when meeting virtually”.

A New Zealand-based Strategic Sourcing Manager said: “One challenge with an online event is that there is not a venue or opportunity to start a casual conversation. I will be attending a virtual conference in June that has networking time set aside - I am interested to see how that will work”.

- Cost-effectiveness and convenience are the top aspects for Online/Virtual events. A handful of respondents also identified Environmental Sustainability as a key aspect.

Voice from the Industry

EcoVadis

EcoVadis, a popular provider of business sustainability ratings, intelligence, and collaborative performance improvement tools for global supply chains, recently moved their event online once the coronavirus pandemic started hitting global headlines.

The team responsible for running the event had just 10 days instead of the usual 10 weeks allocated for preparation. How did they pull it off?

“General challenges included scheduling an optimal broadcast hour and rehearsals at a time when people had already committed to in-person events,” David McClintock, Marketing Director for EcoVadis told Beroe.

Given the time restraint, the team at EcoVadis could not really pre-record videos and ended up having only one introduction video.

The team had to invest in production. For the high-visibility plenary presentations, EcoVadis used dual computers: one for the film/broadcast and another for the teleprompter run by dedicated operators for the co-CEO update.

“We also pre-arranged dedicated pre-configured computers with cameras, microphone, and lighting setups in meeting rooms where the various sessions would be broadcasted,” McClintock said.

A major challenge they faced was that many speakers’ access to the platform was blocked from their office due to corporate firewalls.

“We invited those customers into our offices for their session broadcast or sent our staff on-site to try to assist them during the broadcast,” McClintock said before adding that this was before the lockdown and that this approach may no longer be feasible given the extreme social distancing measures and movement restrictions currently in place.  

EcoVadis more than tripled the registrations to 2,400 after turning it into free event.

Procurement Leaders

Procurement Leaders do not require any introduction. Their events are widely popular among the sourcing community and their annual awards are highly sought-after.

“While the pivot to digital has been different for everyone, our USP has always been the quality of our content and our focus on interactions. We have focused less on platforms or technology that look wonderful and focused more on delivering what our community needs to know,” Salman Mankani, Chief Commercial Officer at Procurement Leaders, told Beroe.

Salman also mentioned that they have been working with their clients to reschedule some live events and replace others with more frequent and timely virtual interactions “that meet customer needs better.”

According to him, the feedback for their online event was largely positive.

“In fact, we’re running a large virtual event and already have over 500 registered attendees with great CPO representation from companies like Mars, Siemens, JLL, Bayer, Heineken, J&J, Sanofi, Singtel, Unilever, and several others. Our focus has remained on ensuring that we deliver the right content with the right experience,” he said.

Polish Supply Management Leaders

Andrzej Zawistowski, Board Member of Polish Supply Management Leaders, told Beroe that most of their events are based on networking, physical communication and exchange of experience in multi-person discussions, and workshops wherein teams solving business cases; and that these events had to be postponed to later dates.

“We did not cancel anything yet,” Andrzej said before adding that they are yet to experiment with virtual events.

“We have grown increasingly tired of all these ‘talking heads’ in low-quality laptop cameras with poor sound quality as well as the inability to conduct spur-of-the-moment discussions,” he said.

AERCE (Spain)

Sara Rojo of the Spanish Procurement association, AERCE, said that their events are of utmost importance and they were forced to either postpone them or conduct them online.

“We have moved the most important event of our association, the ExpoCongreso, from May to October. Other events were rescheduled to the following year,” Sara told Beroe.

Sara mentioned that this was the first time that AERCE conducted events using virtual platforms.

“We had to do some research before choosing the right virtual platform. We then had to communicate the change from physical to virtual to all our associates. To our surprise, we ended up having a huge online audience,” she said.

Rising Tide Digital (Resilience 360)

Todd Craig, the Chief Marketing Officer of Rising Tide Digital, which offers Supply Chain Risk management through its flagship product Resilience 360, told Beroe that due to COVID-19, the company is expecting to cancel about 80 percent of its tradeshow calendar.

“There are still several events that are scheduled for the third and fourth quarter of this year, but the question still remaining is ‘will people travel and attend events in-person in the near term future.’ I have been in supply chain for over 20 years, and there are some events and tradeshows that I have attended more than 10 or 12 times.  The events are great resources to stay abreast of the latest trends in supply chain, but I will really miss the networking opportunities that those types of events offered attendees. In the past, great partnerships and collaborations began in-person at these events, and as an industry, we’ll have to work hard to make that happen in a virtual environment,” Craig said.

On the switch to Online Events, he said the company’s webinar series grew week over week as supply chain professionals were looking for actionable information that they could apply to their unique situations daily.

“We have grown the series to include partners and industry analysts in order to provide a platform for sharing best practices when dealing with events like COVID-19. We are regularly evaluating how long we should proceed with the weekly webinars, but our data shows us that attendees continue to come back because we are providing relevant information to keep companies agile in the face of the pandemic,” Craig summarized.

Physical vs. Online

David McClintock of EcoVadis said that they missed the In-person community spirit and intimacy, both of longtime attendees seeing each other—often the only time they connect in person—and the "induction" of new attendees to expand the community.

“The live event is an intense concentration of folks with a common mission and spontaneous connections and conversations, driving a massive flux of inspiration, know-how, and innovative ideas that get exchanged outside the formal content sessions—this cannot be easily replicated,” McClintock said.

He added that moving forward, EcoVadis might consider a hybrid approach to try to have the best of both worlds.

For his part, Salman of Procurement Leaders said that besides costs, “the agility of a virtual event is definitely an advantage that is harder with live events, given the coordination requirements for venues, external suppliers etc. Equally, the social aspects of a live event (e.g., a dinner) cannot always be replicated in the same way online.”

Sara Rojo of AERCE said that the advantage of virtual events is that they can continue sharing information and experiences with their associates despite the lockdown.

“The disadvantage is that the experience of networking between our associates is less intense. We cannot share a coffee together after the speech/presentation!” she said.

The final word was given by Andrez Zawistowski of the Polish Management Association.

“In my opinion and based on my experience (I ran virtual lectures at three Universities), remote communication may be OK for ‘one-way’ formats—I talk; they listen. Though it is really difficult when you do not see your students and talk to the screen, not knowing what your class of 40 students is actually doing.

For me, it does not work—at least with the currently available free platforms—when you need to involve participants and run discussions or projects,” he concluded.

CONCLUSION

Although virtual events have become the flavor of the month, it is too soon to pass judgment on its favor. This is in line with the 34 percent of respondents who said: “It's too early to say which direction the wind will blow”. It is safe to say that the jury is still out on the battle between Virtual and Physical events.




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