Are virtual events the future?

With many of the sector’s events going virtual this year due to the pandemic, marketers have had to be creative to keep their communications global and effective
Wed 03/03/2021 by Richard Wilkinson
Are virtual events the future? © yanalya, Freepik

Speaking to Fruitnet, The California Prune Board is one such body. Esther Ritson-Elliott, director of international marketing and communications, said:

“Over the last 12 months we have pivoted our approach and how we network with the trade. Previously we would have attended events like the INC Congress and Food Matters Live in person, arranging face-to-face meetings with food industry professionals and showcasing the versatility of our premium prunes with chef demonstrations and sampling. Now we are tapping into the use of virtual exhibition stands to highlight the merits of California Prunes.”

As Ritson-Elliott and her team have been unable to travel to Dubai for last week’s Gulfood event, the Board used locally based representatives at its dedicated CPB stand, which is situated in the US pavilion in the Dubai World Trade Centre. Organisers have strict health and safety protocols in place, and the Board has adapted to fit the necessary measures by using video as a way to demonstrate the industry’s heritage and methods, as well as the nutritional benefits and versatility of California Prunes.

In contrast, the CPB’s participation in the International Nut & Dried Fruit Council (INC) conference last November was completely virtual, with over 500 attendees from around the world meeting online for the first time in the event’s history. In lieu of being there ‘in person’, the Board hosted a virtual 3D exhibition area, in which visitors could browse and connect online with CPB representatives.

More recently the California Prune Board held a virtual trade and media seminar for over 60 participants from across China and Hong Kong. Following the postponement of a planned grower visit to China last year, it was an opportunity for the Board to build and develop relationships with buyers by highlighting the California Prune industry and the benefits of prunes for Chinese consumers.

Looking ahead to 2021, Ritson-Elliott believes that some of the adaptations the industry has made to their marketing strategies will remain, thanks to the success of video conferencing, home working and virtual networking. She said:

“I think it will take a year or so before ‘in-person’ trade shows return to the same scale they were pre-pandemic, and we are expecting to use virtual platforms into 2022. Even then there are certainly elements that will become the norm, with many companies globally acknowledging the business and personal benefits of allowing employees the flexibility of working from home and the virtual meeting culture remaining as a way to reduce time spent travelling.”

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