Valerie Sokolova, head of content of fashion’s Drapers Digital Festival, looks beyond the traditional exhibition model.
People love entertainment more than ever, and a recent trend of shifting spend from material goods to going out, travel and other memory-making activities proves it. It’s true for B2B events too: we see more customers using words ‘fun, entertaining, engaging’ in relation to business events as opposed to the normally expected ‘insightful, useful’.
At Drapers, a media brand for the fashion industry, we launched the Digital Festival last year and it went like a rocket to become the world’s largest gathering of fashion ecommerce and digital professionals. Within the team we joked that it must be a new title ‘Festival’ that helped achieve a whopping 34 per cent revenue increase but there was certainly so much more that went into its success.
Festival turned out to be a great format to instil more experiential elements into a business event.
B2B festivals are growing successfully throughout the world – from SXSW to Cannes Lions and London Tech Week – so the ‘festivalisation’ trend is definitely on the rise.
We merged two formats – business forum and exhibition with an awards dinner – into a principally new concept where customers’ delight was put at the heart. A combination of talks, debates, exhibition, workshops, fringe events, live judging sessions along with the awards ceremony and gala dinner resulted in a true community-building event that made participants feel connected. We all get excited at the prospect of attending a music festival (despite the mud and crowds!). The festival experience can help B2B event organisers create excitement around their business festivals, of which we’ll soon see many more.
Exhibitions get a new lease of life at the festivals. It is not merely about standard stands – exhibitors are encouraged to be creative around their presence: from renting yachts to organising fringe events in funky places.
A combination of formats at festivals lends itself to an integrated approach where exhibitors participate in content sessions and align with the awards categories. Festivals provide so many more opportunities to connect with the audience in a meaningful way whether it’s a fringe event, webinar or a ‘hair of the dog’ breakfast with the awards winners. Strong awards programme is usually the heart of a festival model. People get excited about benchmarking when they can see presentations of the projects, hear the judges’ critique and get under the skin of the winning entries.
As part of EMAP Publishing we had loads to learn from our largest event: World Architecture Festival.
All 47 award categories there are live judged in the inflatable igloos. These sessions are unbelievably popular in terms of attendance and how much interest they drive for people to submit entries in the first place. For the Digital Festival we selected three categories to live judge on at the festival that are most entertaining and visual like digital marketing campaign and best app, and they became a big success. Awards injected great portion of entertainment into the festival when a day turned into a night of glamourous awards ceremony, dinner, stand up comedy, DJing and lots of liveliness and fun.
Drapers Digital Festival attracts curious, passionate people, interested in all things tech and digital. They easily form the most dynamic part of an apparel industry where successful online trade has become vital for success. We wanted the content to help people to achieve their goals and help them do their jobs better through conversations with the best in the industry.
‘No filler, all killer’ is our motto for content sessions. We scout for the crème de la crème of the industry worldwide to take to the stage to share fresh and original insight. There’s a lot of pressure on fashion retailers to adapt to the new technologies and new demands of online customers. We all enjoy buying clothes online but what we know as consumers is just a tip of the iceberg. Web-based Q&As and polls make audience interaction so much easier – questions flood the screens after each talk.
B2B festivals will change the business events scene for good. They will appeal to people of all industries who will be judging an event by whether it fits their personality not just the business need. Expect the most bonkers additions to the usual formats like golf tournaments, yoga and sailing – this will be the year of business and pleasure.
The Drapers Digital Festival comes to The Brewery in London on 26 April 2018.