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How to drive attendance to hybrid events and boost engagement with direct mail and gifting

18 August 21

A year of remote work shifted all our marketing strategies. In a bid to meet goals and targets we all redirected towards webinars, virtual roundtables and live streams. Months later and what’s left? Attendees and hosts with digital fatigue, who’d likely rather watch their favorite TV show or learn to crochet. 

With part of your audience making their way back to the office and part staying remote, marketers are faced with a new challenge of engaging in real life and virtually, simultaneously. What’s a marketer to do when half of their target audience is out and ready to mingle again, while the other half is still remote, sometimes in other countries? The answer is (drumroll, please): Hybrid Events.  

Now, maybe you’ve run event experiences, and maybe you’ve run virtual experiences; but how do you tackle the hybrid event? And more importantly, how do you make your hybrid event engaging for everyone and turn it into an experience that stands out from the onslaught of events fighting for your audience’s attention? 

The key to a successful hybrid event is providing people with as close to the same experience as possible, whether they attend in-person or virtually. Doing so is an art, but not impossible. To create an impactful experience for both audiences take things back to basics. Ask yourself, what’s at the heart of impactful engagement? Simply: human interaction. To generate real and meaningful buzz both at and around your event, you need to get people interacting and contributing, as early on as possible. We’ve all missed human connection and want to feel together - even more so when divided by distance and screens. That’s where direct mail and gifting come in. 

Thoughtful, meaningful gifting and interactions can be the difference between getting lost in a sea of information and clamoring voices, versus standing out as a brand that deeply cares about the way they engage with people. That’s the kind of thing that gets noticed. Zero reciprocity kindness, on a basic human level. 

Fun, relevant gifts foster and facilitate conversations and connections between people that may otherwise be missed. Sure, it’s not all going to be directly related to the event topic - but that’s the point. It gets the conversation moving, and eases people into the new experience that is hybrid events. Acknowledge that it’s strange and that you’re all figuring it out together. Just like that, it’s more comfortable and easier to speak up - and when it’s easier to speak up, it’s easier to connect and generate true impact.

It’s easier than it sounds. Let’s break down how you can use direct mail and gifting to make the perfect hybrid event while drumming up excitement before, during and after: 

1. Get attendees excited before the event 

Leading up to an event, the focus is sign-ups. With many potential attendees wanting to be shown why it’s worth it, gifting for both virtual and in-person prospects can inspire them to decide they do want to get involved. 

For in-person attendees, you could provide hotel or travel-linked gift cards. Maybe an Uber gift card to the event location.

For virtual attendees, a pre-event box of goodies to get them engaged and ready - think stationery, snacks, a coffee voucher, and a QR code for an online hangout space, which all attendees are encouraged to visit. Make everyone feel involved! Show people that you’re thinking about bridging that gap in advance.


2. Drive engagement during the event 

During your event, you naturally want to ensure that everyone has the best experience possible. It may sound obvious, but by verbally acknowledging throughout that you’re aware of the hybrid nature, and reminding attendees to share the love in-person and virtually, you’ll be keeping that idea at the forefront of people’s minds. 

Some key tips: 

  • As soon as someone is physically in the room, join the meeting virtually too! With people attending over video, they’ll be missing out on the coffee and chit-chat that we all know and expect. Half the fun of an event is networking. Show your audience how much you care about that, and place people front and center. 
  • Ask online attendees to speak first during discussions. It’s so easy to feel removed from the goings-on when you’re not physically present. This will also keep reminding in-person attendees that they need to be considerate of online attendees.

Nobody wants to spend an entire day watching keynotes (especially over a video conference) - so now’s the time to do something different! Importantly, keep your sessions shorter and more engaging. Facilitate more discussion and engagement than would maybe be typical. 

A great way to drive engagement and bridge the gap between attendees is to add gamification elements. There are amazing tools and event apps like Kahoot which facilitate this. Divide people into teams and before the event, send out team t-shirts to the relevant groups. In-person attendees can pick theirs up at the event. Ensure online and in-person mixes across all teams, and give them time in breakout rooms to get to know each other and break the ice properly. Award prizes to winners in the form of food and shopping vouchers, which are perfect regardless of how your attendee has opted to involve themselves. 

Leverage gifting during the event some more by sending lunch vouchers to all your online attendees. It’s a little treat to look forward to, and makes the day that bit more indulgent. Don’t forget the goody bags for online attendees ahead of the event though. 


3. Keep the conversation going after the event 

After your event, put people’s experiences first and send out a survey. Ask them to comment on the overall event, and specifically how they felt the gap between online and in-person was met and addressed. To get more responses and feedback, run a prize draw for people who submit survey responses. Then, for all people who provide suggestions, reach out to them personally to thank them - sometimes the best and simplest thing is just a human expression of gratitude. 

If possible, create a mini directory of attendees to aid people in connecting post-event (data privacy compliant only!) and circulate this amongst your attendees. Sometimes it’s not always easy to grab people’s socials and contacts during a presentation or in the Q&A!

Get testimonials to share on socials, and even better, photos and videos of people with their gifts and branded goods. It’s a great way to share that your focus is on people connecting while also learning and benefitting from the experience. 

All in all, running a successful hybrid event is nowhere near as scary or hard as it could appear. By addressing the hybrid nature head-on, you’ll be ensuring that virtual and in-person attendees are getting the same experience and value. And don’t we all want to lead by example?

For more inspiration on leveraging direct mail gifting, why not take a look at our Direct Mail Guide




Tallulah Grace Marketing Associate @ Reachdesk

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