#MarketingEventsAwards spills: SMU gains confidence in embracing the world of hybrid events

Singapore Management University, which won the silver award for best content creation for a virtual event and two bronze awards for Best Event for a Targeted Community and Best Government Sector/Non-profit at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s Marketing Events Awards really showed its dedication to its graduating student community when the global pandemic struck in 2020.

The pandemic which caused major disruptions to big scale events around the world, also impacted SMU which couldn’t hold its annual graduation ceremony in early July – which is a key highlight of every students’ educational journey. With the circuit breaker, everything had to pivot online and SMU found itself left with only 60 days of planning and execution, requiring extensive and tight coordination among 12 internal departments and external vendors, 60 staff members from three countries.

More here on how the team navigated through these unchartered waters.

What are some of the expectations your consumers now have for your brand?

There was uncertainty when the pandemic first struck; we could not have imagined the magnitude of the effect this virus would have, and how it would affect the way we operated as a university. 

When the Circuit Breaker measures were announced, the student population naturally had a range of concerns, which included the fate of the Commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2020. These ceremonies were usually held in a physical setting and would involve hundreds of handshakes and hugs. 

The decision was then promptly made to postpone Commencement 2020, and to organise an interim event to celebrate the graduation of the Class of 2020; this event was named the SMU Virtual Graduation and Career Fair. 

This was held virtually and completely remotely – neither organisers nor participants were on campus. The overall feedback from the virtual event was positive and many liked the the way we introduced interesting elements to retain the spirit of Commencement: an occasion filled with celebration but also nostalgia.

With that, we have raised the bar for ourselves. We are now expected to execute virtual events with ease, and with more interactive and engaging components. It is a challenge that we relish and we are looking forward to outdo ourselves once more in 2021 and beyond. 

How has your marketing/your clients marketing plans shifted this year?

We are looking at platforms and other types of marketing technology that will help us reach our audience through digital and interactive media as well as in the areas of incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning in marketing to be able to serve more meaningful and interesting content to our audiences. This is critical especially as there is now a plethora of virtual events, so if we are not innovative in the way we deliver our content, we run the risk of becoming “just another webinar” and fade into oblivion.

What are some of the trends you see carrying on post-pandemic, and how are you readying your workforce to be ready with these trends?

We believe that virtual/hybrid events will continue, and we are looking to strengthen our capabilities in this space.

In addition to choosing between the numerous platforms available, we are also exploring new technologies that will improve the viewer experience.

The team was thankfully already quite “digital-ready” even before Covid-19 struck, so although the shift to online events was a new undertaking, it was quite seamless because we had a strong foundation. Moving forward, we are confident that the team can continue to build on these achievements and present even better content and experiences in 2021.

What do you think makes for great marketing these days?

The way we connect with our audiences needs to change – events used to provide a tangible touchpoint where our brand and messaging can be conveyed through our five senses. But with technology and the current pandemic driving the adoption of digital events/experiences, we now need to be better informed and prepared to deliver outstanding experiences online while dealing with the limitations of technology.

Marketing strategies today therefore need to focus on personalising the encounter by making the viewer feel as though you are speaking to them directly even if it’s not face-to-face.

How are you planning for 2021?

We believe that hybrid experiences will be the way forward for the foreseeable future so our plans are tailored for that reality. Following the success of our Virtual Graduation and Career Fair, we are looking to feature AR/VR technologies more prominently in our events and marketing initiatives. Almost everyone in Singapore has a smart phone that is able to support the technical specifications required, so we envisage that this will be the next frontier in how we communicate with our stakeholders.

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