The Shift Away from Paper at Events

September 3, 2017

Event producers and planners have been reducing giveaway volume for years. Before the term “corporate social responsibility” was coined, there already was a push for “green” meetings, aka, those that were less wasteful and kinder to the environment.

But make no mistake, coupled with the desire for more sustainable events is the ever-present desire to cut the costs of producing them.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is becoming a common practice, and as the median employee age lowers, this only is likely to increase.

The 2016 annual U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth Survey found that millennials are making more investments that have a social impact than any other age group. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, more than 85 percent of millennial respondents expressed an interest in or owned social impact investments.

One simple step toward achieving environmental friendliness at events is to cut back on paper use, such as handouts. Many planners, especially those responsible for trade show exhibiting, started moving in that general direction by printing conservatively, although this practice doesn’t always result in substantial cost-savings.

If you are operating under the assumption that handouts are required and you underestimate the quantity needed, you will have to print more. And printing at a FedEx Office or hotel business center can be more expensive than the cost of a larger print run, even with shipping costs included.

Another area of cutbacks at events has been the once ubiquitous conference “swag” bag: a goody bag filled with small gifts and sponsor handouts that are often discarded, unread, by attendees.

In addition to the print cost and paper waste, collating the materials and assembling the bags is time-consuming and is often outsourced.

Many organizations still offer a bag – oftentimes a nicer one, such as a collectible backpack with the company logo and conference name or year, perhaps with a pen and a refillable water bottle inside – but no longer include all the paper handouts, opting instead for the same information placed on a USB drive.

But reducing paper can create a whole new challenge: how to provide event hosts, sponsors and exhibitors with a way to reach attendees. Luckily, increasingly sophisticated event technology has helped bridge that gap.

Digital signage has replaced print for nearly all convention center and hotel meeting rooms. Mobile apps and responsive websites allow organizers to build communities and provide a means for peer-to-peer connections.

Social media allows for communication with an even broader audience: for example, a Twitter hashtag used for conference-specific communications, such as session cancellations and room changes, thus eliminating the need for a printed show daily.

Badge technology has also become more sophisticated, with many lead retrieval vendors now offering exhibitors the ability to track attendee interests and qualification data. Instead of purpose-built devices, exhibitors can often use tablets or even their personal phones to scan, tag, view and email contacts.  The information can be synchronized with or uploaded to a CRM system that automatically sends personalized emails along with the appropriate digital collateral.

The Virtual Event Bag from ACTIVE Networks is a digital solution that takes the place of the old-school conference bag. It’s a customized mobile responsive website that acts as a hub for sponsor and exhibitor communications – basically, the contents of the old-school bag but in a digital and more personalized form.

The Virtual Event Bag also provides the benefit of measurable interactions, giving sponsors more qualified leads along with insight into how their content is performing. ACTIVE Networks claims that on average, 65 percent of attendees at any given event visit the Bag three times.  

As environmental concerns continue to increase and budget consciousness makes the transition from the “new normal” to “normal,” more new and innovative mobile and digital event solutions are sure to follow, making the shift away from paper use at events inescapable.

What other innovations are you seeing that are helping events reduce paper costs and waste?


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